With the Fall 2021 semester already underway, CUNY and Queens College reopening plans can seem confusing to students and faculty. These plans are constantly changing in order to adapt to new CDC guidelines and to ensure the safety of everyone on campus. The English Department at Queens College had decided in Spring 2021 to list all their courses as hybrid on CUNYFirst, making them one of the only departments doing this. The Knight News reached out to several English professors to ask them why this was the case.
We asked Professor Karen Weingarten, the Associate Chair of the English Department on what prompted the department to list their classes as hybrid. “We listed all our courses with an in-person component as hybrid. Many of our courses are listed as fully online. We didn’t list any courses as fully in person because we have to schedule classes so far in advance we knew that much could change in terms of the pandemic and how safe it was to come learn on campus. Listing courses as hybrid, we recognized how fast things change, for the better and worse (unfortunately).” When asked what the English Department is doing differently from other departments, she admitted that she doesn’t see a difference.
The English Department Chair, Professor Glenn Burger, told The Knight News that about 75% of the English Department’s course offerings are online and 25% hybrid. Those that are hybrid are all expected to have a majority of in person class time pending administration approval. Burger noted that all classrooms that get approval for in person learning need to have fully vaccinated students and to maintain social distancing.
We also asked both professors what the Department is doing to keep both staff and students engaged this semester. “Our faculty uses Google classroom (although this is the last semester we will be able to use it), Blackboard, CUNY Academic Commons, Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, etc. Additionally, we researched and collected best practices for teaching writing and English online and shared these with our Department. Such best practices include reducing the pace and quantity of required reading, using synchronous online class time for reading, composing and revising; and using breakout rooms to foster collaboration and community,” Burger told us. Weingarten mentioned the asynchronous and synchronous methods of class. She adds, “ Many of our courses utilize breakout groups so that students have more opportunities to talk with each other. I know many of my colleagues also like using Zoom’s poll feature to check in with students at the beginning of class.”
Both professors urge students to register their vaccination status as soon as possible. Burger cites how “only about 2/3 of submissions are getting approved the first time around because they aren’t being submitted in a proper or complete form. And the pace of submissions has slowed. Until the College has this information, most classrooms assigned to hybrid or in person courses aren’t going to be approved.” For her part, Weingarten urged students to stay at home. “Students should get tested for Covid. If they test positive, they should let their professor know they will miss classes so they can arrange a way to make up work for the days they miss.” The college also provides emergency grants that can help students in a financial crisis. The Wellness Center is also open to all students. With the precautions students and professors will have to take, in-person learning might be coming sooner than we think.