Students and faculty grapple with restricted online course availability as Omicron variant plagues Florida
The University announcement its plan to limit its distance learning program, also known as “HyFlex”, on November 23 in a E-mail Provost Bret Danilowicz sent to faculty and students.
According to Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is transmitted more easily than previous mutations of the virus, regardless of vaccination status. However, fully vaccinated people remain less likely to have severe symptoms or be hospitalized if infected.
Amanda Vincente, a Studio Art major, believes the remote option should be available for those who need it.
“It’s hard not to have online classes during the pandemic,” Vincente said, “some students may be immunocompromised and could become seriously ill if they contract COVID-19.”
According to Florida Department of Health, 430,297 new cases of COVID-19 were reported between January 7 and January 13.
As of January 19, 81.4% active COVID-19 case exist on the Boca Raton campus.
Current UAF advice states that “all students, faculty, and staff, regardless of immunization status, must wear face coverings indoors,” and the university asks students who feel sick to stay home.
In the Nov. 23 email, Danilowicz cited low student attendance and engagement as one of the reasons for limiting access to online learning.
Assistant professor of ceramics Thomas Stolar says he hasn’t experienced a drop in interaction with students.
“I really liked [combination] in-person online course, and now that we are [face to face]I think I have [face to face] with remote option days is a really good idea,” Stollar said.
A E-mail sent to University Press on January 19 by the provost’s office said:
“Fully online and hybrid options are available if the academic department has decided that these formats are appropriate for the discipline, course topic, and instructor.”
Joshua Glanzer, associate vice president of media relations and public affairs, did not elaborate on the content of the email.
Blended courses are listed as “In-Person with Live Distance Option” in the Course Schedule. However, the availability of these courses varies from department to department.
As a public university, FAU follows state guidelines Board of Governors. According to the provost’s office, the online learning restrictions are in line with their recommendations.
Associate Professor of Art History, Emilie Fenichelbelieves that online options should be more accessible.
“Palm Beach Atlantic offered HyFlex to students for the first few weeks of classes. The University of Miami will be fully online for the month of January,” Fenichel said. “We should ask ourselves why our administration and the administrations of other public higher education institutions are unwilling or unable to protect their students and staff in the same way.”
The email also cited concerns about the caliber of HyFlex courses, stating that “high-quality distance learning takes considerable time to plan…” before explaining that distance options would only be available if they were pre-arranged by the various departments.
“Trying to meet the needs of students in person and Zoom at the same time is difficult,” says Fenichel. “Nevertheless, I think many teachers, including myself, would be willing to do so in order to help our students feel safe.”
The university currently has no plans to bring back remote class attendance to the extent seen in the fall semester, but has allowed faculty to record classes that can be shared with quarantined students, as well. than other accommodations listed in the email.
Caroline Little is a staff writer for University Press. For more information regarding this story or other stories, email him at [email protected]