Students and faculty brace for transition to online classes

A student wearing a face mask skates through campus.
A student wearing a face mask freelines through Harvey Mudd’s campus. Classes are transitioning off-campus using Zoom videoconferencing and the Sakai portal. (HuxleyAnn Huefner • The Student Life)

For students watching the 5Cs wind down campus life in response to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s been easy to feel as if all aspects of attending school are done for the semester. 

Classes, though, will continue — albeit not in person. Instead, they will take place through the video conferencing platform Zoom, as well as the consortium’s existing portal Sakai. 

The disruption to normal academic routines prompted administrators and faculty to allow greater flexibility in assignments, grading, schedules and class participation.

As classes met in person for the final time Wednesday and Thursday, professors commiserated with their students and braced for what’s likely to be a rocky transition online.

“The faculty are hurting for you,” Pomona Vice President for Academic Affairs Robert Gaines said at a forum Thursday evening. “This is a tough time for you all, and a lot of them are taking that very closely.”

Gary Gilbert, an associate professor of religious studies at Claremont McKenna College, told TSL that Zoom will “deliver the kind of instruction that needs to be delivered, but not in the most ideal conditions.” 

“We want to be able to see one another and to interact with one another, not just visually, but in a physical presence,” Gilbert said. “We want to have that kind of very personal interaction. Zoom doesn’t provide that.” 

Classes will continue on Zoom at their previously established times, administrators said at online information sessions Thursday. 

“I think it’s far more troubling for students than it is for faculty,” Gilbert added. “The disruption in the life of students is immense.”

Questions continued to fly Thursday about how to continue some classes, such as science labs, performance and art classes and physical education courses. Departments have yet to communicate the procedures for many of these issues.

In addition, scheduling inconsistencies across the consortium have introduced confusion for students who are enrolled in classes at multiple colleges.

Scripps College, Claremont McKenna College, Pitzer College and Harvey Mudd College said that spring break would be extended to two weeks — in part to allow time for faculty to adjust their plans — and that classes online would begin March 30.

But Pomona College said that classes would resume March 23, with that week serving as a way for faculty to experiment with their new platform. Some professors told students they expected them to participate in classes during the second week of break. Administrators acknowledged the first efforts would be rough.

A table with surgical masks and a bottle of hand sanitizer that says "If you are sick please grab a mask. Use the hand sanitizer before grabbing mask."
Coronavirus precautions have forced most students to leave campus. (Amy Best • The Student Life)

The colleges also announced changes to academic policies for the remainder of the semester. 

Faculty may now assign pass/no credit grades in courses usually required to be letter-graded, administrators said in emails Thursday. The option to receive this type of grading will be negotiated individually between students and faculty members.

The colleges have also extended the deadline to drop courses without record from March 12 to March 30. Afterward, students can withdraw until May 6 with no effect on their GPAs, but a notation on their transcripts.

“We hope that this extension of the drop deadline will ease some of the concerns students have about completing coursework this semester, and offer time and space to make important decisions in what is a confusing and stressful set of circumstances,” the Pitzer registrar’s office said via email Thursday.

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