Students return to University buildings for hybrid classes

Jared+Kimmel+takes+class+through+Zoom+in+an+in-person+classroom+in+Ford+Center.

Anushuya Thapa/The Daily Northwestern

Jared Kimmel takes class through Zoom in an in-person classroom in Ford Center.

Anushuya Thapa, Assistant Campus Editor

In the Ford Center, Weinberg junior Saurav Khadka and Communication sophomore Jared Kimmel attended their first in-person class since the pandemic began. Twelve students were seated six feet apart as the instructor lectured the class through Zoom, with several students tuning in from home. 

Since the end of the Wildcast Wellness quarantine period on Jan. 17, Northwestern began in-person meetings for its hybrid Winter Quarter classes. For some students, classes where they have the option to meet their classmates and professors in person are a much-needed break from the abnormalities of remote learning.

“(It was) the first time I felt like I was going to school in a long time,” Khadka said. “I put on my backpack and walked out. In that regard, I think it feels more real.”

Kimmel, who had COVID-19 but has since recovered, said he is optimistic about Spring Quarter and “can’t wait” to go back to regular classes. He said he hopes enough people will be vaccinated for more small classes to start meeting in person.

Khadka and Kimmel are in the same studio team for a McCormick design class. They both said attending class in person helped facilitate collaboration, even though they sat at different tables.

“It’s also so much easier to focus when you’re actually around other people,” Kimmel said. “When you’re in your own room, just alone with your computer, it’s so easy to get lost.”

Communication sophomore Mako Yamamoto, said she had been struggling with online classes before due to the demands as a Theatre major. Last quarter, Yamamoto was enrolled in a dance class where she was one of two students learning from home while the rest met in person.

“There were technological issues and you couldn’t hear the professors,” Yamamoto said. “I think that’s what prompted me to want to go in person when I can to avoid those problems and have a better learning experience in general.”

This winter, Yamamoto is enrolled in an acting class where students attend in-person sessions in alternating groups of ten. She said students are assigned one chair for the quarter and remain masked and distanced throughout their class.

However, Yamamoto said the in-person classes present their own challenges. For example, wearing masks limits the actors’ ability to use facial expressions. In certain instances where facial cues are important, Yamamoto said she prefers acting through Zoom. For synchronized acts and movement-heavy performances, though, she said she enjoys being in person.

In-person meetings for hybrid classes also involve students who are attending class from home. Yamamoto said students studying at home watch the students on campus act through Zoom.

“We have had to move closer to the screen so that people online can actually hear us,” Yamamoto said. “So it is a practice in making sure your voice is projected, or else Zoom just won’t pick it up.”

For McCormick Prof. Gaby Ruiz-Funes, balancing between the “two planes” — one physical and the other virtual — of a hybrid class is a challenge. After holding her first in-person class since the pandemic began on Jan. 25, Ruiz-Funes said switching between interacting with in-person students and students on Zoom made gauging her students’ engagement difficult.

In addition, she said audiovisual difficulties and technological interruptions made her wish she had been able to do a “dry run” of class before an actual lecture.

“There are so many cool tools that they’ve put in these classrooms to facilitate online learning,” Ruiz-Funes said. “But the truth is, we just don’t have the time as teachers to learn those on the fly and adapt very quickly.”

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