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Between a rock (wall) and a hard place: Rock climbing class amidst a pandemic

Trusting someone enough to put your life in their hands can be difficult. It’s even harder when you’ve only met them on Zoom. 

For junior English major Rylee Jung, this may just end up being the case.

Jung is currently enrolled in KNH150C, or Beginning Rock Climbing. In a typical semester, classes can be held in the Rec Center, where students are able to climb the rock wall and learn through hands-on experience. Now, classes are held on Zoom, full of online tutorials and information guides to read.

“At the time that I scheduled for classes, I was absolutely not thinking that anything was going to be online,” Jung said. “So I definitely took it with the intention of it being in person, and I was looking forward to it being in person, but it’s not like just because it went online I was going to drop it.”

Senior interactive media studies major Derek Corcoran also didn’t plan on taking a rock climbing class on Zoom, but he’s trying to make the best of the situation and praises instructor Bridget Woods for her work in adjusting the course.

“Our teacher’s been really positive and helpful,” Corcoran said. “She’s obviously sad we can’t be in the gym climbing, but she has a ton of materials for online courses.”

The online modules are held through Aim Adventure U. They provide introductions to various skills  students will need while climbing, such as bouldering: a type of rock climbing done on small formations without ropes or harnesses. Some of the students’ lab costs that aren’t being utilized in the gym were instead used to pay for these unique online courses. 

Other classwork involves reading from the textbook and watching documentaries, but it’s nothing like the real-life experience that Jung and Corcoran were originally hoping for.

When students return to campus and in-person learning resumes, the class will transition to a hybrid model, with one day of online lessons and one day of climbing. Because COVID-19 regulations have restricted the number of people allowed at the wall at one time, only half the class will get to climb a week.

Because the class is a sprint course, this means that each student will get the chance to climb only three times before the course ends.

This hasn’t deterred Woods, who continues to motivate her students to get the most out of the course until in-person classes resume.

“She’s encouraging us to come to the gym and climb with her still, just like individually at the Rec when that opens,” Corcoran said.

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When the students are eventually able to meet as a class, they’ll have to jump right into working together, even though they may never have met before.

When it comes to trusting his classmates, Corcoran doesn’t know what to expect. He’s never climbed and doesn’t know how much faith he’ll have to put into his classmates, but he remains optimistic nonetheless.

“Just reading everyone’s discussion responses, everyone’s kind of in the same boat, so I feel like just having that in common would really help,” Corcoran said.

To help ease into it, Woods has been working to help students in the class get to know each other during their weekly Zoom meetings. Icebreakers and scavenger hunts, where students have to search for items or pictures that represent them, are a couple of her favorite methods.

“I think what we’re trying to do, what her goal right now is to do, is build up some community between the people in the classes,” Jung said, “since if we do ever meet in person, we’ll have to be belaying for them and basically putting our life in their hands on the ropes.”