We are more than halfway through the first quarter of the school year, and a lot of us are still getting adjusted to the module system. At first, it seemed like some had a really difficult time with it, and no one was all that happy. Now that we have had a little bit of time to settle into our classes, the opinion has shifted for some, but it has stayed relatively the same for others.
Naturally, some areas of study at the College have been having a more difficult time with the transition than others. The foreign language department, for example, has had some difficulties with the module system. Associate Professor of Chinese Horng-Yi Lee had this to say about it: “I think this module system does not work well for foreign language classes because students do not have enough time to absorb all material in such a short time span, especially for the Chinese language. The learning of characters is a big challenge to them. It is stressful and none of my students like this module system.” Personally, having had to finish up my Japanese classes over Zoom last year, I know my fellow classmates and I struggled with the transition. Hands-on learning is arguably the most effective when it comes to foreign language — actively engaging in conversation with others and being able to pick up on social cues that just do not translate well through a screen is really important.
No surprises, this is practically the same case for the theater department. Students and professors have had to undertake acting through Zoom, which, according to fourth-year Sadie Recio, is far from ideal. “As a theatre major, I’m not a fan of online school in general. . . . Theatre classes are not easy to transition online because theater is so heavily based in human connection and interaction. Even teaching the technical side of theatre typically requires hands-on learning,” said Recio.
Professor of Acting and Directing, Gil Gonzalez, is not currently teaching, but, like many of us, was swept into the Zoom transition last Spring, which was a very difficult shift. This is something Recio pointed out about the module system in comparison to last semester, “. . . I’m not sitting on my computer all day long for back-to-back classes. . . .” Prof. Gonzalez shares the same opinion; the most stressful part of Zoom learning last semester was having to continue with the regular pace of a typical semester. “This is not the ideal situation; we would want everyone to be in person, [to] interact with each other — to have everything be normal,” he said.
Regardless, Prof. Gonzalez is optimistic about the upcoming quarter. “It’s going to be weird; it’s going to be awkward and uncomfortable, and that’s okay! A lot of [the] time, students have no problem asking for help; I hope the students continue to help. I want to be able to say: ‘Hey, I messed up. Today was not a good day of teaching.’ I have to use my imagination and creativity to [keep the class going],” he said. “Both the students and the faculty have the right to flop. I just want to have as few of those days as possible.”
He is not the only one. Professor of History Laura McEnaney thinks “the module system was a very smart idea [because] it gives us more flexibility in a constantly shifting public health crisis,” she said. She is also optimistic about the relationship between students and teachers, which everyone I’ve spoken to cited as something they miss about physically being in a classroom together. “Seeing or interacting with students more days during the week has also enabled us to build relationships, even from a distance,” said McEnaney.
Some professors are used to teaching in the compressed three weeks of Jan Term, like Professor Gonzalez and Associate Professor of Social Psychology, Dr. Christina Scott. “Having taught Jan Term for many years, the shift to seven weeks was doable. My greatest adjustment was switching to a ‘flipped classroom design’ where my lectures are pre-recorded and posted to Moodle. Now our Zoom meetings are centered around discussions and clarifying the key points.” said Dr. Scott. Using Zoom as a way to clarify points learned outside of the classroom from either readings or lectures seems to be the route a lot of professors are taking, which makes a lot of sense, but is still difficult on students. In fourth-year Philosophy major Annie Ortiz’s opinion, “Course content is now rushed, which leaves no time to absorb what you are learning. It’s not about learning anymore. It’s more about surviving.”
Luckily, that is not necessarily the case for every course; Professor McEnaney, for example, has cut down on content rather than focus on the “‘coverage’ of a whole chronological narrative,” as she believes “students learn better through deep case studies” anyway. She said, “The module system has enabled me to be selective and purposeful about my topics and assignments,” as it has for many other professors; as a student currently in Dr. Scott’s class, I know she had to cut down on content, as well. Although students are not learning as much as they would during a normal semester, it does help to be able to dive deep into concepts and understand what we can with the time that we have.
The more time we have as a community to get adjusted to this schedule, the more accessible and organized it will be. Colorado College, for example, has been following ‘The Block Plan’ for years; students take one class a time, for three weeks, typically for three hours a day, allowing them to really absorb the material of a single class. They have had the time to perfect that model, which is likely why students love it so much; WC, on the other hand, has had to rush into this system over the summer as we all scrambled to figure out how we were going to continue our college careers this semester.
All things considered, the module system was likely the best the College could do in order to take some of the pressure off of students and faculty. Dr. Scott mentioned, “I know students have a lot on their plates and I hope that being able to focus on only two classes has been helpful for them. As a professor, who is home with my twin daughters, I am juggling their schooling and my teaching simultaneously. Trying to focus on multiple classes in a traditional fourteen-week semester might have been overwhelming for all of us.” Unfortunately, some students have had to (or have chosen to) take more courses in a single module; currently, Ortiz is shouldering the course load from five classes. Obviously, she is feeling “more overwhelmed, exhausted, and stressed compared to taking five courses that are spread out over a semester.” So, yes, the module system works if students are taking the two classes it was designed for, but a lot of classes that people needed to take before graduation were crammed into one module, forcing students to overload courses in order to stay on track for graduation.
Professor McEnaney had some inspiring words for us moving forward with this system: “Pandemic learning and teaching present real problems, but I think if we focus on relationships, and if we invite students into the problem solving process, we can create a “classroom” even through a Zoom square.”
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