Regis University launches outdoor learning spaces to reduce COVID risk

210 classroom sections assigned outdoors still have an indoor classroom to use if the weather is bad.

DENVER — With the goal of providing the safest classroom as possible from COVID-19, Regis University wants professors to use designated outdoor learning spaces spread around the Denver campus.

"I am a big believer that, yeah, if we're going to have class, we should be having class outside," said Dr. Fred Gray, a professor at the university.

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Regis University Provost Dr. Janet Houser said the flowing air and outdoor environment provide additional protections from the spread of coronavirus.

"Well, it came out first because we were seeing what they were doing in Hawaii," Houser said. "We began thinking about our beautiful state's 300 days of sunshine and the beautiful outdoor spaces we've got. We thought -- why can't they be classrooms?"

Freshman Eric Novelo calls this the perfect way to handle COVID-19.

"I've already liked being outside, you know, not being cooped up in a room there not being much airflow, especially with COVID," Novelo said.

Gray said he like the challenge of teaching physics without his whiteboard and usual classroom displays.

"It's been an opportunity for me to rethink how I teach in a way that you know adjusts to the fit of the circumstances of teaching outside under a tent, while some students are calling in on Zoom," Gray said.

Gray plans to be outside as much as possible.

"I'm going to try to be out here in a wide range of weather," Gray said.

If the weather is bad, teachers can easily move back inside.

"We have scheduled 210 separate class sessions to be held outdoors. They all have indoor classrooms if they need them," Houser said.

Houser hopes this will help avoid nightmare scenarios like what happened this week at Colorado College where more than 150 students are quarantined after one positive COVID-19 test on campus.

RELATED: More than 150 students quarantined at Colorado College due to COVID-19 concern

"It's not a nightmare scenario for us. It is a plan scenario for us. How will we respond if that happens? And, I do commiserate with those colleges," Houser said.

If a COVID outbreak did happen, Houser said Regis University can switch to fully online learning overnight. The fall semester also started a week earlier than normal, Houser said, to send students home before a potential late-fall surge of COVID cases.

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"I hope that we have a good long run of good weather here," Gray said. "You know, Colorado is the place to try to do this." 

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