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Teaching & Learning

Revised Academic Calendar

At the June 24, 2020 faculty meeting, the Vassar faculty approved a revised academic calendar for the Fall 2020 Semester. The entire calendar is located on catalogue.vassar.edu. The key features of the revised calendar are:

  • Classes begin on August 31, and will meet in person for those students and faculty who are on campus.
  • There will be no October break.
  • In addition to Labor Day (Monday, September 7), there will be two Community Care Days without classes or scheduled meetings: Wednesday, October 7 and Tuesday, November 3.
  • The final day of in-person classes is Friday, November 20.
  • Students will leave campus for the semester when in-person classes end.
  • Thanksgiving break will be a full week; there will be no classes the week of November 23.
  • Classes will resume online only on Monday, November 30 and will continue through December 9. Study period and final exams will be remote only.
  • We expect students will return to campus for the Spring Semester in January.

Guiding Principles for Fall 2020

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. As we prepare for the Fall Semester and the challenges it presents, our goal cannot be to replicate teaching models with which we are familiar and practiced. Neither should the present circumstances result in diminished or less meaningful learning experiences. We need to work together—with colleagues and students alike—to be present, productive, inclusive, innovative, and ethically engaged.

For various reasons, some faculty members will opt to teach their courses entirely online this fall. 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 Fall 2020 classes will necessarily be drawing upon remote and hybrid modes of teaching and learning at different times and in varying degrees.

Because online and hybrid teaching may be unfamiliar to both faculty members and students, a multidisciplinary faculty committee has identified the following set of guiding pedagogical principles. 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.

We recognize that adapting to the new conditions of teaching and learning will not be easy. Nevertheless, we encourage faculty to embrace the challenge as an opportunity to develop practices and sensibilities that can improve teaching and learning in any setting. Now, more than ever, faculty are called to demonstrate 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, we will need 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 these guiding principles. A more comprehensive document, with specific suggestions and resources, has been shared with Vassar faculty members.

  • 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 be in effect in Fall 2020, 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 their courses. In addition, if conditions require the college to return to remote teaching and learning, the courses will need to be flexible and prepared to go rapidly to a fully online format of instruction.

In this context, the Vassar faculty are working hard to prepare in new ways for the Fall 2020 Semester. These preparations extend beyond the need to respond to a crisis, providing an opportunity for us to reimagine how we teach and engage with students. Learning experiences can be more accessible and more flexible, and faculty and students can explore new approaches to teaching and learning together.

Faculty preparation activities, opportunities, and initiatives include:

  • Eight Pedagogy in Action workshops across many disciplines and types of learning (experiential, performance, laboratory, language, writing)
  • The creation and curation of a regularly updated Faculty Resources Moodle site, which serves as a central location for pedagogical materials on hybrid teaching, online teaching, and how to use technology in teaching in ways that work for hybrid/online instruction
  • Ongoing workshops and events sponsored by the Liberal Arts Collaborative for Digital Innovation (LACOL), of which Vassar is a member
  • A continuing series of faculty conversations as spaces for faculty to ask questions and offer ideas
  • Strategies and ideas for faculty to use to reach out to their students and involve them in the preparations for the fall. For example, students might engage in aspects of co-creation of course format and even content
  • Earlier New Faculty Orientation via a website with tutorials, videos, and links to the Moodle site
  • Organizing a Zoom workshop with an instructional design expert for faculty who would prefer explicit training in online/hybrid pedagogy and course design
  • Developing an ongoing faculty “orientation” to the new practices and expectations of hybrid teaching and learning
  • Exploring potential winter half-unit intensives that would provide teaching and learning opportunities during the month-long winter break in January. These intensives would be conducted remotely, with potential opportunities for community-engaged learning where health conditions permit. Potential winter intensives would provide innovative learning opportunities, and would support students (and faculty) who need to think about taking a lighter load during the semester, due to the stresses of the pandemic.

Classrooms

In planning for the Fall 2020 Semester, we 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, we will reconfigure our classrooms for the Fall 2020 Semester. Specifically, classrooms will be 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 will be 20% to 50% of normal capacity, depending on the specific size, shape, and furniture in each room.

We will supplement traditional classrooms by creating new teaching spaces in conference rooms, assembly spaces, the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, and outdoor tent classrooms.

Even with these new spaces, room capacity will be limited. As such, faculty and students will need to be prepared for classes that use a combination of in-person and remote instruction, which will reduce the number of students meeting in person at any given time. Some examples of how the classroom experience will reflect these new limits 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 will include new technology to support remote learning/teaching and online pedagogy, including: adding microphones and high definition video cameras to allow for both in-person and synchronous remote teaching/learning as well as support for asynchronous learning activities made possible through recorded lessons/classes.

Classroom preparation also requires planning to manage the flow of people in academic buildings and maintaining clean classrooms during the busy school day. When classes resume in the fall, we will have in place building circulation plans to minimize “bunching” of people and new classroom cleaning routines.

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 Fall 2020; entrance to the libraries will be by card access only. The library is open until midnight Sunday through Thursday night and until 10pm on Friday and Saturday nights. Students and faculty are encouraged to visit library.vassar.edu/fall20 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 10:00am to 5:00pm, as well as Thursday evenings from 5:00pm to 8:00pm. Accommodations may be made for occasional curricular access on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The Lehman Loeb will open to the public only on Saturdays (10:00am to 5:00pm) and Sundays (1:00pm to 5:00pm). 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.