Students anticipate in-person instruction

Overhead photo of completely empty McCarthy Quad in the early evening.
Virtual learning at the start of the spring semester presented obstacles in classes, leading some students to feel discouraged and unmotivated. (James Wolfe | Daily Trojan file photo)

For Dan Lee, a freshman majoring in real estate development, the extension of online instruction came with an unexpected perk: the opportunity to extend his travel plans beyond winter break, allowing him to travel to about 15 countries, all while simultaneously taking his classes. 

Following over a year of virtual classes starting March 2020, an in-person start in the fall inspired hope that remote instruction had become a thing of the past. After delaying the in-person start to the spring semester amid surging coronavirus cases, the University plans to resume in-person instruction next Monday, Jan. 24. 

Some students, such as Lee, were given the chance to make the most of the delayed return and online classes’ “flexibility.” Lee, although glad to have benefited from online instruction’s allowance for travel, said he has also felt the disadvantages that come with remote learning, such as a lack of “self-discipline” to attend class synchronously. 

“Berlin is nine hours ahead. So, if you have afternoon class for example … it’ll be 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. in Europe, so that’s very challenging,” Lee said. “I felt I was being limited and being held back because I don’t really get to participate in the discussions.”

Luana Baseio Ghandour, a freshman majoring in business administration, returned to campus on Saturday, Jan. 8 and found the extended remote learning environment advantageous, as she was able to put a face to everyone she saw in class, allowing her to become more acquainted with her peers and professors without masks. 

“I am excited [about returning],” Baseio Ghandour said. “I want to have more human interactions and I like being face to face with the professor which makes me focus more, makes me more comfortable to ask questions and talk to my friends around me. So I think it’ll be a better learning environment.” 

Although the remote start gave students such as Lee and Baseio Ghandour flexibility in their classes, Jake Hosking, a freshman majoring in computer engineering and computer science, showed concern that certain lab classes lack the hands-on experience that can’t be replicated in a virtual setting. 

“I’m taking … an intro to electrical engineering and for our labs, we’re physically wiring stuff together on breadboards, having the Arduinos, different sensors and lights,” Hosking said. “It’s really hard to do that over a computer screen because it’s very finicky in the certain ports that you have to plug into so if that had to suddenly shift to online, it’d be astronomically more difficult.”

In his general education seminar, Hosking said his professor looked to delay instruction until in-person classes resume. 

“[The professor] pretty much self-admittedly said, ‘Yeah, we’re just going to do introductions and some preliminary stuff, and then once we get back to in-person, we’ll actually start the class,’” Hosking said. “I’m getting similar vibes from a lot of my other classes.”

Though she understands the need for online instruction during a time when coronavirus cases are surging, Andrea Valeria Diaz Tolivia said she has struggled with her emotional health since classes started. Diaz Tolivia, a junior majoring in journalism, said she noticed a common sentiment among her friends that “it just feels like a limbo right now.”

“I feel like it’s just been a fever dream … Everybody just feels like it’s not like a real start,” Diaz Tolivia said. “I guess the words I can use [to describe my current state] are discouraged, tired and just not motivated.” 

After over a year of the routine of online classes and long hours at the computer, Diaz Tolivia said it felt “great” to come back to campus in Fall 2021, physically meet her friends and participate in in-person activities. With a virtual start to the spring semester, she said she feels like she has reverted to her remote routine, which has been difficult to accept. 

“We had that semester that served us hope, and now going back to this is just kind of devastating because we were out of it,” Diaz Tolivia said. “[The remote start] is something that is necessary, but, sadly, it just feels like a cage.”

Diaz Tolivia said she is looking forward to the in-person return this Monday, which she hopes will give her a “daily purpose” and “structure” in her life.