By Yeelin Bacchus
In a letter to the BU community on March 12th, BU President Robert Brown announced plans for a full return to an in-person residential campus in the fall 2021 semester.
A year of Learn from Anywhere has changed what education looks like for BU faculty and students. Suzanne Kennedy, the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Affairs, has formed a university-wide working group to explore lessons from LfA and lead the transition back to full in-person learning.
“I think what we’ve learned is that technology can really, in some ways, enhance an in person class,” Kennedy said. “But I think it’s reinforced the notion of what Boston university is, and that is a residential institution, and the desire to return to that once it’s safe to do so.”
Kennedy also said that a survey of students and faculty has shown that they are excited about restoring normalcy in the fall semester.
Mickey Munns, a sophomore in Questrom, expressed his enthusiasm for a return to campus.
“Personally, I think it’s great, and I think people have missed out on social interaction a lot and just being around other people,” he said. “It’s hard, and I think phasing that in will help a lot of people.”
Munns faced challenges with staying focused in remote classes, but he acknowledged the convenience of LfA.
“My grades have dipped since we went online and I just really struggle paying attention,” he said. “So, in that sense being in person is huge and it’s good for me to focus. But on the other hand, I think there should at least be an option for people who may have a conflict or something to be able to take class asynchronously.”
This proposal for LfA to continue alongside a full reopening was echoed by other students, including one Reddit user.
“Removing LfA without any transition period does not account for barriers that many students are dealing with like: health, mental, and living expenses. The last few semesters have been especially rough, but forcing everyone back at once is just another issue in itself,” the Reddit user commented in the BU Reddit.
Another Reddit user with disabilities revealed that the LfA model alleviated mobility challenges that they experienced on campus.
When asked about the possibility of continuing a form of LfA, Associate Provost of Graduate Affairs David Kleinman said that technology that allowed for hybrid learning could be an option, but residential learning is at the core of BU’s educational mission. Some graduate programs that just have one semester remaining or with high numbers of international students will continue LfA for one semester only.
Kleinman also explained that hybrid learning might negatively impact a student’s learning and social interaction.
“This is not really a criticism of the students, but just to say they woke up a few minutes late and they thought, ‘Well, I could just Zoom in, why should I come into the classroom?’” he said. “And one of the things that we really want to avoid is that becoming second nature.”
Dr. Deborah Breen, the director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, said that one practice faculty could carry into the fall semester is the ability to invite guest speakers via Zoom.
“I think lots of people have used that as a way to diversify what’s happening in the class, and it’s a very simple thing that we could have thought of before that perhaps we didn’t think of,” she said.
Professor Carrie Preston, the director of Kilachand Honors College, also mentioned the convenience of zooming in guest speakers, and recognized that the chat function encourages participation. But she described teaching under the LfA format as difficult.
“LfA teaching is very challenging because, for me, it means trying to manage both students in a classroom lecturing to them, engaging in discussion with the students in the classroom, and maintaining what often feels like a completely separate course remotely,” Preston said.
One common theme among interviews with students, faculty, and staff was that the Learn from Anywhere model made people appreciate the benefits of a residential campus and in-person learning.