Bunk beds are assembled, textbooks purchased, and in just under one week, the University of Montana will be back in session with face-to-face instruction.
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"It will be great to be back in the classroom and to be teaching and interacting with students." UM professor of chemistry and biochemistry Chris Palmer said.
When students show up to class next Wednesday, they’re going to have some new rules to follow. For starters, masks will be required in the classroom and students will also be spaced out to avoid contact with one another.
And even if all goes as planned, students and faculty have to be prepared for a switch to remote learning just in case. "I've got the course set up so that I can give lectures remotely via Zoom and students can participate via Zoom. That’s for the lecture portion of it," Palmer said. "The lab portion will be more of a challenge. There's no doubt."
Now in his 19th year teaching at UM, Palmer has his own signature classroom style. "I try to do a lot of active learning in my classroom so we'll have students working together on small questions and projects," he said. "I'll be asking questions and having students respond."
So Palmer and his colleagues are adjusting, figuring how to keep students engaged while they can't rely on that active learning environment -- and they’ve gotten creative. "One of the ways that we’ll actually be doing interactive learning is that, students will able to answer questions and ask via their cell phone, even if they're in the classroom, or if they're learning at home," Palmer said.
The caution tape, the masks, the sanitizing wipe downs after every class will be a pain, no doubt about it. But if it means seeing his students again, Palmer is on board. And he’s confident his students will follow protocol and do their best to keep themselves and the faculty safe this year.
"The experience of being back interacting with students and having those great moments as a teacher and seeing learners really learn the material. I think that's really going to be exciting for us again and it will calm our nerves quite a bit," he said.