The start to the Fall semester at Dickinson College looks different this school year. Instead of students walking to classes in the academic quad, they are opening their laptops and attending virtual lectures from their homes.
Since the college closed on March 18 due to Covid-19, the pandemic continued to derail plans for in-person learning. In early June, the Center for Global Study and Engagement (CGSE) canceled all study abroad programs for the Fall semester. On July 15, President Margee Ensign announced that the college would be fully remote for the semester, and only a few pre-approved students could live on campus.
For the past month, Dickinson faculty and students have prepared for a semester of virtual classes. Some professors will host regular Zoom lectures. Other professors will make their classes asynchronous to accommodate students that live in various time zones.
Professor of Italian Studies and Film Studies Nicoletta Marini-Maio improved her virtual courses via student survey input from the Spring 2020 semester. Additionally, she attended workshops through the college and outside of the college to prepare her virtual curriculum.
“…I have followed a few specific principles: brevity, effectiveness, motivation, and connection with the real world,” said Marini-Maio. She will use both synchronous and asynchronous learning to accommodate her students’ needs.
Although Marini-Maio feels prepared for the Fall 2020 semester, she said that it will not be the same as in-person instruction. “I miss the students so much,” Marini-Maio said. “… All my work this summer has focused on how to replace this kind of experience (in-person instruction) with something that is equally inspiring, both for me and for them. It’s not been an easy task.”
Associate Professor of Sociology Helene Lee will also incorporate a hybrid model of synchronous and asynchronous learning to her courses. “In terms of my own classes, I think for a variety of factors… I’m prioritizing asynchronous aspects as the ‘meat’ and the synchronous as the ‘condiments’,” Lee said. In the asynchronous section of her courses, she will require her students to watch mini-lecture videos and to participate in online discussions.
For the Spring 2020 semester, students had the choice to opt for a Credit/No-Credit grade in place of a letter grade for their courses. In her Spring classes, Lee said that there were benefits to the lack of letter grades. “I did learn that students aren’t necessarily solely motivated by grades…I was struck by how students can really shine and adapt to new formats even without the traditional markers of success,” Lee said.
Students shared mix-reactions to the virtual semester. Brianna Geeseman ’21 said that she was “heartbroken” with the decision. However, Geeseman believes in the Dickinson professors, students and administrators to adapt and make the virtual semester successful. “I feel prouder than ever to be a Dickinsonian,” Geeseman said.
Tristan Clark ’22 said that the college’s decision to be remote this semester is better for everyone’s health. “I’m looking forward to this semester because Dickinson’s professors have had more time and should be better prepared for our online learning,” he said.
Although Cammie Charron ’22 feels that a virtual semester will be safer, she will still miss out on the in-person instruction. “We can still have discussions over Zoom, but I fear they will be less personable,” she said.
Professors recognize that some students will adapt more to the virtual learning environment than other students. “[F]or those with class privilege, I think the adjustment will not be as difficult,” Lee said “But I think students…whose families and communities have experienced economic and physical hardships from Covid-19 and shaped greatly by the issues highlighted by the Black Lives Matter Movement, this semester will be tough.”
The Fall 2020 semester started on Monday, August 17th