Written for The Argo by Jordan Dahan
Believe it or not, it has been over a year since the first case of Covid-19 was identified in the United States. Since then, life has been turned upside-down for many people, particularly college students. However, as students mark the one-year anniversary of COVID-19, hopes of normalcy are sparked anew at Stockton University. As the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine increases, the university is planning its future in-person course availability accordingly. “Stockton has more in-person classes scheduled for both Summer and Fall 2021,” says Peter Baratta, Stockton University’s Chief Planning Officer and Deputy Chief of Staff. “Last summer, we had 7 face to face or hybrid classes; this summer, we currently have over 100 scheduled. Last fall, we had about 550 face to face or hybrid classes; this fall, we currently have almost 1,400 scheduled.”
According to Baratta, Stockton University is planning for a regular Fall 2021 term, meaning that the number of face-to-face courses will somewhat resemble those of the Fall 2019 semester. As of right now, 70 percent of the Fall 2021 courses are scheduled to take place on campus, compared to 81 percent of in-person classes in Fall 2019. While some may see this transparency as reassuring, it is still important to remember that these plans are still subject to change. Baratta acknowledges this, stating, “[administration] have several more months of planning and scheduling, and our goal is to offer as much of a traditional on-campus experience as possible. We know this is what students want and Stockton’s faculty are working hard to offer this opportunity.”
Though Stockton University is set to offer a significantly larger variety of in-person classes in the fall, Baratta says that there will still be some online courses available for students who are not yet comfortable with returning to campus. Baratta assures those with concerns that the university’s “top priority is always the health and safety of the entire Osprey community,” and that “this is the number one factor that guides our [administration’s] discussions and planning efforts. We discuss these issues in some capacity everyday–not only at our campus level, but also what is happening in the state and throughout the country.” Baratta insists that administration’s efforts are in the best interests of the Stockton community, and that he and his colleagues “listen to what students, faculty, and staff want.”
With a somewhat ‘normal’ semester seemingly close enough to grasp, students and faculty are left to reflect on the past year of virtual learning. Despite some students’ aversion to the online college experience, virtual learning does have its perks; Dr. Kevin Coopersmith, an Adjunct Instructor of Communication Studies, claims that “the online learning platforms have opened up new methods of collaboration and connection moving forward.”
Still, many Stockton students yearn for the normalcy of a pre-pandemic classroom. “The one thing I miss most about campus is being around other students and learning in the classroom. Also, the on-campus facilities such as the gym and library are places I look forward to being able to return to,” says Michael Frank, a senior majoring in Biology. “I prefer in person classes, because as a science major, the best way for me to learn is to be in class so I’m able to physically do the labs.”
Students aren’t the only ones who feel like an aspect of the classroom experience is missing from Zoom calls. Dr. Coopersmith shares that sentiment, stating, “I miss how much easier it was for us to all connect and stay connected. It is a lot harder to create and sustain a feeling of class community online compared to in person. I miss the little moments before and after class where more informal questions and discussions about the material could be covered and having brief opportunities to banter and connect with the class. Those small little exchanges can sometimes lay the groundwork for better learning, better collaborations amongst students, and a better understanding of one another.”
Dr. Coopersmith expounded on the challenges of virtual instruction, saying, “Online learning has definitely challenged us all. It’s led to me changing up a lot of ways in which I structure and present my courses. But it is also led to an interesting period of learning more about myself as an instructor and learning more about my students in terms of their educational preferences and strategies. I’ve been consistently impressed with the resilience and dedication my students have shown throughout this pandemic.” Dr. Coopersmith’s claims of resilience and dedication echo in an initial review that administration conducted; despite these obstacles, administration claims that student performance for the Fall 2020 term has been “very similar” to prior semesters in terms of grade distribution and student retention.