PLNU’s spring semester for traditional undergraduate students marked an exciting return to campus. On March 1, PLNU welcomed nearly 1,400 students back to campus. This late spring start date took into account the CDC prediction in mid-2020 that there would be a Covid-19 surge in the late fall and early winter of 2020/2021.
Being located in the State of California, PLNU was required to adhere to the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. This included a tiered system for counties based on positivity rate, adjusted case rate, and health equity metrics. For most of the spring semester, San Diego County was in the red tier. In April, the county moved to the orange tier, which opened up some more regulations, allowing for more in-person class time and gatherings.
Engaging Academics: A Mix of Virtual and Hybrid Modalities
For the spring 2021 semester, PLNU functioned within a hybrid class model, providing asynchronous (not happening in real-time) virtual classwork with some synchronous (education that happens in real time, with a set class schedule) teaching online, and the ability to meet in person with reduced in-person capacity depending on whatever tier San Diego County was in.
Throughout Covid, PLNU has managed a mix of virtual, hybrid, and face-to-face modalities of learning.
Virtual Experience: Instructive and Communal
All classes and coursework built out in our virtual learning platform, Canvas. This was applicable to remote, hybrid, and face-to-face learning. Faculty also built out their courses in modular format with module-by-module pivot plans for how to adapt their course to remote or face-to-face learning at any time.
All classes built in Canvas followed consistent templates so that students had a single source and location for their assignments, lessons, and communication within each class.
Synchronous Zoom class times in addition to asynchronous course material. A portion of class material was synchronous, meaning students learn live and side-by-side with students and their professors on Zoom. This was an improvement over the previous spring semester where we heard from students that a mix of live class time and independent work was the ideal balance.
Smart video and audio technology in every classroom — and outdoor classrooms — on campus. This allowed faculty and students to seamlessly transition to face-to-face or virtual when needed. This also allowed for a familiar environment in the virtual or hybrid classroom for students needing to remain remote this spring.
Six newly constructed outdoor classrooms in the lower level of an open-air parking structure on the Point Loma campus, as well as one “hill” classroom, hosted more than 60 individual courses, accommodating up to 43 students at distance. This allowed the majority of PLNU students to have some face-to-face courses as soon as the semester started. The parking structure classrooms were also fully outfitted with classroom technology to allow for remote participation by students who chose to remain remote, with some limited exceptions.
Labs, clinicals, and studio courses met in-person.
A Healthy and Safe Community: Wellness Center, Testing, and Health Protocols
PLNU’s Wellness Center has the capacity to address COVID-19 and routine health concerns through the newly created C19 Clinic, expanded medical staff, and community partnerships to provide appropriate campus coverage.
Increased staffing and partnership with the PLNU School of Nursing elevated COVID-19 case management and contact tracing efforts with key clinical, data, and administrative support personnel. These efforts were enhanced by a robust surveillance testing strategy that enabled rapid assessment and triage of individuals with COVID like symptoms and mitigated risk of community spread.
All students, faculty, and staff who planned to live, learn, or work on campus were required to take an initial COVID-19 test and were enrolled in PLNU’s periodic follow-up testing program. Surveillance testing — periodic asymptomatic testing — continued throughout the semester.
PLNU also followed CDC guidance, including face coverings required in all common areas, with exceptions based on CDPH guidance; social distancing; plexiglass shields in the dining hall and other transactional areas; upgraded system air filters to the level of filter that is in the highest-rated category and used in hospital applications; and daily cleaning and disinfection of all buildings and spaces.
For most of the semester, positivity rates on the Point Loma campus hovered below 1%.
Intentionally Cultivated Care: Spiritual and Psychological Support
After mostly virtual opportunities for students to engage in student and spiritual life this past fall, PLNU’s spring semester welcomed new opportunities for in-person engagement. Twice a week, students were welcomed to chapel in the Greek Amphitheatre, with livestream attendance also available. Small groups also re-launched in person. Students returned to Brown Chapel in May.
When it came to resources for mental well-being, PLNU offered 24/7 virtual, on-demand counseling services throughout the past year through LomaCare.
Through the past year, PLNU remained Authentically Loma, our commitment and preparedness plan that acknowledged that while we knew things would change during this pandemic, the most important things would not change. We continued to provide engaging academics and intentionally cultivated care, all in the context of a healthy and safe community.
All in all, since we were forced to send students home last spring and move learning to a virtual modality, PLNU has proved to be flexible, agile, and always connected. In the midst of our own unsettledness, together – as a community of students, faculty, staff, mentors, colleagues, alumni, and friends – we have persevered. As challenging as it has been, much more was accomplished than seemed possible.