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Professors and students balance connection across hybrid classes

Although several classes are offering an in-person component this semester, many students are still choosing to attend virtually

<p>David Edmunds, a professor in the Global Development Studies department, said his “Global Development, Theories and Case Studies Part II” course has a ratio of about one student attending class in person for every two students connecting via Zoom.&nbsp;</p>

David Edmunds, a professor in the Global Development Studies department, said his “Global Development, Theories and Case Studies Part II” course has a ratio of about one student attending class in person for every two students connecting via Zoom. 

While the majority of classes have shifted online due to the pandemic, many classes that meet in-person on Grounds still have a remote option so that students not attending class in person can join their classmates through Zoom. As a result, professors have had to adapt to teaching in ways that are inclusive of students both online and in the classroom.

Hybrid classes typically meet in a large room on Grounds with students spaced at least six feet apart — either by having individual tables or by marking open seats in lecture halls with the surrounding seats roped off. The professor uses a laptop or classroom computer to broadcast the lecture and class discussion to the students on Zoom, and a headset microphone or in-room microphone is provided for the class.

David Edmunds, a professor in the Global Development Studies department, said his “Global Development, Theories and Case Studies Part II” course has a ratio of about one student attending class in person for every two students connecting via Zoom. It is possible that more of his students may start to come to class on Grounds in the coming weeks if the COVID-19 situation improves. 

Edmunds’ class has been meeting in Nau Hall 101, which has a socially-distanced capacity of 44 students. Around 12 students out of the 37 enrolled in the course attend class at a time, so the classes are not close to room capacity.

One of the biggest challenges of hybrid learning has been connecting students taking the class online with those who are present in the classroom. To do so, Edmunds is assigning breakout rooms on Zoom that include both groups of students to foster a “whole-class” learning community as best as he can.

Previously, students taking the class in-person could come to the front of the classroom and speak through a microphone to make themselves visible to those taking the class online, but Edmunds now finds it easier for students to share their thoughts with the whole class through Zoom. Additionally, Edmunds is hoping to design homework assignments that build connections across the divide as well.

“I feel a bit better about my technical competence this semester and hope the classroom experience is not so different for those on Zoom,” Edmunds said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.

Last semester, Edmunds moved his hybrid class entirely online after two weeks because the course was much less effective for the students on Zoom, and there were technical difficulties in connecting the in-person class with online students.

“I noticed a division by race and social class between those attending in person and those connecting via Zoom from home, with those at home much more likely to be from BIPOC and/or working class families,” Edmunds said.

Edmunds has heard concerns from several of his students who have the ability to attend classes in person that there may be inequalities emerging between students on Grounds and those at home. These concerned students do not want to go to class until this possibility diminishes. 

Third-year College student Eden Olsberg is in Edmunds’s “Global Development, Theories and Case Studies” class, and she said that it poses a challenge for students on Zoom to follow along with the class when the professor is teaching in person. Occasionally, professors will forget to switch back to sharing their screen with the class online, and those students therefore miss some of the material. 

“Discussion-based classes are even more difficult because there are technical difficulties with getting the students in the classroom to be heard by the students on Zoom,” Olsberg said. 

Additionally, Olsberg noted that it is harder to connect with students on Zoom while taking a class in-person. She said that if the same people go to class every time — and the same people stay on Zoom — students do not get to hear as diverse of a range of opinions since they are always talking to the same group of classmates. As a result, she sees both advantages and disadvantages to taking the course online.

“The advantages of being on Zoom are that I am in the comfort of my room, I don’t have to worry about the weather, and my glasses don't fog up from my mask!” Olsberg said. “But honestly I really prefer being in person — I’ll take any human interaction I can get.”

Marcel Schmid, a professor in the Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures, is also facilitating classes with both online and in-person students. Sixteen students came to class on Grounds, and five students joined via Zoom for the second meeting of Schmid’s “Serial Media” course. In Schmid’s “Fairy Tales” class, there were 17 students in the classroom and 13 on Zoom, whereas the “Introduction to German Studies” course had three students in the classroom and seven on Zoom. None of the rooms have been filled to capacity.

“Compared to the fall semester, I have the impression that more students are joining classes in person this semester,” Schmid said.

Approximately 27 percent of classes this spring offer an in-person component, the same percentage as last fall. However, the total number of in-person seats increased by 3 percent this semester. 

Many of the students attending these classes online are in Charlottesville, but they are not taking advantage of the opportunity to go to class on Grounds. Schmid noted that while all students are welcome to join the class in person, it should be up to each student whether or not they want to attend on Grounds or remotely. He is happy to be able to offer an in-class experience for those who can come to the classrooms.

Schmid’s “Serial Media” course had to switch classrooms after one meeting since the original room assignment did not include a microphone that could properly pick up in-person discussions for the students on Zoom to hear. 

“Teaching solely over Zoom works surprisingly well,” Schmid said. “However, the experience of thinking and exploring topics together as a team is of course better in person, on Grounds.”

Second-year College student Pilar Grover has attended her art history class — “Arts of the Islamic World” — in person for the last two weeks. Grover said that out of the 35 students in the course, around half are physically coming to class. “Arts of the Islamic World” is held in Minor Hall 125, which has a current capacity of 41 students. This means the class is using less than half of the space available.

Grover transferred to the University in the fall, so she is grateful that several of her classes have an in-person component. However, she noted that the class feels very divided since she has never met the students joining via Zoom. 

“I wanted to have in-person classes since I haven’t been able to be on Grounds as much as I’d like,” Grover said. “I’m glad I have the option to learn face-to-face.”