Auburn University students, faculty, and staff adjust to new semester amid COVID-19
With midterms underway and early-alert grades being sent out, students are beginning to realize that this unique fall semester is wrapping up. Last semester, the campus shut down, and students were encouraged to return home and forced to complete their courses online. However, with a summer to prepare, professors, faculty, and staff were able to better understand the situation at hand and come into the fall semester ready to hit the books.
Fall 2020 is a semester unlike any other. Many organizations, including Greek Life, are encouraged to limit gatherings and avoid in-person contact if possible. Classes, meetings, and clubs are being conducted primarily through Zoom or Microsoft Teams. The Auburn University Bookstore requires students to order textbooks shipped directly to their residence, rather than being able to shop in-person at the bookstore. Students have had to adapt their study methods and time management to work for online classes. Junior Sarah-Beth Gonshorowski, junior law and justice major, notes online classes can make it “more of a struggle to focus on the material as the information does not relay as well.”
The Office of the Registrar breaks course delivery into four categories: face-to-face, online, blended, and HyFlex. Face-to-face classes might sound like business as usual because they meet in person during their scheduled time, but students are required to show a green AU Healthcheck screen, practice social distancing, and wear a mask for the duration of the class. On the other end of the spectrum are online classes, which never meet in person. Online classes can be synchronous (requiring student participation during scheduled class times) or asynchronous (students are responsible for watching lectures and completing assignments on their own timeline). The remaining two course delivery options, blended and HyFlex, are similar in that both allow for in-person or virtual participation. However, with HyFlex students can choose the method of instruction they prefer, but in blended courses, the method of instruction for a given class time is determined by the professor. A majority of classes are conducted in a mixed delivery style where some assignments, such as exams, may require participation during scheduled class time or window. Students have mixed opinions regarding these changes as online classes can require more discipline but allow for more flexibility. For example, Gonshorowski notes, “The only upside to having classes online is that I can do them anywhere,” so she is able to spend more time at home with her family. Another point of contention is that tuition costs remain the same, regardless of the method of instruction, which was such a controversial decision that it prompted a few students to create a petition on Change.org.
Nevertheless, the new course delivery options are just one way that Auburn is attempting to keep students safe while on campus. A Healthier U is a collaborative campaign launched by the university, the Medical Clinic, and the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness Services to encourage COVID-safe practices to protect the community. Everything from posters inside buildings to the displays on Tiger Transit buses is sporting the A Healthier U branding and reminding students to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Many of the campus requirements come from advice that university officials have received from the local and state governments as well as the Center for Disease Control. For example, Auburn has implemented field testing as a proactive measure to ensure students are staying healthy even if they might not be experiencing symptoms. Auburn also required all students to be tested for COVID-19 prior to returning to campus and is recommending the use of GuideSafe throughout the campus to indicate exposure and risk.
All these changes can be overwhelming, but the Auburn family is quick to adapt. People are now fluent in the language of coronavirus, with new vocabulary terms like quarantine and social distancing and with words like positive and Zoom imbued with new meaning. As long as everyone continues to stay updated and follow the safety procedures, the Auburn Family will make it out on the other side of this pandemic.