As October comes to a close and we look onward to remote learning in November and beyond, we need to start preparing for what classes might look like post-Thanksgiving break.
Vice-Chancellor Lori Reesor already announced that beginning Nov. 30, all in-person group instruction, including final exams, will be fully remote. This announcement came as part of the Smart Restart plan.
Smart Restart itself is experiencing several flaws as people across Wisconsin, UW students and faculty all report higher rates of COVID-19 compared to other states — perhaps due to a lack of accountability for off-campus students. It is up to us, then, to mitigate these rates both as students following health guidelines by minimizing gatherings, etc. and UW itself, by structuring the rest of the semester to prioritize safety and education.
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Suffice it to say, restructuring the second half of fall and much of spring semester is no easy task. Many students complain about the efficacy of online education — with good reason — but unrestricted movement on Madison’s campus is a spell for disaster, so UW has their work cut out for them in terms of balancing these two issues.
Reesor mentioned in her email that some facilities will stay open for students, including “some in-person spaces to facilitate learning, such as libraries, computer labs and study spaces, as well as virtual learning spaces.”
While this is a far cry from our college experience pre-COVID, it does add back some of the value of attending classes in Madison. Being almost entirely online, it is up to us as students to recreate the college experience. This means establishing online means of social engagement as part of the UW community, as well as making remote learning as effective as possible.
Post-Thanksgiving, when everything is completely online, it will be more important than ever to keep up our social lives online. While this isn’t the college experience we wanted or ever thought would have, fun Zoom meetings with friends and family can alleviate some of the mental distress of losing out on a lot of the things that made college fun before COVID-19.
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UW also needs to ensure there are some in-person benefits for students even as Thanksgiving comes. Though limited access to buildings such as the Nick, libraries and residence halls are a far cry from the original college experience, it is important for them to be open in some capacity to students during the coming months.
These facilities allow students to at least somewhat enjoy their new hybrid education while also ensuring proper health guidelines are met. Obviously, if keeping these facilities open poses a significant risk to student’s lives, they must be shut down immediately — health should come first. But, seeing there is little to no evidence demonstrating a health risk so far, it’s justifiable to keep them open.
It’s impossible to predict accurately what will happen in the next few months, or even weeks, but it’s still important to prepare. For students and faculty, listen to Reesor’s words and limit any non-essential travel — even as Thanksgiving break comes. For UW, maximizing online learning and safely running at least some in-person facilities is key to having a better fully online experience.
Samiha Bhushan ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in economics.