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Teaching & Learning

Revised Academic Calendar

Because of the ongoing pandemic, the faculty approved a revised calendar for the Spring 2021 Semester. The entire calendar is located on Academic Calendar webpage. Key dates include:

  • Classes begin on February 17, and will meet in person for those students and faculty who are on campus.
  • A shortened, campus-based, mid-semester recess is scheduled from March 31 through April 4, instead of the usually longer spring break.
  • There will be one Community Care Day for students on Monday, May 3.
  • The final day of classes is Monday, May 24.
  • Study period will run from May 25–27.
  • Final examinations will run from May 28–June 1
  • The 157th Commencement will be on Sunday, June 6.

Guiding Principles for Spring 2021

Since 1865, Vassar faculty have worked together in support of the innovative and high-quality teaching and learning experiences that are the core of Vassar’s educational mission. While COVID-19 has undoubtedly affected our lives and will continue to do so, we also recognize that a legacy of racism “continues to manifest daily in acts that range from the micro to the horrific.” [1] We are mindful that our students are being asked to learn in conditions that make it difficult to succeed without support and care, and thus our teaching needs to be intentional and oriented toward building and sustaining community, trust, and a culture of mutual care. We are proud of the way we overcame the challenges of the Fall Semester, and of the way we came together as a community to learn, study, and care. We succeeded in our goals to be present, productive, inclusive, innovative, and ethically engaged. We will come together once again in the spring, having learned from the fall, confident that we will continue even more successfully.

As before, some faculty members will opt to teach their courses entirely online this spring. Likewise, travel restrictions, chronic illnesses, the need to self-quarantine, or the restrictions on the number of individuals who can be present at one time in any given classroom mean that not all students will be physically on campus or able to attend all classes in person. As a result, all Spring 2021 classes will necessarily be drawing upon remote and hybrid modes of teaching and learning at different times and in varying degrees.

We will continue following the set of guiding pedagogical principles we undertook for the Fall Semester. Many of the guiding principles overlap. Efforts undertaken in one area, such as using accessible design principles, also support the realization of other principles, such as building community, promoting student participation, and making our pedagogy more inclusive and responsive. Similarly, articulating learning goals and building efficient and effective forms of faculty presence and engagement not only support student learning but also facilitate faculty self-care.

The Fall 2020 conditions of teaching and learning were not easy. Nevertheless, the faculty embraced the challenge as an opportunity to develop practices and sensibilities that improved teaching and learning in any setting. In the fall, the faculty demonstrated the value of a liberal arts education by engaging students in the rich, personalized, robust, relevant, responsive, and creative learning that is the hallmark of a Vassar education. With restrictions on physical presence in the classroom still in place for the Spring 2021 Semester, we will continue to encourage self-guided learning to empower students to achieve academic success.

1 From Edward J. Maloney and Joshua Kim, “How Can we Talk about the Fall Right Now?” Inside Higher Ed, May 31, 2020. https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/learning-innovation/how-can-we-talk-about-fall-right-now

Finally, we encourage faculty and students to embrace a spirit of experimentation, which is to say a willingness to try, reflect, revise, try again. Finding ways to engage students in this process not only ensures a more positive experience for all, but also helps us all to understand what it means to participate in a learning community at this moment.

Below is a brief overview of the principles that guided us through the fall and will continue to guide us through the spring.

  • Inclusive, accessible, and responsive teaching and learning: Faculty will use inclusive pedagogies that value difference, foster a culture of access, and respond to issues of systemic racism, our public health crisis, and other barriers to learning and education. Mindful of students with varied abilities, learning styles, and situations, faculty will develop their in-class and online materials and assignments and have access to tools and technology that they need to teach their classes in a pedagogically appropriate manner.
  • Student engagement and community building. . Faculty will intentionally structure student-to-student interactions that foster a learning community, both online and in person. Faculty will maintain scheduled class times for all synchronous teaching to minimize time conflicts with students’ other classes. Faculty will use courses as a basis of support, reinforcing a sense that we are all in this together.
  • Faculty presence and engagement. A key component of a Vassar education is close faculty-student interaction in the classroom and the opportunity for students to meet with faculty outside of class. Faculty will continue to create opportunities for such engagements. Faculty will provide regular feedback on student work. Vassar’s regular grading policy will continue to be in effect for the Spring 2021 Semester, with extended deadlines for electing NRO and initiating WD.
  • Self-care. Because these new conditions for teaching and learning are disruptive of traditional practices and require a variety of intellectual and pedagogical risks, faculty should commit to integrating practices of self-care.

Faculty Support and Preparation

Due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, some students will be in-person and some will be remote (either synchronously or asynchronously), or a fully online model may be necessary for certain courses.

We learned much from the Fall Semester—that learning experiences can be more accessible and more flexible, and faculty and students can explore new approaches to teaching and learning together.

Classrooms

In planning for the Spring 2021 Semester, we continue to seek to provide a classroom experience that prioritizes the health and safety of all members of the community, in what continues to be a highly uncertain and evolving environment. We recognize that all classes may have remote participants at some time during the semester, and that our faculty will be teaching in new ways, which will change classroom needs and design.

In response to public health conditions and New York State guidelines, our classrooms are configured to minimize density and to follow social distancing requirements, so that students and faculty maintain six feet of distance apart. As a result, classroom capacity continues to be 20% to 50% of normal capacity, depending on the specific size, shape, and furniture in each room.

We will continue to supplement traditional classrooms by using conference rooms, assembly spaces, the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, and outdoor tent classrooms as the weather permits.

Faculty and students will continue to gather for classes using a combination of in-person and remote instruction. Some examples of how the classroom experiences reflected these new limits in the fall and continuing into the spring are:

  • Some students learn from a remote location (self-quarantine, remain home, international students) while others are in-person
  • Large lecture is recorded with regularly scheduled class time used for small group work (a version of a “flipped classroom”)
  • Half of the students are remote and half are in-person, alternating each class session, to reduce occupancy in classrooms

Many classrooms were outfitted with new technology to support remote learning/teaching and online pedagogy, including: microphones and high-definition video cameras to allow for both in-person and synchronous remote teaching/learning; support for asynchronous learning activities made possible through recorded lessons/classes. Improvements made during the fall will be in place for the Spring Semester.

Limited Off-Campus Travel

As long as campus conditions are at a low to moderate risk level, pre-approved, supervised off-campus student travel will be allowed for organized activities that include field research, class-related trips, participation in local volunteering efforts and visits to local cultural sites, among other activities. For full details on requirements, testing protocols, submitting for travel and more, visit the Off-Campus Group Travel Policy.

Vassar Libraries

The Vassar Libraries will continue their vital role in academic life at Vassar. In addition to the robust remote resources available at library.vassar.edu, the libraries will provide circulation services (check-out of books), course-reserved materials for online use, and research support for students and faculty, primarily through scheduled online meetings. Librarians are available to provide online instruction through Zoom, the creation of research guides or brief videos, or other methods as appropriate. We encourage faculty to contact liaison librarians to discuss resources available for their courses, as well as other ways that the libraries can support student research and coursework.

In addition, library facilities will continue to be accessible for students, with furniture reconfigured to facilitate social distancing. Students will be expected to follow mask-wearing protocols and six-foot social distancing guidelines when working in the libraries. Physical access to the libraries will follow a phased access approach, with limited hours in the early weeks of the semester, extending to longer hours if health conditions permit. The libraries will not be open to the public in Spring 2021; entrance to the libraries will be by card access only. TThe library is open until midnight Sunday through Thursday night and until 10:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Students and faculty are encouraged to visit library.vassar.edu/spring21 for information on changes to library services as well as options for supporting hybrid teaching and learning using the libraries’ resources.

Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center

The Lehman Loeb galleries will be open to students and accompanying faculty on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., as well as Thursday evenings from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Accommodations may be made for occasional curricular access on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The Lehman Loeb will be open to the public only on Saturdays (10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) and Sundays (1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.). Access will be only via Raymond Avenue and the sculpture court; admission will be limited to no more than 25 percent of full capacity, a maximum of 75 visitors at a time. Please check the FLLAC website for hours and additional information.