NIU students, faculty react to starting the semester online

Students and faculty give their reactions to the news that classes will be online Jan. 18-22.


Patrick Murphy | Northern Star

A mask is taped to NIU’s Olive Goyle statue next to Altgeld Hall June 3.

By Elisa Reamer, Brionna Belcher, and Wes Sanderson

DeKALB— NIU students and faculty were given news that, while expected, might not have been the most encouraging to hear. Online learning will be returning for all courses Jan. 18-25. 

As of the week of Jan. 4, the positivity rate is at 13% and the university made the decision to start online since students and staff all returning at the same time would most likely cause this number to increase. 

“All faculty are asked to communicate to their students during the first week how they plan to proceed with classes in subsequent weeks should the on-campus surveillance testing positivity rate be 8 percent or greater,” Joe King, associate director for institutional communication said in an email.  

Students express mixed reactions

Devlin Collins, President of the Student Government Association, hopes that students take this opportunity to look into their syllabus and get a head start on the semester, rather than treat the week as an extra time for a vacation. 

Although the first week of class is important, Alexander Bueno, junior marketing student and chapter president of Delta Chi, believes the university’s decision to go temporarily remote is wise given the circumstances. 

“People travel during the holiday break and people go see family and other friends that they haven’t seen in a long time,” Bueno said. “So I feel like it is wise for the first week.”

The university’s announcement marks the first time this academic year that all learning has gone remote because of COVID-19, but most students have dealt with this uncertainty before. 

“As long as we keep those transmission rates down for this semester, as long as we enforce them as a policy, then we shouldn’t have an issue of us being virtual for the rest of the semester,” said Collins. 

Bueno feels that some students might be worried because they’ve experienced this situation before in the Spring 2020 semester. 

“They said they were extending break one week and then they extended it a couple weeks and then they ultimately made the decision to switch fully online,” Bueno said. 

While some students worry about the possibility of a completely remote semester, others hope for it. 

“I just believe that the entire idea of being online for just one week, and then having to come back, test, and decide what we’re going to do, like I just think it’s pointless,” said Michelle Opalinski, a freshman health sciences major. “I think in all that we should be online for the rest of the semester.”

Opalinski acknowledged that the country can’t just shut down everything, but believes that going back to regular activities and attending school as usual will not be helpful.

Faculty wish they had more time to prepare  

Faculty and staff were notified about the first week of classes being done remotely at the same time as students, so they have limited time to switch their lesson plans made for in-person classes to be now online. 

Communication professor Ferald Bryan wishes NIU made the announcement to start online earlier, but he understands why the decision was made. 

“I wasn’t too surprised,” Bryan said. “I actually expected it a little earlier because I’ve seen the news from our sister institutions that you know, ‘we’re delaying things for two weeks or we’re going online for a period of time,’ so I wasn’t too surprised. I wish I had a little more notice but at least I have a week to prepare now.” 

Bryan said it is a challenge because one of the courses he is teaching this upcoming semester has never been online, so it will be difficult for him to get that ready even for a week. He has taught his other class online before, so he said that is half the battle. 

“Most of us got really good training to the transfer, I should say the transition to online learning,” Bryan said. “Most of us got good training from the Office of Innovative Teaching on how to do that. It’s just having to do this on a short period of time is certainly the challenge, especially for those new prep that I have for this spring.” 

Bryan believes based on other schools announcing they’re starting remotely for their first two weeks, NIU’s online start may last longer than one week. 

Bryan said some students will be able to adapt to online learning more than others, while others much more prefer being in-person. 

“The numbers are scary and I don’t want to put anyone in an uncomfortable situation,” Bryan said. “Obviously, if students want to do face-to-face, they need to feel comfortable in that context.” 

Professor in School of Theatre and Dance Alexander Gelman said he knew nothing about starting online for the first week prior to the Jan. 7 email. 

“The class I’m teaching are pretty much the classes I have taught over the course of last year, all of which were all online, so sadly this is not new territory,” Gelman said. “I think in a lot of ways the new challenges as you know compared to then is planning something that may or may not continue being online.” 

Gelman said he has full confidence in his students to continue doing their work and staying engaged since he teaches fourth-year undergraduate students as well as graduate students that have all been trained to do classes online. 

“If I had the discretion and the scientific data supports the wisdom of such decision, I would like to go back to teaching in person,” Gelman said. 

Gelman said this due to the fact that he teaches an art that is meant to be done in front of an audience. Teaching online makes that difficult but not impossible. 

“It was a substantial challenge throughout,” Gelman said. “I think the goal is not so much to give the same experience, but, you know, everything that is a limitation comes with advantages and disadvantages and I think the goal always is to take advantage of the advantages and minimize the disadvantages. It’s unrealistic to say it’s the same experience.”