WPI Announces Plans to Welcome Community Back to Campus for New Academic Year
With a watchful eye toward data and trends, WPI has announced its intention to welcome its community back to campus in the fall. While we expect to see more students, faculty, and staff on the Hill, not everyone will be able to return—for a variety of reasons. Which means the university had to get busy doing what we do best: problem solving. In order to provide the entire community with the flexibility it needs, the new academic year will be driven by science, and powered by technology, ingenuity, and personal responsibility.
“Bringing together a community in the midst of a pandemic requires careful thought and orchestration,” says President Laurie Leshin. “The health, safety, and well-being of this community remain our top priorities. Of course, it is also of paramount importance to help our students reach their education and career goals, and enable our educators, researchers, and innovators to do the kind of work our world needs now, more than ever. These are priorities worth balancing, so we are doing all we can to provide choices in how we learn, teach, and work.”
TechFlex: Highly Flexible Academic Options
Given that we don’t know how the pandemic will impact our community this fall—either individually or altogether—classes are being designed so that the experience is outstanding whether delivered remotely or in person. While the majority of graduate classes will be taught remotely, to the extent possible, undergraduate students will have choices in how they take classes—in-person, virtually, or a blend of both. WPI is calling this approach “TechFlex,” and it has been created specifically to suit our curriculum and our needs. TechFlex reimagines when, where, and how we teach and learn. It also allows us to continue our distinctive project-based approach. Additionally, TechFlex helps WPI adhere to state and university guidelines regarding safe social distancing and classroom capacity by limiting the number of people in classrooms, labs, and other spaces, thereby supporting the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff.
WPI has deep experience with providing students and faculty with options that best suit their needs, having offered graduate courses through distance, remote, and online learning delivery for over 40 years.
“This has proven to be an effective delivery method for many graduate courses," says Provost Wole Soboyejo. “Many have credited this flexibility for their successful outcomes, and now undergraduate students will enjoy the same flexibility.”
This pandemic remains unpredictable, and WPI must be ready to retreat or advance, based upon such factors as state and city phasing, increasing or decreasing cases, testing ability and results, tracing indicators, our ability to deep clean and procure PPE gear, quarantine and isolation availability, and, of course, the willingness of our community to work together to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Should the university need to shift gears, TechFlex allows for quick adaptation of course delivery—and even the academic calendar—to ensure continuity in coursework.
Toward this goal, some larger lectures will be delivered asynchronously, allowing WPI to accommodate students who are living and studying in different time zones. Smaller discussion and help sessions can be both in-person, and through online synchronous chat formats. Labs and hands-on instruction will still happen in person, but in smaller groups.
Technology-enabled learning has also been enhanced. Lecture capture technology has been installed in all classrooms, and faculty have participated in specialized teacher training and have reimagined and reworked their courses to be able to provide an effective and engaging delivery—whether in person or remotely. Additionally, students will have access to the educational, technical, and well-being support systems needed to be successful.
#WPITogether—in a Physically Distanced Kind of Way
Equally important, classrooms, labs, and collaboration/study spaces have been reconfigured to allow for proper social distancing. There will be new signage across campus reminding the community of new rules, which may include ways to enter and exit, to traverse through hallways, and to keep an appropriate distance. Cleaning protocols have been stepped up and hand sanitizer stations have been installed all across campus.
Required training will focus on health and safety, and at the end of the training, every community member will be asked to review and attest to a pledge committing to keep ourselves—and, in turn, each other—as safe as possible from the spread of COVID-19.
A New Schedule for the New Year
For graduate students, the semester runs from August 31 to December 11. For undergraduate students, A-Term runs from Monday, August 31 to Friday, October 16. The mid-term break has been shortened, but still gives students a long weekend before B-Term, which starts Wednesday, October 21 and ends Friday, December 11. Expecting that many students will want to stay home after the Thanksgiving break and finish their classes and exams remotely, the TechFlex approach will enable students to finish B-Term remotely after the holiday, should that be wanted or needed.
“We are doing everything we can to make this year a success for everyone, and we’re looking forward to welcoming everyone back in person, virtually, or through a combination of options" says Soboyejo. "Faculty, staff, facilities, IT, academic advising, and student support services are actively working together to map out course offerings. A more detailed schedule will be available by the end of July, and we will work to ensure that every student has access to the courses they need.”