Just weeks into the new semester, several ANU courses have reversed decisions to return to in-person teaching. Courses ranging from computer science to postgraduate economics have announced face-to-face classes will be moved online until further notice.
Along with schools and other universities across the country, students at ANU were promised some return to normalcy in 2022. In general, courses have been offered in a hybrid format, with both in-person and online options available to students.
Face-to-face classes were to be supplemented with COVID-safe measures, such as the mandatory wearing of masks and social distancing. In addition, each student was able to collect eight rapid antigen tests and five P2/N95 masks from the university free of charge (before 3 March).
However, the Omicron variant seems to be once again ruining the best-laid plans. The news of courses returning online came as cases at ANU’s residential halls were on the rise. By the end of the first week of teaching (25 February) this cluster had risen to 600 cases.
A course convenor who was among those moving classes online pointed to the ANU outbreak as the reason for his decision. Posting to his Wattle forum at the end of week one, the convenor wrote, “[the ANU cluster] accounted for a non-trivial percentage of ACT’s overall new COVID cases: 200+ (ANU) out of 500+ (ACT-wide) on Monday this week”.
The convenor referenced his own pre-existing health condition, as well as the responsibility he would feel should any of his students be infected while attending his class, “simply because ANU executives refuse to provide more information and guidance regarding campus-specific COVID exposures”.
The course in question has been moved online until the end of week three, at which point the convenor said he would reassess the situation.
Speaking to Observer, a student taking this course said, “I am supportive of the professor to the extent that he is worried about his own health. But it is disappointing, as I was looking forward to more intensive time with my lecturers”.
The question looming for the student body is whether these are individual cases or the start of a university-wide shift back to digital classrooms.
When asked by Observer whether students should expect to see more classes going online, an ANU spokesperson responded with the following statement: “The ANU has welcomed all of our community back to campus. Students who can attend classes on campus are expected to do so – except where students choose online enrolment for their specific program of study.”
“Classroom teaching will be the norm, but all course convenors have developed contingency plans for when staff and students are unable to come to class.”
On 4 March, the ANU released a statement confirming that “no new COVID-19 cases were reported in any of the University’s residences” that day.
Yet despite assurances, news of these shifts back to online learning demonstrate how quickly study arrangements can change (particularly in the event of another spike in cases).
Speaking to Observer, fourth-year student Samantha Holt described a certain resignation to the realities of studying in a pandemic: “I think we just have to redefine normal, so that we are not being constantly disappointed by pre-pandemic expectations. I suppose this is the new normal”.
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