The Rider News survey results show majority student approval of 2020 fall semester plan

By Tatyanna Carman

As students return for the first week of in-person classes, a survey conducted by The Rider News revealed that a majority of students have been pleased with Rider’s fall reopening plan, with only some worrying details about the coronavirus regulations on campus.

There were 171 participants in The Rider News student survey, which ran from Sept. 11 to Sept. 19. Overall, 61% of participants approve of the updated 2020 fall semester education plan, while 38% do not.

“The plan is fine except for three weeks virtual and the rest in person,” sophomore arts and entertainment industries management major Rachel Katz said. “I think it should be one or the other. It’s very confusing when they let you choose because every class is different, and it makes it very messy. I am commuting this semester but I feel more comfortable going to my in-person classes with the mandatory masks and people reporting symptoms each day who live on campus.”

Master of Arts in teaching graduate student Alexander Kuhn said that he does not approve of the updated 2020 fall semester education plan and said he was lucky to have an instructor who’s decided to remain fully remote, but “not everybody can be so fortunate.”

However, the university gave students the option to take classes fully remotely for the entire fall semester and in a university-wide email sent on Aug. 14, said that students who have chosen this class modality, “may continue to do so.”

“I think reopening the campus in any capacity is dangerous and asking for trouble,” Kuhn said. “It’s the duty of the university administration to manage risk, even if that means taking personal risk management responsibility out of the hands of students and faculty. Make the difficult decisions that you have the power to make so that others aren’t forced to.”

Overall, 82% of participants approve of the updated 2020 fall semester safety plan, while 17% do not approve. Kuhn said that as far as the safety plan goes, “it also feels like a lowest common denominator situation.”

“Follow guidelines for reopening, but don’t really go any further than that. It feels like the easy way out; the path of least resistance,” Kuhn said. “Let’s face it, students self-reporting on an app isn’t going to do anything.”

According to the survey results, 39% of the student participants prefer in-person classes, 27% prefer remote, 24% prefer synchronous hybrid, with real-time virtual class meetings and 8% prefer asynchronous hybrid with no real-time virtual classes.

These student self-reported course preferences, however, do not reflect current class offerings. Only 4% of fall courses are fully in person, according to data presented at convocation by Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo.

The vast majority of courses — 82% — are fully remote and 14% are hybrids, according to Dell’Omo’s presentation.

Some students had mixed feelings about their class modalities.

Kuhn said that in the current climate, fully-online “is not only preferable but necessary,” especially for graduate-level education.

Katz said, “Currently, I like the hybrid model. I am excited to go back in person. I don’t mind online classes, but they are very hard to manage and it’s going to feel good to have at least one thing that is back to normal.”

Sophomore accounting major Matthew Swinehart said he looks forward “to the day when we can have in-person classes again without any safety concerns” but thinks it’s safer to do virtual classes for now.

Master of Arts in teaching graduate student Sophia Brana explained that she would have liked to have some in-person classes this semester because teaching is a very “hands-on, experience-based profession” and felt like she did not get the graduate school experience she anticipated.

“I feel like I have missed out on a lot of learning opportunities that come with meeting classmates and collaborating in ways that Zoom just can’t support,” Brana said. “Spring 2019 was my first semester at Rider, so I did not have much of an opportunity to experience the campus or learn in a classroom setting.”

Of the 82% of classes that are fully remote this semester, 77% are fully or partially synchronous and 23% are asynchronous, according to university data.

Sixty-six percent of students who took the survey approved of the university’s communication about the 2020 fall semester plan to the Rider community and 33.9% did not.

In contrast, Katz said that she found Rider’s communication to be “really not satisfactory.”

“I understand they were figuring everything out still, but they waited so long to tell us, changed the plan, and nothing seemed to ever be for certain,” Katz said. “The lack of communication throughout the summer months made many students anxious and it was something I think Rider should have worked on.”

Swinehart said that he wished the university waited for the original deadline to announce whether Rider would return to in-person classes or remain virtual.

“Instead of waiting until Friday to make the decision, Rider did so on Tuesday, and said we had to cancel our room before Monday of next week or else we’d be fined for not doing so,” Swinehart said. “I held out for a couple of days, but then canceled my room. Several hours later, the announcement came in we’d possibly be able to go back, which was confirmed Friday. The fact that I would have to go through the housing selection process for a third time, and not be guaranteed my formerly picked room or have to room with a random, played a major part in my final decision.”

“We will do our best to honor the previously held housing assignment,” the email read. Swinehart also said that he would like to see a “better breakdown” of new coronavirus cases on campus.

“I understand concerns on privacy and such, but if the university wants students to be more careful and aware, they should publish where a case or cluster originated from and make it easily accessible for students, staff, and family to see,” Swinehart said. “Even though I’m living at home, I still have several friends that went back, so of course I’m concerned about their safety.”

Kuhn also did not approve of the university’s communication about the 2020 fall semester plan and said it was insufficient but could easily be remedied with a regular weekly update either on the Rider homepage or via email.

Fifty-four percent of student participants that live on campus think social distancing and mask restrictions have been adhered to, as opposed to the 45.9% of students who do not think they have been.

Senior psychology major and community assistant (CA) in Beckett Village Alyssa Darden said that she wasn’t surprised by these results.

“That doesn’t surprise me, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if it were higher,” Darden said. “We’re not able to see what happens behind closed doors and if residents are actually adhering to the one guest within the same building while maintaining 6 feet [apart] and wearing masks policy.”

Fifty-five percent of students who took the survey and live on campus reported difficulties joining Zoom classes or performing other classwork online due to problems with NoWires, campus WiFi or campus wired ethernet connections. Forty-four percent said that they did not have issues with this.

“Before classes started, I lost WiFi connection on campus once due a thunderstorm,” Darden said. “I know that the college is currently working to get their servers offline so that we don’t lose WiFi every time the power goes out. I’m not sure if the building you’re in affects your WiFi connection, but I haven’t had any problems in Beckett Village.”

The majority of the survey respondents live off-campus with family or others who are not Rider students with 66%. Twenty-three percent live on campus at Rider, and 9% live with Rider students off-campus.

Associate Vice President for University Marketing and Communications Kristine Brown declined to comment.

Katz, Swinehart and Brana live with their families. Kuhn lives off-campus with friends.

“I know the University administration and teaching faculty are human. I know that these are impossible questions to answer and they’re under a lot of pressure,” Kuhn said. “No decision is going to satisfy 100% of people, but from my perspective, there is an answer that keeps people as close to 100% safe as possible. I think we would all benefit from more transparency. Let us see the rationale behind the decisions that are being made and let us see that there are human beings making them. We all have to be understanding right now, and there are measures that make that easier.”

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