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Back to campus but still online?

Parents who believe their kids returning to campus this fall will have a traditional college experience may be disappointed; students will likely be taking some of their classes online.
Parents who believe their kids returning to campus this fall will have a traditional college experience may be disappointed; students will likely be taking some of their classes online.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Students at Georgia public colleges may find their dorm rooms doubling as classrooms

Several professors at public campuses across Georgia warned me weeks ago that students could return to campus only to discover their classes are largely online.

As the profs explained it, many of their faculty peers fell into high-risk categories; the average age of a full professor is 55. These older professors and those with underlying health conditions or vulnerable family members would be reluctant to teach face-to-face, they said, and would insist on remote classes.

That seems to be the case as Georgia students planning to return to campus check their class schedules and learn they’ll have several virtual courses. While public campuses in Georgia plan to open, parents who hoped their kids would have a “traditional college experience” are discovering students may be spending a lot of time in their dorm room in front of a computer.

A Georgia Tech dad whose daughter’s classes are all remote except for a lab asked, “Why are they bringing students back to campus for one in-person class? Why didn’t they just bite the bullet and go 100% online?”

A story by the AJC’s James Salzer and Eric Stirgus suggests a possible reason: It would have been costly to shutter campuses and offer only remote instruction. The pair writes:

The University System of Georgia estimates its schools could lose at least $479.3 million in mandatory student fees, housing and dining revenue if it goes all-online this fall, according to a spreadsheet obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through the Georgia Open Records Act.

“Had students and faculty been given early and clear plans for what seems inevitable now — a primarily online fall term — we all would have been able to service the students and the citizens of Georgia better. Instead, that time has been spent wading through massive confusion and conflict,” said Ian Bogost, an interactive computing professor at Georgia Tech.

This week, Atlanta’s three largest historically Black colleges and universities said they will go online for the fall semester. Three weeks ago, Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse and Spelman colleges had said they would follow a hybrid plan of in-person and online classes but changed their minds as the coronavirus surged.

Davidson College’s College Crisis Initiative created a dashboard on fall 2020 plans by universities and colleges. The database shows 694 schools will primarily be online; 631 primarily in-person; 480 will offer a hybrid model 121 will be fully online; and 74 fully in-person. Many colleges are still working on their plans; the database shows 807 school have yet to determine their fall semester.

If you read college parent forums, you’ll find two different world views; parents worried sick about their child’s return to campus amid Georgia’s worsening pandemic and others seeking advice on whether a futon and desk will fit in a UGA freshman room.

A faculty member sent this note directed to parents:

Before you cut a check for on- or off-campus housing, before you move into a dorm or an apartment, I encourage you to pause and reflect on the reality of our situation. We have neither a vaccine nor a treatment for COVID-19. We know that it’s quite communicable and often lethal (and even if not lethal, it can do lasting damage.)

And we -- residents of Georgia -- have neither the collective will or consistent leadership to control the spread of the coronavirus. We know that thousands of our neighbors have died, and that many more have fallen ill, even as we’ve been advised to take clear precautions. And now we—faculty of the USG—are being asked to hold classes in person this fall. Classes that would require meeting for long periods in indoor spaces, most of which can be accessed only through elevators or stairwells or other densely-packed areas

Most faculty have no interest or intention of conducting class in person this fall. Whatever your personal thoughts or wishes may be, or whatever the USG has pledged to you, please note that perceptions of personal safety are personal. They aren’t generally up for negotiation, and they don’t often change on a whim. Like my colleagues I’m committed to educating Georgia’s students to the best of my abilities. And my concern for my students’ health, my family’s safety, and my own well-being informs my present stance: I won’t be in the classroom, I will deliver my courses in a remote format.

I’m sorry the USG has led you to expect in-person classes in the middle of this worsening pandemic. The USG didn’t check with faculty before giving you that mistaken impression. If they had, you’d be in a better position to make an informed choice. I hope this note is helpful in your planning, and I hope to see you or your child virtually and safely next month.

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