Learn How In-Person Instruction Is Going at the University of Virginia

September 17, 2020 By Jane Kelly, jak4g@virginia.edu Jane Kelly, jak4g@virginia.edu

The University of Virginia began some in-person instruction Sept. 8, taking extensive precautions to protect students, faculty and staff from the coronavirus, including mask wearing and at least six feet of physical distance in all classrooms.

The University had previously delayed this type of instruction by two weeks to monitor the spread of COVID-19. Professors had multiple options for conducting courses and office hours either virtually, in-person or using a hybrid model, based on their own health risks and preferences.

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UVA Today checked in with three professors to learn how the in-person experience is going and sent photographers into classrooms to capture some of the early moments of this new way of instruction.

Robert Emery
Professor of Psychology; Director of Center for Children, Families and the Law
College of Arts and Sciences

Robert Emery is teaching his “Abnormal Psychology” course in Room 402 of the Chemistry Building. With a seating capacity of 495, the space can accommodate the largest number of students at UVA.

Professor teaching at the front of the class while the students are socially distanced
Robert Emery said he felt a duty to teach his students in person. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Emery, the 2017 winner of the esteemed Cavaliers Distinguished Teaching Professorship, said he has three groups of 68 students attending every third class in-person and that things are going well so far.

One bright spot was an interaction he had with a group of students after one of his first classes when a group of young women approached him to make a distanced introduction. Emery assumed they were sorority sisters. On the contrary, they told him excitedly that they had just met before class and were forming a study group.

“When I left the classroom, they were outside exchanging information and chatting with each other,” he said. “It reminds me that in-person teaching isn’t just about teaching young people. It’s about students having a chance to meet each other. It just made my day to see this happen.”

Asked about the challenges of teaching in the era of coronavirus, office hours came to Emery’s mind.

“I offer Zoom office hours, but I’ve been holding in-person office hours outdoors under the portico of the Rotunda and on the back porch of the faculty club,” he said.

Ashley Hurst
Assistant Professor of Nursing
School of Nursing

Ashley Hurst is teaching two courses in person this semester; “Ethics in Clinical Practice” for undergraduates and “Ethics, Nursing and the Larger Healthcare Arena,” a graduate level course.

She has 13 students meeting in person in the first course, meaning they can all gather safely in a large classroom. The second class has 43 students enrolled. Originally an online, synchronous course, Hurst decided to add an in-person option and she’s had between 10 and 12 students come to the classroom.

Professor teaching at the front of the class while the students are socially distanced
Assistant Professor of Nursing Ashley Hurst lectures to students behind a plexiglass shield. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

“Teaching is my passion,” she said. “I see the opportunity to teach and learn from students as a gift.” A 2020 winner of an All-University Teaching Award, Hurst said her teaching style resonates with students. “If I could safely teach in person this semester, I wanted to be present with them during these unprecedented times,” she said.

“I am proud of the students in my classes – they respect the rules, each other and me.  This allows me to feel safe being with them in the classroom.”

Gerald Warburg
Professor of Practice and Public Policy
Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy

Robert Emery isn’t the only professor who is getting creative with office hours.

Professor of Practice and Public Policy Gerald Warburg has turned a tent outside Garrett Hall into a temporary office.

Student speaking to a professor on benches across from each other
Gerald Warburg, a professor of practice and public policy, advises one of his students outside Garrett Hall. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

“In-person office hours, it has become apparent to me, are more important than ever amidst this pandemic. While Zoom allows us to see (most) everybody’s eyes and helps us teach, the hybrid experience, teaching on Zoom while also teaching masked students in a socially distant classroom, is remarkably difficult for professors to do for two-and-a-half hours a day because you can’t connect both in the room and with Zoom audiences where you cannot see all the faces.”

Warburg said his meetings with students have gone well. “There is a far greater sense of connection and it is easier to move from classroom materials to career options and academic choices,” he said. “Students are very grateful for the human connection, the direct contact, the ability to read eyes and body language and have a less structured conversation.

“All professors are making our own decisions about what is right for us given our individual vulnerability and risk tolerance,” Warburg said. “Office hours are a central part of my job. … So, I welcome any opportunity to engage effectively with students, from first-years to those mid-career post-graduates just completing their Master of Public Policy.”

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications