With Bellarmine-branded face coverings, gallons of hand sanitizer and an abundance of caution, Knights returned to campus on Aug. 20 for classes in a mix of three formats: in-person, online and a hybrid of the two called HyFlex.
In-person classes are possible when the scheduled classroom can accommodate the physical-distancing policies required by COVID-19. Online classes are taught completely online, but each includes synchronous, or “live” elements. HyFlex (for “high flexibility”) classes blend in-person and online experiences. For example, half of the students might attend in person on Tuesdays, with the other half online, and the two groups switch on Thursdays. Students may also opt to take everything online.
Of the 1,070 courses offered this semester, 36 percent are HyFlex, 33 percent are online, and 17 percent are completely in-person. (The remaining 14 percent are more individualized offerings, such as clinicals.)
“I love my HyFlex classes,” said Trey Grevious, a senior majoring in Communications. The HyFlex approach allows proper physical distancing but “still allows me to interact in person with my classmates,” he said, “and I appreciate that so much.”
“We realized COVID-19 couldn’t stop us from making a difference,”
The semester began with a socially distanced version of Week of Welcome. First-year students split into small groups for ice-breaking activities, and Knights in Action, the day of service, was held entirely on campus. Masked and distanced students completed projects such as packaging more than 600 hygiene kits for organizations including Volunteers of America, Home of the Innocents, Wellspring and La Casita Center, and assembling more than 500 back-to-school kits for local schools.
“We realized COVID-19 couldn’t stop us from making a difference,” said Macy Jones, a senior and student director for Week of Welcome.
The Class of 2024 comprises 573 new first-year students. Thirty-four percent are first-generation students, and 22 percent are students of color, a record percentage for Bellarmine.
The university invested about $10,000 to equip every classroom with a webcam and tripod over the summer so that every class could be taught online if circumstances change, said Adam Elias, director of Innovative Learning Systems. Bellarmine also added Internet bandwidth to ensure smooth video streaming.
“I’ve also provided around $6,000 in equipment directly to faculty to equip them to teach,” Elias said. “We’re not saving any money in instructional costs by going online, since everything else in the typical equation is still there.”
Denise Brown-Cornelius, assistant vice president for Business Affairs, estimated that Bellarmine will also spend more than $300,000 this fiscal year on COVID-19-related operational items, including $160,000 in personal protective equipment (PPE) and $18,500 per semester on additional custodial staff.
Dr. Kate Bulinski, associate professor of Geosciences and interim chair of the Department of Environmental Studies, redesigned her courses as “flipped classrooms,” where her students engage with lectures online and spend face-to-face time on activities like labs, discussion and demonstrations. She worked far enough ahead to order the lab supplies and put together 72 kits, shipping them to students living out of state.
With infant triplets and a 4-year-old at home, Bulinski said she is glad to have the classes built out. “I have courses that can run 100 percent online if my childcare falls through or I need to quarantine,” she said. “I think the courses I put together are really solid, and I will very likely offer online versions in the future since I’ve already put the work in.”