The controversy over in-person classes

NAU students walk through central campus along the pedway between MacDonald Hall and Raymond Hall, Sept. 2.

Following the start of in-person classes, students and professors expressed reservations about returning to a blended learning modality amid the pandemic. Despite these concerns, however, there are some students who are ready to get back in the classroom and leave academic Zoom meetings in the dust.

Sophomore Isaiah Stancil said video calls are not nearly sufficient in delivering a college education, and that classes should be more interactive and engaging. This expectation, he continued, cannot be replicated through a computer screen. In terms of potential COVID-19 infection due to in-person classes, Stancil said he is not very concerned because professors are dividing meetings between smaller groups of students and observing social distancing guidelines.

The student experience regarding in-person classes has been fairly good so far sophomore Logan Johnson said. Only a few other students  physically showed up to one of his classes.The hour consisted of forming a small, socially-distanced group and working on an activity together. The only downside Johnson recalled was it seemed difficult for the professor to keep track of both her online and in-person groups of students. He said he anticipates the difficulty will lessen with time, though.

“Overall, my in-person class was not too bad,” Johnson said. “We were able to physically distance and also clean our spaces after the class was done.”

Despite increased safety guidelines applied to all in-person instruction, some professors said they feel conflicted about returning to the classroom, even if time is split between small groups of students. Professor Mark Neumann, who teaches creative media and film, explained that his course, introduction to documentary studies, started meeting face-to-face for students who selected that learning modality. Neumann said that although he prefers and enjoys teaching in person, it is simply not a feasible option given the current state of the world. There were very few students who physically attended Neumann’s class when in-person learning began, and he said that shows his students’ understanding regarding the gravity of the situation.

“I like to teach students in a physical classroom,” Neumann said. “There is a spontaneity in the discussions and chances to be together and get to know each other as people … however, given the health risks of being on campus and being in a classroom, I would prefer to work with my students through Zoom meetings.”

During an Aug. 31 faculty senate meeting, Faculty Senate President Gioia Woods said she understands the concerns among faculty members. Woods also said the concerned members of faculty do not intend to harm student academics or be uncooperative in any way. She added that these fears are based on the simple fact that faculty have direct contact with students on a weekly, or even daily, basis. 

Neumann is currently teaching two other asynchronous classes, which use weekly discussions to address the materials and objectives. He said these courses have been successful — at least so far —  because the students are allotted a certain amount of flexibility in terms of their work.

Overall, Neumann stressed that his students are much more partial to having class virtually rather than risking their health in the classroom. 

“We’re doing the best we can given the current dangers of a pandemic, and I find that students are doing a great job of showing up for our Zoom meetings, participating and adapting to all of this,” Neumann said. “Given the options of coming to class or meeting together on Zoom, they seem to prefer the latter.”

Many people around the university community share similar opinions regarding in-person learning, which remains a controversial discussion among students and faculty.