Physical classes are unsafe or just plain boring
These students would rather stay home
The few physical classes they’re still allowed to attend are like a lifeline to a lot of students and they hold on to them with all their might. They miss interacting with other people during lectures and being able to ask teachers questions face to face rather than through a screen. But not Suzanne Oud, a pre-master neurolinguistics student. ‘I’m not at school to make friends, I’m here to learn’, she says.
The social aspect of physical classes sometimes makes her uncomfortable. ‘I have autism’, she explains. She prefers following classes online, at home with her boyfriend and their two cats.
Suzanne is in her seventh year of studying and she’s tired of having to go to school. ‘Normally, I’m so bored during lectures,’ she says, ‘but now I’m able to do assignments for other classes, cook, or even go grocery shopping while listening.’
Not in a rush
While other students may not be happy about the current situation, exactly, there are quite a few who aren’t in a rush to go to in-person classes, either.
I can do assignments for other classes or cook while I’m listening
Stephanie Ouellette, who’s doing a master in environmental psychology, changed her mind about online-only when she went home to the United States over the summer break. ‘I was seeing my grandma a lot, and although she’s in great condition, she’s also old. That was a very personal reason for me to think about how I was responding to the guidelines’, she says.
It’s important to stay at home as much as possible, she feels, because despite taking every precaution when she did go out, she still got covid. ‘The only way I think I could have gotten it is on the train to Groningen’, she says. ‘It’s frustrating, because I know a lot of people who aren’t being as cautious as I am who aren’t suffering any consequences.’
Azadeh Rahimichatri, who’s doing a PhD in optoelectronics and teaches a nature of scientific disciplines course, decided to switch to online classes when she realised her students weren’t feeling safe. She created a poll to ask them what they preferred. ‘Four students still wanted on-site classes and eleven people preferred online’, she says. ‘I think it is important to adapt to new situations and to take the students’ needs into account. If they indicate they feel unsafe, then I really want to listen to them.’
She did make sure, though, that the four students who wanted physical classes could still meet up and follow the class together.
‘When we first started the class in-person, keeping our distance was working’, says Hedwig Fossen, one of Rahimichatri’s students. ‘But at one point we had to choose from a few objects that were kept at the front of the room. Everyone wanted their favourite thing, so naturally, everyone ran to the front. All of a sudden no one was keeping their distance anymore.’
Hedwig was one of the students who voted for online classes. ‘Things can go wrong very quickly’, she explains. ‘We had class in a giant room, but even if the intentions are right, it doesn’t always work.’
I’d have this looming anxiety in a room full of people
Her decision was, in a way, influenced by other students, she says. ‘If other people in a group say they feel safer at home, then I will take that into account. If I had been the only one to want online classes, then maybe I would have decided to go to physical classes anyway.’
Because of her recent covid diagnosis, Stephanie still doesn’t feel comfortable going to class. ‘If I were to be in a room with a whole bunch of people, even if I know distance can be kept, I would still have this looming anxiety’, she says.
Pressure to come in
Deciding to stay home can be difficult when the government and the university do allow on-campus classes. ‘But you can’t tell someone that they have to be there when they’re just not comfortable with that’, says Stephanie. She herself hasn’t felt pressured to come in, though. ‘At the end of the day we’re all university students, so you would hope that we can make the choice that’s right for each of us.’
‘I think considering the current situation it is wise to offer classes online’, says Rahimichatri. ‘I’m responsible for the students and health is more important than on-site education.’
Still, that doesn’t mean they don’t miss the human aspect of in-person education. Stephanie has seen and talked to the other students in her master programme but hasn’t actually met any of them. ‘It would have been nice to have that community and go through this adventure together’, she says. ‘I do have a really good friend group, a comfortable home with good Wi-Fi, and enough space to be able to study, which makes it easier to stay at home. But I know that there are a lot of people who are not in such fortunate situations.’
‘We are human, and we enjoy seeing people in person’, Rahimichatri says. ‘But the situation calls for making decisions that might be against what we enjoy at the moment.’