UC Berkeley professors design unconventional class structures for in-person courses

in-person classes vs online teachers
Deborah Chen/File
In-person classes offered in the fall may have to accommodate social distancing and remote learning, as well as added background noise if the course is held outdoors.

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To accommodate the needs of students and faculty during the COVID-19 pandemic, UC Berkeley will follow a “hybrid” education model with a variety of options for both in-person and online classes offered in the fall.

Though faculty members were not heavily involved in deciding whether classes would be in-person or online, they did have the option to submit requests to teach small, in-person classes, according to campus English professor Janet Sorensen. After that, it was up to instructors to devise a strategy for how they could successfully teach, follow social distancing guidelines and account for students who would not be able to attend in person.

All classes that have been approved for in-person instruction — more than 130 so far, according to the Academic Guide — have their own unique plans.

Approximately 50 of the 95 physical education courses offered during the upcoming semester are “flexible,” meaning they will meet in person with remote alternatives, according to the Academic Guide.

Physical education lecturer Lon Rork said he is happy to be offering in-person classes, most of which are outdoors, because such classes are best delivered in person. He added that such courses are options for international students to take an in-person class given new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement regulations.

Other professors are taking advantage of a less crowded campus and exploring unconventional teaching methods.

Associate professor of English and comparative literature Anne-Lise François is among them, choosing the student-run organic garden, which is operated by the Student Organic Garden Association, on the corner of Walnut and Virginia streets as her classroom for Comparative Literature 190, “Poetry and Nature in Translation.”

“There are a number of rationales for holding the class in that space,” François said. “One is that the new health information we have is that COVID is a lot less transmittable in outdoor spaces, and it’s a good thing for students to be outdoors not in front of their screens all the time. So, I’m hoping to make that work.”

François added that she recognizes the difficulty the location may pose given the background noise coupled with the need to wear masks, social distance and include those working remotely.

Some classes are able to operate as hybrid courses, with lab components held in person while lectures are offered remotely. Physics and chemistry professor Stephen Leone, who will instruct Chemistry 125 in person this fall, has devised a plan for students to work in the lab independently.

Those who choose to work completely remotely, however, will have the option to follow lab videos and work with data provided to them, or they can partner with someone doing the lab in person to participate from a distance, Leone said.

Similarly, field work and projects will be conducted in small cohorts in person, according to civil and environmental engineering professor Robert Kayen, who will be teaching Civil Engineering 281. He added that nothing is more important than proper mitigation and said safety comes first in any decision that is made regarding class mode.

Contact Veronica Roseborough at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @v_roseborough.