Students participate in a socially-distanced in-person lab.
Students participate in Chelsea Wood’s socially-distanced, in-person Parasite Ecology lab during autumn quarter 2020.

After more than a year of remote learning, the imminent return of students and faculty has brought excitement and uncertainty to the University of Washington campus. We spoke with four UW instructors who are getting ready for an entirely in-person autumn quarter, once again preparing classrooms, lab spaces and offices for the a new school year. 

Integrative Oceanography (OCEAN 210) is a core course for Oceanography and Marine Biology majors with about 100 students. This course will be taught in-person, with three 50-minute lectures and a weekly quiz section.

“I do plan to ask students to sit in assigned seats, and groups will be assigned to make contract tracing easier if needed,” says Oceanography senior lecturer Mikelle Nuwer. “I’m both excited and nervous to be back in the classroom with students.”

Nuwer’s lectures will be interactive, with a combination of polling, pair and small group work and full-class discussion. 

Last year’s pivot to online learning gave School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences assistant professor Chelsea Wood a chance to do something that she’d been meaning to do for years: flip the Parasite Ecology (FISH 406) class model. Wood broke lectures down into five 15-minute chunks and recorded them using Panopto, then used synchronous class time to have students solve problems that would reinforce the concepts they learned in lecture videos. Now, with the return to in-person learning, Wood is keeping the flipped classroom structure (except synchronous class time will happen in person).

“I’m expecting the problem-solving activities to work even better when students are sitting in the same room, and I plan to keep the many technology-facilitated exercises, like PollEverywhere questions,” says Wood. “The pandemic is patently awful, but it gave me the kick in the butt that I needed to implement major changes in my classes, which will bring my instruction more into alignment with empirically validated best practices. A small silver lining!”

Field Ornithology (ESRM 452) introduces students to the principles of bird identification, with a special focus on birds found in Washington. Taught by School of Environmental and Forest Sciences’ professor John Marzluff, it will combine in-class study of bird specimens at the Burke Museum, which allows for close-up examination of the features of bird orders, families and species, with field excursions on and beyond campus. 

The class will take three Saturday field trips — to eastern Washington, the Skagit Valley and Billy Frank Wildlife Refuge — to see bird spectacles that include thousands of snow geese, rafts of ducks and glimpses of several species not found in the Seattle area, such as the white-headed woodpecker. Students also learn about scientific bird literature, which they will use to detail the life history of a bird species of their choice and conduct an independent field study.

“By the end of the class, students will know about 200 birds by sight and about a quarter of them by sound—or at least that’s what I hope!” says Marzluff.

Program on the Environment’s Sustainability (ENVIR 239) class, taught by Kristi Straus, will operate as it did pre-pandemic while following all health and safety rules implemented by UW. Lectures will be structured similarly to how they have been in the past, with a combination of short lectures and small group discussion. All of the lectures will be recorded, so that students can view them on their own time if they are unable to make it to class. Straus is also removing the graded participation component of the class, to accommodate students who need more absences than normal to quarantine. Quiz sections will remain the same, with lots of opportunities for working in small groups.

“I think remote learning can be great, but not in the middle of a pandemic,” said Straus. “I’m excited about the opportunity for engagement for students, and if my students are up for it I think meeting outside the first couple of weeks of the quarter can be fun. I feel really good about UW making students be tested with at-home test kits prior to the school year.”

The UW campus is slowly starting to teem with life once again. With some cautious optimism and a lot of careful planning, instructors are ready to welcome students back to a safe, healthy, in-person autumn quarter.