As the Omicron variant spreads, the undergraduate campuses of the University of California (UC) have individually announced their decisions to extend remote learning from two weeks to the end of January. After every other UC campus announced their extension, UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) students were left waiting for a response from the administration in regards to whether or not their remote learning would also be extended.
On Jan. 8, the UCSB administration sent out an email to students and faculty announcing that the decision to extend the format of remote instruction until the end of January would be determined by professors.
With this most recent announcement from Chancellor Henry Yang, The Bottom Line reached out to UCSB students and professors regarding how they felt about the extension.
“The best thing administration can do at all times is really have clear, consistent, and continuous communication. I do think so far we’ve had pretty good information and messaging,” said UCSB film and media studies professor Alenda Chang.
However, professor Chang feels that the current messaging from the administration was a departure from how they chose to address COVID-19 related issues in the past. For this most recent announcement, she would have preferred an acknowledgment of the positivity rate and current number of cases in the area.
With the shift in responsibility to choose either remote learning or in-person classes, UCSB professors found themselves facing greater challenges that could result in even more confusion during these turbulent times.
“It’s been a really tough time for instructors because we do feel like we’re pulled in many different directions, and that we have to become not only a content specialist in whatever area we teach in, but also suddenly an audio visual specialist,” revealed professor Chang. “Not everyone feels that comfort level with technology and online platforms.”
She added that remaining remote in the meantime “made sense.” In an attempt to be proactive in slowing the spread of the omicron variant, Professor Chang opted to keep her classes remote until the end of January.
“I think, like a lot of people, I was really hoping we would be at a better point post-vaccines, but I think at this point what we’re doing makes sense,” said professor Chang. ”Just trying to be cautious, not overwhelming healthcare, and not needlessly exposing people when omicron is dominant.”
Despite many professors feeling unsatisfied with the different student experiences during remote learning, the decision made by instructors to extend their online option was done in order to be cautious.
Chang emphasized the importance of remembering the staff’s perspective as well, further discussing how both department faculty and students are impacted by in-person classes.
“Because it’s not just professors, I think it’s important to remember there’s also the staff’s perspective,” said professor Chang. “People who are really instrumental to the functioning of the department, they are also involved and impacted if we decide to go back in person.”
Robin Kam, a fourth-year computer engineering student at UCSB, described the importance of in-person classes and the joy that came from the “ritual” of attending a lecture in person. He explained that the act of physically going to class is something he took for granted, preferring the physical exertion of walking over the mental stress of staying on Zoom for too long.
“The ritual of going to class every day is something I did not realize I would miss,” Kam said.
Like many other students, Kam weighed the pros and cons of online classes and in-person instruction. Searching for silver linings in both, Kam ultimately believed that in-person lectures are more beneficial, but online classes are ultimately what is best during this time.
“With in-person, I feel like collaboration is easier and just feels better. But online, you have recorded lectures and it’s easier to learn things at your own pace,” said Kam. “Really it’s just the COVID-19 thing. If it weren’t for COVID-19, I’d be going to classes in-person.”
For others, online classes are not the issue. Kaveh Sayeh, a fourth-year math major at UCSB, found that the extension of remote learning is a consequence of poor COVID-19 testing services offered by the campus. Sayeh explained that remote learning could be something the administration utilizes depending on campus and Isla Vista (I.V.) cases, rather than only making a decision based on what is happening nationally.
“If we use online school sparingly, I think we can forget what’s going on nationally. If we had a good surveillance program, we can just go online when we have an outbreak in I.V.,” said Sayeh. “But we don’t have a good surveillance program. The school needs to work on testing a lot more.”
The fourth-year math major added that there is much improvement to be made in regards to how the administration monitors the number of COVID-19 cases within the community. Sayeh questioned the efficiency of having so many people in one building on campus when they could spread further out.
“The switch to drop-off testing was good — because they can run more tests — but they only have one testing site,” remarked Sayeh. “Like, why do you only have five people in one building on campus when you can have two in San Cat, one person in I.V. Theater? Spread it out.”
Overall, the general consensus seems to be that most students and professors prefer to be on the cautious side when it comes to slowing down the spread of the Omicron variant on campus. Despite preferring the rituals and experiences that come from attending lectures in person, many seem to be supportive of their professors’ decisions to remain remote. Until further notice, students and faculty are optimistic and hoping more can be done in order to return to in-person classes safely one day.
“We’ll get through this,” said professor Chang. “Everybody take a deep breath, and be generous to each other, and we’ll get through it.”