Sproul Plaza’s bustling crowds and flyer ambushes have made their comeback. After a full academic year spent online, most UC Berkeley students are nothing but eager to get back onto campus and feel some sense of normalcy. But for some, this long-awaited enthusiasm still remains hundreds of miles away.
Campus sophomore Heidi Avalos is one of many students who has not experienced Berkeley at its full capacity. While remote learning may not be the most ideal situation for any college student, Avalos explained how this semester has been better than last year.
“It was difficult my freshman year because I never took college classes,” Avalos said. “I wasn’t sure how to approach assignments and manage my time. Doing remote again is a bit easier. I also have more people that I know so I can ask for help when I need it.”
Nevertheless, the fall semester comes with new challenges that past semesters have not had. Due to a majority of students deciding to move back to Berkeley this semester, those who remained away from Berkeley are in the minority. Perhaps most prominently, classes face the need to balance both in-person and online instruction.
Campus chemistry lecturer Alexis Shusterman is no stranger to finding and arranging accommodations for students. She explained how, for her current Chem 3AL and Chem 3BL classes, she offers fully remote lectures as well as remote lab sections for out-of-town students.
“Teaching a lab class in two formats simultaneously is only possible for me because I am able to draw from our existing library of remote lab experiments,” Shusterman said in an email. “That library didn’t get built overnight! It took a huge team of collaborators working full time during Summer 2020, a team that we funded by applying for multiple grants. I hope that the university can offer other instructors similar levels of support.”
Accessing proper support for remote students has remained a cornerstone of the remote learning experience. Avalos shared how most of her support system stems from peers she met in classes and through online student communities such as Discord. Whenever she has a question on homework or assignments, she is able to find an answer promptly.
While some students are adjusting to a new academic environment, the social aspect of remote learning is a continuous struggle. Campus junior Jasmine Zhang noted the loss of regular socialization as she stays in Washington for the semester.
“I hold the game development DeCal and since it’s in person, I can’t go and teach,” Zhang said. “We hold the class in the evening and afterwards the facilitators and students would get dinner. It’s a bummer to see how people are planning to go to eat dinner and I can’t attend.”
For Avalos and Zhang, the primary reason behind not coming to campus this fall was due to not securing housing in time. The school was not able to give both of them housing offers, and with such a small time frame to find an alternative in the summer, both decided to remain at home for another semester.
But, they say, this situation will not continue forever. Both Avalos and Zhang aim to come back in person for the spring semester of this school year. However, this plan is also contingent on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When back on campus, Avalos is looking forward to getting to try all the food she’s been continuously recommended. She also looks forward to the day she can have an in-person lab instead of via Zoom. Zhang remains eager to move as soon as possible and be one with Berkeley once more.
“I’m excited to see campus again and all my friends,” Zhang said.