OTTUMWA — If there is one thing Indian Hills Community College Executive Vice President Dr. Matt Thompson wants people to know about the upcoming fall term, it’s this: “We’re open.”

“We realize that for many families it’s a scary time,” he said during Monday’s board of trustees meeting. “I think we’ve been very aggressive getting information out to families, because paying a tuition rate can be even scarier when there may be other obligations.”

Thompson addressed several facets of the school’s “return to learn” plan for the coming school year, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 31. The school is planning to offer face-to-face and online and interactive features.

“There are some things that will look different,” he said. “Our academic deans have done a tremendous job working hand-in-hand and looked at how we can accommodate smaller class sessions while we have social distancing.”

The school conducted a survey of students in the spring, and 45 percent said they wanted a face-to-face approach. Forty percent of students also wanted a mix of face-to-face and online.

“We’re going to try to accommodate every learning style we possibly can given COVID-19,” Thompson said. “Face-to-face sessions will be available, and there will be live, virtual learning. If you think back to the days of the ICN (Iowa Communications Network), it’s a little like that, but much more interactive.

“A history class may have had 30 students meet in a classroom, but now maybe we’ll only need 15 depending on the size of the classroom,” he said. “We’ll have students who can Zoom in from a residence hall room or place of work. We think this will create accessibility for someone who wants to take a class, but not fully online, that they want to have a teacher they can ask questions and interact.”

By the time the year starts, the college plans to have 32 Zoom rooms enabled between the Ottumwa and Centerville campuses, with the potential for more. A Zoom room allows students and teachers to have live, active interaction, plus five-minute breakout sessions in which a group “talks about things and then comes back together to share,” Thompson said.

Thompson said there has been a lot of trial-and-error over the past several months, but the coronavirus has forced the college to take a different look at how students learn.

“Some of this is pushing us to business differently, which is great. Because of the CARES Act, we’ve purchased technology that will last us five to seven years, so that’s a very good use of those dollars,” he said. “We’re not going to look back. We’re going to look forward at the ways we can best serve students. It’s moving forward at light speed right now.”

In other business, athletic director Brett Monaghan said he is looking at ways to group students in the residence halls, perhaps by the academic program. Student-athletes have been placed in different housing facilities, he said. There will also be multiple move-in days.

The Ottumwa campus has five residence halls, but Wapello Hall will be used as a quarantine space, as it will have proper airflow and purifiers in the building.

“Certainly we hope to not use that space a lot,” Monaghan said. “But we want to be prepared to park resident students in an area in the event of an outbreak, or show symptoms and signs that we need to put them in an area away from the rest of the students.”

One of the issues that were addressed concerned Centerville students who show symptoms.

“We’ll have a full residence hall down there, which is terrific, but it does become tricky,” Monaghan said. “They would actually be transported to Ottumwa and parked in Wapello and utilize that same space. We’re still trying to figure out how the transportation piece takes place. We’re working through that and hope to have a plan for that in the not-so-distant future.”

Also, Monaghan announced the NJCAA is moving basketball, volleyball and wrestling to a January start because of the virus. Championships in those sports will be held in April. Both soccer programs, which normally play a fall season, will begin in March, with June national championships. Fall baseball and softball will be limited, and based more on regional guidelines.

It was also announced that Sept. 3 would be the “welcome back” for students and faculty, and also the day that retiring IHCC President Dr. Marlene Sprouse hands off to Thompson.

Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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