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University of Colorado Boulder students in assistant professor Anya Cloud’s morning techniques dance class participate in class on Wednesday. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)
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University of Colorado Boulder students returned to some in-person learning Wednesday after three weeks of remote learning and stringent public health orders enacted to stop a surge in coronavirus cases among students.

Main campus was still largely empty on Wednesday afternoon, though small groups of students sat outside studying under tents or eating lunch with friends. Students walked in small groups from the University Memorial Center with to-go food containers. One person basked in the fall sunshine in an otherwise vacant Norlin Quad.

A University of Colorado Boulder bus drives north on 18th Street on Wednesday. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

Campus life has been upended since mid-September, when Boulder County Public Health asked students to quarantine for two weeks to stop a surge in coronavirus cases. That turned into campus leaders putting all classes online on Sept. 23 and Boulder County Public Health issuing mandatory no-gathering orders for groups larger than two 18- to 22-year-olds and stay-at-home orders for more than 30 off-campus properties, including Greek houses and residences that violated public health orders previously.

New coronavirus cases dropped significantly, and the return to some in-person learning is a sign of what happens when students follow public health orders, wear masks, physically distance and avoid public gatherings, campus leaders wrote on the CU Boulder website.

Seniors Jana Frantz and Sam Dages were walking to an in-person media ethics class Wednesday, and both said they were glad to return to in-person learning.

“It’s nice to be around people, even if you don’t talk to them. Just having them around is nice,” Dages said.

Frantz is enrolled in one other course that meets in person, though it hasn’t done so yet — her professor was moving to Colorado from out of state at the beginning of the semester, and as soon as the class was supposed to start meeting in person, everything went remote. Her first in-person class for that course is this week.

“This semester has been rough,” she said. “Because we’re not in person, professors are trying to do a lot of assignments and busy work, so I feel like so much of it is doing assignments and not learning. It’s so much more work this year.”

Frantz and Dages said they’ve mostly accepted that their senior year is going to be extremely different.

“I knew it was going to be like this in March. At least I had a good first three years,” Frantz said.

“I would have been a lot more bummed if this was my freshman year,” Dages added.

In a letter to campus on Oct. 7, Chancellor Phil DiStefano wrote that most classes are expected to return to their original formats, with exceptions for public health requirements and individual faculty requests.

CU Boulder on Wednesday could not provide information about how many classes are returning to some in-person learning and how many will remain fully remote.

“Decisions around changes to course modalities are made by each unit/department and then approved by the unit/department dean,” spokesperson Melanie Marquez Parra wrote in an email.

Graduate student and teaching assistant Shanel Wu was among those who requested that their course remain in a remote format. Wu uses gender-neutral pronouns.

Wu teaches three electronic hardware labs where students learn to build circuits and normally helps students by looking over their shoulders to give advice or fix errors.

But that was impossible under distancing requirements, they said. Wu had to stay at the front of the class and use a document camera to show students what to do and asked students to take pictures to send of their own projects.

“It ended up we were all sitting on a Zoom call in class anyway, but we were 6 to 10 feet away,” Wu said.

Wu requested the labs remain in a remote format, and department leaders agreed. All but one of the 40 students in the labs said they preferred or were neutral about that option, Wu said. Wu no longer has to worry about going to campus for three labs or trying to teach students who are spread across a building lobby.

“I can see everyone and everything and feel a lot more comfortable in the (remote) setting,” Wu said. “I feel like I’m able to better show up for my students and support them. I really want that in-person interaction, but that was not sustainable, and I didn’t feel like in person was any more effective than remote because of that.”

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