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Rice University incorporates outdoor classrooms into in-person teaching amid COVID-19

HOUSTON – A new semester brings new challenges and new solutions.

When Rice University decided months ago students and professors would return to in-class instruction in the fall, the university built four outdoor classrooms to adhere to coronavirus-related health precautions. So far students and professors are giving the hi-tech fabric structures a passing grade.

“I actually have more technology available to me here in this classroom than I’ve had in some of my other classrooms,” said engineering leadership professor Davis Van Cleeck.

The structures have doors, full lighting and concrete floors. One of the biggest concerns was how students and faculty would handle classes in the Texas heat.

Many say they didn’t know what to make of the idea when they first heard about the “tents.”

“When I heard tent I was thinking like the typical open tent, like air outside,” said student Derin Okunuvi. “But I think this is quite nice.”

The university only allows about 25 students per class and everyone must practice social distancing and wear face masks. The setup also allows remote students to interact with the classroom.

Rice University says it was important to offer face-to-face instruction as big part of the unversity’s culture.

“The body language, the context, the expressions is much better when I am in the classroom,” said Van Cleeck. “I feel like I have more connection with the students.”

The structures are described as semi-permanent but some faculty and students already are saying they hope they stay for good.


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