Students also expressed their concerns about returning to a safe dining hall. A few options institutions are considering are the elimination of salad bars and buffet-style dining; more pre-packaged meals with touchless transactions that do not require human contact; and temperature scans upon arrival. Campuses may see a food truck resurgence, as well as the use of ghost kitchens where food is prepared for delivery-only meals. Regardless of the final outcomes, our beloved ’family’ tables intended to bring us together, will also be re-invented and re-arranged to support social distancing. Many of these pre-packaged and take-out only options rely on the unfortunate return of disposables that elevate waste. Institutions implementing these concepts must consider alternative, sustainable measures to reduce campus waste. Communication and transparency now and when students return will be key to success. Many of our institutional partners have already sent out videos and other forms of communication intended to help students – and their parents – know what to expect in the fall.
A New Way of Learning
We’ve known for a long time that learning occurs anywhere and everywhere on a campus. And now the concept that learning occurs virtually is here to stay. The success of embedding remote instruction into the learning process moving forward relies on the ability to create authoring centers and collaboration spaces for both faculty and students to come together on campus. Physical modifications to technology and to support spaces will be crucial to support virtual programs and ensure they are viable, long-term options. Likewise, post-pandemic learning spaces will need to evolve to better support hybrid classes and to enhance program value by offering more collaboration and experimentation opportunities. To achieve this, technology must continue to be an investment priority. Enhancements will focus on bridging the gap between the virtual and the physical, seeking a seamless interaction between users. Discussions are already being had around the topic of a “tech kit” for students, which eliminates the need for shared equipment. No-touch ”casting” of content will continue, and physical spaces as we know them will be viewed under the lens of flexibility, and measured by the ease of which they can pivot to a new use – even if temporarily. For example, it will be critical to understand which programs must be immediately accessible to the student population in the wake of the next crisis, and where those programs should be located on campus. Access to food, housing, and technology were top of the list for the pandemic. If another crisis in the future requires institutions to shut their doors, they must be prepared with an identified location to locate emergency shelter, food, and technology access to provide continuous access for students.
The pandemic also heightened the importance of common space on campus, which is vital in supporting the development of students outside the classroom. Institutions across the country recreated commons spaces and gathering opportunities online, which proves social networking value to students. Virtual student unions are streaming online events like trivia nights, dance parties, and recreation classes to encourage students to socialize remotely. While these provide a short-term solution for gathering, students are eager to get back to campus, resume their routines, and engage with their peers. In addition, highly interactive auxiliary service spaces that support the learning environment are also seeing significant changes to keep faculty, staff, and students safe. Considerations include transparent barriers, controlled circulation, and strict adherence to scheduled appointments to minimize the number of individuals in close proximity.