Julia Nagel/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Students sit in Milstein Hall for their GOVT 3785 Civil Disobedience course on the first day of classes.

August 29, 2021

A Look Into One of Cornell’s Largest Classes as the University Shifts to In-Person Learning

Print More

Fall 2021 courses began in-person Thursday without the six feet of separation between students that was present in 2020’s classes, but some professors are preparing for students needing virtual alternatives to lectures, and maintaining some office hours on Zoom. 

SOC 1101: Introduction to Sociology is one of the largest classes in the College of Arts and Sciences, and it’s one of few sizable classes to offer online accomodations. Prof. Landon Schnabel, sociology, is teaching in a large lecture hall suited for 330 students. 

With over 300 students in the class, the room necessitates learning without social distancing. Cornell mandates any type of face covering for students, but Schnabel has asked his class to specifically wear a high-quality mask, such as a surgical or KN95 mask, for safety reasons.

“Neck gaiters and scarfs technically cover your face,” he said, “but aren’t super effective for stopping the spread of anything.”

To better accommodate quarantined students, Schnabel also plans not to take attendance in lectures, to post his lecture slides, and to offer opportunities for online office hours. The University allows instructors to provide some office hours virtually, but its guidelines require an in-person option.

Alex Dyzenhaus grad was a teaching assistant for the course GOVT 1313: Introduction to Comparative Government and Politics last semester. He said that online connection to instructors might be necessary in the coming months.

“Online office hours were actually quite convenient,” he said, “Especially for students who couldn’t make office hours slots due to scheduling conflicts.”

Jonah Gershon ’24 took a few in-person classes last year, and he appreciated the functionality of Zoom office hours. He thought they were convenient, eliminating travel across campus and allowing for easy screen-sharing.

Gershon hopes his professors carry over some Zoom era conveniences into in-person classes, but he looks forward to being physically closer to his classmates than last year.

“It was really difficult to meet and talk to people in class because we were six-feet apart,” he said. “There really wasn’t much engagement.”

Abdullah Shahid grad, a teaching assistant for Introduction to Sociology, will continue to conduct Zoom office hours and consultations when scheduling concerns or illness prevent a student from attending in-person meetings. 

Despite the flexibility of office hours in Cornell’s new academic policies, the University discourages professors from recording lectures for students who cannot be physically present.

Schnabel’s lecture hall does not contain the necessary equipment for recording his course, meaning that quarantined students must catch up with lecture notes and slides posted on Canvas.

Despite its potential inconvenience, some students welcome the transition away from lecture recordings. Connie Tsang ‘22 studied virtually last year and found the recordings detrimental to her academic life.

”Recorded classes were actually bad,” Tsang said, “Because I didn’t feel compelled to wake up at 9 a.m. when I could just watch the lecture later.”

Now she is more engaged with the course material and motivated to participate.

”I definitely think being on campus is a lot better academically than being remote,” Tsang said. “I wasn’t a fan of Zoom University.”