On Tuesday, September 28th, the COVID-19 Leadership Team clarified the dual-modality learning accommodations available for students in isolation and quarantine. A campus-wide email explained potential ways faculty members could offer dual-modality in the classroom, including recording classes for quarantined students or offering live Microsoft Teams access for students unable to attend due to COVID. The announcement came in response to a proposal presented to the College’s faculty by Student Government on September 21.
While remote learning was consistently offered during the 2020-2021 academic year, in an email sent on June 21, 2021, the college announced to students and staff that it would revert to its pre-pandemic policy, stating that “remote learning [would] no longer be available for students in quarantine or isolation.” At the beginning of the school year, an email sent from the provost to the faculty assured them that they could provide remote learning if they wished, but it would not be required. Students were not included in this email.
This shift in policy concerned many students. During the COVID spike in mid-September, many students in quarantine on East Campus felt isolated, not only from their peers but also from their classes and professors.
“In quarantine,” said sophomore Bible and theology major Jacob Kraker about his experience at East Campus, “the online learning options really depended on what your professors were willing to do. Some of my professors tried to stream with Microsoft Teams—although the audio made class very hard to pay attention in. One of my professors offered that I get tutoring from his TA, and another let me get behind two weeks.”
Student Government’s proposal to clarify quarantine learning accommodations was submitted after their members “heard a multitude of concerns from students across campus that those who are quarantined, isolated or close-contacted have unequal access to their classes,” according to the proposal.
Even though remote learning has become less of an issue in recent weeks as COVID cases have plummeted on campus, student government leaders hope their proposal will pay off if future outbreaks occur.
“We’re grateful that the caseload has gone down so that dual-modality is not as pressing of an issue,” said Student Body Vice President Mason Laney. “But of course if anything does come up in the future—with quarantines or if anybody gets isolated, even one person, I think it’s helpful that they know they have those resources available to them, and that the admin and faculty—very much the faculty—are on your side.”
The proposal was sponsored by Student Body President Hayden Sledge, EVP of Student Wellness Ella Wickham and EVP of Academic Affairs Katie Molloy. The trio worked along with Laney to write the initiative. The proposal passed unanimously by the Student Government board, and Sledge then presented it to the faculty on September 21.
The proposal outlined suggested measures for dual-modality in the classrooms to more effectively incorporate quarantined students into the classroom and advocated for clearer communication about the responsibilities of quarantined students and their professors.
“By clarifying and updating the current College policy on dual-modality, the administration will resolve confusion amongst students and faculty and increase the engagement of isolated, quarantined, or close-contacted students, resulting in an overall more symbiotic relationship between faculty and students,” the proposal read.
Student Government also suggested in their proposal that President Ryken and the Senior Administrative Cabinet offer one or more of the following options for dual-modality in the classroom: “Employ USB speakerphones to offer live Teams access to the classroom, delegate a student to facilitate live remote access to the classroom, distribute class recordings, or offer extended office hours or other opportunities outside of class hours.”
The proposal encouraged the college not only to implement these provisions for students but strongly emphasized that the college make it known, not only to faculty, but to students in the form of a mass email.
In response to this proposal, the COVID-19 Leadership Team sent out the September 28th email to all students. It summarized the protocols as suggested by the Student Government Board, while also emphasizing the faculty’s desire to help students in isolation due to COVID and explaining the resources available to students through the Learning and Accessibility Services offices.
Laney explained that while he was grateful for the Leadership Team’s email in response to the proposal, he wished Student Government had received a chance to review the email’s wording before it was sent out to the student body.
“The only sad thing was that we didn’t see the email before it went out. We were only told what was going to be in it, so we never got to reword things,” said Laney. “I thought that the email overall was clarifying, which is what the goal was. But I always say there’s always a better way to see things. Still, I think the email did a good job of at least clarifying the situation.”
The email mentioned Student Government’s proposal of live Teams streaming, class recordings, and extended office hours, clarifying that the dual-modality opportunities were dependent on the preferences of individual professors.
“Wheaton faculty are meeting the unique challenges of this semester by coming up with creative solutions to meet the needs of students in and out of the classroom,” the email read. “Like you, they are feeling the long-term impact of the pandemic on our community.”
Laney spoke to the challenge for faculty as well, noting that although the faculty do not want to see students get behind in their coursework, providing complete dual-modality can be difficult for them.
“It is tiring for faculty to run two classes at once, so it’s really difficult for us to say ‘let’s open that up fully as an option,’” said Laney. “We have to recognize the needs of the students, but also the needs of the faculty.”
Professors expressed gratitude for the proposal’s acknowledgement of the challenges of dual-modality teaching.
“I was one of the rare faculty members that did not mind fully remote learning because I believe the benefits outweigh the costs,” said psychology professor Christin Fort. “However, hybrid learning was a challenge because the technology didn’t always work, and it made class discussion difficult.”
This reality is one of the reasons why the Student Government proposal agrees that the College should not require a dual-modality option from its faculty, though the proposal does “highly encourage it.”
Sledge and Laney said they had heard from many students about the dual-modality problem and were grateful the faculty listened to their proposal.
“It was really an honor to be able to advocate for students in this way because there were students even outside of quarantine who were concerned about this. And I think to have that much student engagement on an issue was encouraging,” said Sledge.
Wheaton College, IL