UC Berkeley pilot program for outdoor instruction approved by city officials

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Josh Kahen/Staff
UC Berkeley’s outdoor instruction pilot program is composed of five programs that are related to certain academic fields of study, including music and engineering. All participants in the pilot program must be residing in the Bay Area and will be required to follow existing safety guidelines throughout the duration of the program.

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An outdoor instruction pilot program proposed by UC Berkeley administrators that will last from Oct. 26 to Nov. 24 and allow certain in-person activities has been approved by Berkeley public health officials.

The pilot consists of five programs related to certain disciplines: field biology and geology, music, engineering and business. It will also provide international students with in-person advising sessions to satisfy educational visa requirements, according to Jennifer Johnson-Hanks, chair of the campus Academic Senate.

“These five related pilots each focus on a different aspect of the problem or opportunity of outdoor instruction and enrichment, to maximize what we can jointly learn to make spring 2021 as safe and effective as possible,” Johnson-Hanks said in an email.

As head of the outdoor education fieldwork program, campus professor Lynn Huntsinger searched for classes that could benefit from certain modes of outdoor instruction, including fieldwork and dry labs. The program will include a geology class, a fungi class and an integrative biology class.

Huntsinger noted that the groups will not exceed more than twelve people and that all participants must be living in the Bay Area. Students will not be required to attend any of the outdoor activities, Huntsinger added.

All participants will be required to follow existing safety guidelines, including wearing a mask and staying 6 feet apart. UC Berkeley students and faculty will also be tested weekly to prevent any potential COVID-19 transmission, according to Johnson-Hanks.

“Any little steps we can take to make things more normal and make education better, we should seize on those, but we can’t do it without people wearing masks and socially distancing,” Huntsinger said.

The ASUC Office of the Academic Affairs Vice President, or AAVP, was pleased to hear that UC Berkeley is supporting international students, said James Weichert, a chief of staff for the AAVP’s office. The program will ensure that their visas are not threatened by a “capricious U.S. administration ruling,” Weichert added.

The AAVP’s office is also excited that STEM classes will be involved in the pilot, according to Weichert.

“The ability to actually be in a lab space and to interact — whether it’s a chemistry lab or an engineering lab — having that hands-on, in-person experience is something that you can’t replicate or replace online,” Weichert said.

However, the AAVP’s office was disappointed to hear that, of the five programs, UC Berkeley did not create one to support students with disabilities, Weichert said. The AAVP’s office also believes that students with less access to technology should have been considered in the pilot. These two groups have been disproportionately impacted by online learning, according to Weichert.

The results of the pilot will help campus administrators envision what in-person instruction could look like in spring 2021, Johnson-Hanks said in the email.

“It’s a small attempt to see what the logistics and operations would look like,” Weichert said. “Of course, nothing concrete has been decided for spring, but this will give the campus a better context and better picture about what that could look like.”

Contact Kelly Suth at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @kellyannesuth.