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College announces changes to time block schedule and teaching as transition to remote learning continues

July 8, 2020

Since the College announced that nearly all courses will be online for the Fall 2020 semester, faculty and students have been approaching academics at Bowdoin in new ways. As students anticipate browsing course offerings, which will be released on Classfinder today, professors have been preparing for the fall by rethinking course material and modes of teaching.

“What is listed [in Classfinder] isn’t just a carry-over of a generic semester; faculty have had a chance to think about what they want to do and offer and how they’re going to offer it,” said Elizabeth McCormack, former dean of academic affairs as of July 1, in a Microsoft Teams interview with the Orient.

There will be approximately 325 courses offered for the fall semester. All will be online, except for in-person components of first-year seminars for first-year students living on campus in the fall. The first round of registration begins on July 15.

Crucial to the planning of online courses is the report from the Continuity of Teaching and Learning (CTL) Group, which was released on July 3. The report analyzed feedback from students and faculty about the spring semester and suggested best practices to address commonly-reported issues.

One new strategy will involve using a time block schedule created specifically for the remote semester, which was released in an email to students on Saturday, June 27. McCormack noted that this new structure was very unusual, but she said that it was the one recommended by the CTL Group to create equity across time zones and varying student responsibilities, provide flexibility for faculty to slot in smaller synchronous groups of students and allow time for student clubs and activities.

The CTL report also suggests how faculty can use the summer to prepare for the fall semester.

“We are standing up a robust summer of opportunities for faculty to work to prepare their courses for the fall, and that will be reflected in what is listed in Classfinder,” said McCormack during the town hall.

Following the suggestions from the CTL report, faculty will spend the summer working on the design and execution of their curriculum. The Digital Education Campus Team will be offering training, webinars and workshops in online pedagogy and tools for digital teaching. This work will also include input from the Baldwin Center for Learning and Teaching, the library, academic technology and consulting, information technology and contracted consultants from the firm Everspring.

Jennifer Scanlon, Dean of Academic Affairs as of July 1 and the former chair of the Return to Campus Group, explained during the town hall meeting that the philosophy surrounding faculty training does not involve starting with technology and discovering how to provide learning. Rather, faculty members are encouraged to first develop goals for a class and then determine how to execute them through various technologies.

Tess Chakkalakal, Peter M. Small associate professor of Africana Studies and English and a member of the CTL, is teaching a first-year seminar and Intro to American Literature: Origins to 18th Century. She is preparing to teach literature through different mediums, such as having students use an audiobook to listen to “Moby Dick.”

“I want to use multiple media in this literature classroom, because that’s what online learning enables,” she said. “The kind of cool thing about this is that it’s a major shake-up of the institution. I hope that such a shake-up will give teachers the freedom to create new ways of thinking about old subjects like mine, American literature in new and innovative ways.”

Although she sees this as an opportunity to incorporate new modes of teaching and materials, Chakkalakal acknowledges that there are some aspects to online learning that are not as easily replicated online.

“But I still think that getting to know your students and getting your students to know one another, in person, the way we do at Bowdoin, is the best way to learn a number of different subjects, so I am eager to return to the Bowdoin model of in person residential education,” she said.

Although professors have been thinking about how to adapt courses to an online model, students will not see these plans listed in the course descriptions that will be available on July 8. Additional information about how each course will be executed online will come later in the summer from the specific professor. Only first-year seminars will include information beyond the usual description.

Although courses and the time schedules will be different, the College will return to the letter grading system, but it will give some options for students who may face additional challenges throughout the semester.

President Rose sent an email to students on July 2, updating them on some changes made by the Committee on Educational Policy in regards to the fall grading policy. Changes include the extension of Credit/D/Fail deadlines to Thanksgiving and the addition of a second Credit/D/Fail option for students that will not count toward their total allotment of four Credit/D/Fail classes during their Bowdoin career. The exceptions to the type of course which may be completed with a Credit/D/Fail still stand, though the Committee on Governance and Faculty Affairs will discuss this early in the fall semester to determine if any changes can be made on a temporary basis.

McCormack connected the grading policy to other aspects of the fall model that will offer support to those students who are concerned about the return to the normal grading system.

“We’re going to be able to be much more responsive and cognizant of home situations that are recognizably fluid during COVID-19 . . . I think we have a holistic approach to wanting to meet that equity demand,” said McCormack. “Through grading, through other educational policies, through the petition to come back to campus if your home situation [is] untenable, all of those together, I think our goal is to be sure every Bowdoin student has an opportunity to learn.”

A recent Orient survey shows that the majority of students were dissatisfied with the College’s plan to conduct nearly all courses online.

“I didn’t enjoy taking courses in this condition last semester, and with harder, more important classes for my major to come, I’m scared that I won’t have the proper foundation going into senior year,” wrote a member of the class of 2022.

However, some are optimistic that recommendations from the CTL report will improve the courses from spring, when students were asked to leave campus due to COVID-19 and courses were abruptly moved online.

“I’m interested to see how some of [the CTL Group’s] findings will be implemented in practice and seeing how well the theoretical solutions actually play out. Because if it works out any way the spring was for me, that’s not going to be very helpful,” Wayne Harding ’21 said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

Chair of the CTL Group and Professor of Chemistry Rick Broene, Chief Information Officer Michael Cato and Dean Scanlon will hold a webinar on the fall academic program for students and parents on Thursday, July 9.

Kate Lusignan contributed to this report.

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