Cameron Wesson

Thu, Jun 11, 1:12 PM

Dear Students,

I’m writing with an update on an academic plan we are working on for the 2020-21 academic year, on the principle that we want to keep you informed even while we’re still working out many details. We’re eager to share what we’re thinking about and to get the information to you as soon as possible.

First, let me say that President Altmann has not yet announced that the College will reopen for in-person instruction in the fall. As she has said, that decision will be announced no later than July 1. 

Second, I want to emphasize that the academic plan we are currently working on for the 2020-21 academic year is still in draft form. There are many important details that we haven’t yet worked out, and we can’t yet answer all questions. 

The draft plan is designed to manage the uncertainty of the fall and the whole year. We want to reduce stress for students, and to be as flexible as possible, given that we cannot predict the kind of impact the progress of the COVID-19 pandemic will have on our campus. The plan is designed for maximum flexibility.

Here are the basics of the plan. We will communicate this same information to families, as well. And please stay tuned – I’ll send more details as we work them out.

DRAFT of proposed academic plan for 2020-21

·      F&M is working on a blended learning model of instruction. Your courses will be designed for online teaching and learning with in-person components to enrich and enhance, as allowable by whatever social distancing and regulatory norms are governing our interactions at any given time. 

·      If we implement this plan, F&M will switch to a 5-module academic schedule that divides our normal two semesters into four 7-week units of instruction plus an optional January term, or J-term. 

·      The first priority behind this proposal is your experience as students. You came to F&M for a highly personalized education in which you forged close connections with your professors and peers, and that’s exactly what these changes will allow us to provide. At the same time, it is important to prioritize the health and safety of all our community members, and these changes will most effectively allow us to do that. 

We know you will have lots of questions about what these changes mean and how they will work. Here are answers to some of them, and more information will be coming. 

·      Is blended learning the same as an online course? 

No. What we are calling “blended learning” might also be described as a “flipped” or “hybrid” classroom. All of your courses will present significant amounts of material (syllabi, readings, lectures, assignments, etc.) on Canvas. In-person or face-to-face interactions (whether in the classroom or over video conferencing software like Zoom) will enhance and enrich the course. Faculty will manage class meetings in any number of ways, but all classes will include significant interactive components to facilitate faculty-student and student-student relationships. In-person activities may expand or shrink as dictated by recommendations for social distance or quarantine, and by health considerations for individual faculty and students. Such activities might include: small group meetings with or without a faculty member; labs; discussions; training in skills or equipment; one-on-one or small group work in studios; etc. Over the summer, faculty are actively engaged in course development training to support this shift. 

·      Why is F&M moving to blended learning for the 2020-21 academic year? 

If possible, we want to have students on campus and faculty teaching them in person, but we also know that some faculty and students will not be able to be physically present for a variety of reasons (health, travel restrictions, or family concerns). Blended learning creates a system in which all students and faculty can access their courses whether they are able to be on campus or not. Moreover, this model offers us maximum flexibility in the event of a COVID-19 resurgence that forces us to switch to fully online, and it accommodates temporary isolation if a faculty member or student comes in contact with the virus and must quarantine. 

·      Why is F&M changing the academic schedule for the 2020-21 academic year? 

We know from experience, and from student and faculty surveys, that students found four simultaneous online courses overwhelming. Switching to a module system reduces by half the number of courses a student is taking at any given time (professors will teach only one course in most modules). We believe this will provide the maximum opportunity for the one-on-one mentorship you have come to expect from your F&M education, and we also believe that, in a social distancing world, the module system will provide the best opportunities for you to form close bonds with fellow students. It also makes it easier to support the tech needs of blended classrooms and to accommodate careful cleaning and other safety measures. 

·      When will classes begin and end?

In keeping with the emerging best practices and national trends, we will start classes in late August, and Module 2 will end at Thanksgiving (final exams in Module 2 will be online). There will be a long break from Thanksgiving to early February to avoid flu season and a possible COVID-19 resurgence. J-term will be organized on the same structure/schedule as a summer session and will take place from early January through the first week of February. Modules 3 and 4 will run from early February to early May. Because national authorities have recommended remaining on campus during the academic terms, we have eliminated fall and spring breaks.

·      What will my schedule look like? 

As in any other academic year, students will take eight courses, but these will now be spread over 4 or 5 modules: 2-2-0-2-2 or 2-1-1-2-2, etc. Students will need to petition to CAS for permission to take anything more than 2.5 credits per module. Music ensembles and theater and dance production courses will generally be available over several modules for a half credit, and will regularly have rehearsals in the evening. Your courses will generally meet four days a week for an hour and a half each session, with time blocks spread throughout the day and into the evening, and with longer sessions for some labs, studios, and seminars. Wednesdays will be a catch-up day for everyone with no regular classes held. Language drills, Common Hour, and special programming may be clustered on Wednesdays.

·      What is a J-term? Do I have to take it? 

The J-term is entirely optional for students. It functions like F&M’s normal summer sessions, and as with those summer sessions, it’s possible to make accelerated progress toward your degree by taking a course during the J-term. J-term may include opportunities for lab, language, or studio “boot camps” to increase hands-on skills (if social distancing protocols allow). 

·      What will happen to the courses I’m already taking in the fall?

Over the summer, all students will need to re-register for the fall semester courses that will now be distributed over Modules 1 and 2. Most course offerings will be the same, and we are working hard to spread courses out in such a way that you should be able to register for many (if not all) of the same courses for which you previously registered. 

·      Who made these decisions? Were students consulted? 

The Educational Policy Committee (composed of elected faculty and student representatives) produced these policy recommendations after weeks of discussion, an intensive review of possible models, research on plans from our comparison colleges, and finally widespread consultation with faculty, administration, and the Diplomatic Congress. The student survey about our transition to online instruction in the spring was one of the primary drivers for these proposed changes. In addition, we researched national trends and surveys, including a report based on the feedback of 22,000 students. Among the consulted groups, there was overwhelming support for moving to the module/blended learning system. 

In closing, let me reiterate that President Altmann will announce a decision by July 1 about whether we will reopen and how. We can’t predict what the pandemic will do, but we can assure the quality of our classes. I hope that this information gives you a chance to imagine what the fall semester might be like in these unusual times.


Cam Wesson

Dr. Cameron B. Wesson
Provost & Dean of Faculty
Franklin & Marshall College
Lancaster, PA 17604-3003717.358.3986