We, the undersigned, are professors at the University of Florida. We write with concern about the risks and limitations of the university’s plan for Spring 2021. Moving classes back to a face-to-face format will endanger lives, unnecessarily. Moreover, the reality is that our last-minute, improvised plan for undergraduate education at the University of Florida next semester will not provide the best, or even a sufficient, learning and teaching environment.
UF— wisely — closed campus in March. Now, we are very close to being able to receive vaccinations and return to normal. It makes no sense to throw away all the work we have done and the sacrifices we have made to safeguard lives at exactly the worst possible moment in this pandemic, when one more term — or even half of that — would see us return relatively to normal.
While a “HyFlex” learning environment can be done well, the plan for Spring does not allow for this. It is a last-minute, improvised, doubling-up of two classes in one, which will create harder learning environments than a typical face-to-face class or a typical online class.
Undergraduates who sign up for face-to-face classes — the few who are able to get into them — will be sitting in class, in masks, far from classmates and distanced from their professor who will be teaching through a mask, maybe even behind plexiglass.
The majority of students will still attend “online” versions of courses, but those students won’t be getting the quality online learning experience possible from UF. Instead they will, in essence, be “lurking” to observe their own class, as the instructor engages the students who are in the room.
Spring will have UF undergrads either masked and distanced in mostly deserted classrooms or peeking at their course via a screen. This improvised plan features the worst, rather than the best, of UF teaching practices by simultaneously doubling the class and splitting the instructors’ focus. It is rife with trouble-shooting challenges, both technological and logistical. For example, how can all these classes start on time if we are advised to get to our classes 20 minutes early to thoroughly clean the area and then set up all the technology when the room will be occupied by another class until five minutes before our class begins?
UF is better than this. UF is a state and national leader in face-to-face and online education. When so many other top universities in the nation are continuing online teaching, why is UF not working from its nationally-recognized strength in online education? At the very least, why does UF not embrace a “temp-flex” model, starting 100% online until it is safe to be back and then coming back 100% face-to-face, thereby creating the learning and teaching environments we have the resources and skills to implement well?
We all want to be back on campus, teaching and learning together. To get there we need a different plan.