Plans for future course modes rely on vaccines

Students have varying opinions for their preferred course modes in the upcoming summer and fall semesters. Ultimately, any decision made must take into account vaccination levels, current health risks, students’ mental health and leadership from USG. // Photo by Garrett Shoemaker Student Publications

The Tech administration seems optimistic that online classes will not become the new normal as it currently plans to open its campus to more in-person learning throughout the summer 2021 and fall 2021 semesters.

Conversations about fall course modes are underway between the Student Government Association (SGA), the University of System of Georgia (USG) and the Tech Moving Forward COVID-19 task force.

During the middle of last semester, on Oct. 13, 2020, USG announced that all Georgia public universities and institutions will expand in-person instruction with COVID safety in mind.

According to representatives from SGA, the process of gradually increasing in-person learning began in the spring 2021 semester.

“The expectation for spring 2021 is to offer more in-person opportunities. We have seen an increase in the number of hybrid courses,” said Jackson Caruso, third-year PUBP and SGA vice president of academic affairs.

“Fully residential courses stayed about the same percentage as fall 2020. Overall, though, there are more in-person course opportunities.”

Caleb Torres, third-year PUBP and SGA chief of staff, says that course modeling for the spring 2021 semester is nearly identical to that of the fall 2020 semester. The reason for the increase of in-person learning opportunities is due to their success in the fall of 2020.

“I think a large factor was that students and professors had seen during the fall semester that in-person and hybrid class meetings could be conducted safely and efficiently,” said Torres.

However, some students say that they are not getting the in-person interaction they had expected.

“I think the workload is fair, but motivation is low because distanced learning is difficult and the lack of social interaction is mentally traumatizing on a student’s psyche,” said Anika Munjal, first-year CS.

“I am not enjoying it and feel my mental health has been compromised and that I would be doing much better and learning much more in person,” Munjal said.

When thinking about future course modes, many students agree: there is a need for greater transparency.

Shehza Anjum, first-year PUBP, chose not to register for a class required for her major because it was listed as hybrid. At the beginning of the semester, the course moved to be completely remote, but it was too late for her to register.

When asked what she expects from future course modes, Anjum said, “Transparency, mainly. I understand that there may be some pressure to offer in-person or hybrid classes on paper, but that keeps some people from actually being able to take the classes at a time that works for them.”

Munjal agrees that course mode descriptions need to be clearer, saying “The current course modes are misleading, the classes that claim to be hybrid end up being mainly fully distanced.”

Torres describes future course modes hoping for clarity, but in reality are dependent on many circumstances.

“For both semesters [summer 2021 and fall 2021], we’re most likely going to see more in-person learning experiences, whether that’s an increase in hybrid courses, residential courses, or both. Obviously, it still depends on health and safety factors, so we are planning for multiple scenarios.”

Planning for the fall 2021 semester assumes that all students will be vaccinated when the semester begins, so residential courses would be considered safer at that time. It is currently unclear when Tech will receive vaccines for all students.

Torres says students’ mental health is also playing a significant role in the decision making on course modes.

Because many students are dealing with feelings of exhaustion and isolation during distance learning, the goal of future course modes is to maximize the number of students who can learn in person while prioritizing health and safety.

Students like Christopher Kitchens, first-year PUBP, are excited for the return to in-person learning.

“Can we have in-person back?” Kitchens said. “I appreciate that professors are doing their best to adapt to the current conditions. However, being in a lot of social science classes that require in-depth discussion on the course material, that value of the class and learning greatly degrades by the lesser ability for deep discussion online.”

USG is advising students to expect the continuation of some distance learning for the time being but not forever.

The state-wide organization says, “It is important to remember that things will get back to normal. Until then, the entire faculty, staff and administration of the USG will work tirelessly to ensure the success of all our students.”