A look at in-person classes during COVID: Physics 100B

Tanner Rosenberg, a teaching associate for the physics and astronomy department, teaches circuit equations to his physics lab class at CSUN in Northridge, Calif. on Thursday, March 25, 2021. The class was held in the Live Oak building.

Chris Torres, Photo Editor

The spring semester was mostly through virtual instruction, but what do the in-person classes held on campus look like? The photo series “A look at in-person classes during COVID” shows what face-to-face instruction looks like during a pandemic, from social distancing protocols to reduced class capacities.

After the students in the Physics 100B: “General Physics II” lab finished their circuit lab assignment and sanitized their workstations, they were allowed to leave with permission from their substitute teaching assistant, Tanner Rosenberg.

Rosenberg checked their lab worksheets and approved their dismissal until there was only one student left in the room.

The student had trouble finishing the exercise, so Rosenberg stayed an extra 20 minutes to guide her through the assignment. He was able to give her one-on-one in-person feedback — something that was difficult to do when lab classes were held virtually.

Brittney Milla, left, asks Tanner Rosenberg for help with completing her lab assignment during her physics lab class in the Live Oak building at CSUN on Thursday, March 25, 2021. (Chris Torres)

The physics department has been holding some lab classes in-person throughout the spring semester with COVID-19 health protocols in place. Although social interaction has returned, the students and faculty acknowledge it isn’t a full return to normalcy.

Rosenberg said teaching in-person during a pandemic has its benefits with fewer students in the class, but it still has its challenges.

“I can give a lot more one-on-one time with students,” Rosenberg said. “But I have to do that from a distance. I spend more time talking them through what they need to do versus just demonstrating or showing them, which is much easier.”

According to Damian Christian, the department chair of physics and astronomy at CSUN, in-person physics labs are only allowed to have six to eight students in each class depending upon the size of the classroom.

In order to meet CSUN’s protocols, the physics department assigned the 24 students enrolled in the lab into groups of six and scheduled each group on designated weeks to have lab class on campus. Christian said it takes physics professors and teaching assistants four weeks to go through a lab of 24 students.

Melany Dersarkissian, a kinesiology major, takes notes during her physics lab class in the Live Oak building at CSUN on Thursday, March 25, 2021. (Chris Torres)

“Some of the professors end up teaching the same lab three or four times,” Christian said. “It’s been a little bit like Groundhog Day, teaching the same lab over and over.”

Students have also had to navigate their fair share of challenges with being on campus during the pandemic.

Ravi Ramakrishnan, a construction management major in the Physics 100B lab, said remembering to complete the COVID-19 screening survey before coming to campus and navigating the street and parking lot closures due to the CSUN vaccine distribution site have been his biggest challenges.

Ravi Ramakrishnan, a construction management major, raises his hand during his physics lab class in the Live Oak building at CSUN on Thursday, March 25, 2021. (Chris Torres)

Ramakrishnan said with all the safety measures in place, he believes CSUN has done a “fairly decent job” of prioritizing the health of the students and faculty while on campus during the pandemic.

“[Having an in-person class] is helpful because it was a break from virtual learning. However, I feel like it’s far different than a return to normal so I would say, given the circumstances, I would be able to adapt to either full[y] online or this arrangement,” Ramakrishnan said.

Christian hopes that on-campus learning makes a comeback next semester because labs are more challenging to teach in a virtual setting.

“I think there’s a lot of Zoom fatigue and we’re hoping to get back in person because there’s just the social interaction has been really missing,” Christian said.