Freshman year me, waking up for an 8:40 a.m. physics class in single digit temperatures, would be envious of my online semester. The thought of sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with classmates in hard seats, shoveling through backpack pockets for a pencil, while sniffles and coughs ripple across the room, seems like punishment compared to class from my bedroom.
With online classes, missing a lecture is not a problem if they’re all recorded. You don’t have to guess someone’s name. No need to speak up if you can just type. Running between classes becomes opening a new tab.
Yes, online school sounds great and all, but senior year me knows that the grass is always greener on the other side. As much as I loved my solitude and the option to turn off my video, I missed having a change of environment and being outdoors.
While building my spring schedule, I scoured through the roster for two classes I could take purely out of interest. I somehow managed to find two that did not conflict, one online and the other in-person. Although I prefer that both classes were online, I figured since I was in Ithaca, and this was my final semester, I’d do something different. So, I enrolled in my first in-person class since last March.
My health and safety were my top priorities. Last week, a COVID-19 cluster was identified on Ithaca’s campus, and Cornell moved to alert level yellow. But so much precaution has been put in place to protect students. Cornell’s health and safety guidelines govern face coverings, physical distancing, travel restrictions, limitations on in-person gatherings, compliance with the Daily Check and COVID-19 surveillance testing. With all this in mind, I decided to take an in-person information science course on cultural analytics.
I got to the classroom five minutes early, double masked, and chose a seat all the way in the back. It was weird being back in a classroom with people. Like when something looks right but feels very wrong. I snuck looks at my classmates, almost as if it was wrong for me to acknowledge their presence. If I had made eye contact with someone, I would not know what to do.
The lecture began and while students were hesitant at first, they quickly began to speak up. I paid close attention and even raised my hand to participate. But adjusting to in-person classes was less seamless than I thought. I had some shaky moments. After 30 minutes, my eyes started to wander. There was no option to turn off the camera,stretch and grab a glass of water. I had to focus on the lecture. Luckily, the class was very engaging. Fifty minutes of information science flew by rather quickly, and students shuffled out of the class. I even stayed after class to talk to the professor like the olden days.
To be honest, in-person class really wasn’t that different from how I remembered it- just less packed. My only struggle was to hear people speak through layers of cloth. Other students felt similarly. AAP major Ade Lawrence ’22 shared “it felt good to reassimilate”, when I asked him about what it was like to be around students again. “I feel more productive taking studio in-person, being around students makes it easier for me to follow through with my work,” Lawrence said.
I also asked my TA Joshua Johnson ‘21 how he felt about in-person classes. “Being in the classroom is a great change of pace. I think that it helps professors, students, and TAs deal with everything going on. Classes feel very different and noticeably more vibrant in person”.
But there is some hesitation. “In person classes give a much needed change of setting than sitting at home all day being on Zoom”, said Raymond Liao ’21, “but there should be more done to ensure that students remain safe on campus. The campus store shouldn’t be the only place to check IDs.”
In the time since schools have transitioned into in-person classes, a lot has been changed, created or removed in academia. So much effort has been made by both faculty, staff and students to maintain our education during a pandemic. Considering our reality, Cornell has pulled off an amazing feat. Even though we don’t know what is to come, we can still take things one step at a time in-person or online.
Aminah Taariq is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. I Spy runs every other Tuesday this semester.