Students Navigate Academics Through Covid Isolation

As the number of students in Covid isolation increases, faculty have been forced to make adjustments to their teaching plans, while students in isolation are adjusting to learning material from classes not designed to be taught remotely.

As classes have gone back in person over the past couple weeks, more than eight percent of the student body has tested positive for Covid, creating challenges for accommodating all students in the classroom. Faculty and students have been forced to make adjustments to their respective teaching and learning plans in accordance with isolation policies for positive student cases. Despite yearning for a return to normalcy, students and faculty acknowledge the importance of working together to keep the community safe.

In an email sent to faculty members on Feb. 23, Provost and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein urged professors to be explicit about their expectations for students who require isolation. “For many students, the most important action that you can take is to let them know how you will address absences and missed work during the period in which they cannot attend class,” the email reads. “If you haven’t done so already, please take a few moments to share your policies with your students, as well as how they can expect to be supported by you while they are in isolation.”

Although there is no set plan of action that professors are required to implement when a student tests positive, the email outlined some strategies that professors might find useful when trying to navigate teaching under the circumstances. These include offering remote office hours for students, sharing recorded lectures, enlisting a student note-taker, and providing digital versions of all material handed out in class.

Karl Lowenstein Fellow and Visiting Professor of Political Science Gustavo Salcedo explained that he made the personal choice to take a different approach than the strategies suggested in Epstein’s email. After coming to an agreement with his isolating students, Salcedo determined that having a live Zoom option was the best way to allow his students to stay updated with class content. In addition to providing a live Zoom, Salcedo shared that, in trying to support his students, he also has been flexible with providing extensions and hosting virtual office hours.

“I prefer teaching in person than through Zoom, I find the experience to be more complete and enriching to be physically together in presence with my students,” Salcedo shared.  

William Prince ’25 expressed appreciation that professors were understanding. Reflecting on his unusually long 11-day stay at the Boltwood Inn, he said, “I felt like a broken record emailing [professors] every two days saying I won’t be able to attend class yet again.”

He explained that while the majority of his professors seemed to have it “all figured out” when it came to teaching students in isolation, others had a more difficult time adjusting. Regardless, Prince felt that the professors “did the best they could.”

Prince relayed that his professors offered him various forms of academic accommodation. “One of my classes had a Zoom option, one professor would record the class and share the audio with me after, and another professor just required me to meet with them for office hours,” he said.

Prince felt he was able to maintain his academic standing partly due to his isolation taking place during the first week of in-person classes. He recalled, “There wasn’t a lot of stuff that I needed to do yet that I could risk falling behind on.”

Alternatively, Noah Chavez ’24 felt that some professors were not as accommodating as he had hoped they would be. “My math professor did not give out lecture notes without multiple students asking (and I only got one day’s worth) and had no Zoom or recording set up,” he said. “I relied on my friends to Zoom me in with their own laptops, which was not very useful and impacted their learning as well.”

Chavez shared that spending time in isolation negatively impacted his academics. He explained that although he received extensions for assignments in some classes, he “still feels behind in everything even though [his] symptoms were only fairly mild.”

Chavez expressed concern that professors seem to expect that students in isolation will still work many hours per day, even though some professors do not provide students the necessary resources to keep up with their coursework. “If one’s symptoms were worse, I imagine the isolation could really derail their academics,” he said.

Epstein addressed these student concerns in an email to faculty on Feb. 25. She reported that over 100 students are in isolation because they have tested positive for Covid, remarking that “Many of [them] are very anxious about the ways in which being in isolation could affect their academic performance, specifically about absences from class and how they will keep up with or make up work.”

In an effort to ease students’ anxiety, Epstein urged faculty to reach out immediately to students who test positive and communicate clearly their expectations for remaining academically engaged while in isolation. She instructed professors to explicitly inform students that absences due to isolation will be excused, and that students will not be penalized for any missed classes while they are in isolation. Chief Communications Officer Sandy Genelius communicated to The Student that the college does “not plan on transitioning to remote learning and teaching.”

Despite the inconvenience imposed by isolation, Chavez emphasized the value of having a supportive community while recovering from Covid. “I want to thank the Health Center and all other isolation housing staff for making the whole process as seamless as possible. I am also thankful for many of my peers for stepping up to help me and others in isolation when we needed it most.”