Some BYU classes move online during COVID spike

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Professor Paul Frandsen uses Zoom to teach on March 19. Some professors are moving back to online classes as COVID cases at BYU and in Utah County rise. (Nate Edwards/BYU Photo)

Some BYU professors are moving their in-person or blended class completely online or making other adaptions as COVID cases rise in Utah County.

Provo is one of only two cities in the state to be in the moderate risk category, and BYU reported 190 active cases (out of 1,525 total) as of Oct. 3.

Journalism senior Anna Bryner’s POLI 150 class recently moved online for a week and a half due to the upward trend in COVID cases. Her professor gave the stipulation that the class would wait to return to in-person until the number of active cases on campus declined.

Now she only has to go onto campus for a religion class and a class she TAs for. She said she generally feels safe being on campus despite the rise in cases. “But I guess it is nice, though, on days that I’ve just totally stayed home, I know I couldn’t have been exposed that day. So I’d say there is a little bit of comfort in that.”

The biggest difference of shifting most of her classes online has been the logistical convenience. “I tended to go on campus back and forth because I found it kind of annoying to try to find a place on campus to do an online class,” she said. The switch also means that if she has to quarantine as she did a few weeks ago, she doesn’t need to worry about falling behind if there are technical difficulties that prevent the professor from recording the class.

Allison Baker, a computer science sophomore, has most of her classes online. Only two of her classes — a math class and a women’s studies course — are blended. She said her women’s studies class hasn’t yet met in person yet, but they may do so for the first time this week.

Her math class offers an online lecture class and smaller TA labs once a week. After going to the lab once in person, she decided to switch to the only online TA section.

“I just saw how it was all set up,” Baker said, describing a small classroom where there weren’t enough seats for everyone to social distance. “I was nervous. It didn’t seem bad at the moment, the class setup, but I was afraid that as things got worse, I wouldn’t want to be in class.”

A few weeks into the semester, all the TA labs for the class went online, hopefully temporarily. She said now she’s relieved she made the switch earlier on. “I feel safe that I don’t have to go to any in-person classes on campus.”

History professor Evan Ward hasn’t moved his in-person classes online, but he has started to record his classes and allow live remote delivery.

“I did not anticipate having to remotely deliver and record lectures, but as the number of concerned as well as quarantined students increased, I felt it was more of a public service rather than a convenience to accommodate student concerns by taping class as well as offering it remotely,” he said.

The setup isn’t without its challenges, though. Ward said teaching in a classroom and blended setting simultaneously “creates a sort of schizophrenia that makes reaching students a bit more difficult.”

Currently, the decision about whether to move classes online temporarily or longer is up to individual professors. That may change within a week or so if cases counts don’t go down, according to a joint letter released by BYU president Kevin J Worthen and UVU president Astrid S. Tuminez on Sep. 22. In the letter, Worthen and Tuminez said moving to online instruction for the rest of the semester could be a possible consequence if student behavior around COVID guidelines does not improve.

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