A Professor’s Perspective: Back to In-Person Classes

by Amber Rizzi, English

Now that the first semester back on campus is wrapping up, there are a lot of differing opinions and viewpoints about how things have changed due to the emergence of COVID-19. People are striving to be more compassionate toward each other both inside and outside the classroom. This may result in differing university practices from when Georgian Court was shut down over a year ago. “I find from the administration on down to faculty that we are willingly practicing more tolerance for special circumstances when students are confronting difficulties,” says Dr. Karen Veselits, PhD, professor of English. “[This is because] [w]e assume some of them stem from Covid-related issues.”

Of course, the entire world has had to adjust to changes that were brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, masks are either strongly encouraged or outright required in indoor settings, use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is a mainstay in medical settings, and people are being encouraged to get vaccinated against COVID-19, which is a requirement for the students at Georgian Court. People coming to campus are required to fill out the Campus Clear application for every day that they are on the premises as well, promoting safety and health while on campus.

There are also specific guidelines for Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) (such as Georgian Court) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The guidelines encourage vaccinations amongst members of IHEs. It is written on the CDC website, “IHEs can help increase vaccine uptake among students, faculty, and staff by providing information about COVID-19 vaccination, promoting vaccine trust and confidence, and establishing supportive policies and practices that make getting vaccinated as easy and convenient as possible” (CDC). By requiring all students to get vaccinated and encouraging staff and faculty to do the same, Georgian Court is following CDC guidelines laid out for these institutions.

With that information in mind, it is also important to consider what methods of learning work and the ones that do not. Georgian Court had to adopt an online module in the early days of the pandemic back when social distancing was new, and it made an impact on student learning. “I think the online module worked well fall of last year because I had a very small class and was able to give a lot of individual attention through email,” said Veselits. Being able to give individual attention to a student who may need it is beneficial to their learning in the long run, and a smaller class size would help with that. There are also the emotional and psychological issues to consider due to the pandemic. “Students were home with their parents, so they had support for the emotional issues that came up because of Covid,” she said. Support is important for a student in their collegiate journey. If a student did not feel support from somewhere, it would be harder for them to reach their full academic potential.

Working from the online module had its pros and its cons, and even being back in-person has still involved similar uses of technology to conduct classes and hand in work. “Even with in-person classes, I still maximize my use of digital features of the class because students seem to prefer it,” said Veselits. “Not much changed from last fall being completely online to this fall being in person and using digital platforms.” There is a great emphasis on digital platforms today to complete college courses. Students learn to navigate these platforms early on in their college careers, as they help them do the work and achieve their full academic potential.

One place where students work to reach that full academic potential is the Sister Mary Joseph Cunningham Library on campus. It is not unusual to walk through the library and see a student studying or working on a project. So, this location would also have to adapt to the changes brought on by the pandemic. Right where a student or faculty member walks in, there is a sign on the door noting that face coverings are required inside, for example. “I would say that the campus library, where I hold my office hours and bring my classes, has done an excellent job balancing safety with helpfulness,” Veselits said. It is important that the locations on campus all follow the same rules, as they are indoor locations. According to the CDC, indoor locations require masking in areas of high transmission, such as a place where people congregate. An example of a place like this could be the library, or the Casino during events. Georgian Court has taken the approach of requiring masking in all indoor settings on campus with the exceptions of dorm rooms and offices (as long as the door to that location is closed).

Finally, with all this, it is important to consider how professors feel about being back in-person for the first time in quite a while, because their opinions are just as important as the students’ opinions about it. “I like meeting and interacting with students personally because that is how I have taught for most of my career and that is how I was educated,” said Veselits. While the Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate aspects of some of the classes of the online module helped with student-to-professor interaction, it is a bit different being back in-person after some time away from campus, because students and professors are able to be in the same room and the campus is open to them.

It is easy to see how the excitement with being back in-person has affected the campus population. While things are not quite the same as they used to be, it is easy to see how Georgian Court is adjusting to the new normal of a world with COVID-19. It just requires a few new rules and adjustments to what was done before the pandemic, such as mask wearing and social distancing when possible. It may not always be easy to do, but it is not impossible to safely return to campus as long as the protocols set forth by the CDC are followed. If the campus population as a whole works together to stop the spread and safely conduct classes in-person following the guidelines from the CDC, there is nothing stopping the campus from safely opening up for future semesters.

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