Just over two weeks ago, President Kathleen Murray announced to students, staff, and faculty that “the fall 2020 semester will primarily be via remote learning.”
I spent the rest of that Friday processing the news and finishing other work already in progress. On Saturday, I woke up to an email message and a Slack post from a student proposing a discussion of the news that same day. As department chair, I scrambled to formulate a response. Fortunately, I’d already thought a fair bit already about this possibility. Below, find my email to all CS students that Saturday morning, and the results of a Q&A session during our regularly scheduled Tuesday evening CS Tea.
Beloved students:By now I am sure you have read President Murray’s announcement of Whitman’s plans for online classes this fall. This will not be my last word on the topic, but there are a few things I want to get out there quickly.
- Your CS professors have been thinking and talking for months about how to teach the best online classes we can. The challenges posed by our new reality have made us rethink some of our most fundamental assumptions about teaching. While we will be learning as we go along, and of course we will all miss being physically together, I think that this fall our classes will be better than ever. In short, I’m excited about this fall, and I hope we can get you excited too.
- If you are currently at home or elsewhere, please seriously consider whether you should apply to return to campus this fall. Your professors want you to be in the best possible situation for learning. If you’re not sure whether you should apply, I invite you to discuss it with me or another professor you trust. (If you have reasons, we will probably encourage you to go ahead and apply.) If you can remain where you are but have concerns about your equipment for engaging in online classes or doing technical work, please don’t hesitate to bring those concerns to our attention. We should have a survey for you, or possibly a survey for each class, by mid-August.
- This summer, the CS faculty and our research assistants have been making extensive use of our departmental Slack to stay connected. We’ve recently created new channels including #acm, #askaprof, #industry, and #research. In the fall, we plan to use Slack for as much asynchronous communication as possible, to build a strong student-faculty community. If you haven’t been on Slack in a while, please reconnect! And if you aren’t yet a member, here’s the link to join.That’s it for now: Three things are enough. (This isn’t the Spanish Inquisition, after all.) More to come as we learn your questions and as our plans continue to develop.I know you have a lot to process amongst yourselves and with your families. I want to give you space to do that, but I also want to remind you that your professors are here for you when you are ready.
While I’m an atheist and not a Christian, in this moment I feel I can authentically join John in wishing you
Grace and Peace –
- We had several more students join Slack, though things are still pretty quiet there. We still have two more weeks before the semester begins, and August is prime vacation season for those able to take time off.
- Last I heard, on-campus housing has been offered to all students who have requested it. Whitman College Technology Services and Student Affairs are coordinating a survey of all students regarding their locations and access to technology. They are making survey results available to faculty for students in their courses, and addressing students’ technology needs.
- We continue to make plans for fall, now informed by the results of that survey. One challenge is accommodating students in East Asia and especially China. As the Science Divisions’s representative on the Academic & Instructional Technology Advisory Committee, I’ve started to collect questions on these points. I’m also coordinating discussions of plans within our department. I’ve started to publish my own plans in the form of Frequently Asked Questions.
And here is the result of our Q&A session at CS Tea, which I documented in realtime on Slack.