On Tuesday, Oct. 15, University faculty approved the addition of a winter session, to be first implemented in January, 2014. Winter Session was developed by the Office of Academic Affairs, and the proposal was brought to the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) last spring. EPC approved the proposal on Sept. 23, allowing it to be brought to a vote before the faculty.
EPC is a faculty committee containing two student representatives, Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Academic Affairs Chair Grant Tanenbaum ’15 and Vice Chair Nicole Brenner ’15. The proposal was written by Senior Associate Provost Karen Anderson and Director of Continuing Studies and Graduate Liberal Studies Program Sheryl Culotta.
“Course offerings could include popular gateway courses; off-site field-based courses; and once-in-a-lifetime courses co-taught by Wesleyan faculty and prominent experts in emerging fields, distinguished writers, filmmakers, leaders in the non-profit and political sectors, activists, and journalists,” the EPC proposal reads. “Our vision is that students would begin coursework during winter break: before the first meeting of class, they would read the majority of class materials, engage in online discussions with other students on questions posted by the instructor, and submit one or two written assignments.”
Brenner explained the EPC’s decision to approve the addition of a winter session.
“Wesleyan prides itself on being a creative, innovative institution, and we thought this was a really great way to do that by providing a very unique opportunity to take a very unique course,” Brenner said. “Additionally, there’s really high student demand for this. People just think winter break is way too long. The five-year calendar was approved last year, so winter break, for the next five years at least, is going to stay the same length. This is a really great time to try this kind of program, because people will definitely want to come back for it.”
Winter Session will be a two-week term held in January, beginning Jan. 8, 2014. Students (both Wesleyan students and those from other institutions) can take one intensive course for credit. These courses may be ones that are offered during the academic year, but may also be courses specifically tailored toward the intensive format of Winter Session. Students enrolling in Winter Session will pay $2,900, half the cost of a regular class, with financial aid available. Housing will be free and meal plans will be available.
The Career Center will also offer Winter on Wyllys, which will consist of two week-long intensive programs, CareerLab and Finding Good Work. The former will prepare students to enter the job market while the latter will help students clarify their professional options and goals.
Tannenbaum emphasized that Winter Session is an optional program.
“It’s purely optional for students, and it’s purely optional for faculty to teach a course,” he said. “The only courses that are taught are ones that the faculty actually want to teach.”
Anderson commented on the benefits associated with Winter Session’s intensive format.
“Students will have opportunities to study a topic intensively with a faculty member in a small class, and will be able to focus solely on the one course without distractions,” Anderson wrote in an email to The Argus. “The educational experience has the potential to be amazing, because students will need to do all the reading before the first meeting of class, and complete some of the assignments beforehand, so everyone will come to class with the full readings of class fresh in their minds, and the discussions can connect every single reading and every issue together.”
Tanenbaum noted that while the Winter Session has been approved, the decision is not necessarily permanent.
“It’s a one-year pilot program,” Tanenbaum said. “The first session will be this winter, and then in the spring after student surveys and faculty surveys, it will go to EPC for review. If EPC meetings go well, it will submit it to the faculty for an extended pilot program. We’d only want to move forward with it if students still wanted to move forward with it.”
Winter Session was approved largely in response to high student demand. The WSA administered a survey of students on Friday, Oct. 11 regarding the potential of a winter session; the survey received 759 student responses, 89 percent of which were in favor of the creation of a Winter Session. After seeing this data, the WSA passed a resolution in favor of Winter Session on Oct. 13.
“Students are just really excited,” said WSA President Nicole Updegrove ’14. “Winter break is so long. We’ve consistently gotten survey results saying that students want a shorter winter break, but winter is when a lot of the faculty do their writing, their research, they travel, so we haven’t succeeded in the past with getting winter break shortened. Given the length, why not have something that students can do when they come back?”
President Roth also expressed his excitement about the introduction of Winter Session.
“I’m pleased that Wesleyan is offering students these new options for Winter Break,” Roth wrote in an email to The Argus. “We are moving forward with this small pilot program following a healthy debate amongst the faculty about the pros and cons of short immersion-style courses. I’m eager to see how students and faculty find the Winter Session courses, and how effectively the intensive courses complement those offered during the regular semesters.”
Moving forward, Updegrove is working with the Office of Academic Affairs to ensure that there are activities and facilities available to students during Winter Session.
“One of the tough things with Summer Session is that there aren’t clubs; there aren’t films; there aren’t outings,” Updegrove said. “I’m working with [Academic Affairs] to make sure that not only are services open like food and the Health Center and CAPS — maybe we can get the film series to run on weekends, [and] maybe the Outing Club can do things, just making sure that you can have a more holistic experience in addition to your courses.”
Making Winter Session successful is not without its challenges. Brenner pointed out that, at first, Winter Session may not be able to accommodate all students who wish to participate.
“One of the challenges with creating a program like this is having the student demand met, especially because in the pilot program it would usually be pretty small,” she said. “In the first couple of years there will be no way to meet that kind of demand.”
Another challenge lies in the fact that not every course or discipline is suited to an intensive format.
“The opportunity to experiment with new course topics, new pedagogical approaches, and to try out courses that would work only in this format is exciting to faculty,” Anderson wrote. “As faculty discussed in deliberating on the proposal for winter session, each faculty member who teaches a course in this format will work hard on making sure it succeeds and evaluating its strengths and areas for improvement.”
Updegrove similarly noted that Winter Session’s format could pose some challenges.
“It would be a lot of work in a very short period,” she said. “I think that’s something that the administration and the faculty are just going to have to figure out, just in terms of: how much reading should you assign over December before you even get back to campus? Which courses can be taught in two weeks? Probably not multivariable calculus, but a really intense exploration of some author or period in history—those things could work. I think it’s a learning process.”
Faculty and students participating in Winter Session will share their experiences with the EPC in the Spring of 2014 as it discusses whether or not to extend the pilot program.
“Interesting questions and opportunities arise with the faculty decision to ask the EPC to assess the 2014 winter session in spring and report to the faculty in fall 2014 for faculty discussion and potential vote on continuation,” Anderson wrote. “[W]hat do we assess, and how to assess it? What counts as success for the courses and the program?”
This article was updated on Oct. 25 to reflect new information gathered on the topic, including the tuition cost and quotes from Senior Associate Provost Karen Anderson and President Michael Roth. This is the article that appears in the Oct. 25 print edition of The Argus.