Seven weeks. Two classes. One term.
In light of COVID-19, Wellesley’s transition to a term system for Fall 2020 has garnered a mixed response from students and professors. While some enjoyed a quicker pace in classes, others voiced concerns over the sudden shift from semester to term. Now, as the second term picks up steam, student opinions still vary greatly in regards to the success of the new academic system in bettering their educational experience.
Molly Margaret Mann ’21 was one to express her appreciation for the new structure. As a pre-med student, the shorter academic grading cycle of the term system more closely mirrors that of medical school than the semester system, making terms more appealing to Mann than semesters.
“I’m planning to go to medical school after Wellesley, and most medical schools do month-long or six-weeks-long blocks of courses … and the same goes for clinical rounds when you get into your third or fourth year [of medical school],” explained Mann. “[Additionally,] in my neuroscience class, I’ve learned that … it really should be better for our learning when we take fewer classes at the same time.”
Yet other students do not share the same excitement and enthusiasm towards the term system. Kristin Hon ’23, another pre-med student, conveyed her concern that the term system is going too fast and worried that it will not prepare her adequately for graduate school and beyond as a result.
“I found it a little difficult to put that much information into a short amount of time [without] losing the depth that we would have originally had,” Hon said. “My biggest concerns are that we are not being prepared for future courses, [especially] people who are on the pre-professional track.”
The time difference that international remote students have also adds to the difficulty of keeping up with the structure of the term system. Seoyoung Park ’24, who currently resides in Korea, feels “overwhelmed” because of how fast the classes are going and expresses that the time difference makes it “so much harder.”
“I’ve slowly gotten more used to it, but I think for me the thing that’s been really hard is that I feel like there’s so much work going on outside of class,” Park said. “Especially for me, because the time difference is so bad, I feel like it’s really hard to focus and be able to talk to teachers.”
Despite its drawbacks, the term system still has its supporters. Wabil Asjad ’23 enjoys the flexibility and balance that the term system allots to her schedule.
“I … prefer the term system,” said Asjad to the Wellesley News. “It just gives me more flexibility over the classes I take and when I take them.”
Alicia Lee ’24, another international student in Asia, agrees with the sentiment that taking remote classes in a different time zone exacerbates the difficulty in managing online classes.
“I have been struggling with [having to] eat when nobody [else] is eating [and] sleep when nobody [else] is sleeping,” Lee said. “I feel very lonely at times because I don’t have anyone to eat with, study with, or do anything with.”
However, she remains optimistic regarding the ultimate success of terms for her.
“It’s a lot of adjustment to do,“ she said. “[But] the professors are giving me so much help and I am really grateful for that.”
Staff and faculty have also expressed mixed feelings towards the term system. Despite understanding the necessity of a term system due to the global pandemic, many have expressed uncertainty towards the fast pacing of the system.
For faculty such as Professor Richard G. French from the Astronomy department, the shorter and fast-paced term system presented numerous obstacles to the way he structured his course.
“From my perspective, being able to concentrate on a single course during a more concentrated period was extremely helpful but also extremely intense,” said French. “I think almost every waking moment during that seven week I was working on or thinking about that course … I had to leave a lot of things out even though extensively we met the same number of hours.”
Another of his challenges is overcoming the lack of physical communication and fostering a sense of community within an online community.
“I really tried hard to create a sense of communication and an introductory stem class, which is mostly non-majors and many students who were not very confident about science,” French said. “That’s hard to do if you have, as I will have this semester, 49 students around the globe in different time zones. That was a big motivation for me to revise the structure of my course so that I could get to know the students and they would at least get to know a few of their classmates.”
For others such as Dean Shanté Brown, Class Dean of First Year Students, the term system made lesser impacts on their work, but still significantly changed the way they sought out to organize the academic year. She instead attributes more of the difficulties of this year to the health precautions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m not disappointed in it nor am I overjoyed by [the term system],” Brown said. “To me, it doesn’t have a huge impact … I still work with first-year students. We still navigate challenges whether it’s homesickness, class work, academic challenges and celebrate personal wins, and we would do that too in the semester schedule. There are so many different ways you can approach operating a curriculum, but I really trust whatever decision the provost’s office makes in terms of it.”
Other staff members are trying their hardest to help students through the term system as well. Helen Wang, Director of Housing and Residential Life, reflected on the many ways Residential Life is trying to help students destress as much as possible.
“I think the term system has made less breathing room for students so we have to capture these little moments for them,” Wang said. “I choose to bring joy whenever I can, in whatever silly way we can. What I would like to see, if we’re going to forge ahead in the term system, is some really significant social, emotional, coursework or learning that helps students build up the sort of stress-tolerance to manage fast forward courses in potentially a remote context.”
After two terms in the fall, students and faculty are more aware of the challenges that the term system brings. With the Spring semester approaching, the unprecedented transition to the term system has brought the Wellesley community to reflect on the need for balance within the academic and social aspects of their lives.