FARGO — North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani announced Thursday, June 25, that the university received final approval for a $20 million grant to launch hybrid in-person and online class offerings in the fall.
The university plans to convert nearly all of its classrooms to let in-person and virtual instruction to take place simultaneously, Bresciani told reporters at a news conference announcing the school's plans for this fall.
"What we learned last semester is the old way of doing online was not what our students want," Bresciani said. "They found it so sub-optimal that it is not something they were going to pay to go through another semester of."
The hybrid class format ensures that students "will still be able to ask questions, challenge people and ask for clarification, just like the people in the classroom are doing," Bresciani said.
Students will be able to begin the semester by physically attending classes, but if they need to isolate or feel ill, they can do so without falling behind on coursework.
Those on campus will be required to wear masks in classrooms and gathering places. NDSU is also studying its classrooms to determine whether or not it will need to split classes to meet state guidelines on the number of people allowed in a room. The state currently allows 75% of a room's maximum occupancy, though that could change, Bresciani said.
This fall, NDSU hopes to create a digital learning environment that more closely mimics the setting of a regular classroom.
"What we learned from last semester and going asynchronous online is our students want to be in a classroom setting," Bresciani said. "We also learned that faculty members want to be in a classroom setting, interacting with our students."
NDSU switched to online learning shortly after the coronavirus made landfall in the United States. Under the asynchronous model, students could watch lectures and review course material online but were not attending class in the traditional sense of the word.
"Asynchronous was not acceptable," Bresciani said. "We heard a lot of feedback from students saying if that's the approach we are going to take this fall semester, they're going to take the semester off."
Bresciani credited an "extraordinary coordinated effort" on behalf of Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, Rep. Kelly Armstrong, Gov. Doug Burgum and the state's Office of Management and Budget to make hybrid learning a reality. The president said that had NDSU not secured the funding, the program would not have been possible.
NDSU also secured funding to acquire cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, sanitizing stations and other supplies. The university has been producing its own custom plexiglass shields to avoid supply uncertainty, Bresciani said.
Rather than modifying the schedule, NDSU will maintain its initially planned start date of August 24. The University of North Dakota also intends to begin classes the same day.
"We can tell our students, their parents and our faculty and staff that NDSU is going to be open as close to normal as any university in the nation," Bresciani said. "That a pretty extraordinary accomplishment."