How in-person experiences continue despite the pandemic

In-person classes, labs and art studios this semester provide insight into what a post-pandemic NYU might look like.

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Manasa Gudavalli

NYU students and faculty attending in-person laboratories are required to wear personal protective equipment like gloves, goggles, and KN95 masks. While many classes and activities are held remotely this semester, NYU students and faculty appreciate the possibility of in-person experiences with appropriate safety precautions. (Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli)

By Roshni Raj, Deputy News Editor

Although many courses, seminars and lectures this semester are being held remotely, some classes, activities, clubs and labs continue in person or through a blend of in-person and online instruction. Many NYU faculty and students appreciate the physical face-to-face interactions the latter have to offer and look forward to a fully in-person Fall 2021 semester. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes in-person classes with proper safety measures — mask-wearing, regular disinfecting and socially distanced assigned seating — as settings with “some risk” or “medium risk” depending on the size of the class. To mitigate the spread of coronavirus via the classroom, office, art studio, or laboratory, NYU faculty and students must take weekly COVID-19 tests and complete the Daily Screener to gain access to these indoor spaces. 

Students and faculty attending labs are given standard personal protective equipment including KN95 masks, goggles and gloves to wear for the four-hour sessions, according to John Henssler, a clinical associate professor and director of the Undergraduate Organic Teaching Laboratories. To ensure social distancing, labs are operating at up to 50% capacity and students receive personal fume hoods and lockers. Students also disinfect their work areas. 

“An inherent advantage of the Organic Chemistry Laboratory is the constant and significant exchange of inside air for outside air, resulting from the high density of fume hoods in the space,” Henssler wrote in an email to WSN. “These measures inside the laboratory and the extensive broader mitigation efforts by NYU, including the [COVID-19] Prevention [&] Response Team, have kept the case positivity rate low across campus and therefore allowed us to offer on-site laboratory experience to students continuously since the start of the Fall 2020 semester.”

CAS sophomore Silvia Mumu has enjoyed her in-person laboratory. She expressed that the hands-on experience has made her more confident in her practical skills and techniques than an online class would have done. She noticed some of her peers who took an online lab in the fall semester struggling with the in-person techniques this semester.

“It is harder, I’ll admit, but it’s going to help me a lot in the future when I get research positions or even take the MCAT,” Mumu said. “I don’t know how I would have learned it if I didn’t make the mistakes myself, but that’s good though, because you learn from mistakes. In the online, they don’t [physically] make mistakes.”

Wanting a break from online learning, Tisch first-year Cassie Ren is taking an in-person writing class.

“I wanted to force myself to get out — getting ready, going to class,” Ren said. “It’s definitely been better for me to have one in-person class because it’s given me the chance to have more of a college experience, where some of my friends who are completely online just sit in their dorms all day for like two weeks and then they go out once every two weeks.”

CAS first-year Maya Mohan, a self-proclaimed extrovert, feels similarly about her in-person Expressive Cultures class because she believes being around other people motivates her to do work.

“It’s nice to get ready and have a good day, rather than just spending all day on my computer or even half the day just on my computer,” Mohan said. “I log on and then I just don’t really pay attention, or I just kind of sit there, and I don’t really watch because it’s online and it’s hard to stay focused.”

Small seminar classes at NYU typically gather around a table and engage in lengthy discussions. Ren believes the current classroom layout of spaced rows and columns, which is intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19, has made the learning experience more lecture-style than discussion-based. 

“I think that you really lose the connection you would get in a normal year,” Ren said. “Say, for example, you sit near a friend and say something under your breath. You don’t really even get to have the normal connection you would have with the professor.”

Ren majors in Photography and Imaging. Although many classes are online, Tisch students can reserve on-campus photography studios. Ren is grateful for safety measures that minimize the spread of the coronavirus on campus, but she feels it disrupts the art-making process.

“It limits our photography because all of the models would have to wear masks, and as a result it creates limits [on] the extent our art can go,” Ren said. “It’s just upsetting because it feels like [COVID-19] has completely taken over art instead of just academics as well.”

Mohan, a member of the Pulse Dance Project dance company, rehearses online with her fellow performers. Since the recent reopening of the dance studios at the Kimmel Center for University Life, she has been able to reserve a professional space and practice individually there.

“We can’t do it with [Pulse],” Mohan said. “But it’s been really great because I’ve just been dancing kind of in my dorm room, which is obviously really hard because it’s much smaller than a studio and I don’t have mirrors or space. Obviously, I would wish I could do it with the rest of my friends.”

Henssler believes the pandemic has taught instructors much with regards to the implementation of new teaching methods. He says the organic chemistry labs have merged the best practices of in-person and online instructional modes to enhance student experiences as well as instructor training for future iterations of the course. Overall, he believes that students’ in-person experiences this semester are similar to those of a pre-pandemic course. 

“Since the online format of the laboratory course does not provide the opportunity to physically carry out experiments, we have created alternative means aimed at achieving course objectives,” Henssler said. “For example, with regards to student progression toward research readiness, we have created significant video content that is used during synchronous sessions to critically analyze the importance of every step of an experiment.

Mumu believes NYU must take caution as it returns to more in-person classes and activities for the fall semester, but she remains optimistic.

“Going right back to [all in-person classes], it’s gonna be really hard to adjust, to be honest,” Mumu said. “But I do miss my friends and miss getting that college experience.”

Henssler remains excited about the greater in-person opportunities the fall semester might provide for both faculty and students.

“Face-to-face interactions between students and faculty on campus are so important, especially in the laboratories,” Henssler wrote. “I very much look forward to resuming, not ‘re-Zooming,’ those interactions with all students in the near future.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Mar. 15, 2021, e-print edition. Email Roshni Raj at [email protected]