Editor’s Note Episode 6: What’s up with spring?
Two months into this hybrid semester, there’s a big question on Washington University students’ minds–what’s going to happen in the spring? In this week’s episode of Editor’s Note, Multimedia Editor junior Jaden Satenstein talks to news reporter freshman Clara Richards and Senior News Editor junior Ted Moskal about what we know so far.
Music by Copy Chief JJ Coley.
The transcript of the episode can be found below. It has been lightly edited for clarity:
JADEN SATENSTEIN (0:10-1:22) Going into the fall 2020 semester, students were concerned. College after college was switching to fully remote learning in the weeks leading up to Washington University’s Sep. 14 start date. Some students worried we’d barely make it through the month. But halfway through November, we’re still here. Now students wonder–what’s going to happen in the spring?
I’m Multimedia Editor Jaden Satenstein, and you’re listening to Editor’s Note, Student Life’s weekly podcast breaking down our biggest stories with the reporters and editors that covered them.
Spring 2021 course listings were recently updated to reflect each class’s planned modality, with options ranging from online to hybrid to fully in-person. I spoke with news reporter freshman Clara Richards, who recently reported on this update, and Senior News Editor junior Ted Moskal to get a bit more insight into professors’ experiences with this hybrid semester and their plans for the spring.
So, Clara, how have virtual classes been going this semester, especially in comparison to when we first switched to remote learning in the spring?
CLARA RICHARDS (1:23-1:50) Something that one of the writing professors said that really stood out to me was that last spring was kind of a trial by fire. And so I think a lot of them really weren’t that prepared in terms of Canvas and just the resources that they had that were available to them. So, I think something that the University did that was super helpful was giving them training, and of course it was more time to just get them ready for the fall semester.
JS (1:51-2:00) It was really interesting to read all the unique ways professors have adapted their classes. Is there anything about how this semester is going that’s surprised either of you?
CR (2:01-2:42) I think that the amount of work that the teachers have put in across the board has been really impressive. Just when you think about all of the disadvantages of going online, they’ve really had to overcome a lot. I don’t know, just like the story of Professor Kramf in Engineering, who has to record all of his videos for one student. Engineering is such a hands-on learning experience and he can’t mail the materials to his student abroad who can’t get back in the country. So I think that story is just representative of all of the ways they’re trying to just get around these roadblocks.
TED MOSKAL (2:43-3:03) Yeah, I think another big surprise for me was just the fact that some lab classes are actually being conducted online. And the way it’s being done is like TAs, or AIs as they’re called now, will demonstrate how the lab works in a video and students will just watch them and take notes, I guess. But I was surprised that lab classes were able to just happen remotely at all.
JS (3:04-3:20) Clara, you reported that about one third of College of Arts and Sciences courses are being taught in a hybrid format this semester and that the College is hoping to slightly increase that number in the spring. But one of the most striking moments from the article was a quote from Dean Jennifer Smith about students opting for remote learning. Here’s what she said about that.
JENNIFER SMITH (3:21-3:50) I’ve definitely been hearing from faculty that, at least in a number of classes, students are choosing remote engagement over in-person engagements. And that’s probably for me the biggest challenge in trying to get faculty to choose more in person for the spring is that they’re telling me, like, “Why should I do this when nobody is showing up? When I’m doing it now, nobody’s coming.”
JS (3:51-4:06) Just personally, I know that many students spent all of last spring and summer hoping that they’d be able to safely come back to campus this fall. Of course some students may have safety concerns, but are there any other reasons so many students in the area taking their classes remotely when there’s an in-person option?
TM (4:07-4:35) I think a lot of students when given the option to stay home and not necessarily go outside and be physically in-person in class are going to take that option just because, you know, it might be early in the morning, the weather might not be great. And even if you do prefer in-person learning, it’s easy just to say, ‘Oh, I’ll be online today.’ I’m in one hybrid class and a lot of people showed up in-person on the first day, and then gradually it’s kind of petered out and most people are appearing in little Zoom boxes at this point.
JS (4:36-4:43) Other than the slight increase in hybrid classes, are there any ways in which next semester will be different according to current plans?
TM (4:44-5:06) Yeah, Jaden, I think for the spring I wouldn’t expect to see a huge change in how Wash. U. conducts classes, just because we’re not likely to have a vaccine fully distributed by then. But I think Jen Smith did say that she was optimistic that we would be able to re-densify in the fall, so that’s definitely a possibility. Again, it all depends on how the vaccine goes and how the pandemic goes, but we’ll see.
JS (5:07-5:11) What are some of the biggest questions you and other Wash. U. community members have about the spring?
CR (5:12-5:52) I guess my biggest question is, how temporary versus permanent are these changes? I mean, and obviously, that’s something that we aren’t going to know the answer to, but I think I went into the fall semester kind of thinking that I was going to have more in person classes in the spring and that we would be re-densifying soon. I’m ArtSci, I’m humanities, so my classes aren’t priority versus labs that are more dependent on that in-person experience. So I think for me it’s just figuring out when we’re going to be at the new normal.
JS (5:53-6:11) Of course, so much is dependent on the trajectory of this virus. We know that local cases are rising exponentially. St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced that tighter restrictions will be added in the area soon. So, even as we plan for a hybrid spring, do you think a switch to fully online may be in Wash. U.’s future?
CR (6:12-6:50) That’s a question I asked Dean Jen Smith, just if she could foresee any changes, and she kind of laughed, and I think she doesn’t know. I don’t think any of us know. Everything is so unexpected that it’s really hard to say if that’s definitely going to happen. But I think that professors, if it does, they have the experience and some of them have a lot of the resources that they can use again and again. They’ve already filmed the videos, they already have the Canvas modules set up, so it’ll be easier if it happens again in the spring.
TM (6:51-7:13) Yeah, right. I think another factor to consider is just the seasonal temperature drop and the fact that, you know, this outbreak of Coronavirus in St. Louis and Missouri is coinciding with the fact that students really don’t want to be going and studying in tents outside anymore. So I guess those two factors coming together is not ideal for Wash. U. right now.
JS (7:14-7:23) While there still remains so much uncertainty around how the virus will impact the spring semester, Smith told Richards that faculty members are dedicated to sticking to their current plans as much as possible.
J. SMITH (7:24-8:05) Students are making really consequential decisions about whether or not they want to move home for the spring and participate remotely or whether or not they want to come to St. Louis for the spring to participate in-person. And those decisions are dependent in part on what their classes are looking like. And so we need to absolutely do our best to deliver on the course formats that we announced. I mean, of course, like I get if somebody gets sick, right? Like, things happen, but it can’t just be like, ‘Oh, I don’t know, I thought about it again and changed my mind.’ Like, that’s not cool. No, you can’t do that. That’s not okay.
JS (8:06-8:18) Editor’s Note will be back next week to break down another developing story. For Student Life Media, I’m Jaden Satenstein.