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The University of Georgia sent out a survey to students on Oct. 13 about the fall semester and is preparing to increase the number of in-person classes for the spring 2021 semester. (File/Staff)

The University of Georgia wants to increase the number of in-person classes during the spring 2021 semester, according to an email sent Monday to faculty and graduate teaching assistants. 

The goal is in line with a resolution approved Oct. 13 by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, which encouraged the continuation of in-person classes to prompt the “well-being and mental health of each student.” 

UGA’s Office of Instruction also sent an email to students on Oct. 13 with a link to an anonymous survey, with an option for students to share their names as well as feedback on the current semester. The survey is not accepting new responses.

UGA spokesperson Greg Trevor said the university will use the responses to plan for the spring semester. Classes will continue to be a combination of in-person, hybrid and online. The survey included questions about emotional wellbeing, financial distress, academic performance and making friends. It also asked respondents to indicate whether or not they’re returning to UGA next semester. Trevor said 4,500 students have responded as of Oct. 19.

The university’s Office of the Registrar needs to identify the instructional format of each spring class by Nov. 5. That way, students will know what type of class they are registering for. 

Monday’s email was signed by Provost S. Jack Hu, Vice President for Instruction Rahul Shrivastav and Dean of the Graduate School Ron Walcott. Shrivastav wrote a more detailed plan on Friday detailing his conclusions after seeking feedback from members of the UGA community. 

“Everyone is exhausted and misses the kind of engagement that comes naturally with in-person instruction,” Shrivastav wrote. 

In addition to increasing the number of in-person classes, UGA also intends to ensure that hybrid classes include “significant in-person meetings”, according to the email. It also wants instruction to occur synchronously whenever possible. 

The university needs to offer more classes next semester that fall outside the 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. time frame, Shrivstav wrote. Other options to maximize in-person learning include using larger classrooms and dividing large classes into smaller sections, the email said. 

Questions or feedback can be directed to the Office of Instruction at ovpi@uga.edu. The email to faculty signed off with a message to the entire community. 

“These are challenging times for everyone, and we appreciate the patience, resilience, and dedication the campus community has shown,” the email said. “Let’s build on the lessons learned from Fall 2020 to make Spring 2021 the best it can be.”

Concerns for the future

Joy Morin is a parent of a UGA freshman and administrator of a Facebook group with almost 6,000 members advocating to keep Georgia universities open. She hoped students would voice their concerns in the Oct. 13 survey about the mental health consequences of reduced connection to other people. She said in-person learning is the ideal way to learn. 

“Even if you can get all the facts in an online format, you’re not getting the full experience of studying the topic if you can’t have the class discussion,” Morin said. “Zoom is better than nothing, but it’s not the same.” 

Morin would like UGA to use the survey responses to better serve the students’ needs. She thinks the university should make clear whether or not a class is in-person or virtual during the registration process. 

UGA students had the option to express their general opinions about the fall semester at the end of the survey. That was where Justin Crawford laid out his frustrations.

Crawford, a third-year student at the UGA School of Law and former UGA undergraduate, spent the summer of 2016 serving as an orientation leader. He no longer recognizes the institution he spent so much time talking up to parents and students. 

“I don’t have that same level of passion and frankly respect for the place that let me in,” Crawford said. “I couldn’t do the same job I did that summer because I don’t believe in it anymore.” 

Crawford was the only student in his class at Mt. Zion High School to attend UGA Serving as an orientation leader was the “crown jewel” of Crawford’s college experience. He said he still talks to some of the students he mentored that year. 

This semester hasn’t been good for Crawford’s mental health and academic motivation. He said the hybrid model is confusing, but he also doesn't want professors to be required to include an in-person component.

“I have a lot of trouble focusing now,” Crawford said. “Because I sit in my apartment trying to read and prepare for class and I just can’t help but think that I shouldn’t be having to do this. I shouldn’t be having to wake up early Monday morning to go on campus to get to my 8 a.m. class.” 

Simon Fox, a fourth-year civil engineering major, has one class where in-person attendance is mandatory. His other classes use an optional hybrid model. He doesn’t mind having to attend class. 

“I think UGA is doing the best they can do,” Fox said. “It’s a sticky situation. They wanted to still keep sort of the same environment as before and mindset getting everyone together and having a campus community. Obviously it’s quite difficult.”