Fine: On taking in-person classes

Simona Fine, Assistant Opinion Editor

If you had told me a year ago that I would savor walking up Sheridan Road, into the windowless halls of Tech, I probably would have laughed. Living on South Campus and studying engineering meant that every day I trekked north, braving the freezing cold winds of the Evanston winter. I would stay up there until my classes were over for the day, looking forward to the time when I could return to my dorm.

Unlike most students, I had the opportunity to take two hybrid courses this quarter, which gives me the opportunity to go in person for class sessions. One is a required materials science class that I was excited to see being offered in a live format. The other course, taught by the English department, was one of the only humanities classes available in person, and since the topic seemed interesting, I jumped at the chance to register for it.

When I spoke to peers about taking live courses, the immediate reaction was typically to ask me about the precautions in place. Honestly, I always felt safe and comfortable in the classroom. The engineering class sessions are treated like lectures and are hosted in one of the largest rooms in Tech. Students are dispersed, with any excess chairs already removed from the space, and masks were required. Over Zoom, the professor and his chalkboard are in view, so that everyone can see his writings and diagrams. When a remote student speaks, their voice is broadcast through a speaker so those of us in person can hear. Since there is no corresponding microphone that amplifies the dialogue of in-person cohort for the virtual attendees, my professor asked us to have Zoom open on our computers so we can unmute ourselves if we need to interject.

In my other hybrid class, which is discussion based, we meet in another spaced out room, this time in Kresge, which is set up differently. Six screens, all displaying the class’s Zoom call, grace the walls, accompanied with microphones and cameras so that the remote students can see and hear, without the use of additional laptops. When the Zoom group is placed into breakout rooms, the in-person students discuss amongst ourselves. No one seems to be in Kresge at our meeting time besides those associated with this course, and while Tech is definitely more populated, the empty halls are still a bit haunting when compared to the hustle and bustle that used to be present. The classes themselves also feel vacant, because although many of my peers live in Evanston and have the option to attend live, I’ve never witnessed more than eight students in the room on any given day, as many still prefer to call in or watch the recorded lectures.

Even with the restrictions and changes, participating in live lectures is a refreshing change of pace.There is a marked difference between my attention span in online classes versus those that I can attend in person. I exclusively take notes by hand, so before the transition to remote learning, I was not accustomed to staring at my laptop screen during class, which obviously provides many more opportunities for distractions. Plus, the ability to turn off my camera makes it easier to disengage from a lecture to check my phone, which in turn magnifies the diversions, while the choice to keep the camera on means I constantly worry about others directly looking at me. When participating in a live class, I can avoid these technological distractions and better focus on the material at hand. Also, I enjoy having an excuse to leave my apartment. With the colder weather decreasing our ability to socialize outside, any chance to get out of the house — any sliver of normalcy — is welcome. I missed chatting with friends in the halls after class, and while there certainly isn’t the same spontaneity associated with casually running into people on campus, these small interactions with my peers now feel exciting.

Class registration for Winter Quarter is rapidly approaching and I encourage other students to think about registering for in-person classes. Selecting the hybrid version of a course does not mandate that you only attend live, as many of my classmates alternate between joining class online or in person. I know I will be scouring CAESAR in an attempt to find hybrid courses that are relevant to my majors, looking for more chances to escape the hellhole of Zoom University.

As the conclusion of in-person activity during the quarter approaches, I plan to relish each remaining walk to campus, now recognizing that with the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, strolling to Tech is a lot more special than it initially seemed.

Simona Fine is a McCormick junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.