College classes are back in session around the country, or at least something that resembles them.
The word “weird,” was how several professors and students described their classes during the first week of this pandemic semester.
At Purdue University, for instance, officials spent the summer installing five miles of plexiglass barriers in classrooms and other spaces on campus. They bought a million face masks. And they touted the Protect Purdue Pledge that everyone had to agree to.
So how did the first week of teaching actually go?
“It just feels a little strange to me in terms of effectiveness,” said Deborah Nichols, an associate professor at Purdue University. “I’m not going to be lecturing or doing what I would typically do in a face-to-face setting. Instead, all of that will be handled online. And then we will meet to work on the high-stakes kinds of assignments that I have.”
As she taught, she had to balance thinking about how to teach effectively with how to maintain social distancing and other safety measures. “I wore two masks. I doused myself in sanitizer after class was over. I wiped down my keyboard and my monitor and pretty much everything that I would stand around,” Nichols added. But she didn’t put up the optional plexiglass shield at the podium. “I felt like I was well over six feet away from any student.”
Joseph Ching, a junior majoring in industrial engineering, was excited to get back to an in-person class. But he was surprised to find that the first one on his schedule turned out to be very different than he expected.
“When I walked in, it was just the TA and they were just broadcasting the Zoom call” of the professor teaching remotely, said Ching. “So essentially we were just watching a Zoom lecture in a lecture hall and all of the interaction was done online, and none of us that were in the classroom—there were only about 15 of us—got to really interact because we weren't logged in to Zoom. So actually it turned out [to be] less interactive.”
Meanwhile, students at colleges that have decided to teach everything online face challenges as well.
Marjorie Blen, a first-generation student at San Francisco State University who just transferred from a local community college, has overcome plenty of hurdles to finish her two-year degree. But adjusting to online is proving a tough challenge.
“It was one of one of those weeks, when I wonder, am I going to make it?” she said.
This is episode two of our semester-long series called Pandemic Campus Diaries. We’ve asked students and professors at six colleges around the country to share their experiences and reflections as they try to keep their studies on track during COVID-19. Last time we heard about all the intense preparation, and some last-minute pivots, as students and professors got ready to go back to college. Today, we focus on how the first week of classes went, and you’ll hear what made things so strange.