Close to Home: Keeping SRJC classes online is misguided
Santa Rosa Junior College’s decision to keep most classes online this fall is not in keeping with the needs of many students or recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for returning to in-person learning.
A majority of the students in my Zoom classes have said they are “aching” to return to learning in-person, as one of them put it, after a year of staring at computer screens and not being allowed in classrooms.
I have been teaching art history at SRJC since 1997, and I Iive in Berkeley, so teaching remotely avoids a 120-mile round-trip commute. But I am as eager to return to in-person classes as most of my students — as are faculty members in various departments I’ve discussed this issue with. A recent article in the campus newspaper, the Oak Leaf, interviewed 14 faculty members and students, and only two students agreed with the decision to remain online.
The decision was announced in an April 7 email from SRJC President Frank Chong. While I know he believes this is the right decision, it seems to have overlooked several important factors that could make it feasible to have at least a partial return to classrooms this fall, while ensuring that reasonable measures to protect the health of the campus community are observed.
The negative effects of long-term online-only classes on students and teachers are well known: “Zoom headaches” from too many hours spent in front of a computer screen, an inability to maintain concentration during lectures, high dropout rates and depression and anxiety from continuing social isolation.
There are measures that other colleges have taken to allow at least a large portion of their lecture classes to resume in person. For example, Sonoma State University is planning for 45% to 55% of its classes to be on campus this fall, and only classes with 60 or more students will be entirely online.
Here are some steps SRJC could take to safely do the same:
— Classes in larger lecture halls could be staggered to meet the CDC’s latest guidelines of reduced capacity and 3 feet of space between students. For example, one out of two classes could be held in these lecture halls in each department, which would allow departments without large classrooms to use these spaces on alternate days.
Within these rooms, each class could be limited to 50% capacity, with masks required at all times. In the art department, this would mean up to 30 students could be enrolled in each section in the main lecture space, Analy Hall, while some other departments could have somewhat larger classes in their lecture halls.
Since SRJC requires a minimum of 22 students per section, this would more than meet that standard.
— All students who enroll in in-person classes could be required to prove they are fully vaccinated. By June 15, all Californians over 16 will have had ample opportunity to be vaccinated. Dozens of colleges across the country are already doing this, or planning to, so that they can return to at least partial in-person teaching this fall.
— Many classes could be hybrid, with two weeks of in-person teaching and two weeks online. This would free up space for alternating classes in the same room due to the reduced capacity limitations. This too is being done in public and private schools all over the Bay Area.
Of course, planning for a partial return to in-person learning is a complex task, but isn’t that the administration’s job? President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill and California’s recent grant to school districts allocated billions of dollars toward the expense of reopening schools, including colleges, as soon as possible.
There are more than four months before fall semester begins at SRJC. Our campus made the transition to online-only learning in only 2½ months last summer. Surely we can make the transition back to partial in-person teaching by this fall for the educational and social benefits, as well as the mental health, of our students. Isn’t that why we’re all here, after all?
Mark Anthony Wilson is an adjunct professor of art history at Santa Rosa Junior College. He lives in Berkeley.
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