Remote courses kick off

Overhead view of the intersection of Troudsale Parkway and Child's Way. Bovard Auditorium, Tommy Trojan and the Ronald Tutor Campus Center loom over completely empty walkways.
Ahead of the fifth pandemic-era semester, concerns remain surrounding online classes and students express surprise about the remote return after last semester’s low positivity rates and case numbers. (James Wolfe | Daily Trojan file photo)

USC announced an extension of its remote instruction period by an additional week in a Jan. 7 communitywide email, following its initial Dec. 24 announcement of a weeklong period, hindering plans for return and adding uncertainty to the semester ahead. 

In a series of interviews with the Daily Trojan, students expressed tentative approval, disappointment and indifference about the virtual two weeks. 

Ryan Benson, a junior majoring in acting, is worried about the outlook for the semester ahead, after experiencing difficulty in last year’s online classes.

“It’s slightly expected,” Benson said. “But, in general, with the classes of last year online, I just get angry because it just reminds me of how it was, how it really affected my mental health. I’m just not looking forward to it that much.”

Benson said his fears are primarily driven by the difficulty of conducting acting classes online. 

“I had freshman year all in person, and that was great,” Benson said. “But then, right when we went online, it was just so confusing. You’re not interacting with anyone and you don’t really get a good energy; you’re in your bedroom so you don’t have a nice space to really work.” 

Benson does not expect a fully online semester. He is “guessing all [of] January is going to be online,” but said that “it’s hard to tell” at this point. 

Like Benson, Eszter Morvay, a sophomore majoring in computer science, said she is “OK with” online classes for a short period but raised concerns about a longer delay of the return to in-person learning. She said it was easier to interact with those around her in the fall semester’s in-person classes compared to last year’s online classes. 

“This year, I definitely had a lot more chances to collaborate with other people,” Morvay said. “Last year, I didn’t really get to meet that many people. Also, I feel like I didn’t really have much of a connection with my professors.”

Morvay also said she “doesn’t trust [USC] to communicate effectively” in regards to future plans for remote learning.. Last year, when Morvay was an incoming freshman, the University originally announced plans for a hybrid fall semester before moving it entirely online. She said she now fears the University will do something similar with the upcoming semester.

Some students do not mind the move. Noah Kim, a senior majoring in computer science, said he has little preference between in-person and online learning. 

“I’m planning on going back either way,” Kim said. “I don’t really mind, but it’s nice to not have to go into class. I think the quality of teaching hasn’t decreased too much for me. I’m a person who learns a lot outside of lecture, and so having the lectures on demand, if I need to review for anything, or just be able to learn asynchronously, has actually almost helped me in a certain sense.”

Kim is also a teaching assistant for a computer science class and said the class “greatly benefited from the fact that a lot of [its] material is already focused on being online” and that while he’s “not super worried” about online learning, he could “see it being a huge concern for basically anyone else.”

Among the students concerned was Reed Wilson, a freshman majoring in architecture, who said he worries about how his architecture classes might fare online.

“Architecture is more of a hands-on type of program, where we’re constantly in studio, doing model-building and all that stuff,” Wilson said. “It’s definitely not impossible, but it’s definitely gonna be a lot more difficult and maybe harder for a lot of the kids to adjust to.”

Wilson wishes the University would have moved forward with beginning in person, citing the success of last semester’s coronavirus policies. 

“I was a bit shocked because USC last semester was doing phenomenal and we had a record low number of cases,” Wilson said. “I feel like it would have been fine.” 

However, some students, like Yazeed Alrajhi, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, approved of the University’s decision.

“I’m supportive of it,” Alrajhi said. “I think it’s a smart thing to find the positive cases and isolate those for the first week as students come back.”  

Alrajhi also said he is “fully in support” of the requirement that all students receive a vaccine booster dose, which the University announced along with its initial remote instruction period. 

Students began the fifth pandemic-era semester Monday. The uncertainty surrounding the semester brings dampened optimism to students, many of whom look forward to starting classes but hope they are not on Zoom for the long haul.

“To have a schedule and just to do stuff again is nice,” Benson said. “I would definitely want [the remote period] to be [only] two weeks and then get back into it.”