Tulane works to fix outdoor classrooms

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The interior of one of Tulane's 13 temporary classrooms.

Emily Rubino, Contributing Writer

In preparation for the fall 2020 semester, Tulane instituted a number of new guidelines in order to provide a safe, socially distant campus for students returning in the midst of COVID-19. One of these guidelines was the creation of outdoor classrooms. Complete with air conditioning and chairs spaced 6ft apart, 13 different outdoor classrooms covering all of the quadrangle space were created. Teaching and learning in the outdoor classrooms has been an adjustment for both the teachers and students. 

In addition to weather concerns due to Hurricane Laura, where all of the outdoor classrooms were out of use for multiple days, there have been a number of issues that have arisen. Many students had trouble hearing due to the loud air conditioning, a large echo in the room and it’s difficult for students to hear other students when trying to do group or partner work due to social distancing and mask requirements. 

Senior Public Health major Lindsey Hoffman has classes in the temporary classrooms this semester and said “I think that some of the classes that I’m in would be easier on Zoom because a lot of them require group discussions.” She added that “you can’t hear or get close to people so group discussion work is hard and it’s very difficult to hear the professor with the air being so loud.” 

After Hurricane Laura passed, the outdoor classrooms were shut down for the following few days for maitnence to address these concerns.

“We have determined that we can safely hold in-person classes on Wednesday and continue normal operating conditions through the remainder of the week,” President Mike Fitts said in an email on Sep. 25. “The only exception to this will be classes scheduled to take place in our temporary buildings. These classes will be held online Wednesday, while we complete audio and other technology upgrades to these spaces.”

To help with the noise issues, professors were given microphones to amplify their voices. 

“Using the microphone can be a disadvantage to us as well because you have a mic in hand and you are walking and teaching from the screen and teaching the class and you are also helping if someone has a question it is kind of a disadvantage for ourselves” Sudesh K. Srivastav professor of Biostatistics said. “I am thinking it might get better as I get used to it across sometime”

Newcomb-Tulane College Dean Lee Skinner sent an email to Tulane students saying that if in-person class is an option, in-person attendance is mandatory. Some professors were encountering issues with students choosing to join class via Zoom instead of attending class in-person. 

Your instructors are expecting to see you in person in their classes and can mark you absent if you don’t show up in person without a documented reason,” Skinner said. “Your fellow students are also looking forward to seeing you and to engaging with you in the classroom. Hundreds of people at Tulane have worked and continue to work very hard to make our in-person semester a reality.”

Students that are quarantining after a positive COVID-19 test or after being in contact with someone who tested positive, are allowed to do all online classes for 10 days, Skinner said. However, there have still been some attendance problems. 

“Even the last class my students attended I saw a few of them sitting in the in person class but a lot were on zoom. I have a class of fifty students, and I saw only 7-10 students sitting in the class in person,” Srivastav said.

Tulane is working to address student concerns on a wide array of topics, in addition to outdoor classrooms. 

We know that we are expecting a lot from you. We are working really hard to keep things moving in a safe way, and we cannot do this without you. I know there have been and likely will be some missteps along the way, but please know that we are doing everything we can to make sure that you are safe and well informed,” Dean of Students Erica Woodley said in an email to students Sep. 1.

If you have a concern, you can share it with the administration on the student concern form.