In-person classes restore a sense of normalcy for these Northeastern students

Matthew Williams, a part-time lecturer, teaches a basic clinical skills course inside the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex. Photo Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Health sciences major Henry Dupont’s class schedule meant he barely set foot on Northeastern’s Boston campus last fall, a choice that he felt hurt his coursework, and also left him—along with other remote students—feeling out of the loop.

That’s why Dupont decided to take in-person classes this semester, including a basic health skills class he attended with a handful of other students inside Northeastern’s Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex last week.

Photo Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“All my teachers this semester have been focusing on getting students better acquainted with one another,” says Dupont, a sophomore. “I never felt isolated because I have friends who live off campus with me, but I can imagine that helps freshmen a great deal.”

Dupont is one of many students opting for in-person classes this semester as the university continues its rigorous surveillance testing and public health protocols, and moves ahead with COVID-19 vaccinations during the spring semester. Dupont’s professor Matthew Williams teaches a 100-minute class on basic health skills in the ISEC building every Wednesday, and his students do lab work on Fridays.

Williams says he’s fielded calls from potential students who signed on to his class because they want to physically attend his labs and lectures.

“Everyone is very excited to find out we’d have an in-person lab. I’ve had a few students reach out to check,” says Williams, who also works as a paramedic. Students in his class learn how to take a patient’s vital signs such as blood pressure and heart rate— skills that are hard to teach virtually.

“These medical courses are very practical. You really can’t substitute the in-person nature of learning these skills,” says Williams.

Lauren Ward, 20, is another health sciences major who says she quickly realized she learns better in class.

“It’s nice having that more personal relationship with your professor,” says Ward. “Plus, it’s easier for me to pay attention when I’m actually in person.”

Northeastern reopened the Boston campus last fall after rolling out NUflex, a hybrid learning model that utilizes new technology and flexible schedules to enable students and faculty to learn and teach from anywhere, anytime. For those in the classroom, NUflex enables in-person learning that meets public health guidelines.

To contain the virus and keep the campus community safe, the university has built a comprehensive surveillance testing and contact tracing operation, and has conducted more than 618,000 tests since August 2020 with a current 7-day positivity rate of 0.24 percent.

On Jan. 5, Northeastern started vaccinating Phase 1 populations, including those in COVID-facing positions, healthcare workers and first responders.

Protect the Pack, the university’s public health campaign, has been successful in promoting strict indoor and outdoor mask-wearing and physical distancing protocols.

“We are always sitting distanced, far apart and have our masks on in class, so the risk of students being exposed is pretty low,” says Ward. “I wouldn’t go to class if I didn’t think it would be safe.”

Ward and her classmates had plenty of room last Wednesday in one of the airy, glass-doored learning spaces on the ground floor of ISEC.

“These classrooms are quite impressive with the way they’ve been set up and sanitized,” says Williams. “I’ve been really impressed with the way Northeastern has been able to get everyone on campus.”

Sarah Cohen, another student in Williams’s class, says the choice between in-person and remote learning was easy.

“It keeps me directed,” says Cohen about her on-campus attendance. “I could get away with not coming into class if I wanted to, but coming in and seeing the teacher means that I stay on top of my work.”

Physical attendance has also renewed a sense of connection, helping to restore a bit of normalcy that students like Dupont experienced before the pandemic upended their schedules.

“I think it has the potential to greatly improve engagement in and out of the classroom,” says Dupont.

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