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Students find balance, connect with classmates with in-person classes

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Walking into PE 27: “Tennis: Advanced Beginning,” Stepan Sharkov ’23 grabs a newly disinfected racket before heading to the hand sanitizer station at the entrance to the courts. He’ll have to wear a mask and social distance from his peers as they play, but the class still gives him the opportunity to interact with them face to face. 

“It’s great to have some in-person classes compared to all online like it was in the spring,” Sharkov said. “It’s a nice time to go somewhere and see actual people and play tennis.”

Sharkov is one of many students living on campus who have the opportunity to enroll in 161 undergraduate in-person class offerings. In-person class offerings during winter quarter have allowed students living on campus to connect with classmates and explore content areas that are not compatible with an online format. 

These courses span physical education, science labs and agricultural classes that would be difficult to operate in an online format. The University was required to offer in-person classes in order to comply with international student visa requirements.

Sree Sundararaman ’24, who is taking OUTDOOR 105: “Outdoor Living Skills,” said the in-person element of the class brings the course material to life. The instructor sometimes brings materials for the class to interact with, which students online would not be able to experience.

“We learn things like layering, setting up tents and tying knots,” Sundararaman said. “That’s really difficult online.”

The courses are held mostly outside and in accordance with Stanford’s COVID-19 safety protocols and the Cardinal Recovery plan, wrote University spokesperson E.J. Miranda in a statement to The Daily. 

Frederic Urech ’22 said the University has created a safe environment for students to take classes in person. “I think Stanford is really careful. I feel 100% safe doing it,” he said. “They’re very responsible and it’s very possible to do this.”

Some students voluntarily chose to take an in-person class, but others, like Urech, from Switzerland, said they would not have absent visa restrictions. 

Urech said he would not have taken PE 54: “Swimming: Stroke Refinement” if he were not required to but has found the variation the class adds to his schedule to be beneficial. 

“It creates a good balance and is a very different class than my econ classes where you’re pushing numbers around on a piece of paper,” he said. “I think it’s very well taught. There’s a passionate instructor, and in a small group of six because of COVID, you get a lot more personal attention.”

While in-person meetings can be helpful to create community and facilitate instruction for some classes, Triana Hernandez ’24, who took Frosh 101 during fall and winter quarters to satisfy visa requirements, said she doesn’t think that meeting in person provides any significant benefits to the course. 

“The benefit of taking class remotely is that we can do a lot of things quickly,” she said. “I definitely prefer online just because I have so many things to do.”

Even if a class is not drastically improved by the in-person teaching presence, students said they benefited from the variation in their schedule and ability to interact with peers. Jasmine Lizardo ’23 said she wanted to take an in-person class to strike a balance between hands-on material and online courses. 

“I knew I was going to be back on campus, and what I was lacking last quarter was just some sort of balance between engaging hands-on material versus everything being online,” she said. 

Lizardo is working on a project for EARTHSYS 182A: “Ecological Farm Systems” that dehydrates excess produce from the O’Donohue Family Educational Farm and sells them to dining halls and outside markets. 

She said the experience allows her to connect with the two other students also working on the project. “We social distance, but it’s really given us the opportunity to get to know each other,” Lizardo said.

Sundararaman said most people keep their cameras off during the class’s online meetings at the beginning of the quarter, leaving her feeling disconnected from her classmates. 

“I didn’t even know they were my classmates until it was in person,” Sundararaman said. “When it was in person it was kind of great; we actually worked together in a group and I managed to talk to everyone in the class, which was nice.”

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