News Focus
Sep 13, 2021

As Students Return to Class, Uncertainty About In-Person Teaching Remains

College and the Department of Higher Education promised that all students would have some in-person teaching this year.

Jody DruceDeputy News Editor
Gearóid Gibbs for The University Times

Students returning to Trinity for the new academic year are facing completely different realities depending on their course of study.

Whilst some can look forward to returning almost entirely to in-person learning, others have timetables with few or no face-to-face lectures.

The Schools of Physics and Chemistry have told their students that all lectures will be online until November 1st and, while some lab practicals are taking place as planned, several will be moved to a virtual environment.


Theoretical physics is co-taught by the School of Physics and the School of Mathematics. Third-year theoretical physics class representative Ruaidhrí Campion told The University Times that, while physics is online for the foreseeable future, some maths modules are to be taught in person. Students only learned of the format of their maths classes at the weekend after Campion emailed the School asking for clarification.

Many theoretical physics students sat supplemental exams and only received their results on Friday afternoon. Campion described the lack of clarity around the format of classes as “a rollercoaster, to say the least”.

On the other hand, many humanities students are seeing a more complete return to campus, with a significant number of lectures and tutorials scheduled to take place in-person.

In an email to English students on August 23rd, Director of Undergraduate Teaching and Learning Jarlath Kileen said that the largest lecture theatres could hold 45 students, adding that “our intention is that the majority of our fresher tutorials and sophister seminars – which account for the bulk of the teaching provided by the School – will be face-to-face”.

History and politics students will similarly have most classes back in person. Third-year history and politics class representative Michelle Mee told The University Times that almost all lectures appear to be face to face, but that some history classes will rotate students online and in person due to space limitations.

Second-year philosophy, political science, economics and sociology (PPES) class representative László Molnárfi confirmed to this newspaper that his course has a combination of online and in-person events, but said students “feel that the university did not communicate clearly and early enough the re-opening plans for the 2021-2022 scholastic year”.

In an email statement to The University Times, Trinity Media Relations Officer Catherine O’Mahony said that “multiple considerations fed into” the original plan, “including the fact that Trinity’s lecture room capacity does not lend itself to larger lectures being possible when social distancing is required”.

“We adjusted our practice in tandem with expert advice to ensure we keep people safe.”

“It remains the case that all lectures over 150 students are online. However, it was recognised that Schools needed latitude to organise timetables according to their own capacity and access to rooms.”

Trinity’s re-opening roadmap is a cautious one, allowing in-person teaching to return only if locations are large enough to allow for one-metre social distancing. College has said that the reason Trinity’s restrictions are tighter than other third-level institutions is due to the compactness of the campus and its urban location.

After reading week, these measures are to be reassessed and likely removed completely.

Currently, timetables from six different courses, seen by this newspaper, show events with fewer than 50 students scheduled to take place online. Some online classes are for as few as 15 students.

Listening to Simon Harris in the summer, students might have been forgiven for believing they would, in his words, “return to a new world in September”. But some students may have the same, or even less, time on campus now than during the second semester of last year.

As the new academic year begins and November 1st approaches, students will hope that promises of a full return to campus after reading week are to be believed.

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