OSHKOSH, Wis. — A new 30 x 50-foot tent stands near the Arts and Communications Center on the campus of UW-Oshkosh. It allows for in-person learning that may not be safe to conduct inside, due to COVID-19. 

The sounds of students working on scales fills the air when Drew Whiting, an Assistant Professor of Music, uses the open air tent for his Aural Skills class. Singing can produce more aerosols than talking. Even with his class masked up, Whiting plays it safe, outside in the fresh air.

“I personally wouldn’t feel safe having people sing in a classroom. We would likely have to go to a virtual format. Having students in individual rooms and us separated so we weren’t spreading those aerosols,” said Whiting.

Isahiah Rowley, a music industry major, is a freshman at Oshkosh and enjoys taking classes outside. He saw his focus and grades suffer last year when his high school switched to virtual learning. He feels a different connection while singing in person.

“They say when you sing in a choir, you breathe as one and you perform as one too. It definitely gives a different performance than if you’re just recording it in your room alone, without being able to hear everybody else,” said Rowley.

The tent isn’t just for music students. The clashing of swords could be heard as a stage combat class practiced their moves. Alison Shaw is the Music Department Chair. Shaw requested the tent and was thankful to the university and staff, who put it together over Labor Day weekend.

“It turns out, having the tent here has worked toward the benefit of many. Students practice here, we have rehearsals, even teaching some lessons outside when the weather permits,” said Shaw.

Alyssa Proell, a freshman from Hartland, prefers solutions like this to virtual learning.

“I felt super isolated those last three months of my senior year. Everything was shut down. Being here and actually being in person with people and meeting people and making friends…it’s a whole new world and it’s amazing. I love it.,” said Proell.

Proell and the rest of her class spread out under the tent wear masks while singing. It’s a challenge to sing with the mask on but she looks on the bright side.

“I kind of think it’s going to improve my voice in a way. There’s certain things that I’ve been doing without masks that now I can’t do with masks on so I have to teach myself how to do them,” said Proell.

Some of Professor Whiting’s students remain off-campus during this time. He uses technology to reach them and include them in the class. 

“I bring my camera with me. We’re shooting video. We’re having people collaborate virtually. We’re putting safety first but we also want to make sure that students have a great experience. We’re balancing those things and we’re doing the best that we can,” said Whiting.

The tent will remain up and in use for the fall semester as long as weather permits. Some activities will then switch to a virtual environment while others anticipate modified classroom learning.