The spring semester is a small step closer to the pre-pandemic college experience as a select number of courses have become in-person and limited on-campus activities resume.
In-person classes, however, faced hiccups as they were first pushed back due to severe winter weather and then were suspended after two days due to a surge in positive COVID-19 cases among students. Suspension of in-person classes and activities was extended twice but resumed on Feb. 12. Due to bad weather, the University shut down this Thursday, and in-person classes were suspended once again.
Sophomore Sarah Ann Duck expressed frustration about the frequent suspension of in-person activities, particularly her psychology research.
“I was unable to do any research last semester due to the COVID-19 restrictions and have been hoping that I will be able to begin this semester,“ she said. “Thursday was the fourth week in a row that my start date got pushed back. I don’t have any other in-person classes, so it’s been pretty frustrating that the one in-person activity I would like to do keeps getting delayed.”
Hopkins has not been able to conduct a full week of in-person activities four weeks into the semester. Thursday classes that meet in-person have yet to meet inside a classroom.
Some Hopkins students, however, were able to step inside a physical classroom for the first time in nearly a year at some point in the past two weeks. For some, it was exciting; for others, it was nerve-racking. Those without the opportunity of in-person learning expressed both frustration and relief.
Sophomore Rishi Biswas, a Computer Science major, attended his first in-person class last Thursday. He believes in-person instruction was a safe environment that made group collaboration and problem-solving easier.
“I felt perfectly safe because everyone was wearing a mask, the chairs were distanced,” he said. “It was great to finally see those people in the flesh that I had only seen on a screen.”
Junior Norah Wilson, however, did not enjoy attending in-person classes.
“It was definitely scary and weird because it was the first one in almost a year. The seats were labeled so we spread out. I felt decently safe,“ she said. “I didn’t like being in person. I have a lot of anxiety with COVID-19. It was cool but I’d rather stay home.”
Students are not required to return to Baltimore or attend in-person classes, as the University previously announced that all courses will offer a remote option. Wilson, per the policy, is not required to attend the class in-person, but the professor is not offering a Zoom alternative and instead only uploads lecture slides.
Victoria Harms, a professor in the Department of History, teaches a course with 40% of students physically attending the class. She noted the challenges of running a class in-person and online simultaneously.
“As an instructor, you want to make sure that you pay equal attention to those people who are on Zoom and those who are in person,“ she said. “I do think it’ll still take some time to optimize the delivery, but I have amazing students who are very patient. We understand that this is new, not just for them but also for me.”
Harms said the cancellation of in-person classes makes the hybrid semester more difficult.
“People should consider that when you constantly have to readjust and improvise, it increases the workload on everyone,“ she said. “I’m most concerned about my students. I want them to be healthy. That is my main concern.”
Sophomore Jonathan Susilo is an international student from Indonesia. After experiencing only one semester of a normal college experience, Susilo said he looked forward to a return to normalcy.
“I really miss going to Brody and meeting a friend, then meeting whoever they’re sitting with, and just making random connections with people that you otherwise maybe have never shared a class with before,” he said. “That aspect of being in college and being on campus is something I really miss.”
The Milton S. Eisenhower Library and the Brody Learning Commons have resumed operations with limited capacity and a reservation system.
Junior Max Muss was initially enrolled in three labs that were scheduled to meet in-person. Two courses, however, later changed to an online-only format while one was cancelled entirely. Muss believes the changes will negatively impact his candidacy for summer internships.
“My manufacturing class got fully cancelled. That class teaches one of the main technical skills I should have learned at Hopkins,” he said. “My hireability for the summer is now affected because I already told interviewers that I would have those skills by the summer.”
Muss expressed frustration with the limited opportunity for in-person involvement in and outside of his coursework.
“The University set really high expectations when they said that campus was reopening and they were charging full tuition,“ he said. “Now we’re back and, for me at least, literally nothing has changed since last semester. The new outdoor tent is not enough to justify how high they set the bar and charging full tuition.”
Across the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and the Whiting School of Engineering, 18% of courses are offered in-person, and 45% of undergraduate students are enrolled in at least one in-person class.
Sophomore June Wang is also enrolled only in online classes. While she acknowledges that they foster a more effective learning environment, she supports the University’s decision to limit the number of in-person classes.
“Even though it would be the better way to learn, I don’t think it’s the responsible thing to do to bring all classes back in person, especially the larger lectures,” she said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry, especially because many students are not following COVID guidelines.”