Supporting the hybrid and remote college academic experience at Wheaton

Unique and effective ways for teaching and learning have been our central focus with the start of the academic year.

by Steven Viveiros
Dean of Advising and Academic Success

After several months of faculty working on course redevelopment, staff engaging in technology implementation and the campus community developing the necessary support systems for your students, we have launched some 500 courses in the hybrid/remote teaching format this semester.

We know this new environment will require time for students to transition and adjust, so Academic Advising and the Filene Center, in partnership with our colleagues in the Wallace Library, the Marshall Center for Intercultural Learning and the Center for Social Justice and Community Impact, have joined together to form the Learning Resources Team to assist students in their academic success. Our focus is to ensure that all students, remote, residential and commuter, have the necessary tools and resources to navigate this semester, both inside and outside of the physical and/or virtual classroom, as well as having access to support for their individual learning, focused on ensuring their success.

As a primary task, it was important for students to understand the new teaching/learning model for this semester. To prepare students for the Hybrid and Remote Learning experience, we put together some pertinent resources on our Resources for Hybrid and Remote Learning page, created a detailed resource toolbox through onCourse (available only to students) and created some media content to teach students about the model. Prior to the start of the semester, we developed and circulated a video interview of Professors Kelly Goff and Christina Riggs-Romaine, facilitated by Dhruval Thakkar, a current junior at Wheaton. They shed light on this teaching/learning approach through a shared conversation questions and answers. Take a look for yourself! This 25-minute video explores elements of the hybrid/remote learning experience. If you have a moment, we invite you to also review it so that you can get a better sense of your student’s experience this semester. Your interest in and support for their academic success is an essential component of our joint partnership.

Maintaining strong connections
The Learning Resources Team also launched a weekly email, our “Tips on Tuesday,” which focuses on a particular topic relevant to the given period during the semester. For the last several weeks, critical topics included Time Management Strategies, Navigating Technology for Remote Learning, Making Connections and Getting Help from faculty, peers and services across campus. These tips are collected and available to all students at any time through the onCourse Learning Resources site. Your students should be on the lookout for more resources on study skills, test preparation, linking academics to career planning and how to maintain balance in the weeks ahead!

Connections are an essential part of a student’s success, and even more critical this semester with distancing requirements. Students are encouraged to reach out to faculty instructors for questions about their courses. Faculty are providing virtual office hours. For academic planning, students can seek out their faculty advisors to schedule an advising meeting using Google Meet or Zoom. All advising meetings are virtual this semester out of an abundance of caution, and as an advisor myself, I always appreciate a good video chat with a student as a way of making a more personal face-to-face connection. If preferred, phone meetings are available as well. Last semester, Academic Advising provided some insight on how advisors and students can engage virtually, putting together this blog post that was broadly distributed. For the fall 2020, we will share an updated post that will include critical advising dates and deadlines.

Evaluating academic progress
Both last semester, and again this semester, the faculty and campus community also considered the additional challenge this learning environment may create. We seek to maintain a space that allows students to focus on learning and eliminate unnecessary stress. To that end, the faculty expanded the use of the college’s Grade/Pass/Fail policy (under Academic Policies in the College Catalog), enabling students to take the edge off, allowing them to focus on learning and not the final grade should they choose to use the option.

In the Spring semester, many students opted to take advantage of placing the Grade/Pass/Fail option on one or many courses and once again, for the fall 2020 semester, the same extended policy is available so that courses with an earned grade of P (Pass) at the end of the semester can be used to satisfy curriculum requirements. This decision underscores our primary focus on teaching and learning, through creating opportunities for this type of individual decision-making and reducing the pressure on students. We know it can go a long way in setting them up for academic success.

Advising resources are easy to access
Even at a distance, Academic Advising and many campus resources and services are a click away. Take a moment to meet some of them on this Campus Service video. We want to engage with each individual student, meeting their needs as they surface or setting the stage for their planning and decision-making. Encouraging first-year students to connect with their MAP Advisor, or upperclassmen to connect with their faculty advisors are important steps you can take to guide them in accessing resources. As each student is also assigned a Student Success Advisor, we encourage them to reach out to our staff with any questions, especially if they don’t know where to start or who to turn to. We are here. Whether it’s connecting with virtual tutoring, getting the necessary academic accommodations, seeking post-graduate direction from a career advisor or seeking a place where they can connect with like-minded peers, we will help them find what they need.

Encourage students to check out the Academic Advising Instagram for tips and other important academic information as well, at @wheatonadvising. And always, our staff is available to answer any questions so feel free to reach out to us at advising@wheatoncollege.edu. We wish your students, and YOU, all the best as we all make the most of this unprecedented semester. While many lessons will be taught in the classroom, many more will be understood in the experiences we all share as we learn together through the pandemic. Be well!!