Iowa’s colleges and universities are plotting courses for the fall semester in this pandemic era, with shifting schedules and a host of new rules.
While programs like Zoom helped deliver classes to remote students this spring, at least one Iowa school is turning to a different technology for fall. Tim Laurent, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Mount Mercy University, explains their newest acquisition.
“The Meeting Owl allows a 360-degree picture. It also allows a 360-degree microphone and speakers,” Laurent says. “The owl can be in the middle of a classroom and the students who are remote can actually see everything as if they are there.” The Cedar Rapids institution has purchased 65 of the devices, one for every classroom, along with TV monitors and stands. The 12-inch-tall Meeting Owl actually resembles an owl, with eyes and a beak.
Laurent says they will enable Mount Mercy to offer in-person and blended/hybrid classes, as well as the ability to pivot to fully remote, if necessary. “We’ve been using that in some programs in our MBA program for a year and that is giving us great flexibility,” Laurent says. “We’re saying to faculty, ‘Hey, be flexible as you might not have as much space in the classroom,’ and this is our way of making it work.” According to Laurent, the university’s hybrid model should allow for flexible instruction, as some students will attend class on one day while others take part virtually.
“Not only our local students but the national response from students is, ‘We want face-to-face,’ and so as we are putting our classes — our hybrid — together, it has face-to-face,” Laurent says. “They should be pretty quick to adapt to the remote learning as well. That’s what all the students had to do this last spring.”
Mount Mercy administrators decided not to shift fall dates, but instead will have classrooms mapped out to keep everyone distanced, while faculty, staff and the 18-hundred students will need to wear cloth face masks, face shields or both.