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Almost everything about the return to in-person classes has been joyful — there is nothing more refreshing than walking through the crisp early autumn air on the way to lectures; nothing more melodious than the laughter that fills a classroom when a professor cracks a joke; and nothing more reassuring than the confused looks of our classmates when an esoteric concept flies over all of our heads.
However, not everyone has been able to escape online learning: In the past seven days, 67 new graduate and undergraduate students have tested positive for Covid-19, and 85 individuals on Harvard’s campus are currently in isolation. Over the past four months, there have been 242 undergraduate cases.
For these students in isolation, attending classes in person is impossible, and keeping up at all has been difficult and confusing. While some classes such as Economics 10: “Principles of Economics” have recorded and live-streamed lectures, not all classes have been quite this accessible.
Given that course structures vary widely across and even within departments, it makes sense that professors have adjusted to the circumstances differently. However, it is urgent and necessary that — even with these differences — all professors come up a way for isolated students to attend class and not fall behind academically while dealing with an illness.
To that end, it is each professor’s responsibility to devise a course of action that can be taken by students who need to be isolated — one that works in concert with their unique classroom environment, and which promises to protect the isolated students’ quality of education while maintaining the safety of their peers.
Holding professors accountable in this regard will help prevent last-minute attempts that have hitherto been inadequate for preserving students’ learning — take, for example, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences suggestion that professors have a teaching fellow or student use a smartphone to record and upload a lecture to Canvas for students in isolation. While we appreciate the University’s effort to suggest a unifying policy to ensure the uninterrupted learning of those in quarantine, students need more. Quick and universal “fixes” like these become unworkable when we consider the vastly differing class formats that exist across campus: In a politically-oriented Government seminar, for instance, students might feel uncomfortable having their discussions on possibly polemical topics recorded, uploaded, and placed in the hands of other students.
Subject to this disconnect between policy and practice, professors are likely to opt out and let students miss class in the event of a necessary isolation. These students may be able to catch up by reviewing lecture slides that are later uploaded to Canvas, or by receiving class notes from a friend, but they’ll have missed out on the discussions, questions, and materials that make classroom learning as edifying and engaging as it ought to be.
To lift the burden and stress off of students who may test positive, FAS needs to release guidelines that require all professors to have a preemptive plan for those who go into isolation. From there, allowing professors the flexibility to create individualized and innovative protocols — in other words, handing instructors the flexibility that they need to best meet the needs of their specific course — should generate better outcomes for students who have to spend a part of the semester in the confines of four walls.
There is no policy that can be applied to every course, but every course does need a policy.
Finally, it is not a new concept for students to be unable to attend class because of an illness, but the Covid-19 pandemic has concretized and raised the stakes of a previously amorphous risk. Hopefully, once we’ve found creative solutions that work for students who are sick with Covid-19, professors will continue to use them to accommodate any student health concerns, not just the infamous coronavirus.
Whether we’re sick or healthy; socially distant or close together; entrenched in a global pandemic or blessed with normalcy, we must have plans in place for students to continue learning. While we’re thrilled to be back in the classroom, we need to be prepared for the times when health concerns take that privilege away.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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