Throughout the entirety of the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve always been a firm believer that education should not be confined to the virtual realms of platforms such as Zoom. That being said, it has gradually become a growing fear of mine that what was once raised as a bandage solution to an unprecedented time, will never truly fade away with the consequences surely being felt.
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Excellence Mark Ligas shares the University’s efforts to ensure in-person learning for all students this Spring 2022 semester, with an email that was sent out to all faculty from the Office of the Provost on Jan. 11, and later shared with the Mirror by Ligas.
The email states, “Given the current environment, however, there may be times when faculty members have to alter the format and delivery of instruction during the semester if the impact of the virus is significantly affecting the classroom experience, or the instructor contracts Covid-19 and must isolate.”
The email goes on to state, “We expect these alterations to be temporary, and trust in each faculty member’s ability to make the best decision to ensure academic continuity while meeting the needs of their students and the curriculum.”
Is every single professor honestly putting their best foot forward in “meeting the needs of their students” at this point in time? Truthfully, I’m not sure as the choices by few to indefinitely hold class over Zoom seems rather unfair to the students and other faculty members.
When first hearing the news of all in-person learning for this spring semester, me and my peers were thrilled. Similar to the past fall semester, the classes we pay thousands of dollars for, as well as the professors we pay to bestow their intelligence upon us and educate, would actually engage us in the physical classroom.
Let’s think back to February of 2020 before our world was flipped upside down. What was the purpose of going to school as an elementary, middle, high school or college student? Some may say right off the bat that the purpose was to gain a good education, learn important social skills, and take part in activities offered by the school, which bring joy.
Let’s delve further, though. What is the purpose of going to school in-person versus online? We have all been told and led to believe that students can learn fully online, school theatre productions have gone as far as becoming virtual over Zoom and students can seemingly interact socially with breakout rooms and such.
As once a high school and now college student who was thrust into online learning myself, I thoroughly disagree with the notion that students can gain a great educational experience over Zoom, but for the sake of the argument let’s assume they can. What are some of the underlying purposes for in-person learning that are not met by online learning?
Setting an alarm and having a morning routine leading up to the moment you step onto the school bus or into your parent’s car may be a good one. Finding the motivation to dress nicely, do your hair, put on deodorant and care for your physical appearance, which enhances your mental health, maybe another. How about even the simple aspect of physically stepping out of bed to attend class and not being able to merely roll over and press the power button on your computer?
We as humans need to feel a purpose to be fulfilled. It’s hard to feel as though you have a purpose as a student when you can be lying in bed and scrolling through social media without your educator being able to notice. This is not to say that all students did or do this. I suppose you could make the argument that students choose to disengage and educators are forced to rely heavily on trust.
As a mental health advocate, however, when one is robbed of human connection and isolated from their peers, mental health justifiably suffers and lends towards disinterest.
All this being said, I was extremely proud of Fairfield for allowing us students to move in on time this spring semester and attend in-person classes. It’s safe to say that we students have worked incredibly hard to ensure we stay on campus, whether it be by following safety protocols such as mask wearing and social distancing, or receiving our vaccines and booster doses to build up a high vaccination rate on campus in an effort to slow transmission.
No professor should make the decision to hold class solely over Zoom for an indefinite amount of time lightly. In instances of course where the professor has contracted Covid-19 and must isolate, or a significant outbreak has been detected in a particular class, it then makes sense to fall back on online learning for a temporary and short period.
It seems unfair, however, that certain professors have yet to hold a class in person, conducting classes via Zoom until they see fit. The majority of professors are doing as the email sent by the Office of the Provost implies, working with students in the classroom and putting their best interests at heart. There are some, however, who have been confined in their homes unjustifiably.
As of December 21, 2021, 93.8 percent of the Fairfield University community had been fully vaccinated. Although data has not yet been released that includes booster shots for Covid-19, from my own experience with peers a large majority of us students are boosted as well.
Besides Fairfield’s high vaccination rate and cooperation of students with important safety protocols, it is also crucial to recognize the lessened severity of the Omicron variant. When viewing different forms of media, it can certainly be scary to learn how Omicron is twice as transmissible as Delta and four times as transmissible as the first strand, and that the weekly average for Covid-related deaths in the United States is the highest its been since February of 2021.
Omicron accounts for 99.5 percent of new infections in the United States, as estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
I am not denying that at first glance, it’s scary and that every individual’s comfort levels differ, as well as of course one’s health status. There comes a point, however, where we must weigh all the risks and make the best decision for the present, especially when it comes to a profession that is behind building our youth’s intelligence.
Any person within our community, whether it be faculty, students, or staff has had ample opportunity to be fully vaccinated and boosted if they so wish. If fully boosted the chance of hospitalization from Omicron, which is already seemingly low for young adults, becomes further reduced by 90 percent compared to unvaccinated individuals.
Further, as of January 20, 2022, just over a week ago, the CDC released on their COVID Data Tracker platform that Covid-19 hospitalizations were 44 times higher for unvaccinated people than among those who are fully vaccinated and boosted.
This is not to shame unvaccinated individuals- that is not my place or purpose in sharing this information. Rather, it is to show that if one is worried about contracting the Omicron variant today, there are measures that can already have been taken to significantly reduce the odds of being hospitalized.
For many of us vaccinated and boosted students, the Omicron variant is similar to the common cold. Keeping in mind some of the faculty who may be older and therefore more susceptible, as well as those who are immunocompromised, is important too. If some professors weigh the risks and find their safety ultimately calls for staying home, then they should do what is best for them.
Classes which are majorly held on Zoom should have been specified as an online course then. It is not right that students who do not learn efficiently online are not now paying $2,400 for three-credit courses that have been meeting over Zoom since the start of the semester. Such money could have been used for the same course but taught by another professor who could have given them that in-person experience.
There is a very fine line because ultimately, how do you argue against a person choosing to maintain their safety? Life, however, is all about mitigating risks and we all must take them. Every time we step into a car, for example, we take a risk that is greatly reduced by tools such as seatbelts and airbags.
Stepping back into the classroom to engage with students and truly enhance their knowledge, which will guide them in their future endeavors and shape the direction their lives take, is a risk by a professor. But we have tools at our disposal too such as vaccines, booster shots, social distancing in the classroom and mask wearing, which all greatly reduce the risk.
All I hope is that professors realize how appreciative we students are for showing up to the classroom and going that extra mile for our education, as we slowly transgress out of the pandemic. I am grateful for Fairfield’s efforts in ensuring in-person learning and I really do hope that every professor is putting their best foot forward for in-person instruction.
All in all, switching class indefinitely to online learning via Zoom is not a decision that should be made lightly.