Classes resume in new remote format

Nigel Jaffe

Students and faculty have made the transition to remote learning in the wake of the closure of campuses across the country. (Alice Qu/The Williams Record)

Classes resumed remotely on Monday, plunging students and faculty into the unfamiliar world of online learning. While students resettled into new environments in the wake of the closure of much of campus, professors used the extended spring break to make significant changes to their syllabi and arrange new platforms for bringing their classes together, either asynchronously or in real time.

“Instead of debating ideas in seminars and tutorials we’ll discuss them across time zones and borders,” President Maud S. Mandel said in an email to the community on Monday. “We’ll hold labs often without being able to lift a test tube, and performance-based classes without setting foot in a studio. And yet our passion for learning will not be denied.”

As students adjust to their new circumstances, faculty face their own challenges, overhauling plans for the semester and picking up where their classes left off while potentially managing childcare and navigating the personal impact of the pandemic.

The Office for Information Technology (OIT) added a page on its website with advice for instructors on teaching through disruption. OIT recommends using Glow, the College’s online course management system, to distribute readings and other class materials, administer assessments and facilitate engagement between students and faculty over discussion forums.

OIT also posted a page with guidance on “working through disruption” with best practices that apply to faculty and staff. The College’s Google suite — Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides and Meet — are touted as tools for collaborating remotely. Everyone at the College has access for free to Zoom Basic, while upgraded Zoom licenses, which allow for longer meetings with more participants than Zoom Basic, are available for faculty upon request.

In conjunction with the Academic Resources Center, the Office of the Dean of the Faculty and the library, OIT created a Glow page for faculty centered around remote teaching, held daily Zoom office hours and given instructional presentations about online pedagogy.

Classes will continue in a variety of formats for the next two months. Then, in June, grades will be awarded on a pass/fail basis, and seniors will graduate — albeit without a June commencement ceremony, as Mandel announced last week. Seniors have the option to vote for an online commencement ceremony, which would proceed in much the same fashion as classes this spring, and a potential rescheduled in-person ceremony sometime next academic year.