Israeli Universities Open Academic Year With COVID Restrictions, but on Campus

Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
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Students in a classroom at Bar Ilan University, in May.
Students in a classroom at Bar Ilan University, in May.Credit: Hadas Parush
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

The academic year begins on Sunday for some 350,000 university and college students, under restrictions to curb the coronavirus on campuses.

Students will have to present a Green Pass before entering the campus, and according to a government decision, those who do not have a Green Pass will be able to attend classes online. However, some institutions have said they are requiring students to be physically present in class with few exceptions. In some cases, it has been decided to hold classes online for the entire class in certain courses, such as M.A. classes and some introductory courses.

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The universities said there is no substitute for face-to-face teaching. “The core of the university is in-person teaching on campus, which expresses the tradition of studying together, creates interaction and contributes to direct academic dialogue between teacher and students, and between students,” said Prof. Eyal Zisser, vice rector of Tel Aviv University. “Learning together on campus strengthens the student social fabric and contributes to individual and social empowerment,” he added. However, some of the lectures at Tel Aviv University will be online for students who cannot attend in-person classes and some will be recorded and made accessible to all the students.

The Technion in Haifa has decided to restrict distance learning to 15 percent of courses. The Technion said the decision “expresses the importance we all see in meeting, discussion, active learning in class, dialogue between the faculty and the students and active participation in academic and social life on campus.”

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem decided to return to in-person learning in the spring of last year. This year, in-person learning will take place in nearly all courses. Most of the lectures will be recorded for students who cannot be present for a justifiable reason, but according to arrangements between the university and its faculty, lecturers can refuse to record some or all of their lectures.

Bar-Ilan University said students who do not meet green passport criteria will have to obtain permission to be absent from class. At the University of Haifa some of the class will be hybrid, combining in-person and online study to allow students who do not have a green passport to attend classes virtually. Ben-Gurion University will hold online classes in 10 percent of its courses for all students.

“Our accumulated experience last year, as well as experience shared with us by leading institutions in Israel and abroad, shows that in-person learning is the most effective,” said Prof. Rafi Melnick, acting president of Reichman University in Herzliya. “The hybrid method, in which classes are taught in person and also broadcast online, is not as effective as in-person learning. It does not provide the advantages of distance learning, because it only captures video of what is happening in class, without additional means.”

Despite the decision to go back to in-person learning, many institutions said they intended to take advantage of the benefits of distance learning, to innovate and vary teaching methods in the long term. Tel Aviv University has decided to hold some courses online without reference to COVID restrictions, and Ariel University said that within three years it will offer hundreds of online courses to students as a substitute for in-class learning.

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