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Undergraduate courses are set to be primarily delivered in person for the first time since the COVID-19 shutdowns in March of 2020. 

Credit: Zach Sheldon

Fall 2021 undergraduate courses are set to be primarily delivered in person with limited exceptions, remaining in line with administrators' original plans announced in April.

Exceptions to in-person instruction were determined on an individual basis, and professors across the four undergraduate schools said some features of pandemic learning, like class recordings, will still remain in use this fall and beyond.

Here’s your guide to the academic scene at Penn this fall, including which classes will be in person this semester and which will stay online.

The College of Arts and Sciences

College Dean Paul Sniegowski wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian that the College is planning on all in-person instruction for the fall semester, including both seminars and large lectures. This remains in line with Penn's plans since the summer, as Physics professor and Department Chair Mark Trodden said the University communicated to faculty members in July that all fall instruction in the College will be conducted in person with classrooms at full density. 

Lab courses

All components, including both lab and lecture portions, of physics and biology classes will be held in person this semester. The lecture components for two chemistry lab courses, CHEM 244: Experimental Organic Chemistry Lab I, and CHEM 249: Experimental Organic Chemistry Lab II, will be online, however, with in-person lab components. 

Organic Chemistry lecturer Alyssa Bohen, who will be teaching both of these courses, said this decision was made because there was no space large enough to hold all the students who registered for these classes. Currently, 360 students are enrolled in CHEM 244 and 160 students are enrolled in CHEM 249. 

Bohen said she encountered a similar problem at her former position at Bryn Mawr College before the pandemic, where students were forced to crowd together and sit on the floor of the lecture hall. “I guess they didn't want to do that kind of packing into buildings in this day and age,” Bohen said. 

Annenberg undergraduate courses

Three undergraduate courses in the Annenberg School for Communication are slated to be held virtually this semester, and are counted towards the Communication major in the College. 

These virtual course offerings consist of one lecture, COMM 318: Stories From Data, and two seminars, COMM 359: Journalism in an Age of Information Disorder and​​ COMM 491: Communication Internship. COMM 318 and 359 both have class size caps of 22 students, while COMM 491 has a cap of 10.

The Engineering School

Russell Composto, associate dean for Undergraduate Education at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, wrote in an email to the DP on Aug. 19 that all undergraduate Engineering classes will be entirely in person for the fall semester, including both lectures and lab courses. The smallest Engineering course is MEAM 201, with a class size of eight, while large lectures range from 100 to 275 in size capacity. 

The Nursing School

Penn Nursing announced in May that the school planned to return to “pre-COVID in-person teaching" this fall. All nursing clinicals are scheduled to operate in person, and all classes except for two, NURS 230: Public Policy and the Nation's Health and NURS 334: Statistics For Research and Measurement, will be taught in person as well. 

Assistant professor of Nursing Karen Lasater, who will be teaching NURS 230 virtually this semester, said that even before the pandemic, she taught the course in a SAIL (structured active in-class learning) format that required students to watch pre-recorded videos before class. Lasater said the course translated well to a virtual setting, and that students can choose to attend in-person or virtual office hours this fall with the option to complete group assignments with their classmates in an in-person setting. 

The Wharton School

While all Wharton classes are planned to be held in person according to Wharton Senior Director of Media Relations and Reputation Management Peter Winicov, ​some lectures in the school will still run virtually this fall. 

The courses that will be taught online this semester include ACCT 101: Accounting & Financial Report and ACCT 102: Strategic Cost Analysis, which both have a cap of 125 students according to PennInTouch; ACCT 212: Financial Measurement and Disclosure, with a cap of 40 students; MGMT 101: Introduction to Management, with a cap of 128 students; MGMT 265: Culture and Institutions of the Tech Sector: Bridging Research and Practice, with a cap of 84 students; Stat 111: Introductory Statistics, with a cap of 148 students; and Stat 435: Forecasting Methods for Management, with a cap of 130 students.

Professors of these classes attributed their decision to continue virtual instruction to personal health concerns and administrative decisions. 

Assistant professor Christina Zhu, who is teaching ACCT 101 this fall, wrote to the DP in an email that the decision to hold her course sections online was a call made “above [her] level,” and that she did not think it was related to the pandemic.

On the other hand, Statistics professor Paul Shaman requested permission from his department chair and the Wharton Senior Vice Dean of Teaching and Learning to teach STAT 435 online, writing in an email to the DP that this request was because of age-related COVID-19 health concerns. His request was granted immediately, Shaman wrote.

Class Recordings and Accessibility

While most courses are expected to return to an in-person format, some professors said they may retain aspects of remote learning like providing class recordings to students. 

“I feel like online [recording] is a really good resource, and it's super helpful because students can go back. They can rewatch a lecture; they can slow it down to take notes,” Bohen, who teaches in the College, said. She also pointed out the flexibility that recordings offer, due to the difficulty of finding a lab lecture time that works for every student in high-enrollment classes like CHEM 244 and CHEM 249.

Bohen said that other faculty have also agreed with the benefits of online recordings, and this may be something that will be continued again to “give that extra resource and support for students.” As of now, however, she said she is unclear exactly how many faculty members plan to make class recordings accessible to students. 

Class recordings may also be a permanently available resource for Engineering classes. 

“We are now surveying the instructors to find out how many are recording their lectures,” Composto wrote in an email to the DP. “Engineering is doing all it can to make it as easy as possible for instructors to record."

Vijay Kumar, Dean of Engineering, also wrote in an email to the DP that the Engineering school will continue to make accommodations for students who are sick.

Sniegowski noted that while current plans outline fully in-person instruction with limited exceptions, the College is monitoring the public health situation closely and “will respond as appropriate” if it changes. 

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.