Nearly two weeks into the semester, Jo Kavishe ’25 has no clue how to get to her classes, and for good reason — she’s never attended them in person. Kavishe tested positive for COVID-19 Sept. 7, the day before classes began. As of press time, she had never stepped foot in a college lecture hall.
Since she received her positive test result, Kavishe has done her best to keep up with her courses through a mixture of lecture capture, hybrid Zoom sessions and notes posted on Canvas.
And Kavishe is not alone: As tallies of COVID-positive students continue to grow, so do the challenges of keeping students up-to-date on their in-person courses. For many professors, the solution is a return to the pandemic norm of Zoom teaching.
With high vaccination rates among student and faculty, the University administration previously spoke of a nearly fully in-person semester, with a few hybrid and online courses, The Herald previously reported.
The University has given guidance to instructors in the form of a FAQ posted Sept. 3, which outlines that “instructors teaching in-person-only courses should be flexible and support students with excused absences as they normally would” and “instructors may consider recording lectures, if feasible, or other online learning tools to help students catch up on materials and assignments.”
According to Dean of the College Rashid Zia, deans can provide notes to students “requesting flexibility” from instructors if a student tests positive. Absences due to being in COVID-19 isolation should be treated as normal excused absences by professors, Zia wrote in an email to The Herald.
“Faculty are expected to do whatever they reasonably can to support students who have to go into quarantine due to COVID (or other illnesses, for that matter),” wrote Kevin McLaughlin, dean of the faculty, in an email to The Herald. “Faculty are notified about students in their courses that have had to quarantine.”
Three of Kavishe’s four courses already had an online component, either in the form of lecture capture or Zoom accessibility. But one of her courses was meant to be entirely in-person. The professor added a Zoom component after Kavishe inquired about how to take the course in isolation.
“All of my professors were extremely understanding” and accommodating, Kavishe said. “That surprised me.”
Ellie Masto ’24 said she was able to get off the waitlist of two classes while in isolation, despite being unable to attend in person — partly because professors were “super considerate and nice” when she emailed them about her situation, she said.
Masto also had a class introduce a Zoom component to accomodate students in COVID-19 isolation.
Some of Masto’s courses had lecture capture or were posting slides from lecture. For those courses, she’s been keeping in “regular contact” with her professors to avoid falling behind.
Alberto Saal, professor of earth, environmental and planetary sciences, switched an in-person course to hybrid instruction because a student had to quarantine after his roommate tested positive.
“The best thing for me is to consider all the possibilities,” Saal said, leading him to plan for a hybrid model before the start of the semester. Because all courses in-person in the past year had a Zoom component, Saal’s classroom already had cameras and other infrastructure for hybrid instruction.
Saal was not told he had to move his course online. Rather, he did it because it was “common sense.” He said he’ll offer students access to his class on Zoom as long as there are students in isolation or quarantine.
Still, hybrid teaching comes with its drawbacks. Omer Bartov, professor of European history, has transitioned both his lecture and seminar courses to hybrid instruction after several students were put in isolation. But he said he prefers teaching in-person.
Hybrid instruction “works if it is for the few who cannot attend in person but is a nightmare as a general method, unless things are better set up for it, which they are not,” Bartov wrote in an email to The Herald.
According to Bartov, he was not told by administrators to move either of his courses online — he chose to do so himself to allow all students to participate.
When asked if there are challenges of keeping students engaged, Bartov wrote that he cannot yet say. “Hopefully it’s only a matter of one or two class sessions.”
Ben Glickman is the 132nd editor-in-chief and president of The Brown Daily Herald. He previously served as a metro editor and oversaw the College Hill and Fox Point beat, in addition to writing and editing about city politics, COVID-19 and the 2020 election. He is the co-creator of the Bruno Brief, The Herald's first news podcast. In his free time, he is passionate about birds (also tweeting) and eating way too spicy food.