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Monday, Dec 11, 2023

Students share mixed feelings about course modality as J-Term kicks off

Students returned to Middlebury for a delayed start to J-term, with all classes held online on Monday, Jan. 10 and Tuesday, Jan. 11. Some classes remained online throughout the week, with professors given flexibility in adapting the modality of their classes.

As Covid-19 cases continue to climb on campus, many students are struggling to adjust to college regulations for social interaction, classes and activities. J-Term, typically a unique opportunity to relax, pursue new projects and connect with friends, has been more stressful than usual, some students are finding.

According to a Dec. 22 Middlebury Updates email, after results from PCR arrival tests came in, the college expected most classes to shift to in-person formats.

Katherine Burke ’24 said she is concerned about contracting Covid-19 and infecting winter athletes in her close circle, whose return-to-sport protocols after testing positive could keep them away from games and practices for a significant part of the season. 

She discussed difficulties so far this term “finding social stability,” and stated that she has struggled to find a balance between “trusting her vaccine to keep her safe and taking the risk of widening her bubble” of close contacts and acting to ensure that she has done “all she can to keep the Covid risk of certain people around her to a minimum.” 

Students who received a positive pre-arrival PCR test had to delay their return to campus, introducing a set of unexpected challenges to the beginning of the term. However, feelings about missing the first week were varied. 

Despite the desire to reunite with friends and experience her first in-person J-Term, Katie Kraczkowsky ’24 said she felt relieved that she would be able to avoid the stress and uncertainty of the first week on campus. 

Many students have described feeling as though nearly everyone either actively has Covid-19, is a contact, or has antibodies from having it recently.

Students who tested positive after arrival started classes online with their peers while navigating isolation and quarantine policies.

Sam McGarrahan ’25 who opted to return home to Schuylerville, NY after his arrival test came back positive, said that he has not enjoyed online learning.

McGarrahan is enrolled in a 100-level German course. In language courses, seamless participation is key to mastery. Additionally, 100-level courses meet five times per week during J-term. McGarrahan feels that taking a language class remotely results in too much time spent on Zoom, and feeling out of practice with the language. 

On campus, students enrolled in in-person classes are concerned about spreading the virus in that environment. 

Cole Siefer ’25 who is registered for the MiddCore J-Term course, noted that the 40-person class is large in size, and meets in a small room with limited ability for students to physically distance. However, Siefer said that students sit in the same place each day, which may limit the number of possible exposures, and are equipped with KN95 masks

“Prof. Moeller provided everyone with KN95 masks for class to limit potential instructor exposure to Covid-19 so the class can continue to be taught in person,” Siefer said of the lead instructor for the course.

Siefer said that of the 40-person class, six to eight students have remained online through the end of the week and have been able to ask questions during lecture sessions and work on group projects online.

“It’s kind of impressive how well it’s working, given how new the instructors are to hybrid learning,” Siefer said. “I mean, it’s not perfect, but pretty good.”

The increased variability of majors, class years, and professor backgrounds in J-Term classes can mean that the norms and attitudes regarding Covid-19 can vary from class to class more so than in normal semesters. 

In contrast to Siefer’s class, Dan Urchuk ’25 said that in his course, “No one seems that concerned about it. I mean, we all wear masks and stuff. But that’s just what you do.”

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Vikram Vasan ’25 said that his class has continued to have an online option, which a few students have continued to use. According to Vasan, the online students have seemed to integrate seamlessly into the class.

“You can just Zoom in whenever you want,” Vasan said. “I don’t think you actually need a reason, but it’s kind of assumed it’d be for Covid.”

Most classes that were not already meeting in person are transitioning into classrooms for the second week of J-Term, but professors maintain flexibility in determining course modality and offering online options.