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Faculty reflect on the transition back to in-person learning

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A green badge indicating COVID-19 protocol compliance. Boston University professors have said they are happy to have their students back for in-person learning but remain wary of University guidelines for students who test positive for the coronavirus. HANNAH YOSHINAGA/ DFP FILE

By Olga Benacerraf and Lauren Rowlands

Following Boston University’s suspension of the Learn from Anywhere module for the Fall semester, faculty have shared their experiences returning to the classroom in person.

COVID-19 safety precautions such as an indoor mask mandate and the continuation of the green badge system to enter certain facilities have remained from last year to ensure cases stay low on campus, in addition to this year’s community-wide vaccination mandate.

Rachel Meade, a political science lecturer in the College of Arts and Sciences said she is “very happy” to see her students on campus.

 “I noticed even after the first class that there was just a different energy that I felt like I was getting back from the students,” she said. 

Meade added her job has become more manageable now that LfA is no longer in use.

“Having done hybrid, juggling the in-person students and the online students, trying to make technology work both in the classroom and for students on Zoom, that was really stretching my attention,” she said. 

However, Meade noted the return to in-person instruction requires having trust in the University’s ventilation system and the efficacy of the vaccine, given that her lecture class is filled almost to capacity.

“In an ideal world, yes, I would like a slightly bigger classroom,” she said. “I would like to open the windows. But that said, I think there’s not many places that have the level of vaccine mandate and the testing that we have.”

With the University choosing to treat time out of class caused by breakthrough cases and time spent in quarantine and isolation as that of typical pre-pandemic illness, Meade noted her concerns on how students will handle such a situation. 

“The guidelines that BU has given us in terms of what happens if a student tests positive or has to quarantine have been kind of a little vague,” she said. “Basically suggesting that we should just do what you would normally do in terms of sharing notes, et cetera, rather than using the tools that we have such as recordings of lectures.”

Meade said she did not want sick students to feel the need to come to class as a result of the policy instead of remaining home.

Hexing Ouyang, a third-year musical arts doctoral student and teacher’s assistant at the College of Fine Arts, said being back in the classroom has solved many of the problems that instructing over Zoom presented.

“Sometimes when we were doing Zoom sight-singing, you heard the lagging. It’s really hard to tell the tempo,” he said. 

Ouyang added he feels comfortable teaching in person given the University’s safety protocols. Exceptions to mask requirements were granted to a faculty member or student speaking at the front of a classroom, with the additional recommendation of testing twice weekly and remaining 12 feet from others.

“I feel pretty safe because BU does a very good job for the weekly tests and also the protocol,” he said. “I feel everyone follows the rules.”

Gina Powers, a senior lecturer in the Questrom School of Business, said the return to in-person instruction reminded her why she went into the teaching profession.

“I went into teaching because I love to teach. I’m a lawyer, I’ve had another career, but this is my passion. This is where I want to be and this is what I love doing,” she said. 

Powers said while teaching in a mask is uncomfortable, “BU is going above and beyond” to keep everyone safe while also providing as close to the typical college experience as possible. 

The Back2BU website notes faculty are encouraged to “take vacation time, get offline and focus on building a comfortable work/life balance.”

“Being back feels incredible,” Powers said. “It feels wonderful. The energy, it makes me better, and I love it. That’s it.”

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