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Friday, April 12, 2024
COVID 19  |  UF

UF professors create online alternatives as COVID-19 empties classrooms

The university has not changed classroom expectations even as omicron cases surge

UF students sit inside their Integrated Principles of Biology Two lecture on Friday, Jan. 14, 2021. Students have been re-adjusting to in-person classes amid a rise in COVID-19 cases.
UF students sit inside their Integrated Principles of Biology Two lecture on Friday, Jan. 14, 2021. Students have been re-adjusting to in-person classes amid a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Instead of moving his in-person classes online following UF’s COVID-19 spike, Mark Hostetler brought his 15 students outside in a breezeway for their biodiversity conservation class. 

“I didn't feel safe for myself or the students to be in an indoor classroom,” said Hostetler, a wildlife, ecology and conservation professor.

Alachua County reported that new positive COVID-19 cases jumped from 2,072 the week of Dec. 31 to 6,524 the week of Jan. 14. Spreading or contracting the omicron variant is exactly what some professors and students hope to prevent.

“I can do this because there's a small class, and the first few weeks we’re outdoors doing stuff anyway,” Hostetler said. “So, it worked out well.”

Students who have to quarantine and miss class will be treated as being absent for any other sickness, according to an Aug. 18 campus brief.

Cynthia Roldán, a UF spokesperson, wrote in an email that classroom expectations haven’t changed. The university believes that if students and faculty continue to follow the necessary precautions, it will be a successful semester.  

“We understand that the omicron variant has presented another challenge in the pandemic similar to the one we faced during the Fall semester with the delta variant,” Roldán wrote. “That is why university leadership has stressed the importance of wearing a mask… and getting a booster shot.” 

Roldán didn’t answer questions on whether UF has advised professors to offer HyFlex or Zoom as an option for students quarantining.

UF has been extraordinarily vague and not very helpful at all, said Steve Noll, a history professor. The university only told him that he couldn't go completely online. There was no guidance on when he could move classes online, he said. 

“They’ve given basically no guidelines,” Noll said. “It’s the Wild West.”

To alleviate some pressure from his students, Noll has taken it on himself to offer his students a HyFlex option. 

He records his lectures and offers Zoom as an alternative to attending in-person classes. 

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A motto for Noll’s classes has been “no problem, no penalty,” which means he is making sure that his class is not adding stress to students who are COVID-19 positive, exposed to COVID-19 or feeling sick.

He realizes some students might take advantage of this and choose not to attend in-person classes or watch the Zoom lectures.

“But I said that's the price I’m willing to pay to having students be able to have a flexible learning arrangement,” Noll said.

However, Ana Aguilar, a 20-year-old UF English sophomore, has not had all of her teachers be so accommodating. 

Two days after classes started, Aguilar said she tested positive for COVID-19 and was worried about starting her semester missing class. 

“I had to email them and ask for HyFlex, or some sort of accommodation, so that I wouldn't fall back during syllabus week,” she said. “And I'd say … almost half of them were accommodating — the other half just wouldn't do HyFlex.”

As classes went on and more students tested positive, her remaining classes began offering Zoom as an alternative. Expecting classes to be in-person left two of her professors —  who had no plans to move online —  to scramble and find an alternative, she said. 

Some professors are defaulting to accommodations for students testing positive for COVID-19.

Rachel Salvatori, a 19-year-old UF English and history sophomore, felt lucky all of her professors were understanding when she tested positive for COVID-19 the second week of classes. Her professors quickly moved to excuse absences and offer HyFlex as an option.

“People are constantly getting out sick with COVID,” she said. “It seems like students are dropping from classes like flies.”

Contact Gregorio Ruiz-Perez at Follow him on Twitter @GregRuizPerez1.

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