Gov. Inslee issued new orders for higher education and workforce training programs last week. These new guidelines detail what those programs, such as Bellevue College, should look like in the weeks and months to come.
In Phase One, where King County is right now, only workforce training and higher education programs deemed essential are allowed to continue. Those that do resume are required to follow restrictions to keep participants safe, such as physical distancing and facemasks. You can read the full list of essential programs here. A shortlist of 19 medical classes that fall under the essential designation have been authorized to return to campus, all of which will take place in the T-building.
To be eligible to move on to the next phase, Phase Two, King County will need to see its new positive cases per two weeks fall to 25 per 100,000 residents (the last two weeks of complete data show 34 cases per 100,000 residents). In addition, King County would have to demonstrate sufficient hospital capacity, adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and meet several other requirements. You can read more about Phase Two, its policies, and its requirements in our article here.
For higher education, Phase Two still won’t be a return to normal, however. Phase Two allows for the return of some non-essential instruction to campus, provided that safety requirements are met, such as physical distancing and the use of facemasks. However, it stipulates that “lecture-based” instruction remains online to avoid bringing people in contact unnecessarily. As a result, even once King County reaches Phase Two, which may not be for some time, most classes here at the college would have to remain remote.
All this was enough for Bellevue College to make the call: all classes for the fall quarter will be held online. According to the Student Affairs email sent out three days after Inslee’s guidelines, “there is simply too much uncertainty with COVID-19 to commit, at least at this time, to bringing classes back to campus.” After fall quarter, the email says, “Once we enter [phases 2 and 3], we expect a gradual return to campus, rather than happening all at once.”
By making the announcement now, the college is providing the opportunity for instructors and teachers to prepare for online education in the fall. Many classes will transition to a traditionally online model, where assignments, readings, and lectures are provided for students to work on independently. Still, others will be held “synchronously,” at their usual times, over online meetings. For this reason, you are expected to be available at the class’ listed times if the instructor decides to hold regular sessions.
Many instructors, like Katherine Hunt, are still working to figure out how to teach their classes best remotely. “Several of us in [the anthropology department] have been debating if we were scheduled for a synchronous class, should we hold it synchronously or treat it like a regular online class.” There are pros and cons to both approaches, she explained. On the one hand, “there are some students who do a lot better face to face classes, but I don’t know if that applies to face to face by Zoom.” On the other hand, technical issues can be especially problematic when technology needs to work at a specific time. On top of all that, finding students willing and able to turn on their webcams can be difficult. It is a lot harder to teach, says Hunt, “when you’re staring at a bunch of black squares.” The other major issue, she says, is attendance. “I actually had reasonably good attendance compared to a lot of synchronous classes,” she explained, but many of her colleague’s classes saw only two or three people show up. Ultimately, she decided, her class will be held asynchronously in the fall, without regular meetings, but she emphasized the decision was a choice between the lesser of two evils. As discussed in our earlier reporting on the difficulties of online classes, learning remotely will pose a challenge in any form. Still, instructors are doing their best, and there are many resources, such as the Academic Success Center, available online for students in need.