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Friday, April 12, 2024

Student-planned walkout seeks more flexibility, remote options

Two days after the return to in-person instruction, students planned a walkout in solidarity with immunocompromised students and students with disabilities

By KATHLEEN QUINN campus@theaggie.org

A student organized walkout on Feb. 2 demanded ‘hybrid options’ be made available to support students with disabilities at UC Davis. The walkout asked students to not attend their in-person courses on Wednesday but to continue to attend any courses that were normally online or that had an online recording of the lectures.

Lane Dounias, a second-year psychology major, organized the walkout.

“Even though some people prefer in-person, we need to at least have online accessibility, that is essential, that’s a need, that’s a human right,” Dounias said. 

Instruction returned to campus for all students who were enrolled in courses designed primarily for in-person instruction on Monday, Jan. 31 after cases of COVID-19 declined following a spike in early January.

Dounias said the mid-week date for the walkout was chosen to make clear that students’ absences were not due to logistical concerns like testing requirements or the process of moving back to Davis.

According to the ASUCD Instagram page, a survey that received over 1,000 responses showed that 59% of students prefer a hybrid option for their classes.

Richard Tucker, the head of the Academic Senate, stated in an email that students who refer to “hybrid” are actually referring to “dual modality,” meaning the instruction is provided both in-person and online at the same time.

“The Academic Senate does not allow dual modality instruction for a number of reasons, including equity of experience for the students enrolled in the course and workload for instructors who would have to offer two versions of many of their assignments, activities, exams, etc,” Tucker stated via email.

ASUCD’s poll showed that 65% of students with disabilities would prefer “hybrid options” including dual modality instruction. 

Jennifer Billeci, the director of the Student Disability Center (SDC), said that the center received 57 requests for remote learning in the fall quarter. Of those, 42 students underwent the process of determining reasonable accommodation, and 19 were granted remote instruction as their accommodation.

“The criteria we are looking for is tied to the risk if they were exposed to the virus,” Billeci said.

In Dounias’ view, referring students to the SDC is not enough.

 “The problem I’m hearing from disabled and immunocompromised students is that they are going to the Student Disability Center and either being ignored or they are not getting the accommodations that they need,” Dounias said. 

Prior to the pandemic, Billeci said requests for this type of accommodation were considered very unusual.

“We are really busy and still want students to contact us,” Billeci said. “Contact us early, there is a lot more to it than people realize.” 

Another reason Tucker stated the Academic Senate does not allow for dual modality is the increased workload for instructors. 

“To put it simply, dual-modality instruction is often not pedagogically sound, and it is unreasonable to ask instructors to essentially teach two courses at once,” Tucker stated in an email. “That said, we recognize that adapting back to in-person instruction will take time, so we’ve continued to encourage instructors to provide recordings of their classes, avoid attendance-based grading, use final exam flexibilities where applicable, etc., to aid the transition.”

Dounias said they hope instructors are provided adequate training to allow for dual modality format courses in the future. 

“The UC should give training if possible on how to educate online properly,” Dounias said.

On Jan. 24, Chancellor Gary May stated in an announcement that instructors can opt in to a program that allows the university to hire student workers to record and upload lectures.

Amos Hammar, a doctoral candidate in Education at Aspen University and the customer success representative at UC Davis, is currently working on a dissertation about students in hybrid, remote and dual modality education.

According to them, the focus on going back to in-person instruction is on healthy students and not students from diverse backgrounds or students with disabilities.

“A lot of people in those minority groups enjoy the social part of online learning because it gives them equity and a voice,” Hammar said. “When you are in a brick and mortar course — I’ve been there, I’m a minority — I tend to withdraw from the main discussion because people who are not in the minority control the environment.”

As a part of their research on remote instruction, Hammar produced a survey that consists of a brief questionnaire followed by an optional focus group. The survey is open to students until April.

Michael Albrecht, a student auditor in biology, said he thinks there should be hybrid options but disagreed that the walkout was the right approach. 

“It’s just kind of disruptive and I think the best option would be direct communication,” Albrecht said. “You should talk one-on-one with a professor about it and explain why you are having doubts about going in person.”

adnan Minasian, a third-year Native American studies student and one of the organizers of a petition requesting hybrid options on behalf of students, said that for them, providing options allows students to learn in an environment that works best for them and best meets their educational needs. 

“I’ve been learning about a lot of the disability activism that’s been going on, and it’s been going on since before COVID […] because disabled people have always needed online options,” Minasian said.

Written by: Kathleen Quinn — campus@theaggie.org

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