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Students and faculty reflect on the return to in-person classes this semester

Professor Willam Goldsmith opens up his Making Public Policy class on Monday Sept. 29, 2021 in Alumni Hall with in person group discussions.

This semester, students and faculty returned to complete their first full in-person semester in almost two years.

Fall 2019 was the last time UNC had a fully in-person semester. After over a year of operating remotely, students and faculty have had to adjust back to in-person learning, while balancing new teaching formats brought on by the virtual transition. 

Diante Fields, a first-year majoring in biology, said it was difficult moving from online learning back to in-person classes.

“I would say coming back in person was a bit hard because this online education is very superficial and for us to come back in person full blast is like a whole different atmosphere,” Fields said.

Fields said he enjoyed online learning because of the flexibility it gave him in his daily schedule. 

 “We get tired as students, and we need that flexibility of like, ‘can I come to this class asynchronously?'" Fields said. 

To help students adjust to the in-person return this semester, some professors have implemented remote options to give students a mix of both types of learning. 

Victoria Song, a junior majoring in environmental studies and business administration, said these class options have been a good balance between the value of the in-person experience and the flexibility of remote learning. 

“I think I realized that I really appreciate that some classes were in-person but could sometimes operate on a hybrid basis," Song said. "Like if you were sick or something, you could Zoom in and the professor could incorporate you into the class."

Some professors have also changed the structure of their classes around the pandemic, specifically when it comes to the use of technology.

Alexandra Goldych, a graduate teaching fellow in the department of romance studies, said she uses online textbooks and powerpoints in her classroom more often now than prior to the pandemic.

“Pre-COVID in my language classroom, and most language classrooms, we didn’t really use powerpoints and we were a lot more interactive,” Goldych said.  

John Albrite, a graduate teaching fellow in the department of English and comparative literature, said that he began using Sakai as an information hub during the pandemic, and continued using it this semester — although his students don't necessarily need to rely on it anymore. 

Albrite said that he generally prefers teaching in person because it allows him to better assess any questions or confusions, rather than just talking into a void. 

“I feel like being back in person has helped me have a better gauge of if students are understanding the class, if they are interested in what we’re talking about,” Albrite said. 

In-person learning also allows for opportunities that can't be done remotely. Fields said being in person has helped him with classes that have a physical learning component.  

“As a bio major, you kind of have to be in person, get hands-on experience in the labs,” Fields said. 

Now that most students have returned to campus, more in-person social activities have resumed. However, because of the pandemic, Song said things still don’t look the same as they used to. 

“Everyone was more social, and now obviously because of COVID, there’s limitations to that," she said. "I haven’t really made new friends. I’ve just gotten closer with my old friends, so I can only imagine how hard it is for first-years."

There were multiple active COVID-19 clusters on campus at the beginning of the fall semester. These included clusters in residence halls like Ehringhaus, Hinton James, Parker and Avery. 

Now, according to the UNC COVID-19 Dashboard, there are no active clusters in campus housing as of Nov. 28.  

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According to the Carolina Together website, 94 percent of students have attested that they are vaccinated, and students 18 and older who have been vaccinated for at least 6 months are now eligible for booster shots in North Carolina. 

Those who are not vaccinated are required to be tested weekly, a Carolina Together Testing Program precaution that has been in place since Sept. 15. 

Other precautions include mask requirements, which still apply in classes, libraries, dorm common areas and dining halls. 

Despite these differences from a normal year, Fields, Song, Goldych and Albrite noted benefits of being back on campus this semester. 

“All in all, I would say that I have enjoyed teaching this semester more than I did when we were remote,” Albrite said.