By Emma Reilly
Elm Staff Writer
On Oct. 5, the Washington College Response Team revealed initial plans for the 2021 Spring Semester. According to their email, 450 students will be welcomed back on campus, with priority for first-year students and some upperclassmen.
This announcement raises many questions, especially regarding how WC freshmen — and others living on campus — will be learning.
Students on campus this spring will continue to take classes virtually. However, members of the WC COVID-19 Response Team said “at the midway point of the semester” they will consider a “transition to in-person instruction.”
What would a return to face-to-face instruction look like for WC?
According to a survey conducted by the Institute of International Education in July of 2020, 87% of colleges and universities that reassessed their class delivery this fall opted for some form of hybrid learning. They said that hybrid learning for these institutions included models “limiting in-person instruction to a certain percentage,” “restricting in-person instruction to class size,” “offering in-person instruction until a specific date,” or “only allowing in-person instruction for certain types of classes, such as labs or practicums.”
For the reduced student body that WC will be welcoming at the start of the spring semester, one such combination of online and in-person instruction would be ideal.
Taking the necessary precautions against the spread of COVID-19 is vital to an effective hybrid format. Required face mask use, limited class sizes, and the enforcement of social distancing practices can promote safe interactions between people both in and out of the classroom, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. With these and other restrictions in place, WC will be able to reduce the dangers presented by a return to in-person learning.
WC can also minimize the impact of person-to-person contact by adhering to “Considerations for Institutions of Higher Learning,” a comprehensive guide published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Implementation of the recommended “modified layouts,” which include smaller class sizes, restricted communal spaces, and limited group activities, could go a long way at WC.
According to the CDC, these changes will “help protect students and employees…and slow the spread of COVID-19.”
The benefits of hybrid learning are unmistakable. A return to in-person instruction — no matter how blended or unusual — will give freshmen a chance to experience hands-on college learning. On-campus WC students will also be afforded valuable opportunities to interact and collaborate with peers, mentors, and professors. This speaks volumes towards the development of meaningful connections, which make up the fifth pillar of WC’s educational standard.
Of course, there are drawbacks to this potential change. There is the unavoidable fact that people mingle. At many schools where hybrid learning has already been implemented, campuses have struggled to enforce COVID-19 safety measures.
“Early outbreaks at dozens of colleges have underscored…the limitations of any college to control the behavior of young people who are paying for the privilege to attend classes,” Shawn Hubler and Anemona Hartocollis of The New York Times said.
A level of trust is being placed in those returning to WC’s campus. It may be the responsibility of students to follow regulations and to take safety measures seriously.
The chance to be immersed in the WC community, however, outshines the weight of those responsibilities. In the face of relentless change, it is evident that a decision on the part of WC officials to shift to hybrid instruction would be far from a poor one.
Featured Photo caption: Many WC students are complaining of anxiety and zoom fatigue after a semester of online classes. Photo by Rebecca Kanaskie.