Dear Members of the Barnard Community,
As we draw to the end of the Spring semester, I would like to pause to thank this extraordinary community for its collective efforts to continue learning and scholarship while facing an exceptionally challenging academic year, one of the most difficult in Barnard’s history. That we have come this far, that we now begin to look forward, is a tribute to you all.
This coming summer and fall, we will examine the varied curricular initiatives of this past year to better understand what should be amplified, changed, or discontinued. Clearly, there is value and necessity to this exercise, as we continue to probe new ways to offer a rigorous, equitable, modern and flexible curriculum.
More than half of our courses this academic year incorporated new materials devoted to grasping the impact and consequences of the movement for racial justice, the hardship and unequal burdens of COVID-19, and the imperatives created by the climate crisis. Key among this expanded focus, the first-year curriculum added a required section to its fall semester entitled “Big Problems: Making Sense of 2020.” Constituted as a series of high-profile guest lectures and small-group recitations, the intention of Big Problems was to impel an awareness and exploration of the most challenging issues facing our society -- the movement for racial justice, the pandemic, and their intersections. Despite our best intentions to collectively examine these issues, student evaluations and input make clear that although many students found the lectures and topic focus beneficial, many also saw the course as either “performative” or insufficiently supported by the College, or both. We have listened to student concerns in multiple meetings and have identified common themes through the data we have compiled, and we will be pausing this course to reflect on what we’ve learned and to reconceive the course based on this.
In an effort to build on the inventory of new courses devoted to issues of inequality and racial justice, I am excited to announce the establishment of a on-going new fund to support innovative coursework, research, and archival projects devoted to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Fund for Innovation in Teaching Grants: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion will lead to creative new ways to change and grow our curriculum. Open to all faculty, the grant will encourage the continued development of both disciplinary and interdisciplinary courses and projects centered on topics of antiracism and structures of power. We look forward to receiving proposals from our faculty and incorporating their work into the academic program.
In addition to new courses, we adjusted our academic calendar and the modes in which we taught our courses in a variety of innovative ways. First, working with the University, we created a split-semester, three term model, introducing our first-ever summer term with opportunities for students to spread their coursework over an extended academic year. Second, in response to research suggesting that students often fare better with fewer coterminous courses in an online environment, we offered approximately 25% of our courses in an immersive format that permitted students to take half of their normal load over a concentrated period of time. While surveys suggest that students benefited from these courses and that faculty who taught them thought highly of the format, we recognize that a seamless mix of immersive and semester long courses requires a comprehensive examination of the canonical schedule and a more creative approach to class scheduling. While this format works well for the summer term, where nearly all courses will be offered in an immersive format in either Summer A or Summer B, we will spend the Fall discussing whether and how to create specific time-slots for immersive courses that embeds them more cleanly into our normal academic year course roster.
During the year we pivoted our courses to varied modes of instruction that were responsive to health and safety restrictions and that maximized the likelihood that students and faculty could meet in person. While the Fall semester was limited to remote-only instruction, the spring term has seen a renewal of in-person and hybrid courses. Nearly 45 percent of all courses planned some in-person component, either being taught in a hyflex format -- with some students learning on campus and others learning remotely -- or being taught predominantly online with specially scheduled in-person meetings and activities. And while we are poised to move back to an in-person instruction model this coming fall, we plan to continue to offer some courses in these alternative modes and will be examining what hyflex and hybrid teaching has taught us about content delivery and student learning.
Our varied curricular pivots and innovations required the support and expertise of many administrative partners. I am grateful to our IMATs and BLAIS partners, who were instrumental in developing our online learning platforms and in the development and growth of both hyflex and hybrid techniques. The Center for Engaged Pedagogy has done a tremendous job supporting Barnard’s varied academic innovations with workshops to explore teaching impact and effectiveness in varied instructional modalities, partnering extensively with faculty on adapting their courses to new formats and modalities. The Institute on Antiracism served as a year-long collaboration among faculty with varied disciplinary affiliations and ranks at the College who share a common interest in practicing and advocating for antiracism in the classroom and in the design of curriculum, major requirements, and the divisions of labor in higher education. Access Barnard led the effort to provide students with a single point of contact to request, propose, and apply for additional needs to support their educational progress throughout the remote learning process. Through the Supplemental Academic Support Application, students applied for loaned laptops, high speed internet equipment, funds for course materials, and much more. The Center for Accessibility Resources and Disability Services (CARDS), provided students with assistive technologies for online learning, worked with faculty to review syllabi for accessible content in online format, and provided general guidance to best serve all of our students in online instruction.
In the coming academic year, our faculty and academic units will undertake a rigorous analysis of the curricular innovations born of the necessity of the moment -- immersive classes, summer offerings, our first-year Big-Problems structure, and the opportunities offered by teaching in a hyflex mode -- and I expect our curriculum to evolve. The work continues and there is more to be done.
I wish you a summer of rest, health and peace, as we look forward, with great hope, to being together in our classrooms and libraries this Fall.
My very best,
Linda A. Bell