College Role in Approving Safety Protocols for Lab Courses

The Academic Continuity Working Group’s Labs-Studios-Specialized Space subcommittee has developed general guidance for academic units to help ensure safety for students, faculty, and staff in these types of learning spaces. In making these recommendations, we acknowledge that these types of spaces are very individualized, and in many cases, individual decisions will need to be made at the college or department level.

Guiding principles

The recommendations below are consistent with four guiding principles related to experiential learning, safety, and achieving desired course-level learning outcomes:

  1. Preserve experiential learning while maximizing aspects of student and personnel safety.
  2. Preserve experiences needed for accreditation/licensure and acquisition of critical skills for degree program.
  3. Give authority to instructors to enforce required protocols.
  4. Shared responsibility for maintaining clean working spaces: Individual cleaning by students and personnel.

A syllabus statement regarding safety expectations is being developed centrally. It will be reviewed by multiple stakeholders and distributed in early August for faculty to include in their Fall 2020 syllabus.

General Guidance

Programs and faculty that use labs, studios, and specialized learning spaces should follow several general guidelines to promote and maintain safety through the semester:

  • Ensure all participants are provided with appropriate PPE for the setting
  • Outline expectations in the course syllabus, including PPE and physical distancing requirements, and individual responsibility for cleaning surfaces and equipment
  • Reorganize spaces for physical distancing, including limited capacity and barriers, if necessary
  • Reorganize schedule for limited group/class size based on room capacity guidelines, but also recognizing that some flexibility may be necessary for labs and studios. Exemptions may be made at the college level.
  • Develop processes to inform students of alternate course options. Options may include delaying registration to a future semester or choosing another course, since many experiential learning activities cannot be effectively replicated in an online format

While university guidelines on room capacity should generally be followed, some flexibility may be needed for labs and studios. This flexibility also recognizes that equipment could be the limiting factor rather than space (e.g., if there are only 18 machines in a large room, it may not be necessary to reduce capacity to 9 if other mitigations like PPE are in place). Room capacity exemptions should be approved at the college level.

Additional considerations and guidance

Below are additional considerations academic units may find useful as they complete their planning for the fall.

Teaching assistants and support personnel: Academic programs and units should establish consistent training and materials for TAs and support staff, including the management of safety protocols and expectations.

Cleaning: Instructors should consider whether labs, studios, and other specialized spaces require additional cleaning protocols compared to standard lecture environments. When possible, cleaning should be included as part of the lab/course time; cleaning between periods should focus on the most critical elements

On-campus interactions: Generally, these interactions should be focused on the essential elements of student- based learning, and may be augmented with virtual experiences and supports to meet physical distancing requirements and other constraints. These may include:

  • Shifting support, feedback and other mechanisms online (e.g. post-critique summary provided by one of the students or a TA, in rotation. These may also be recorded.)
  • Communicating plans, sketches and design concepts for prototyping virtually, instead of using the physical spaces.
  • Delivering at least 50% of the experiential experience on campus. (Examples include: meeting in- person with each group half the time or more, and virtually during the remainder; or rotating groups to meet in-person or virtually throughout the week to provide equal in-person instruction.)
  • Allowing students time to get comfortable with the new teaching models, technologies and policies. Encourage faculty to design and deploy a small project for getting used to the ‘modified’ normal.

Use of experiential learning spaces outside of the classroom time: Colleges and departments should avoid closing these spaces, given their importance to students’ academic success. Units may choose to expand supervised hours of operation, or schedule with reduced capacity to enable physical distancing. Demonstrations and other content not related to instruction may be deployed virtually (e.g., how to use a piece of equipment).