The end of in-person classes has come abruptly, with a week-long semifinals period just around the corner and Thanksgiving break following shortly after.
Many professors made sacrifices — cutting down class sizes, distancing classroom seats and braving the pandemic — to teach in person this fall semester, and the prospect of moving online has proved bittersweet for those who valued the in-person interaction.
Professors’ experiences largely depended on how their interactions with students, as well as how well the curriculum fit the hybrid format.
Prof. Cecilia Lawless, Spanish, said she felt students were happy to be in class despite the looming threat of COVID-19. In-person class discussions gave students the opportunity to develop their language skills, a privilege they may have overlooked in previous years.
“I’ve had really good attendance this year,” Lawless said. “It’s usually that way in my classes, but I think it’s added because I do feel that students are tangibly grateful to be in the classroom and to be with other students.”
Prof. Frank Rossi, horticulture, believed that the in-person aspect of his “Just Food” class was one of the most important parts of the class. He co-teaches the class with Prof. Rachel Kerr, global development, and said their debates and disagreements enhance students’ understanding of the material.
“The idea of having a natural scientist like myself and a social scientist like [Kerr] both talking about the food system is inherently a lively conversation,” Rossi said. “We debate each other in class, and I think it is good for the students to see a little disagreement and honest tension that is still amicable.”
Prof. David Yearsley, music, teaches two in-person courses, “Music Journalism” and “Bach and Handel,” that have students already participating only through Zoom.
Yearsley expressed optimism that the class would fare well in online discussions after Thanksgiving break, as his students had become comfortable talking about each other’s work since the beginning of the semester.
“I think the group has coalesced in a certain way so the Zoom classes will probably be quite fun,” Yearsley said.
But professors had some concerns about resuming classes after a two-week break.
“After two weeks of not speaking Spanish, especially in my [Spanish] 2095 class, it will be like starting over,” Lawless said. “It means that the value of the class for the two weeks we have together is going to be minimal.”
Lawless, quickly adapting to the situation, made a change to her class schedule by holding in-person classes until the week before Thanksgiving break and will end earlier than planned in December. Lawless said the change would help students keep a rhythm with their use of the language and maximize the amount of classroom time they have together.
Rossi also changed his course to accommodate the online learning after the break. He has tasked his students with brainstorming a project about a topic that relates to the food system.
When the class meets on Zoom, twice after Thanksgiving break, each student will be responsible for giving a presentation to the class about their projects, according to Rossi.
Even though the transition to online learning is inevitable, professors were able to find positives in the switch to online classes.
“There is that paradox that on Zoom you see people’s faces, and you can get a lot of information from faces, whereas in the classroom with the masks it is hard to get a sense of how you are relating to people in the room,” Yearsley said.
Lawless said she is grateful for the nine weeks of in-person classes to establish a relationship with her students, which will help her carry the class environment to the computer screen. She said the last thing she wants is for the quality of her classes to diminish.
“In my mind, some of the classes that I taught last semester were mediocre, and one thing I don’t want to be, ever since I was [a student], is mediocre,” Lawless said. “That is worse than being bad.”