MENOMONIE — When Apple became the iconic brand of the digital age, it did so with a company credo that was expressed in an iconic two-word ad: Think different.

UW-Stout faculty and staff have been thinking differently all summer about what a college education will need to look like this fall, with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continuing.

Along with a variety of changes across campus to help maintain the safety of students, faculty and staff, two main changes will be implemented in the classroom:

• Hybrid learning, a mix of online and face-to-face instruction.

• A special set of online general education courses for first-year students who choose not to come to campus.

In many cases for students, the classroom and the teaching methods will look different from the traditional learning environment, but as Chancellor Katherine P. Frank points out, they will meet UW-Stout’s and the UW System’s high standards.

“UW-Stout faculty and staff remain committed to providing a high quality academic experience for our students, ensuring they receive the educational and personal support they need,” Frank said.

The university is providing instructors with additional summer training and professional development opportunities for alternative learning methods. The training is virtual, and the session resources are in direct response to student and instructor feedback from the spring term.

The training was created in partnership by UW-Stout’s Teaching and Learning Hub. This includes the Nakatani Teaching and Learning Center, the Stout Online Instructional Design Team, Learning Technology Services and the Provost’s Office.

“We understand the importance of applied learning as part of our polytechnic mission,” said interim Provost Glendali Rodriguez. “However, we also recognize that we must respond responsibly to current conditions and increase flexibility of our offerings. Our fall term will be successful as we adopt flexible instructional formats.”

The university announced in June that it would welcome students back to campus this fall and would be implementing comprehensive safety measures to allow for some face-to-face classes, which begin Wednesday, Sept. 9.

Hybrid courses

UW-Stout’s goal is face-to-face instruction in classrooms at least 50% of the time during the semester, but even that could look different than normal.

Most classes will have some form of consistent, face-to-face instruction each week. The in-person aspects will be in reduced density settings achieved through a variety of methods.

To achieve social distancing, some classes may have half the students in the classroom and half online, alternating each class period. In other cases, a full class might be spread out over two rooms, with the professor rotating between rooms. Some classes will meet in full in large spaces that will allow students to sit apart, such as Harvey Hall Theatre.

“Each instructor is building a plan that works for the course content and the facility in which instruction will occur,” said Gindy Neidermyer, interim dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Management.

For labs and hands-on learning situations, PPE — personal protection equipment — beyond a mask may be required for close contact during extended time periods. The appropriate amount of PPE is being determined for each situation.

The Nakatani Teaching and Learning Center has created tip sheets for instructors and students to support distance learning best practices.

Online general education courses

A new online General Education Cohort has been designed exclusively for first-year students who choose not to live on campus this fall.

The General Education Cohort caters to first-year students who have not declared a major, would prefer to study online and are determined to start their college career as they had planned before the pandemic hit.

Students interested in the cohort — best described as a community of learners — can choose from six online general education courses, which have been specifically selected for their high impact in the online format and are geared toward first-year students.

The courses will be taught by UW-Stout’s experienced online professors, who will help students adapt to online learning. The professors also are committed to helping students connect with their peers “to help re-create some of what makes a first semester so special,” said Amanda Barnett, associate vice chancellor in the Provost’s Office.

“We want students who are completing their first semester of coursework remotely to have the same opportunities around transitioning to college as those participating in face-to-face instruction, so they can return to face-to-face instruction later at the same level of experience as their peers,” Barnett said.

The online general education courses will emphasize collaboration through multiple electronic means to create a strong sense of connection and belonging between students and their instructors across the group, Barnett said.

The six courses are English composition, fundamentals of speech, elementary statistics, modern world history, American government, and information and communication technologies.

The online cohort experience will include group assignments and virtual community-building activities; frequent one-on-one meetings between student and the instructors; and virtual orientation and support beyond the “classroom” with courses linked to campus resources, activities and services.

Senior lecturer Chris Marshall will use Microsoft Teams to meet with his history students during virtual office hours, assign group activities to “help students feel a greater connection to the class community” and be accessible throughout the semester by cellphone to answer questions.

English professor Leni Marshall plans to engage class enrollees over the summer with bi-weekly video viewing and discussion to help develop peer relationships before the semester begins.

Instructor Oscar Ocampo-Tavera, who will teach the Information and Communication Technologies course, is committed to providing “the tools and experiences that students would have had if they were on campus,” he said.