Brown School plans to go fully online after Thanksgiving

| Senior News Editor

The Brown School of Social Work will switch to fully remote learning after Thanksgiving break, due to concern over a potential COVID-19 outbreak.

While other schools at Washington University have chosen to continue hybrid learning after Thanksgiving, the Brown School has a number of advantages which allowed it to make this transition. Unlike most schools which began classes in mid-September, almost a full month after their usual start date, the Brown School began classes on Aug. 24, leaving them with fewer class days after Thanksgiving. Additionally, according to Brown School Dean Mary McKay, the last few weeks of class for Brown students were particularly amenable to being fully remote.

Grace Bruton | Student Life

“Every school on campus is different,” McKay wrote in a statement to Student Life. “The last ten days or so of the semester… [are] typically filled with final presentations and paper submissions at the Brown School. These learning activities leant themselves well to remote learning and allowed students more latitude as they planned for their safety and health over the upcoming breaks.”

For most of the semester, Brown School professor Chris Weatherly had taught his social work practice to mostly in-person students with an occasional remote participant.

“It’s a very hands-on course meaning that on most of the days, students are broken up into labs where they practice clinical skills directly with partners and in an individual setting or where we kind of create a family setting and a group setting,” Weatherly said.

To be extra careful, Weatherly decided to make the transition to online learning a week early, teaching his first Zoom class last Thursday. Although he was glad his students could be safe, Weatherly noted that certain aspects of his classroom experience were impossible to replicate over Zoom.

“It’s more effective to teach clinical skills in-person, because it’s not just about talking to someone,” Weatherly said. “It’s about reading body language, it’s about nonverbal communication. So we are losing that. We are also just losing the general relief we feel when we’re able to see each other.”

Doctoral student Autumn Asher BlackDeer, who has been fully remote this semester, noted that in her experience, the flaws of online learning are often overlooked by those who are looking for simple solutions to complex problems.

“Virtual learning isn’t as simple as transferring all in-person content to be over Zoom,” Asher said. “We really have to think about how we’re conveying course content and giving students more time to absorb the material.”

According to Weatherly, the possibility of a switch to fully online learning had been planned for since the beginning of the semester.

“I felt prepared to do a switch [to online learning] at the last minute,” Weatherly said. “This was something that we honestly anticipated because of the kind of countrywide trends we saw when schools were opening, that they were going online within three weeks. So we generally prepared for that, just by doing this hybrid model in that we did recorded lectures instead of in-class lectures, and we were kind of prepping for that move in general.”

Although Asher agreed that the school’s decision to go online was ultimately correct, she raised concerns about the timing of the announcement, as well as the stress and uncertainty that it created for many students.

“I think the decision was correct but ultimately really delayed…I think we honestly should just conclude the semester before going on the November break,” Asher said. “Asking students to switch modalities for the last two weeks of instruction, typically for final presentations, papers and exams, just seems like way too big of an ask for such a short time period.”

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