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From breakout rooms to classrooms: A deep dive into how 2020-21 courses were taught

From Zoom to classrooms to a mix of both, students and professors found new ways to interact and learn during the pandemic. The Chronicle collected data on course modes of classes offered at Duke in the 2020-21 school year. 

Course modes were totaled and analyzed over 92 subjects across Trinity College of Arts & Sciences and the Pratt School of Engineering. This includes subjects that offer Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Science in Engineering majors, subjects affiliated with a department and subjects that are not majors or departments. 


Several rules and parameters were set to ensure the data was counted consistently across subjects and would be an accurate depiction of the modes of instruction. Each course that had multiple components, such as a discussion section or a lab, was counted as a total of one class. These courses would only be counted as ‘in-person’ if all components were held in person and, likewise, would be listed as hybrid if the lecture was held online but the discussion was in person. 

To ensure that the data would reflect each department’s breakdown of course mode instruction accurately, Bass Connections, independent studies, media internships, tutorials, preceptorials and practicums were not included in the counting, as credits like internships are a more individualized experience and cannot be compared to traditional classes when looking at mode of instruction. Honors thesis classes were also not counted. 

Courses were counted by subject, only some of which fall under departments recognized by Trinity and the Pratt. This includes subjects such as chemistry, sociology and evolutionary anthropology as well as study of sexualities and immunology. While the latter two programs are not departments or majors, they are still listed as subjects in DukeHub. 

Because courses were counted in DukeHub, the data includes courses that were offered but canceled due to low enrollment and does not reflect if a course mode changed throughout the year. Furthermore, it is important to note that many classes are cross-listed across departments and were counted in all departments the course was listed in. 

The resulting data allows analysis and comparisons to be drawn both within and across departments and schools to paint a more illuminating picture of what the 2020-21 school year looked like for Duke students and professors studying and teaching drastically different subjects. 


There are a total of 92 subjects across Trinity and Pratt represented in the data, only some of which fall under Duke’s 39 different departments. 

Twenty seven of the subjects in DukeHub are also majors that earn a BA, 11 of the subjects can be BA or BS degrees and four earn a BSE. Thus, when comparing subjects across Pratt and Trinity, it is important to note that there are fewer subjects to analyze within the engineering school, which could impact the data. 

There were no strong correlations between the percentage of online classes within a subject and whether the subject fell under STEM or arts and humanities. For example, the subjects which had 25% or less of their courses online in the spring included biomedical engineering, civil & environmental engineering, dance, Russian and all ROTC subjects--Army, Air Force and Navy. 

All three ROTC subjects saw a shift towards in-person instruction from the fall to spring semester, but there were no fully online classes in any of the subjects in either semester. The Army and Air Force ROTC subjects shifted fully to in-person during the spring, while 12.5% of the Navy ROTC classes were still hybrid in the spring semester. 

The language subjects, representing 20 different languages, show the most consistency in course instruction mode from the fall to spring semester, with the majority of classes remaining online throughout the year. 

In both the fall and spring, there was a short list of subjects that offered only online courses, with the majority of these being language classes. In the fall, only two of these 11 subjects that offered more than one online class were non-language, and in the spring, three of 11 were non-language subjects. 

Subjects that fall under BSE degrees had an average of zero in-person classes in the fall but increased to 12% in the spring. Compared to BA/BS degrees, BSE subjects decreased in the average number of online classes offered from the fall to spring semesters, whereas the BA/BS courses increased. All degrees had an overall increase in in-person classes from the fall to spring semester. 

There was very little change amongst the language subjects from the fall to spring semester, particularly when comparing the number of in-person classes to the combined hybrid and online options. There is a slight trend of subjects having more online courses in the spring than in the fall, although this could be due to a larger total quantity of courses being offered in the spring. 

Overall, when looking at the breakdown of courses falling under majors, minors or certificates, there was a smaller percentage of hybrid courses in the spring. As a result, both the percentage of online and in-person classes increased. 


There was an 8% decrease in the number of online classes and a 12.7% increase in the number of in-person classes within Pratt between the fall and spring semesters. In contrast, classes within Trinity followed relatively the same distribution of online, hybrid, and in-person classes between the fall and spring semesters.


Within each degree category—major, minor, co-major or certificate—the percentages of both online courses and in-person courses increased at the expense of hybrid courses. Courses associated with a minor showed the greatest percentage increase of online courses between the fall and spring semesters while courses associated with no degree showed the greatest percentage increase of in-person classes. 


There were no fully online ROTC courses in both the fall and spring semesters. Across all ROTC courses, the percentage of in-person courses increased from 14.29% to 94.74%, with all Air Force and Army ROTC courses switching to in-person instruction by the spring.

Preetha Ramachandran profile
Preetha Ramachandran | Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator

Preetha Ramachandran is a Trinity senior and diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator for The Chronicle's 118th volume. She was previously senior editor for Volume 117.


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