IU students return to classes for unprecedented school year


BLOOMINGTON — In true 2020 fashion, the first day of fall semester classes at Indiana University’s Bloomington campus included technical glitches and uncertainty among some students.

“It’s going to be an interesting year, I don’t know,” said IU senior Devin Mackay. “I guess I’m looking forward to it, sort of still.”

“It’s been really weird. We had class outside so we all had to sit six feet apart earlier this morning,” said IU senior Emma Bailey. “And the campus just seems kind of dead.”

The day got off to a rocky start when a global “Zoom” outage disrupted virtual meetings used by many classes. IU’s online eLearning platform, Canvas, also experienced outages that disrupted virtual learning for part of the day.

“The Zoom thing was a global outage, so it wasn’t just us,” said IU spokesperson Chuck Carney. “The Canvas, we’re trying to figure out exactly what’s going on there. But still, some people can get in.”

Virtual learning is a key element in IU’s hybrid schedule strategy aimed at reducing in-person class sizes by half. Desks and chairs inside classrooms have been spaced out to promote social distancing among students. There are also floor markings and signs inside university buildings to remind students to reduce close contact with each other.

“I think the school has done a great job with all things considered, with maintaining the curriculum here, making sure classes can still happen,” Mackay said.

“I teach a class myself, and I sent an introductory email,” Carney said. “I ended it with ‘Welcome to the strangest semester of our lives,’ and that’s just sort of how it is.”

The semester also starts as students are being warned to follow a citywide order to limit parties to 15 people. The order came after video of a large party at IU got the attention of Bloomington’s mayor last week.

“There have been suspensions that have been handed down,” Carney said. “I don’t have any numbers right now, but we do know that there have been disciplinary actions taken.”

“The school sent out some slightly threatening emails, threatening suspension I would say,” Mackay said. “Everyone is limiting their social gatherings.”

“I think that was needed because, especially where I’m living, I can hear parties going on at all hours, and I can see a lot of people funneling into them,” Bailey said.  

“The large majority of students have been doing exactly what they need to do to make sure that we all can stay here and stay safe,” Carney said. “And we’ve created a safe environment for them to do that.”

As the semester gets underway, IU is still working on its own online dashboard to provide public weekly updates on COVID-19 testing. Recent testing of roughly 39,000 people resulted in a roughly 1% positivity rate, Carney said.  

The effort to keep in-person classes running will include testing up to 5,000 per week. In the coming weeks, the goal is to test up to 10,000 per week between IU’s Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses.

“That’s the way we’re going to be able to keep everybody safe, by continuing to monitor the situation, continuing to test,” Carney said. “That’s really how we make this happen.”

“We just are all in this together, but also we’re not quite sure what to expect,” said IU senior Cloe Slen. “I really appreciate that they’re putting all this effort in, but I’m not quite sure how long it’ll last.”

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