OPINION: Facing our return to in-person learning

It may be time to think about possibility of returning to in-person environment

Students+have+been+distanced+from+classmates+and+professors+for+nearly+one+year.

LAUREN PETTIT

Students have been distanced from classmates and professors for nearly one year.

GRACE LAPIERRE, Evergreen columnist

Online classes have been going on for a while, leaving me to wonder if we will return to regular classes before I graduate, as I may or may not be done next fall, if all goes as planned.

Chad Gotch, assistant professor of education physiology, said he thinks online classes have been going better than he expected this semester. His students have been resilient and are working together well. He said he found some strategies that have improved his online courses, strategies he hopes to keep when we do return to in-person learning. 

Gotch said personal interactions and connecting with students are more difficult online, but he does want to keep the teacher-centered instruction with pre-recorded lectures when classes are in person.

By allowing students to watch the lectures on their own time and re-watch at their leisure, Gotch hopes to free up more time for interactive learning during the class sessions.

“[When we do return to in-person learning], I hope that we can eventually get to where we have easy interaction. I suspect at first, we might have various protocols in place, still maybe some social distancing and mask usage,” Gotch said. “Ultimately, I look forward to getting back to where we can just interact without having to think so much about it.”

Based on what other universities have been doing this year, combined with his hopes for widespread vaccination, Gotch said he expects at least some form of in-person learning in the fall. But he doesn’t expect us to be completely back to normal. 

Time zones are difficult to work with and he feels bad for students who may have classes at inconvenient times like 3 a.m., Gotch said. When we return to in-person, he said he expects interacting, in general, to be difficult to readjust to, including being physically close to others.

Amanda Bertoch, junior theoretical mathematics major, said she does not expect WSU to go back to a fully in-person experience for at least another year, maybe by next spring or summer. 

She said she hopes that we can at least meet with professors and advisers in person next semester because she has to do her Honors thesis. 

Bertoch said she does not think it will be too difficult for everyone to go back to in-person learning, but getting everyone organized and following new safety protocol could be a challenge. 

“A lot of students like to get together and have study groups, or have parties, or do things on campus, which you can’t really do fully anymore. So, I think having students get used to the new modified ways that they can do things on campus will be difficult,” Bertoch said. 

Bertoch does not expect to have any specific issues herself, aside from getting used to being around people again. She said she would just be happy to be back in Pullman.

Bertoch and I both expect an in-between period for a while, where things are shifting back but aren’t quite the way they were before. I kind of hope that we either transition fully back by fall or stay completely online. It should be my last semester and a mixed-format seems like a nuisance.

For society as a whole though, I do not know if things will ever feel totally normal. 

“Things have changed so much that this now feels like the new normal,” Bertoch said, “When I’m watching TV shows or movies, I see people shake hands and I’m like ‘They can’t do that,” even though I know rationally that this wasn’t a thing a year ago.”

Bertoch said she thinks it will feel weird if things return completely to how they were before because it isn’t her normal anymore.

I have to agree. I rarely went out before the pandemic, so now it feels even weirder to think about being in a large group.

Bertoch said she suspects universities in smaller, more rural areas will achieve a sense of normalcy faster than universities in densely populated areas. She thinks people will still party when we start transitioning back, but most students will likely be fine with following guidelines. 

I feel like I might be one of the few who wants to finish out classes online, for just one more semester. Regardless, I would love to be able to go out in public without thinking of the pandemic again. 

The longer this goes on, the more my friends run the risk of having to take me through the steps of those guides like “How to Socialize Your Dog” to make sure I don’t forget how society works.