Students concerned about online learning, burnout during spring semester


Thomas Yang | Senior Staff Photographer

Students will be able to move back into residence halls in late January or early February if they test negative for COVID-19.

By Betul Tuncer, Staff Writer

Adnaan Hasan has made the difficult decision to stay home this semester due to the coronavirus pandemic. He said even though he wants to attend in-person classes, he’s making this move to not only protect himself, but also his family.

“COVID definitely impacted my decision to stay off campus just because I didn’t want to put my family members at an unnecessary risk of COVID,” Hasan said.

As the spring semester begins, many students are preparing for classes and move-in while still feeling the impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Even though classes will start on Tuesday, students aren’t allowed to move in until late January or early February. Students shared their thoughts and concerns regarding housing, classes and other topics about the spring semester.

Some students, like Hasan, are concerned about their spring classes. Hasan said he felt like last semester’s online classes didn’t accommodate students’ needs and resulted in an overload of coursework amid the pandemic.

“I felt like online classes didn’t really accommodate the pandemic, even when the school said they would,” Hasan said. “We seemed to be given more work with less breaks.”

Hasan also expressed worries about overworking and burnout from online classes. He said he hopes that the University can work to prevent students from experiencing another “draining” semester.

“Online school burnout is definitely real, and not much, if anything, is being done to limit it,” Hasan said. “I was relieved to get through one semester of online classes but the rigor of it was draining, so I hope they accommodate more for burnout this semester.”

Pitt will continue to use the Flex@Pitt model this semester, which may allow for some in-person classes, depending on the University’s operating posture. Pitt is currently in the middle Elevated Risk operating posture, which permits partial in-person instruction, housing with virus mitigations in place and gatherings capped at 25 people.

Since students have already experienced completely online classes, there’s hope from some that this semester might go smoother. Iman Ahmad, a sophomore biology major, said while the initial transition into online coursework was challenging, she thinks professors are more accustomed to online teaching and that this will lead to a smooth semester.

“I don’t fully know what to expect, though I assume this semester will be similar to the fall semester,” Ahmad said. “I hope that all professors are comfortable using online resources because that was an issue I faced last semester.”

Similarly, Muhammad Rajput, a first-year biology major, said he has learned what to expect with work load and time management for online classes from the fall and hopes to use that experience to his benefit in the spring.

“The fall semester taught me that online schooling revolves a lot around self discipline, which I will use in my spring semester,” Rajput said.

Some students are hoping for the option of in-person classes, though. Amaya Gilbert, a first-year nursing major, said since she will live in on-campus housing, she wants to have at least a few in-person classes, specifically labs.

“I do want to have in-person classes, but only for labs because I feel like that’s something really hard to replicate through Zoom,” Gilbert said. “There’s only so much you can do as far as labs through a screen since it’s so hands-on.”

Pitt spokesperson Kevin Zwick said it is still too early to determine an exact number of students that will be on campus for the spring. Residents are grouped into one of four move-in dates — Jan. 29, Jan. 31, Feb. 3 or Feb. 5.

Students are also advised to shelter in place for at least seven days before moving in. Additionally, students will need to have a negative COVID-19 test before entering University housing in order to keep campus safe. Students need to register as soon as possible for a free test from Quest Diagnostics, which will be mailed to their homes and then taken on the first day of the shelter-in-place time.

Zwick added that the University is taking into account many factors in deciding how to bring students back to campus safely.

“We are carefully monitoring a number of factors, including case counts in the area and around the country following the holidays,” Zwick said. “All health and safety rules will remain in place, and student housing will continue to be de-densified as appropriate.”

Pitt added 16 new COVID-19 cases, composed of 14 students and two employees, between last Tuesday and Thursday, with 25 students currently in isolation. Allegheny County Health Department and state health officials have continued to report soaring case numbers. According to hospital data compiled by The New York Times, around 89% of ICU beds in the Pittsburgh area are currently occupied, compared with 81% statewide and 79% nationally. UPMC Shadyside is at 104% capacity and has no ICU beds remaining.

But the option to take in-person classes on campus is not as readily available to all students, especially those who are choosing to stay home for the semester. Hasan said he would only want to attend in-person classes himself once all students and staff on campus receive a vaccine in order for classes to be safe.

“I wouldn’t want in-person classes until a vaccine is out and safely administered to the masses,” Hasan said.

He added that even if in-person classes are offered, students who don’t have the option to physically attend might have less access to educational resources.

“If they have classes in person and not all students are able to join, I feel professors might show preference to in-person classes and online students would be at a disadvantage,” Hasan said.

While students are uncertain about the upcoming semester, there is still excitement for the beginning of a new year. Rajput said he is optimistic for the spring and hopes that, with potential vaccinations and safety precautions in place, this semester will be much better than the fall.

“For the spring semester I feel pretty good,” Rajput said. “With vaccinations starting, 2021 looks much more hopeful and I would love in-person classes as long as they are safe.”