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UVic students eager to return to classroom instruction; Camosun continues in-person

Many students were looking ­forward to a return to in-person learning at the University of ­Victoria as classes resumed online Monday amid surging COVID-19 cases.

“I don’t really like it. I feel like if I’m paying this much money to go to university, I want the whole experience,” said first-year sciences student Honor Watson. In-person classes feel more like “actual school,” she said.

Jessi McDougall, a first-year social sciences student, is also eager to get back in the classroom, where she feels it’s easier to learn.

“I feel like when I have my Zoom call, I treat it like a podcast, not like I’m actually there to learn,” she said.

Classes at the university will take place primarily online for the first two weeks of the semester, with a return to classroom instruction planned for Jan. 24. Fall-semester classes were held in-person, but exams went online in December after about 180 COVID-19 cases were reported, in a move that was supported by the students’ society and faculty association.

The university said in a ­statement that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has “asked us all to plan for the return to in-person learning” as widespread community transmission of the Omicron variant leads to staffing shortages and student absences in coming weeks.

UVic has introduced new measures to protect staff and students, including stricter mask rules in classrooms that prohibit eating and drinking.

A university spokesperson said the goal is to provide as much in-person learning and teaching as possible beginning Jan. 24, while “ensuring that we are also able to maintain as many core on-campus student, academic, research and support services as possible, while supplementing those services virtually as needed.”

The University of B.C., Simon Fraser University and the University of Northern B.C. have also moved to an online model for the start of the semester.

In a letter to post-secondary presidents on Dec. 21, Henry said public health experts “strongly recommend” in-person instruction in January.

At Camosun College, where most classes started in-person on ­Monday, there were mixed feelings.

Jason Coombs, a second-year student studying psychology, said he was glad to continue learning in the classroom after completing his entire first year online and struggling to make friends.

“I did not make very many new friends at all and that really sucked, and so now we’re in person, and I’m just super-excited to be with friends,” he said.

Coombs said he’s not very concerned about contracting COVID-19 in his classes of about 30 students.

Francesca Carter, on the other hand, said she’s feeling nervous about returning to in-person learning with the rapid spread of Omicron.

“With COVID being so bad, it’s just kind of scary being in a full classroom,” she said.

Carter, who is taking a couple of courses in history and English, recently contracted the virus and doesn’t want to get sick again.

“The first three days were awful,” she said.