By Megan Loock
Elm Staff Writer
Campus was closed for the Fall 2020 semester but was reopened for the Spring 2021 semester for all students who wished to live on campus.
This came as a relief to freshman Piper Sartison spent her first semester as a Washington College student in Canada. The COVID-19 pandemic kept her isolated, confined to the space of her home, and kept her from being able to move onto campus.
Now, she is enjoying a semi-normal college experience in Caroline Hall.
“I really like it. I’m on the tennis team, so I have made a few friends. It’s different because of all the COVID-19 things, but yeah, I like it,” she said.
“I was so upset,” Sartison said about last year’s online semester, “But I am so happy to be here.”
However, this semester’s classes are still virtual just as they were last semester, according to the Nov. 16, 2020, Contingency Planning Group Update.
Professors remain optimistic about the continuing virtual status.
“It was a lot easier. We weren’t trying to do online teaching, we were trying to do WC teaching in an online format which is an entirely different proposition,” said Associate Chair and Associate Professor of English Dr. Courtney Rydel.
Last September, The Elm asked students how they felt about being off campus for a completely virtual semester. Many student shared mixed responses, and their answers have changed now that students are living on campus and are preparing for some in person classes.
Symptoms of Zoom fatigue are real for students and professors alike, and it continues to affect every aspect of their lives.
“I think that my optimism has definitely waned as we have gone further and further into the pandemic,” sophomore Nicholas Splendoria said.
“People, especially students, are on Zoom all day, whether it is for classes, meetings with professors, or any other activity that was done in person. Everyone has experienced some sort of Zoom fatigue and I think that has affected a lot of people, myself included,” Splendoria said.
For Dr. Rydel, garnering morale in the virtual classroom has been “harder, [but] it hasn’t been impossible.”
“The longer we have gone, the more I find myself getting lazy. I’m not held to the same level of responsibility as I am in the classroom,” junior Alison Buckwalter said.
“[The students] also seem to be maybe just a little bit more stressed than normal and I try to be aware of that,” said Chair of Physics and McLain Associate Professor of Physics and Environmental Science & Studies Dr. Karl Khem. However, “the students have been very good under a difficult situation [and] I commend them for all their patience,” he said.
To combat this growing issue, in addition to the announcement on Nov. 16 the WC administration announced that there would be the potential to return to in-person hybrid instruction after Spring Break if students chose to return to campus.
“It is a priority for all of us to continue to teach all our students, to help all of you learn in a way that works for you,” Interim Provost and Dean Dr. Michael Harvey said in an email on March 23.
Some students feel concerned that it is too soon to shift to a hybrid learning style.
For students like Sartison — who chose to remain online for the rest of the semester — attending in-person classes not only puts her health at risk but her teammates’ health at risk as well.
“I would have to quarantine like I wouldn’t be able to play for two weeks,” she said.
As of March 23, when the email from the Provost’s Office was sent regarding the hybrid learning schedule, only 40 of the 310 classes being offered this semester will be adopting the school’s hybrid learning model.
“What I did not expect though is the great imbalance that has resulted. Out of 26 students, only 6 are coming back into the classroom,” said Professor of Psychology and, Interim Department Chair Dr. Lauren Littlefield. “While I would love to see more students in person, I understand that some are worried, unvaccinated, or do not want to adhere to the restrictions that come along with learning on campus this semester.”
However, for students like Buckwalter and Splendoria, the transition to a hybrid model of learning will bring a level of normalcy back to their college experience.
Dr. Rydel will be teaching two of the 40 classes that will adopt this “hyflex”—or “‘hybrid flexible’”—learning model.
“Hy-flex can take many forms, but the bottom line is that there are both in-person and online components that can be mixed in a variety of ways,” she said.
“I feel like for my own mental health and well-being I think being on campus at a limited capacity would help,” Dr. Rydel said. However, she also shared that “it’s very hard for [her] to look out for students in the same way” virtually as she used to in person.
“This year has been horrendous,” Dr. Rydel said. “Talking to other friends at other institutions and hearing some of the ways they have been hamstrung or controlled and some of the ways in which their students have been — quite frankly — mistreated is the verb I would use, I appreciate how good we have it here. At Washington College, the rule has always been, ‘do what is best for you and your students.’”