Yesterday, as I pen these words, I saw this article on CNN.com about a mother who captured an emotional photo of her 5-year old son crying in frustration while trying to take his kindergartner class online. Just thinking about this poor little lad — and all the other kids like him — brings a tear to my eye. Today, literally as I started to pen this column, I received a newsletter from Wired.com informing me that new data shows COVID-19 cases in children have increased by 21% since early August. We really are caught between a rock and the proverbial hard place. On the one hand, we want to keep our young folks — from infant schools to high schools to community colleges to universities — safe and secure. On the other hand, many of these kids find remote learning to be less than optimal, plus they are missing out on hanging out with people their own age, which impacts them emotionally and psychologically. And let’s not even talk about the toll all of this is taking on the parents. The government is anxious to get kids back to school, but this has to be undertaken safely. And it’s not just the kids’ safety we have to worry about — the safety of the teachers and lecturers and ancillary staff is of critical importance also.
Desk shields offer little protection (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: LearningCubicles.com)
One idea that is being bandied around is that of Desk Shields, but much of the initial enthusiasm for these devices was based on inaccurate extrapolations from an old report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommending sneeze shields (the plastic shields over salad bars). As an aside, it’s unfortunate that the CDC has been hogtied and rendered largely ineffectual by the current administration for reasons that defy all understanding. Having said this, I’m encouraged by the fact that the CDC remains prepared to address the possibility of a Zombie Apocalypse. But we digress. I just discovered that a company called Out of the Box Exhibits has launched a new division called Learning Cubicles. Furthermore, this new division is located no more than two miles from my office.
Learning Cubicles contain most of the pathogens within an infected student’s cubicle (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: LearningCubicles.com)
These Learning Cubicles appear to be a wonderful way to minimize the spread of airborne pathogens while providing a private and safe work environment within the classroom. Furthermore, they do this while still affording each student 360° visibility and allowing them to feel part of the community. Learning Cubicles have opaque corrugated plastic lower side panels and transparent plexiglass upper windows, all mounted in a light, sturdy aluminum frame. All of these materials are easy to clean and disinfect with standard products. Suction cups on the base of the frame prevent “cubicle creep” while also making it possible for adults to quickly and easily relocate the lightweight cubicles as required (e.g., for cleaning floors). I think this is a great idea. I only wish I’d thought of it myself. I really hope that schools, colleges, and universities become aware of these Learning Cubicles and start deploying them as soon as possible. Even after we’ve defeated COVID-19 — and overcome this little scamp we will — I think Learning Cubicles will prove their worth time and time again (every flu season, for example). What say you to all of this?