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A laptop displays a Zoom class on Jan. 24, 2022, the first day of classes of the spring 2022 semester.

January 25, 2022

Cornellians Adjust to Virtual Learning on First Day of Classes

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Following Cornell’s Jan. 6 announcement detailing University plans to hold the first two weeks of instruction virtually and require students to participate in bi-weekly testing, students expressed mixed reactions, navigating competing desires for safety and having a fun, fruitful spring semester.

Sophie Hall ’25 was largely pleased by the University’s decision, but she indicated doubt about the long-term effects of remote learning on containing the spread of COVID-19 and managing student mental health.

“Everyone will get sick eventually, and the mental health effects of prolonged isolation and online schooling have been shown to be pretty severe,” Hall said. “Cornell is already pretty underequipped in mental health resources from what I’ve heard.”

Hall’s sentiments seem to reflect recent reports of Cornell students experiencing less socialization and more academic anxiety than students of previous years. With the ongoing pandemic, it is likely that these issues persist and that undergraduates are suffering as a result.

Other freshmen, like Chris Wang ’25, remain indifferent to the change after experiencing virtual learning during the latter half of high school. 

“Considering all the virtual learning experiences in high school, I don’t feel stressed about remote learning,” Wang said. “Since most of my classes are reading [or] discussion-based, virtual learning won’t make too much of a difference for me.”

Still, Wang acknowledges that virtual learning will affect some students more than others. While his coursework integrates well into a remote environment, others may need in-person learning for classes with laboratory components or to better understand course material in lectures.

Following President Martha Pollack’s original announcement, the University released further details on Jan. 11 detailing the University’s rationale for holding classes virtually until early February. Pollack cited the potential for COVID-related academic disruption as students return to campus as a primary reason for Cornell’s decision. 

This logic, however, remains widely unpopular among upperclassmen in particular. Avery Bower ’23 expressed serious doubts about the decision to go virtual. 

“I don’t think the virtual classes will help in stopping the spread,” Bower said. “It prolongs the amount of time people take to arrive on campus, since many people are waiting until the two weeks are up, unleashing another wave of cases.”

In addition to remote instruction, as Bower pointed out, the move-in timeline was extended to allow for a smoother transition into the semester given that many students are experiencing difficulties returning to campus.

Despite worries that the University’s measures will leave students worse off, many have accepted the decision. Though not particularly excited about having to be on Zoom, Efua Tsetsewa ’24 is looking forward to engaging with classmates upon the return of in-person instruction. 

Like Tsetsewa, many second-year students are looking towards a brighter year. After experiencing virtual learning during the majority of their first year, many sophomores want a learning environment more characteristic of a typical college experience. Hopefully, as Tsetsewa stated, they will be able to achieve their goals despite the persistence of a pandemic that began almost two years ago.

“I can only hope that there won’t be much difference from our in-person classes,” said Lexi Terracciano ’25, “and that professors [and] administration [supports] the students virtually as they would in person.”