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Face Coverings, Vaccines, Selected Online Classes Await University Students


A view of a sign encouraging people to wear masks at Georgetown University earlier in 2021.
Face Coverings, Vaccines, Selected Online Classes Await University Students
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After over a year of teaching by video, American colleges and universities want to open for in-person learning. Some are requiring their students to have a COVID-19 vaccine before they come to school. Most will ask students to wear face coverings inside.

Some schools, however, have changed their minds. They are concerned about the fast-spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus.

A Georgetown University student studies on campus in the spring of 2021.
A Georgetown University student studies on campus in the spring of 2021.

Both the University of Texas at San Antonio and California State University at Stanislaus had planned to open classrooms to students. But recently the schools announced plans to delay in-person study until the middle of September and early October.

Cal State-Stanislaus said it needed more time for students to send in proof of a COVID-19 vaccine. In San Antonio, the university said a sudden increase of COVID-19 cases required a change. The university hoped the number of cases in Texas will drop by the middle of September.

The Chronicle of Higher Education listed about 750 universities in the United States that require students to show a record of vaccination. The schools are mostly in the western and northeastern parts of the U.S.

In Republican-led states, school leaders face political pressure to limit their anti-virus actions. The governors of Florida and Texas issued orders to ban public schools from establishing requirements for vaccines or face coverings.

One school’s plan

Georgetown University students walk through campus during a summer program in June 2021.
Georgetown University students walk through campus during a summer program in June 2021.

Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. is opening to about 7,000 undergraduate students this week. As a private university, Georgetown can make rules without government interference. It requires all students, teachers and other employees to be vaccinated. And everyone must wear a face covering to go inside buildings.

Sue Lorenson is the Vice Dean for Undergraduate Education in the College of Arts and Sciences at Georgetown. She said Georgetown has planned for the 2021-2022 school year since last spring when vaccines were not readily available. So other than the vaccine requirement and students being permitted to sit close to each other, all other plans stayed in place.

Most classes will be in person, because “our goal is to have as many in-person experiences for our students as possible,” Lorenson said. As part of the plan, classes are being held in rooms where there is more space for students to spread out.

However, that means some large classes, with hundreds of students, will not take place in person. Those classes, she said, are “homeless.” The big classes and a few others will take place on video.

Georgetown University students gather before moving into their rooms for a summer program in 2021.
Georgetown University students gather before moving into their rooms for a summer program in 2021.

Lorenson gave two examples: a small Italian language class would be hard to teach with students sitting far apart and wearing face coverings.

Another class, first-year microeconomics, has 300 students. There is only one room on campus that can seat 300 people, but that leaves no room for students to spread out. So it will also take place on a video call.

“Of course, we wish we were welcoming everyone back to campus in fall 2019 conditions, but it's not fall 2019, it's fall 2021 and the Delta variant rages. And we are fully aware that we need to be flexible and nimble.”

Lorenson said she thinks any Georgetown class that is done by computer and video in 2021-2022 will be much better than the same class a year ago.

That is because Georgetown’s education center, the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship, helped professors learn how to make technology a part of their teaching. A year ago, Lorenson said, professors had to learn about internet video call systems. Now, they know the technology and have experience teaching online.

“I think as we move into fall 2021, our faculty are more experienced with online teaching, our students are more experienced with online learning... our faculty have the benefit of having done this a couple of times now and they also have the benefit of lessons learned.”

Even with the changes, Lorenson said she is excited to welcome two classes of students to campus this fall: those who started at Georgetown last year but had to take classes by video, and those who are first-year students.

Georgetown knows many students are looking forward to getting back to sitting next to each other and having “casual interactions.” But in-person learning will be an adjustment for students used to taking classes by video for over a year, Lorenson noted.

The university tried to make it easier for students by running a small summer program for those who will be starting their second year. About 500 students attended. It gave them a chance to see the campus and get a sense of what life is like in Washington, D.C.

“The truth is, we are better prepared than we've ever been to pivot if we need to. We're not planning for it, but we're prepared for it, if that makes sense.”

I’m Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell wrote this story for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

What would you do to safely open colleges and universities this school year? Tell us in the Comments Section and visit our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

variant –n. something that is different in some way from others of the same kind

undergraduate –n. a student at a college or university who has not yet earned a degree

rage –v. to happen or continue in a destructive, violent, or intense way

flexible –adj. willing to change or to try different things

nimble –adj. able to move quickly, easily, and lightly

faculty –n. the group of teachers in a school or college

casual –adj. happening by chance : not planned or expected

adjustment–n. a small change that improves something or makes it work better

campus–n. the area and buildings around a university, college, school, etc.

pivot –v. to make a change of plans

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