Hybrid class format earns mixed reviews from students


Courtesy of Isabel Indresano

A meeting of professor Nancy Allen’s Plagues and Pandemics course in the fall semester.

By Alec Klusza, Assistant News Editor

On the tail end of Emerson’s first semester under pandemic-era restrictions, students’ reaction to the hybrid model—sold by administrators as a substantive replacement for traditional in-person learning—has been mixed. 

The model utilizes both in-person and online classes for those enrolled at the Boston campus, a combination some students have found taxing and unproductive this fall semester. 

“I have mixed feelings about it,” Jackie Cahill, a first-year Marketing and Communications major, said. “Sometimes it is nice to go on Zoom and not have to go in person every day, especially because of COVID. But I feel as if I’m not meeting as many people and definitely we’re not experiencing the full college experience.”

Administrators hoped the model would offer an experience almost enriching as a normal semester while preventing mass community spread of COVID-19. But, under the tenuous circumstances of the pandemic, walking that line proved challenging. 

While coronavirus cases among community members remained relatively low, some students, like first-year Marketing and Communications major Kadyn Darrow, yearned for social interaction. The pandemic forced the college to implement a myriad of restrictions on campus life—students were barred from dorm buildings they did not live in, required to wear masks outside their own rooms, and stay away from common use kitchens. Some found these measures restrictive of a typical college experience.

“I don’t think I’m meeting as many people as I could, I don’t think I’m making as many connections, and I also don’t think I’m to the fullest of my educational capability,” Darrow said. “People are saying, ‘Oh, you don’t get the college experience,’ but I don’t really know what that means.”

Emerson boasts of a strong community and alumni network that connects students to the job market. Without those opportunities, Darrow said she feels she is not getting the full Emerson experience. 

“I feel like if we weren’t in this situation, I would have made way more connections with people and gotten internships and all that,” Darrow said.

The hybrid class format, which slashed the number of students and staff allowed on campus by alternating in-person and online class schedules throughout the week, had downfalls for most students.

For Writing, Literature, and Publishing major Marianna Poletti Reyes and her classmates, Zoom sessions offered a connection to her professor that is not possible in the classroom. It also relieves the stress of attending in-person classes. 

“I felt closer to my professors and classmates in those classes that shifted to fully Zoom midway simply because it was everyone’s preferred teaching method in the class,” Poletti said. “There were so many more things on my mind during my in-person classes that distracted me from actually learning. Whether or not I was sitting too close to someone, or what if someone in that class was sick and wasn’t logging their symptom checker right, or even the temperature of the room because once it started to get cold and Emerson began to shut off the AC system in the buildings, it became miserable to sit in a hot room with a mask on.

Darrow said she enjoyed the ease and convenience of Zoom classes.

“I have to say, having an 8 a.m. and waking up at 7:50 and just turning your computer on is nice,” Darrow said. “You save an extra like 45 minutes of sleep.” 

But others, like Cahill, said Zoom learning is less than ideal.

“You can’t really be interactive,” Cahill said. I feel bad for the teachers, honestly, because they have to keep their screen on. It’s hard.”

The college found the hybrid model effective in that officials are anticipating a modest increase in students registered for in-person courses this spring.

Students in hybrid courses will continue to pay the full tuition cost of a typical semester, even with less total class meetings than would occur typically. Moreover, the college has altered the academic schedule in that they canceled spring break and pushed back the start of the semester. 

With the loss of the normal college experience, Darrow said Emerson’s high tuition cost is not worth it anymore.

“Emerson is known to be very expensive, and I don’t feel like I’m getting my money’s worth,” Darrow said.

Other students, like Reyes, find the cost understandable to help keep campus safe from the virus.

“I like to think of it as paying less for the education I’m getting while still paying the same because you have to include the costs of weekly testing, supplies to get plexiglass in classrooms, and much more that Emerson did provide,” Poletti said.

Emerson spent thousands of dollars on purchases meant to safeguard the college from the spread of disease — including bulk purchases of items like masks, hand sanitizer, gloves and testing for students. The college also shelled out more than $1 million on COVID-19 testing through the Broad Institute  — a cost expected to rise in the spring due to increased student testing throughout the week.

An anonymous survey conducted by the Writing, Literature, and Publishing department showed mixed reactions to the hybrid semester among graduate students as well. Some see the flex model as the antithesis of a productive learning environment.

“The flex model has absolutely no benefit to the teaching or learning environments and only puts staff and students at unnecessary increased risk of infection” an anonymous graduate student said. “It makes both modes that much less effective and enjoyable. There is no need for flex classes at the MFA level in the WLP program and it only makes things more difficult.”

Others urged the college to return to in-person classes.

In-person seems to be going well right now for those willing… The MFA students currently in-person are perfectly fine with that, especially hearing and discussing it with others. I urge you, to consider in-person classes again, in some capacity this Spring.”

While acknowledging the hybrid model is flawed, many students are resigned to it, with no other viable options for learning during the pandemic.

Though Cahill finds faults in the hybrid learning, she says it is better than being fully online— like her high school was in the spring.

“The hybrid definitely makes it a little better, like being able to have the taste of being in person,” Cahill said. “But I definitely do feel the Zoom fatigue.”

First-year Visual Media Arts major Feiyu Hong was satisfied with Emerson’s plan as many other colleges went fully online.

“I think I’m pretty lucky that Emerson has a chance to have us in this situation, having an offline class,” Hong said. “It is more productive than in an all-online class semester.”

Hong thinks online classes are productive, though he says he is starting to feel burnt out from Zoom.

“It’s kind of fun,” Hong said about Zoom classes. “It will sometimes be a little bit distracting. You do zone out quickly though. You get pretty tired after looking at the monitor.”

Darrow, Cahill, and Hong all plan on returning to the hybrid model, though Poletti will be taking classes all online in the spring. For Poletti, the risks associated with returning to campus do not outweigh the incentives.

“I don’t regret coming back this semester, but it definitely wasn’t one of the best semesters i’ve had,” Poletti said. “I don’t feel like I would redo it in any way. Hence my decision to go fully online next semester. Even though Emerson was taking all the precautions, and there were not many cases on campus, it is 100 percent stressful to be in a city where the cases get higher and higher everyday. I’m getting the same education from home, honestly I think a better education from home.”

Coronavirus cases have risen steadily over the past few months in Massachusetts, with new infections now hitting totals last seen in April at the virus’ peak.

Student Government Association Executive President Lindsay Debrosse, who spent the semester learning remotely from her home in Florida said she intends to return to the Boston campus for the spring semester in order to spend some time away from home.

“I don’t want to be here anymore,” she said in a phone interview. “I can’t stand another nine to 10 months with my mother. I love her to death. That is the woman of my life, but you are pressed to find me back home for another 10 months. I’ve got to get out of here man.”