The winter term at Seattle University began as the last ended: online. Originally planned to be a week-long virtual period, the first day of term started early in the morning announcement from President Eduardo Peñalver that in-person classes would not resume until January 31.
President Peñalver wrote to The Spectator that the decision to continue virtual classes until the end of the month was made on January 3, a day before his announcement. The decision was made with serious concern over the rise in COVID-19 cases within the Seattle U community that began around Dec. 30.
Peñalver noted that many considerations were taken into account, including the increase in positive cases of COVID-19 on campus and throughout King County, the effectiveness of vaccines in combating symptoms of COVID-19 and how public health experts’ requirement that those with positive cases quarantine for 10 days would pose “significant risks of disrupting the educational process”.
“In deciding to stay online in January, we considered the educational experience of our students as well as the well-being of faculty, staff, and students,” Peñalver wrote. “To make this assessment, we relied on our own expertise as educators as well as internal and external public health experts…we looked at the situation with the fast-spreading Omicron variant as a choice between teaching in person disturbed by COVID-19 or at a distance. learning.”
While the Seattle U community has been receptive to public health guidelines, the news is still frustrating for many. A prominent criticism of the move online concerns the timing of the announcement, which affected both out-of-state students and commuters, despite the fact that residence halls and dining halls remain open. Whether or not rolling credit will be given for meal plans or housing has not been decided, but President Peñalver says it will “most likely” be similar to how it was done in the end of the fall term.
“It was the right thing to do, but it sucks because they told us late,” Passion Williams, a freshman psychology major, said of the decision to go online. “I live in Portland so I’m pretty close and could go home anytime, but I know a lot of other students who [also] living out of state and it’s harder for them and it’s hard because a lot of us were already here.
Hyeri Shim, a first-year political science major, finds the experience of having online classes expand from one week to four disorienting.
“I just assumed we were going for a week, so I planned this week,” Shim said. “I [was going to] stay home but once this announcement came I was like ‘well that’s a little frustrating’ because now i have to plan a whole month of e-learning which has affected my timetable. And since I’m a local, it also affected my comings and goings on campus for weeks.
The students weren’t the only ones who found the news disappointing. Yancy Dominick, a senior instructor in the philosophy department, said while he supports safety measures, he wishes Seattle U had followed the model set by the University of Washington.
“To be honest, I was quite disappointed,” Dominick wrote to The Spectator. “Zoom calls simply cannot generate the same level of engagement and active discussion as in-person classes. I fully support the University’s efforts to keep our community safe, but personally, I would have preferred the UW approach, where faculty were given the flexibility to decide for themselves whether their classes would be in-person or online for January.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of a month-long hiatus from in-person classes is the inability to effectively recreate a classroom environment on Zoom, as well as the inevitable fatigue that comes with being on screens all the day. Students and faculty weighed in on the challenges of online learning.
“Being online is obviously very frustrating and very difficult,” Williams said. “It’s harder to concentrate. You are behind the screen all day. Sometimes your eyes hurt, you get headaches, and it’s just harder to interact not only with your teachers, but also with other students and have a connection.
Michael Ng, an assistant professor in the history department, detailed his concerns about student morale as Zoom burnout looms, explaining that for him, this situation is less a matter of educational transition and more of a health issue. mental and physical students.
“Part of what makes teaching difficult isn’t how I transition assignments, but also how do I keep you going?” said Ng. “My job is not just to be a teacher, just to teach passively – we teach actively and I am responsible for your pastoral care. All professors are responsible for making sure their students are doing well, not only in class, but also checking your mental health and your physical health, all of that. It’s a lot to manage. »
Dominick acknowledges that the teaching on “Zoom is very calm”, but credits his students who have still made his classes “a joy so far this term”. He shares what he misses having live in-person classes.
“In my experience, philosophy really comes to life when people come together and make noise together,” Dominick wrote. “I really miss asking students to calm down at the end of a small group activity. In terms of adjustments, I had planned an activity in class where students researched a philosophy database. In person, I could walk around the room answering individual questions and offering help. Going to seven or eight breakout rooms is just not the same thing.
First-year science and psychology major Iman Khawane says maintaining your sanity amid virtual classes is a balance between staying safe and having social interaction.
“Honestly, at the beginning there are the benefits: you’re in your room, you don’t have to be in the community and around people,” Khawane said. “But what I’ve noticed is that after being in my room for a while, I should come to C-Street, which I’m glad is open, so I can socialize and see some people to maintain my sanity. So I feel like the fact that the campus is still open gave me that balance. I honestly think I’d be worse off mentally if it wasn’t.
Shim, who is part of the honors program where all classes are seminar-based, finds that being on Zoom adds an extra barrier to initiating and navigating conversations as well as increased screen time.
“Since it’s seminar classes, it’s definitely harder to get into a conversation and get comfortable with it and give feedback because you’ll have to hit the ‘unmute’ button “, and that in itself puts you on the spot, which I don’t. I don’t usually feel comfortable,” Shim said. “It’s also harder to stay motivated when you’re watching a screen for an hour and 40 minutes or two hours, and the fact is that since we have to work on a computer again, it’s even more exhausting because you spend all your time on a screen.
Although most of the university is learning virtually, some courses are taught in person. Sophomore nursing student River Smith has one of her classes in person and her second online. He explained his in-person experience amid the omicron surge, which involves double masking and wearing goggles.
“I’m not really comfortable with it,” Smith said. “I know there were at least six people in four sections [who] have tested positive… It seems like there is no way to win because there are skills you have to do in person like learning how to take someone’s blood pressure… but at the same time there there is this really serious virus that is overwhelming the hospitals that we train to work so we feel like we are contributing to the problem of burnout and understaffing that is plaguing medical institutions. »
Just weeks into the winter term, questions and anticipation still surround the impending return date of in-person instruction on January 31 and whether virtual classes could be extended into February. .
“I think we’re just going to have to wait and see for public health reasons, which makes a lot of sense,” Ng said. “The university pays close attention to this because the data changes all the time, but so far I haven’t heard anything about us beyond the current period.”
Williams thinks classes will certainly be extended beyond January, possibly for the whole term.
“We’re going to extend online classes 100%,” Williams said. “We can keep the faith, but unfortunately they will, and I think it’s best that we understand that reality.”
Khawane differs in his expectations and was more optimistic about a return at the end of the month, citing last quarter’s efficiency.
“This last year has proven that we can adapt being in person, so I feel like at some point when the fear factor for contagion goes down, which I think will happen in the next few weeks we will be back in person,” Khawane said. “I think Seattle U did a great job running the COVID-19 testing. We did a great job last quarter. It’s something we’ve seen that can be done, and will be done again.
It should be noted that according to several faculty members, including members of the Academic Assembly, many feel that online learning should have been extended to the entire term. This feedback was also acknowledged by President Peñalver, who noted that students and parents would primarily like to return to in-person classes.
At this time, President Peñalver assures that the current plan is to return to in-person teaching at the end of January, but warns that “as we have learned over two years of dealing with COVID -19, we must be mindful of the ever-changing public health landscape and be prepared to adjust our plans accordingly if necessary.
Within the Seattle U community, there has been a series of reactions to a month-long online learning period, which is not without difficulty. It’s hard to predict what’s next, but Seattle U remains committed to keeping the community safe and healthy while trying to bring back the college life atmosphere of in-person learning.