BELOIT (WKOW) - There's national interest in Beloit College's plan to carry out instruction this fall while accounting for the potential, continued significant threat from COVID-19.
"About two times a day, I'm talking to provosts across the nation, asking me how we did it, what the plan was, how it looks," Beloit College Provost Eric Boynton tells 27 News.
The liberal arts college of roughly 1,200 students has scrapped the notion of a months-long semester this fall. Instead, Boynton says two modules lasting seven-and-a-half weeks will replace the traditional semester. Each module will involve students carrying only two classes.
"Let's say COVID burns through the summer and that first module, we may need to go online," Boynton says. "But then it runs its course, we can bring people to campus in the second module."
"Our plan around the fall is a plan for maximum flexibility and minimum disruption," he says.
Boynton also says if a module must include only online courses, the small class load is important. "It's hard to juggle four simultaneous online courses for the students, hard for the faculty," Boynton says. "Very draining."
Boynton says Beloit College's solid reputation has been built on its more personalized instruction, more access to faculty and a sense of one-on-one learning. He says online instruction is already being shaped to mirror that ethic, with smaller group sessions as follow up to more traditional lectures. Boynton says Beloit College is departing from a best practice of allowing students to complete online class participation and work at times of their choosing as long as academic deadlines are met. He says instead, the emphasis is on students gathering together online at specific times to reinforce a college community.
Senior Kat Grzeszkiewicz is also a member of Beloit College's Academic Senate as she prepares for graduation. She says in the month-plus of online learning due to the school'ss closure in connection with concerns over the potential spread of the coronavirus, campus engagement has slipped.
"Our professors will message us, make sure we're staying engaged from previous weeks and kids just don't do it," Grzeszkiewicz says.
Sophomore Grady Spencer believes faculty have been able to bridge the challenges of distance learning.
"In the month or so I've experienced (online course work), professors have done a really good job connecting with students," Spencer says.
Grzeszkiewicz applauds the school's administration for providing assets to push for a goal of campus connectness.
"If I'm at home, and I just feel like I won't go to my Zoom class, I don't want to participate in a blog post, that's on me," she says. "Beloit College is doing everything they can to provide us with the materials."
Spencer says he was "not a fan" of the prospect of transitioning from the semester structure to modules as it was unveiled during an already tumultuous time. But Spencer says he now feels the flexibility it provides and its class load stress reduction make sense.
"The modular innovation would not have been possible without a 100% faculty commitment to the plan," Boynton says. "In a moment of serendipity, the Mods was already developed by faculty at Beloit College five years ago, but never implemented. So the plan is in Beloit's DNA. The innovation allows students greater flexibility," Boynton says.