The University will offer this year’s Winter Session both online and in person, with six courses taught on campus and six on Zoom. The change is part of a three-year pilot program to offer online and in-person classes for Winter and Summer Sessions that was approved by University faculty on Tuesday, Oct. 12.
For Summer Session 2020 and 2021 and Winter Session 2021, all courses took place fully online. Director of Graduate Liberal Studies Jennifer Curran explained that student and faculty reactions to having online courses during these sessions led to the institution of the pilot program.
“Enrollments were strong and students (and faculty) seemed happy to have this option,” Curran wrote in an email to The Argus. “It seemed worthwhile to try a pilot to see what the results would be if students were given a choice of online or on-campus courses… Instructors and departments are the ones who make the decision to offer their course online or in person.”
Curran initially brought the proposal before the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) last spring. The EPC approved the proposal at the end of September before the faculty vote in October. EPC Student Representative Ben Garfield ’22 elaborated on the process.
“EPC had to review the entire plan from continuing studies for both how the classes would be administered, overseen, and reviewed after the fact,” Garfield wrote in an email to The Argus. “EPC first received the proposal in the Spring and was ready for the faculty to vote on it then, but it wasn’t presented to the faculty until the last meeting of the year, and because of lingering questions, there was no vote. So, the new EPC for this year had to take the matter up again, this time on a [three]-year pilot, which would enable us to review how the hybrid offerings are going and see if we want to make it permanent.”
Former EPC Chair and Associate Professor of Philosophy Elise Springer explained that the EPC’s initial reaction to the proposal was positive.
“Last year’s Committee was impressed by the possibility that online offerings could play a valuable role for certain students who would not be able to take in-person offerings during Summer and Winter terms, and could also make room for some faculty to participate in these terms, despite facing logistical obstacles to being on campus during Summer or Winter session,” Springer wrote in an email to The Argus.
Springer added that some students previously sought out online winter and summer courses regardless of the University’s offerings and transferred these credits towards graduation.
“This new pilot program maximizes the chance that these students would be able to fill in those missing credits while staying connected to the Wesleyan faculty and curriculum,” Springer wrote.
EPC Chair and Associate Professor of Biology Gloster Aaron explained that the EPC’s role this year was to amend the proposal to a three-year trial and then present the proposal to the faculty again.
“Changing this to a [three]-year trial was actually in the spirit of the first proposal, so it was just a matter of codifying those intentions,” Aaron wrote in an email to The Argus. “I think it also helped some faculty members in their vote to approve this as they may have been worried about unforeseen consequences.”
Garfield expressed that the quality of courses will not differ between formats, so both online and in-person courses provide academically rigorous options for students.
“[We] learn[ed] from the pandemic that it is possible for the Wesleyan education to be offered online and for it to not be a weaker education than in-person (for the most part), [which] really contributed to the consideration that maybe we could keep offering some courses online,” Garfield wrote in an email to The Argus.
The online and in-person options will increase course accessibility and overall allow the University to better support students, according to Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Nicole Stanton.
“We believe that having both in-person and online offerings during winter and summer will create more course access for more students,” Stanton wrote in an email to The Argus. “In doing so, we help support our larger than usual incoming class, students with majors that experience course access issues, and those attempting to complete their degree on unique schedules. It also allows us to continue to develop the innovative and distinctly Wesleyan approach to online education that many faculty members began during the pandemic while preserving the core, residential, in-person Wesleyan experience.”
Curran also emphasized the numerous advantages the decision holds for students.
“I think the main benefits are accessibility and flexibility,” Curran wrote. “Students taking classes online do not have to pay for any additional travel, housing, or dining. While housing is free in winter session, it’s only available for students who have spring housing—so winter online courses could be really helpful for students with plans to study abroad in the spring. And that gets to flexibility. Students studying remotely can physically be wherever they want to be—they could be traveling, or they could have personal reasons to want to stay home with family or in their community.”
Garfield highlighted that the pilot program will give students more options in pursuing their studies.
“A lot of students are forced to choose between working, especially over the summer, and taking the summer session courses,” Garfield wrote. “Having some of the courses online would enable students who are attempting to either catch up or get ahead (perhaps to graduate early) to do so without having to sacrifice an entire summer’s worth of earnings.”
Faculty will also benefit from being able to choose the format of their winter and summer courses.
“With the option of the flexible delivery mode, the possibility of teaching summer or winter session courses becomes easier for faculty members,” Stanton wrote. “Our faculty have very active research agendas, and many of them rely on summer and winter as critical times for research. With the new options, faculty can continue with their projects and still offer courses remotely. In addition, there is now an opportunity to continue developing new pedagogies for those faculty that discovered materials that worked particularly well in an online format.”
Stanton reiterated that the administration will continue to evaluate the pilot program as it proceeds.
“The faculty and students are working closely to monitor, assess, and support the program as it moves forward,” Stanton wrote.
Rachel Wachman can be reached at email@example.com.