Students return to the “classroom”


After a spring and summer of empty classrooms and silent halls, the UNI campus was once again filled with thousands of students on Monday morning.

Masks donned and hand sanitizer at the ready, they sat in socially distanced lecture halls, ready to learn under a strange new normal. Others took their seats outside, in their dorm rooms or in front of their laptops.

This fall, the idea of the “classroom” has expanded.

In hopes of mitigating the spread of COVID-19, UNI is utilizing three main options for fall 2020 classes—fully in-person, fully online and hybrid, in which small groups meet in person throughout the week while other students complete work online.

According to the university’s fall 2020 reopening plan at, more than 80% of UNI classes are meeting fully or partially face-to-face.

Most students interviewed by the Northern Iowan preferred these in-person classes, including junior elementary education major Kayla Laufenberg.

“My motivation is just not there in an online class,” she said. “I like to just be in the atmosphere of the classroom. I like to personally see the professor and… see them writing on the board.”

The board, however, may be in a different building than students are used to. To facilitate social distancing, many classes have been moved to larger spaces in different buildings, meaning that Spanish classes may meet in McCollum and math classes in the ITTC.

“It’s very strange,” Laufenberg said with a laugh.

In these classrooms, no more than 40% of room capacity is being used if possible, meaning some tables and chairs have been marked for non-use.

In addition, every classroom will undergo daily enhanced cleaning and disinfecting, and ventilation systems have been changed to non-recirculating air. Air in rooms is now exchanged at least six times per hour, according to

Generally, classes of more than 50 students are not meeting together in person, instead utilizing a hybrid or online format. First-year classes have been prioritized for face-to-face instruction, but since many freshmen are enrolled in larger Liberal Arts Core or introductory classes, some online courses are inevitable.

Freshman pre-nursing major Summer Howard has all her classes online except a biology lab and lecture, she said. Her fellow freshman Ben Andersen, a history education major, has three hybrid classes, one online and only one in-person.

For these new students, who are already experiencing a schedule shift from high school, the mix of online and in-person classes can be tricky.

“Online [classes] are just a little complicated to navigate,” said freshman marketing major Allie Burk, who has two online, two hybrid and two in-person classes. “I definitely prefer in-person classes.”

For Andersen, the self-paced nature of online or hybrid classes isn’t too much of an adjustment, since he was homeschooled throughout high school.

“I’m used to being more independent with my learning,” he said.

One of the unique challenges of a schedule with both in-person and online classes is finding a place to take Zoom classes while on campus. UNI has designated multiple spaces, including rooms in Lang, Sabin and Wright Halls as well as the Wellness and Recreation Center, for students to attend online courses on campus. A full list is available at

Despite the inherent difficulties, students said there are some potential perks to the online and hybrid setup. Andersen pointed out that, by recording lectures for students to watch online, class time can then be dedicated to student discussion.

“I actually think it’ll work better,” he said. “It frees up in-person class time for interaction and discussion.”

Burk added that, even in a virtual class, friendships are still possible.

“[I’m looking forward] to meeting people and making those connections, even online or via Zoom,” she said.

Looking ahead, some students have expressed skepticism that in-person classes will continue for the entire semester. Several universities nationwide, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Notre Dame and Michigan State University,  have already cancelled or temporarily suspended in-person fall classes due to concerns related to COVID-19.

Whether classes are held online or in-person, however, students seem to be united in one respect: they want to ensure that they’re learning what they need to know.

“I’m hoping that it won’t take away from what we would have learned,” said Ali Schneider, a freshman supply chain management major.

Laufenberg agreed.

“I hope I learn as much as I would in person,” she said.