Students favor mix of in-person, online classes if COVID-19 improves

Students walk around campus wearing masks. CT File Photo

Natalie Barr, Contributing Writer

After a year of online classes, VCU’s fall semester will offer a range of modality options, according to a VCU spokesperson.

The semester’s course schedule will offer a majority of in-person class styles while keeping some online, Director of Communications and Marketing Matthew Lovisa stated in an email. 

“In person classes will contribute to the campus living and learning experience,” Lovisa stated. “More online courses than before the COVID-19 pandemic will be offered, to allow for flexibility among students.” 

Student voices played a role in the decision for the upcoming semester as 18.8%, or approximately 4,200 out of 29,417 students, responded to a survey in March, Lovisa stated.

“Two-thirds of students who completed the survey said that, if pandemic conditions are favorable and safety precautions continue, they want to attend a mix of in-person and online classes,” Lovisa stated. 

Being vaccinated for COVID-19 remains voluntary and is not required for students and faculty returning to campus in fall, Lovisa stated. 

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring stated Tuesday that Virginia colleges and universities can require a COVID-19 vaccination for faculty members and students wishing to return to campus for fall. Faculty members and students will be safer on campus with a vaccine, but each university can decide whether the vaccine will be required or not, Herring stated. 

Fashion merchandising associate professor Deidra Arrington is excited for students to return to campus after a year of virtual classes. 

“I miss them all very much,” Arrington said. “Seeing students walking around campus will mean so much.”

VCUarts permitted hybrid models of teaching to support administration and flexibility for studio-based classes, Arrington said. Studios remained open for students to access materials and equipment.

Kikau Alvaro, an assistant professor in the musical theatre department, said he has not held an in-person class since the start of the pandemic. Musical theatre classes were offered strictly online, and the university ensured course requirements could still be met. VCU provided space on campus for safe accommodations to students who needed it, Alvaro said. 

A group of VCU students study in Monroe Park. Photo by Kaitlyn Fulmore

Alvaro is happy for students to be back together, but he knows singing can contribute to the spread of COVID-19. He will continue to follow safety precautions and advise his students to stay home if they are feeling under the weather, Alvaro said.

“After this year, we know virtual classes work, so even if someone has the sniffles, just stay home. You can join us via Zoom,” Alvaro said. “I don’t want to take any chances.”

Jenna Kline, a junior in fashion merchandising, said she was fine with virtual learning and felt supported by professors. Although, she does not want online classes forever. 

“I would be comfortable with being in person,” Kline said. 

Megan O’Casey, a sophomore in fashion design, faced challenges with virtual learning. 

“It is hard to learn technique through the computer,” O’Casey said. “Professors were provided extra cameras to show techniques up close, which I appreciated, but it’s still hard.” 

O’Casey is comfortable with design classes being in person and feels it would remain safe. Since last semester, hand sanitizer and bleach wipes were readily available, and all students were encouraged to clean down their stations, O’Casey said.

“If these measures stay in place and students keep wearing masks, I feel confident to return,” O’Casey said.

Cecilia Nguyen, a sophomore majoring in photography, said she is happy to return to campus moving forward. She said the energy and collaboration of being around her classmates cannot be met over Zoom. 

Freshman business student Reena Pidaparti has only experienced VCU through her computer screen. She said she is ready for campus life to build connections. 

“I will continue to wear my mask and practice safety measures,” Pidaparti said. “I hope this leadership will implore students to do the same.”

When it is time to decide the plans for fall 2021, Alvaro wants the university to consider the needs of all students. 

“This next decision, whatever it may be, has to be accommodating to all,” Alvaro said. “It just has to. We can’t cut any corners.”

The university will continue to update the One VCU: Better Together website with new information and updates regarding the fall semester, Lovisa stated. 

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