Thermal imaging cameras to scan students for fevers. Robots using UV waves to disinfect classrooms every night. A new signage system to make sure students are social distancing. Compulsory mask-wearing. Taped Xs on classroom desks where people are not allowed to sit.
Those are just a few of the steps IE Business School in Spain is taking to fully reopen its campus to faculty, staff and students as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc all over the world. The school, based in Madrid, has just issued a video on its COVID-19 initiatives to reassure returning students. Dubbed “Our Campus Is Ready,” the nearly three-minute-long video (see above) documents all the precautions IE is taking to ensure the safety of its students.
Among other things, IE has revised all entrance and exit protocols in its buildings to lessen the contact that students will have with each other. The school has hired more cleaning staff so that every classroom is disinfected after every single class. IE also has developed an app for students to monitor their health and gain immediate access to medical assistance if necessary.
THE SCHOOL IS PREPARING TO WELCOME ROUGHLY 4,000 STUDENTS TO CAMPUS IN SEPTEMBER
In the video, professors are seen with gloves and masks. Students are told that a professor will only enter a classroom after all the students are seated in a class. Once a professor enters the room, it will be closed to all others. At the end of every class session, the professor must first be allowed to exit before students can head for the doors. IE will distribute packs of 50 masks to students who decide to attend class in person, though every class also will be available for real-time viewing online. Hand sanitizers have been placed outside every classroom and at the entrance to every building.
Many of the European business schools which are on different academic schedules than their U.S. counterparts have had to deal with the challenges of reopening early. In June, for example, IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, welcomed students back to its campus with daily temperature checks, masks, plexiglass separating students in classrooms, and smaller classes. IE began delivering its programs exclusively online on March 11th. The school resumed its first face-to-face classes on campus in Executive Education programs on June 24th. Two days later, it opened some Executive MBA classes. Some other programs began the week of June 29th in a hybrid format.
The gradual adoption of the school’s measures–now impacting several hundred students–are helping IE prepare for the onslaught of its nearly 5,000 undergraduate and graduate business students this fall. “We wanted to make sure that these protocols made sense,” says Martin Boehm, IE Business School dean. “You want to make sure the hybrid classrooms are working. We’ve set up training rooms so faculty can come in and practice and familiarize themselves with the screens and what kinds of buttons to push. Right now we have 600 students on campus and it will continue to grow. Some students won’t be able to be with us in September because of visa or travel restrictions so we may be talking about 3,500 to 4,000 students which then would grow until the end of the year when we reach full capacity of about 4,500 students.”
IN MARCH, THREE IE STUDENTS WERE DIAGNOSED WITH COVID-19
The guidelines to reopen were informed by a task force put together shortly after COVID hit. The task force, which meets every week day at 9 a.m. includes representatives of all the school’s stakeholders from faculty to maintenance and also includes a medical doctor. The idea of using a thermal imaging camera at the entrance to detect fevers came from a task force member who saw the use of the devices in an airport.
IE has been one of several business schools that have reported students coming down with the coronavirus. In early March, the school announced that three of its students were diagnosed with COVID-19. One IE student from the school’s Madrid campus has been hospitalized with the virus and was in stable condition, while two others, from IE’s campus in Segovia, also were diagnosed with the disease. The three students had traveled from countries at risk, exposing roughly 200 others who tested negative. All three have since recovered.
‘IE SEEMS TO BE DOING THEIR BEST IN A BIZARRE SITUATION’
To Christina Gohl, who will begin her MBA at IE in September, the video and the messaging from the School have been reassuring. “Honestly, it all looks good,” says Gohl, a 30-year-old Canadian who wanted a more global MBA experience. “The protocols seem pretty standard all over the world and they seem to be doing their best in a bizarre situation. I am a high-risk, high-reward type of personality, and am more risk-tolerant than most. But talking to my incoming classmates, most are only deferring because of visa complications, not fear. Most of us are feeling reasonably comfortable.”
Assuming the visas come through for her and her husband, Gohl expects to board a flight on Aug. 9th that will bring her from Vancouver to Calgary, then Frankfurt and finally Madrid. “Adding a mask and going through an airport where the number of people has been reduced by 90% actually sounds pretty fine to me,” she says. “There is always a risk and I am a big believer in the fact that you need to evaluate the risks and make your own decisions. But at the end of the day, there is no life without risk.”
The first day of MBA classes is scheduled for Sept. 14th in a program that is 11 months long, with the opportunity for a four-month extension. “I have a lot of experience working in Canada and the U.S. and wanted to be outside North America to expand my perspective a little more,” adds Gohl, who currently is director of sales for Santevia Water Systems, a water filtration company, “That landed me in Europe. I wanted a program that was more entrepreneurial, and IE was the perfect fit.”
IE EXPECTS TO DOUBLE MANY CLASS SECTIONS SO ONLY HALF THE NUMBER OF STUDENTS WILL BE IN A FACE-TO-FACE CLASS
The school also will require faculty, students, and staff to complete medical surveys and undergo coronavirus tests before coming to campus. “People have to be cleared from a medical standpoint,” says Boehm. “They have to have gone through the test and are negative or have antibodies. We have set up agreements with a couple of testing labs to allow our students and staff to get themselves tested. They can just go and set up an appointment beforehand, walk-in, and identify themselves. We are given the right to see the results of the test. We just want to make sure we don’t have anyone who comes in and is radioactive and might be currently infectious.” The results are then reflected in an app each student will have on their phones.
In the fall, what students can expect is pretty much a hybrid format of classes. “We have introduced a liquid learning methodology,” explains Boehm. “Every class will be delivered in a hybrid model. Faculty will come to the classroom and some students will be there and some students will be connected remotely.”
Many of the classes will be taught in double sessions so that instead of having one section of 56 students in a class, they will teach two sections with a limit of 28 students to allow for social distancing. “Our faculty has been super supportive. We got into an agreement where we will pay them something extra but it won’t be the full load. So they are chipping in, too. My hunch is that in September, not everyone will be in town yet so maybe we will have 15 or 20 out of the 28 student capacity in the classroom. But over the first term, we will max this out and everyone will be in Madrid with classmates by the end of the year.”
THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE? DEALING WITH THE LOSS OF THOSE CASUAL CONNECTIONS MADE OVER A CAFE CON LECHE
IE Business School, the first to offer an online MBA program in Europe, has had more experience with remote teaching than most schools. But through the pandemic, when all classes when online, Boehm says the school’s faculty has a better appreciation for the benefits of online learning. “We have seen over the last few months that online education has clear advantages. Even in these full-time programs, some of the learning works so much better online. We don’t want to lose that.
“Every course will have a face to face component but we have found that our strategy faculty loves teaching online now. They have found that case discussions are more robust because you can put teams of students into breakout sessions and bring them back very easily. Before it was always a major hassle because you would lose time when students left for study rooms. Now with a push of a button, a professor can push them into the breakout rooms and can hop from one to the other and bring them back more easily. That it is so much more efficient.”
Working out the different protocols and logistics for a return to campus has not been as much of a challenge than the need to adapt to new behaviors of working, learning, and socially connecting, concedes Boehm. “We have struggled the most with the fact that suddenly your team and your stakeholders are not sitting together anymore. You are only connected remotely. All of us suffered through this because we were probably not prepared and not trained in working and studying remotely and everyone had to learn. That is still the biggest challenge for a Spanish institution where a lot of the communication happens in the hallway or over sipping a Café con leche. These occasional casual encounters don’t happen anymore. It meant a change in mindset and leadership style.”