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With Return to In-Person Instruction, Courses Adapt to Accommodate Quarantining Students

Students wait outside of lecture hall C for Life Sciences 1a in the Science Center.
Students wait outside of lecture hall C for Life Sciences 1a in the Science Center. By Angela Dela Cruz
By Meera S. Nair and Andy Z. Wang, Crimson Staff Writers

Bereft of in-person instruction for 18 months, many students eagerly returned to their seminars in Sever, lectures in Lowell, and sections in the Science Center last week — aided in part by Harvard’s vaccination requirement. Yet, for students with symptoms or diagnoses of Covid-19, online learning is not just a remnant of the past.

Though the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has outlined Covid-19 protocols for classroom instruction, course teaching staff have implemented their own approaches to accommodating students in Covid-related quarantine or isolation.

“Have a TF or fellow student they have identified use a smartphone to make a simple recording that can be uploaded to Canvas, along with any slides or presentations from class,” reads a suggested approach from FAS Covid-19 guidance.

The resources site also suggests that instructors “use Zoom as low-tech way to record class” or “bring a laptop to class and utilize Zoom to include your student in the lecture.”

“We’ve already had several cases, so this is not a hypothetical situation. It’s real,” said Steven R. Levitsky, a Government professor who teaches Government 20: “Foundations of Comparative Politics.”

Alison Frank Johnson, a History professor, wrote that she accommodated four students digitally early in the semester by using Zoom on her cell phone. If they had a question, a friend in the lecture would raise their hand and tell her to check her phone screen.

“It wasn’t perfect and certainly wouldn’t be good enough for a full term of so-called hybrid teaching, but it was better than nothing,” she wrote.

David I. Laibson ’88, an Economics professor, wrote that Economics 10: “Principles of Economics” both records and live-streams its lectures to its 761 students.

“All students are welcome to watch course-wide lectures on Canvas, either live streamed (use the dedicated [Slack] channel #lecture_questions to type questions, which we will ask on your behalf during class), or asynchronously,” the course’s policies reads.

Meanwhile, Courtney B. Lamberth, a Religion lecturer who teaches a seminar of 11 students, wrote in an email that she offers supplemental meetings for those who cannot attend courses in person.

“Because lecture and discussion unfold dialectically in my class, recording the class could undermine the comfort level of some students to participate fully, so I do not plan to tape class by video or audio,” Lamberth wrote.

Some courses have also adapted to be more Covid-conscious, even for students attending classes in person. Don Tontiplaphol, a Social Studies preceptor and instructor of Social Studies 10a: “Introduction to Social Studies,” said that the course uses a rough seating arrangement to facilitate contact tracing.

“We don’t have any sort of fixed pattern — we’re just asking students to remember where they sat last week,” Tontiplaphol said. “Week four, we can reassess whether we need to maintain the policy.”

Some faculty also expressed concern over the health and safety of students, especially in adjusting back to in-person courses.

“I mostly feel concerned about the physical and emotional wellbeing of my students, that they’re missing classes and the effect that has on them,” said Reshma Menon, a Mathematics preceptor and instructor of Math Ma: “Introduction to Functions and Calculus I.”

Charles A. “Chuck” Czeisler ’74, a sleep medicine professor at Harvard Medical School and who co-teaches General Education 1038: “Sleep,” said the recently-increased testing cadence for undergraduates has made him feel safer.

“Returning to in-person teaching is something that we all do with some trepidation, but I think that I have been reassured by the fact that the University Health Services — under the leadership of Dr. [Giang] Nguyen — has really responded,” he said.

Despite the turbulence surrounding Covid-19, Chemistry professor Eric N. Jacobsen shared his joy to be back in the classroom.

“There is certainly some trepidation about lecturing in a room full with 200 people given the virulence of the Delta variant and after a year in nearly complete isolation from students,” he said.

“But students and teaching staff alike seem genuinely excited to be back in the classroom, and I share that excitement,” he added.

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at

—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at

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