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6 feet apart or Zoom U: What class will look like come fall

July 27, 2020

Human development and family studies sophomore Jill Brennecke woke up on March 11 like she would any normal day, with rising concerns of the novel coronavirus circulating through the country and college campuses. The Michigan State sophomore didn’t think there was a chance MSU would go online. As schools across the country began to close, Brennecke prepared to brave the storm.

Brennecke had a volunteer shift at McLaren Hospital that morning, but it was canceled due to the virus. It wasn’t going to be a normal day. In fact, Brennecke’s normal was about to change.. The entire student body’s normal was about to change.

“I woke up the next morning and checked my phone, I had no new emails," she said. "I started getting ready for my volunteer shift at McLaren Hospital, and began walking out the door when I got an urgent email to not come in for volunteering today due to a rise in COVID-19 numbers. I got back into bed at about 9 a.m., and woke up again around 11 a.m. I had 30-plus texts from family members and friends, missed calls from my parents and an email from President Stanley: school was now online.”

Soon after the March 11 email from President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. that put classes online, the campus was a ghost town and many students were back home introduced to a new normal, learning to work with online classes. As much as students may try to get their pre-COVID-19 norms back, things in the fall won’t be the same.

May 27, Stanley announced his intentions to get students back in the fall but also confirmed that campus life and learning would not be the same. The university instructed professors to put 75% of their classes online and the few in-person classes left will be dominated by social distancing.

With heaps of classes being moved online and in-person learning socially distanced, coming to campus in the fall may not be as easy, especially without knowing what to expect.

Welcome to Zoom University: The online class takeover

When classes moved online in the spring, many professors turned toward Zoom, a service that lets you hold face-to-face meetings over the computer, like a classroom shoved into FaceTime.

While online classes may have their perks, it depends on who you ask. Being able to take the classes when you want and semi-operate at your own pace each week is a better alternative for some.

“My online classes weren’t hard at all to get adjusted to,” psychology sophomore Siena Fontanesi said. “I would just hop on Zoom when I had to and I was just taking all the quizzes and finals on D2L. All of my professors were pretty understanding of the difficulties and changes that the students were facing so we had some extended deadlines and some assignments dropped which was nice.”

After Fontanesi adjusted, she said she enjoyed the structure of online school and thought Zoom was a good alternative to in-person instruction. Fontanesi is taking more online classes in the fall because she found them easier to manage. 

The upside for some students is the drawback for others; for online classes you have to get out of bed, get on your computer and make yourself do the work. There’s no set time or space holding you to it.

“I don't think I handled it particularly well,” supply chain management junior Sebastian Luna said. “Especially because I went back home and I could rarely ever bring myself to watch recorded lectures and I basically ended up just doing homework, taking quizzes, and taking exams with little to no preparation."

6 feet apart: The reality of future in-person classes

One of the hardest adjustments for many with classes being moved online in the spring was being away from campus.

“I didn't enjoy it because I genuinely like going to class and actually learning,” Luna said. “The classroom setting really gives me more motivation to work hard and actually learn the material I'm being taught and I didn't have that at home. ... I missed my friends and the freedom I had on campus but more so I think I missed the energy on campus. I think the atmosphere MSU provides really motivates me to take classes seriously and I truly missed that while at home.”

MSU students who want to take in-person classes will still have the option, but their experience will look different than the past.

In Stanley’s email that announced the university’s plans to bring students back to campus this fall, he stressed the importance of health and safety. The plans roll through campus life and into classrooms.

“The fall 2020 semester will look different from any previous semester at MSU," Stanley said in an email to the students. "The driving factor behind our decisions will continue to be the health, safety and well-being of students, faculty and staff."

Since Stanley announced his plans to open, the Board of Trustees has announced that masks on campus will be required and is taking other actions to increase testing, contact tracing and social distancing to monitor and sustain the health of those who return. 

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Stanley sent out another update June 26 about  how the fall semester will look, confirming the social distancing policies.  Incoming freshmen will be given a safety kit upon arriving on campus and masks will be required.

"To support as safe a return to campus as possible this fall, faculty members are working to put about half of their classes online, shift about a quarter of their classes to a hybrid model of instruction and move the remaining in-person classes into larger rooms to allow for 6 feet of physical distancing," Stanley said in the email.

Editor's Note: This article is part of our Summer Mail Home issue. View the full digital issue here.


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