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The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

UNCA professor expresses excitement for the return of in-person classes

Brandon Ayoungchee

Arts & Features Writer

[email protected]

Photo by Katie Bloomer
Associate Professor Jeffrey Wilcox tries to connect to and engage with all his students, even though the blank screens on Zoom make this difficult.

UNC Asheville made the decision to return to all in-person classes for the fall 2021 semester as cases decline and a number of students receive vaccinations. Associate professor of environmental studies Jeffery Wilcox couldn’t be more happy.

“I am excited,” Wilcox said.

On the accountability of the pandemic still going on, unfortunately, Wilcox will not be able to take field trips. He typically does with his earth history class to look at the many different rock formations across the states.

“I’m definitely missing the field trips. Each year, at the end of the year with the teacher comment evaluation, the students talk about the field trips being their favorite part of the class. But we’re not doing that. It’s unsafe to put a bunch of people in vans,” Wilcox said.

As with any class at UNCA, last year Wilcox had to transfer his class online. According to the assistant  professor, his usually in-person fossil-ID quiz, in which Wilcox displayed various stone fossils across a table and his students had to correctly guess their categories, was converted into an online form.

“The lockdown happened during spring break and they gave us an extra week to, I guess, figure out what we were going to do. I ended up holding up my classes via Zoom. I kept the same schedule, the same time. I was really bothered by the fossil-ID that was going to be after spring break. It was a bummer holding up the fossils on camera for pictures,” Wilcox said.

Similarly, associate professor of mass communication Sonya DiPalma said she adapted her teaching to online last semester. She missed the instantaneous discussions that occurred at the end of her class with students.

“Mostly, I miss the conversations before and after class. I miss the spontaneous interaction that occurs during office hours, in the library, on the quad and in class,” DiPalma said in August.

Wilcox said his classes were successful despite the sudden shift to going online. He knew the students before they all went on Zoom. But with this year, he only sees a few faces in his classroom.

“I already knew them from the first half of the semester. Pretty much all came to class, live. Most of them showed their faces. It still felt like a real class. I knew their names, I knew their faces, I knew some of them. But it’s really been different this year. I don’t know my students the way I usually do,” Wilcox said.

The assistant professor of environmental science said his excitement for next semester stems from seeing faces in his class. Compared to his current situation of seeing a few faces and rows of black screens with names across the Zoom screen.

“There’s an excitement of having a class full of students and that’s not been the case with this semester’s classes. It’s been a class with some students, but not very many and a bunch of blank screens,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox split his course into two classes: the in-person class and the online class. The in-person class comes to the 159 Rhoades Robinson Hall lecture hall at 9:30 a.m. , whereas online classes enter his class via a Zoom server.

“I don’t take attendance, per say, but I make it so you must come to class so you don’t fall behind. Basically, attendance is mandatory. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that. For my sake and for everyone else’s sake during this pandemic. If you don’t feel right, stay home. We’re taught from an early age that as Americans we wake up and go to work regardless of how we feel. That needed to be different this year. I said I’ll teach in-person. In-person is fine, but I knew I had to have the option for people not to come to class when they’re exposed and not well,” he said.

Before the start of the semester, Wilcox sent out questionnaires to his students, allowing him to gain a profile if he couldn’t meet them in-person.

“I sent out survey questionnaires that made me help me remember you. I don’t remember everything, but I remember what sticks out. I remember just enough of those things to call out people in class,” he said.

Opposite to the professor’s ecstatic feelings to return to all in-person classes, Ren Dranttel, a student in Wilcox’s class, said it might be the last she ever picks a morning class.

“Online classes going online narrows my options for picking classes next semester,” she said.

Justin Greenbaum, a management major, said he loved online classes and that he’ll miss being able to stay home and take his classes online.

“I love online classes. I hated it in the beginning, now I love it. I never really liked school because I could learn the information on my own and pass the tests. Now, I don’t need to pay attention and I can sit at home, play video games and do whatever so long as I understand the material to pass the class. I’m scared to return to classes,” he laughed nervously.

Wilcox said he can’t wait to show off his diverse collection of fossils, rocks and dinosaur models to a full room of students. It’s his joy of teaching earth history for all of his students to experience the artifacts of the past.

“Come see an in-person class where we get to hold the fossils and the rocks and play with the dinosaur models. It’s fun. It’s really fun,” Wilcox said, ecstatically.

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