While holding out hope for a full return to face-to-face teaching, learning, and working, Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard announced in late July that the College will continue to operate remotely during the fall semester. The decision was based on opinions of local health authorities, among other factors, who felt that Montgomery County has not yet reached the appropriate safety level for a full return to in-person operations. There will be, however, a very limited number of lab classes meeting face-to-face. The fall semester runs from August 31 to December 20, 2020.
As stated at the top of the College’s Coronavirus: What You Need to Know page, classes will be online through distance learning or structured remote teaching. Students in some programs such as automotive technology, building trades, and some health sciences, if health and safety conditions continue to allow.
“In order to best serve students, MC is working to host a small number of in-person learning experiences for a limited number of students, but this will be the exception rather than the rule,” stated Pollard in a memo to the College community. “The small number of students in these classes, means that social distancing is possible in ways we could not sustain were all of our students and employees to return at once.”
Health protocols such as masks, social distancing, frequent cleaning, and staggered student attendance are among many strategies the College will be implementing for targeted in-person experiences. All MC activities have been organized to minimize face-to-face contact, while also implementing best practices from federal, state, local and professional agencies.
Students are asked to see the class schedules and to contact their instructors for details about when and how to attend. Any students or employees required to come to campus are asked to follow the strict Health and Safety Guidance set forth by the College’s Coronavirus Advisory Team.
“There is a very low probability that the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted via air handling systems in non-healthcare settings,” said Marvin D. Mills, Jr., vice president for facilities at MC. “It is still widely documented that the disease is most easily transmitted via direct person-to-person contact.” Still, to take further precautions, facilities staff will maximize the volume of fresh outside air that is introduced to the systems as much as possible, and they will continue regular preventive maintenance operations to ensure that air handling unit equipment and filters are inspected regularly.
MC students in all our credit and noncredit courses will have exemplary learning experiences
Facilities staff will also clean, disinfect, and sanitize frequently touched objects and surfaces in public and common areas every two hours, and classrooms after every class. They will also provide signage to indicate a classroom/lab has been cleaned, disinfected, and sanitized and is ready for the next class to occupy.
In reaching the latest decision, the College leadership has relied on the expertise of public health officials serving on its Coronavirus Advisory Team (CAT), which was established in March 2020 to advise the College’s administrators on strategies to address the institution’s responses to COVID-19. In May, Dr. Pollard expanded CAT to include operational leadership from each of the major divisions of the College.
“Members of the CAT team have monitored the COVID statistics from Montgomery County’s webpage,” said Monique Davis, collegewide instructional dean of health sciences, and director of nursing, who leads the team.
Despite the success of remote teaching and learning achieved last semester and during the summer, certain courses require in-person instruction and resources to ensure that students master skills and practice on specific equipment.
“Our planning for fall was based on our ongoing commitment to health and safety of our students, staff, and faculty while delivering high quality and rigorous courses,” said Sanjay Rai, senior vice president for academic affairs. “MC students in all our credit and noncredit courses will have exemplary learning experiences.”
To help faculty prepare for teaching in a remote environment this fall, MC trained nearly 700 full-time and part-time faculty during the spring and summer months. Training focused on both the tools available and the pedagogy of remote teaching, which emphasized student engagement and teacher presence.
“We emphasized keeping the academic quality that our faculty have always provided,” said Michael Mills, vice president of E-Learning, Innovation and Teaching Excellence at the College. “As a result, we want faculty to understand that teaching in a remote environment is different than teaching in person. It requires them to create a presence online, to look at assessing students in different ways. We are confident that students will benefit from this training.”