Does A Hybrid Model Truly Reduce The Spread Of Covid?

Does A Hybrid Model Truly Reduce The Spread Of Covid?

Photo Credit: Samantha Hamilton

The split between online and in–person classes poses new challenges for students with hybrid course days.

Natasha Aust, Associate Opinion Editor

At the start of the fall semester, U of T introduced a hybrid model of teaching composed of both online and in–person instruction. While initially designed to be accommodative (for example, to accommodate courses with very high enrollment numbers, where effective social distancing within classrooms is not possible), the hybrid model has posed new challenges for students enrolled in both online and in–person courses, particularly when these courses occur on the same day.

For one, students unable to return home from campus before their online classes are forced to find space to attend lectures in one of U of T’s common spaces, like a library. This has contributed both to increased wait times at library entrances and to increased student numbers within other common areas. In short, many students who would otherwise be in classrooms instead populate the common areas.

Therefore, one is left to ask: does a hybrid model truly improve social distancing?

First of all, instead of attending classes from various classrooms across campus, students are restricted to U of T’s common spaces, which ultimately comprise a smaller portion of campus. Moreover, students are likely to be in close proximity to others when signed into a lecture from a library table, at distances comparable to (or closer than) spacing in a live classroom.

Looking from another angle, U of T has not reported an outbreak of Covid-19 on campus since the week of June 12–18. While individual cases have been reported to U of T throughout this semester, they have not been connected to an on–campus outbreak.

Despite limited social distancing in certain classrooms and common areas, the use of face masks and other cautious, preventative measures seem to have successfully limited the spread of the virus throughout campus.

Moreover, with all students and faculty now required to show proof of vaccination in order to come to campus, members of the community face a lesser threat of infection than prior to the vaccine mandate, which came into full effect on October 29.

Due both to the limited number of reported cases and the existence of a vaccination policy, one could make a strong case for the expansion of in–person classes during the winter semester.

Such a shift would provide students with the consistency of one course offering method. And it would eliminate the challenge of having to find a non-occupied common space on campus to attend a virtual class. If the hybrid and in–person models are ultimately able to offer similar levels of social distancing, I don’t see why in–person courses cannot be expanded—especially for mid-sized classes that are able to find a suitable classroom for instruction. At this point, it would make sense for online classes to be the exception, not a large chunk of the course offerings.

If you ask both students and faculty, most will acknowledge that they want to return to in–person campus activities as soon as possible. By beginning to shift away from online classes and toward more in–person options, we would be one step closer to achieving the goal of both a fully in–person and Covid-safe university experience.