Boston University Summarizes Reopening Plans on New Website
by Grace Ferguson
Boston University launched its “Back2BU” website on Wednesday. The website aggregates information from different BU departments about the university’s reopening plan.
BU lists frequently asked questions on the site, but the university doesn’t have answers for all of them. BU is still working on plans for dining and reducing dorm capacity, as well as protocols for quarantining students and testing them after school breaks like Thanksgiving, when students might travel. That suggests BU won’t be ending in-person classes before Thanksgiving, like some other schools have planned to do.
This fall, students will move into their dorms in small groups over a longer period of time, as opposed to the usual one-weekend move in. Shared rooms, suites, or apartments will be called “households,” but BU doesn’t have specific plans about that yet, according to the Back2BU website.
BU will test students, staff, and faculty for COVID-19 with some regularity. But the university has not decided exactly how often it will do so. Testing frequency will probably vary among different groups.
If a student on campus tests positive, they will be quarantined in a single dorm with a private bathroom. BU is planning to set aside 500 rooms for that purpose, which means the university needs to expand its housing capacity. BU President Robert Brown said last week that could mean hotel dorm rooms for some students.
As for contact tracing, the testing and tracing webpage had no information about it. In May, Brown said a contact tracing app could be mandatory for those who return to campus.
Classes will be taught in a hybrid format that BU calls “Learn from Anywhere.” In the new format, students can go to class in-person or tune in online. That means students can keep learning even if they aren’t on campus.
Groups that can’t return to campus might include international students facing travel restrictions, or those with underlying health problems.
Learn from Anywhere will include an asynchronous component. After BU went online this spring, students in other time zones had to deal with 8 a.m. classes taught at 5 a.m. in their own time zone, or live lectures in the middle of the night. Asynchronous recorded lectures will let those students participate on their schedule.
Even students who do return to campus will have a very different class experience. Only so many students can be in a classroom at one time because they have to stay 6 feet apart, so larger classes could get broken into smaller sections. Some large lectures could be taught entirely online, accompanied by small, in-person discussion sections.
Classes could also be divided into groups called rotations or platoons. A class that happens three times a week might break into three platoons, and only one platoon would attend class in-person each day of the week. Meanwhile, the other two would tune in online.
Some hands-on courses like labs or art classes might not translate well to the hybrid format. BU is leaving it up to each department to decide how to teach them.
BU is currently working on a guidebook for student activities. Sports will certainly look different. BU is waiting on decisions from athletic conferences, but Brown said last week that, even if there are sports, they will be playing in empty arenas. BU athletes might not even travel across state lines.
The Back2BU financial aid page encourages students to file for appeals if their circumstances have changed. The US unemployment rate rose to 14.7% in May, so many students could be asking for more aid. The site also says students might look at credit-based options or payment plans.
On Wednesday, BU announced that it has given out all of its federal CARES Act money directly to students. BU was allotted $15 million dollars and was required to spend at least half of it on emergency grants for students. About 5800 BU students received grants ranging from 500 to 3500 dollars.
International students were not eligible for the CARES Act aid, and financial aid options are more limited for them. 447 international students at BU were given grants this spring out of BU’s own financial aid funds.