An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Our signal in Bonners Ferry and Omak is seriously impaired due to weather— Learn more here.

Colleges And Universities Begin Covid-Era Instruction On Monday

Doug Nadvornick/SPR


The grand experiment begins Monday for at least three Inland Northwest colleges and universities. Washington State, the University of Idaho and North Idaho College will begin their first academic year in the coronavirus age.

All of the institutions have plans on how to put in place various safety procedures, including distancing, temperature checks and mask requirements. And all plan a mix of online and in-class instruction.

At North Idaho College in Coeur d Alene, 60% of classes will be in person, 40% online.

At the University of Idaho in Moscow, 25% will be in person, 30% online, and 45% hybrid.

In Washington, some schools are being more cautious. For WSU students, including those in Pullman, and those in Spokane at the Colleges of Nursing, Medicine, and Pharmacy, all classes will be delivered remotely with extremely limited exceptions for in person instruction.


“One of the reasons we decided to go with a learn-in-place model is, one, to keep the students safe. Social distancing in the classroom would be difficult given the size of the class. It allowed us to really plan for a robust curriculum and be able to deliver a quality education for these students," said Dr. Farion Williams, the associate dean of clinical education for the College of Medicine at WSU's Tri-Cities campus.

That means lots of Zoom time for students. But in an attempt to retain some of the tradition of medical school, Williams and his fellow faculty members are carrying on with a few established rituals.

On Friday, new medical students participated in the annual white coat ceremony. Normally, students gather in an auditorium and walk up on stage to receive their coats and shake hands with the dean. This time, the ceremony is held outside on campus. They drive up one at a time in their cars, then get out, masks on, receive their coats on a makeshift stage and pose for a quick picture. An virtual ceremony later in the evening provides students with their formal welcome to medical school.

Now the hard work begins. Third- and fourth-year medical students are scattered around the state, assigned to clinical settings. Students will continue to see patients while wearing protective equipment. First- and second-year medical school is mostly study, but there’s also a scaled-back clinical component planned. And anatomy lab, a staple for first years, will be conducted online, not with students exploring real cadavers.

“We don’t have the full scope of experience. It’s a partial experience, but they do still get some clinical experience," Williams said.

Which, for now, is probably the best they can hope for.

Gonzaga’s classes begin on September 1. Whitworth starts September 9. Eastern Washington and the Community Colleges of Spokane begin fall quarter on September 23.

At those three, officials are going with plans that would allow students to take classes online, while at the same time offering some in-person options. The community colleges are also both offering a mix of in-person and online classes.

With the in-person courses, students will be notified if, at some point, during the quarter, their course needs to move to online learning.


Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.