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Campus Survey: Think Spring!

 
 

We did a survey of the Trinity campus community to gauge how we are doing at the end of September 2020 as we work through this most extraordinary fall semester.  We are also starting to plan the Spring 2021 semester and so we need input on the framework for the schedule for what happens starting in January.  We invited all students, faculty and staff to answer a few short questions, and we will discuss the survey during our “Campus Conversations” on Thursday, September 24 at 4 pm on zoom.

At the outset, I framed the questions with the reality of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and all of the uncertainty and concern we are living with every day.  None of us — not me, not the faculty or trustees or staff or students — not one of us has ever lived through anything like this, and not one of us has all the answers.  We depend on each other now, more than ever, to make our way through this strange era in human history.  We are also coping with the utterly toxic political environment, the crushing effects of racial hatred and ongoing unaddressed police brutality perpetrated against Black persons, the harsh and inhumane treatment of immigrants and the concerns about DACA, and the ongoing economic, social and psychological consequences of so many chaotic, painful, upsetting events every day.  Within that chaos, Trinity strives to be a place of some degree of calm, a center for learning and understanding, an environment that honors knowledge and rational thinking, that cares for every person here in the best ways we can.  We’re not always perfect, but our campus community is united in our commitment to social justice and our obligation to work for the common good.

More than 215 students, faculty and staff responded to the community survey — thank you!  Here is the distribution of the respondents:

Q2:  In general, in terms of my classes, I feel the Fall 2020 semester is….

Interestingly enough, NO members of the faculty or staff responded “worse than expected” so those 20 replies are students.  Full-time faculty are the most positive with 59% saying “better than expected.”

Students have more mixed reviews.  While the large majority of all students replied “better than expected” or “about the same as expected,” 15% of CAS students and 14% of NHP replied “worse than expected.”

Some of the notable comments include:

Select CAS Student Comments:

  • At first, I thought the semester would be pretty manageable. However, I have now missed a
    couple assignments because it is hard to keep up with a few professors, especially since there
    are no reminders. Additionally, some professors have a lot of assignments due. While, I
    understand they want us to learn the material many students, including myself, are just rushing
    through assignments to get them done and not retaining as much information. I have to work
    twice as much to help support my family financially and there are constantly unforeseen
    problems I have to add to the budget. Meaning, it is even more difficult to keep up with so
    many assignments. Lastly, online textbooks have been incredibly difficult to navigate, thus
    making the completion of assignments even harder.
  • I am doing better in my fine arts and public relations class than I expected. I feel proud of
    myself for expanding my writing skills. Finally, navigating zoom has been easier than expected
    which is really resourceful and important in these uncertain times.
  • I feel that professors are doing great at helping us adjust to the pandemic and the new online
    system however it is still pretty overwhelming, I feel that I am not learning and I feel
    overwhelmed with assignments on top of everyday life. A lot of us had to work to help sustain
    our families and continue our school at the same time. There is a lot of pressure but I
    understand we are all doing the best that we can.
  • Zoom is incredibly draining which is what I expected from last semester. I didn’t have high
    hopes for this semester but I also didn’t have negative expectations either. The aspects that
    were challenge last semester are not exactly things that can change. Having to be in front of a
    screen for over an hour multiple times a day is just rough and doesn’t seem like there’s much
    way around that. Also being at home and having to juggle home and family responsibilities and
    having a time and space to study successfully is another challenge I expect and again there
    isn’t much that can be done for that either.
  • The semester has been greatly organized so far as far as the zoom meetings and the
    professors are very responsive via zoom and email and more willing to help with clarity.
  • You can tell professors are adding more work. I guess it’s their way of making sure we are
    paying attention in lecture, but most students take 5+ courses. They should take it easy and
    keep that in mind.

Select NHP Student Comments:

  • Adapting to an online schedule while dealing with children online schedule is a balancing act,
    especially when class times are nearly the same and there are computer issues on both sides.
  • Online instruction is going better than during the emergency iteration in the spring, but it is of
    course still nothing like in-person.
  • My classes are challenging and my teachers are very responsive in supporting with
    accommodations.
  • Virtual learning has many shortcomings. I find trying to focus on a computer screen for 9 hours
    in one day very stressful. There is that obvious lack of interaction with professors and other
    students since zoom netiquette has to be observed. Also, it appears to me that more paper
    assignments are given as a way of ensuring that students are spending the hours at
    “school”.The problem with that is that many of us are experiencing academic overload due to
    the pressures of learning in this manner and still having to perform optimally.

Select PGS Student Comments:

  • I had a lot of anxiety going into the Fall semester due to the university changing all grad school
    classes to online. However, to my surprise the zoom classes are going better than I
    anticipated.
  • My Professor encourages participation, verbally and via chat, which keeps me engaged. We
    have had at least one breakout session and a guest lecturer, which has helped to break up the
    monotony of simply sitting in front of a PC and listening to a lecture.
  • It’s harder because I am not on campus in the classroom. Because of the pandemic I will just
    have to push harder.

Faculty Comments:

  • I enjoy that the names of each student are online. It is difficult when they don’t use their
    camera. Teaching to a black square with a name is very difficult. It is helpful to see real, live
    students.
  • Students are participating regularly in our daily Zoom synchronous class sessions. I would like
    to “see more students” (actually engage with their cameras on) however, I understand the
    varying dynamics that may not make the feel comfortable turning on their cameras so as long
    as they continue to engage in the course discourse (has they have been doing) I expect the
    semester to move along smoothly.
  • Everyone is following social distancing and safety protocols. With the extensive preparation
    over the Summer, I was able to plan around the new regulations. This really helped in making
    the return to campus a success.

Q3:  What would you change about your Fall 2020 classes?

Greater flexibility, more awareness of competing priorities with families and work, less screen time, more asynchronous delivery — these are all the top suggestions for change as we complete the first month of Fall 2020.

Realizing that CAS students are the largest block of responders to the survey, we were curious if the survey results skewed in favor of students (yes) and how student responses compare to faculty responses.  We put together this chart comparing CAS students and all full-time faculty (note: the answer choices are all color coded by choice and match the chart above):

What we can see pretty clearly is that while students and faculty agree on some issues (more independent academic work outside of class sessions, 11% in both cases), there is a wide divergence on critical issues:

  • 60% of students want more flexibility in assignments while only 18% of faculty chose that answer;
  • 46% of faculty want more student education for doing online learning well while only 14% of students selected that answer;
  • 52% of students want greater awareness of the challenges of managing families and work alongside their studies, but only 25% of faculty chose that issue;
  • 40% of students want less screen time in general while only 11% of faculty chose that item.

Understanding where faculty and students have divergent perspectives and needs in the online learning environment is crucial for academic success.  We will be doing more with these topics in the weeks ahead.

Q4: Planning the Spring 2021 Semester!

The question read as follows:  For the Spring 2021 semester, we are proposing a schedule that moves back the start of CAS daytime and weekly classes from January 11 to January 25, and CAS classes will continue to be a mix of face-to-face, hybrid and online. To make up those two weeks so that we can still end on time, we will eliminate spring break (March 8-13 on the CAS calendar). Winter Term classes will extend over the first three weeks of January in online format only. Other classes for graduate and professional schools will start at the originally scheduled times and will continue to be online except those NHP labs and classes that need to meet face-to-face.

We received 215 answers sorted according to these choices:

We have read and considered all of the comments and suggestions, thanks to all for your robust engagement!!  While we will be discussing much more in our “Campus Conversations” and in meetings in the weeks ahead, I want to answer some of the most critical issues here:

 1. Concerns About Having A Semester Break in Spring 2021:  Yes!  Of course everyone needs a break… in taking out “spring break” for CAS we did not intend to have no breaks.  In fact, there are two breaks built into the calendar — President’s Day (February 15, a Monday holiday) and Easter, which comes very early in Spring 2021 (April 4).  Good Friday is already a holiday on April 2, and as we considered the comments, we decided to add Thursday (April 1) as well as Friday (April 2) to make a four day weekend.  These two breaks parallel fall semester breaks with a holiday this year on Election Day (November 3) and then Thanksgiving break.

A major reason for not having a week-long spring break, which is something many universities are doing, is to keep resident students on campus and to avoid dispersion of students, faculty and staff  to many locales while the pandemic is ongoing.  Once residents are on campus for a semester we ask them to remain here for the duration, and we generally ask our personnel to avoid traveling.  That’s also true this fall. Remember, DC has a list of “hotspot” states that require quarantine upon returning to DC, and we believe this will continue into the spring.

We are also fairly lenient about declaring a holiday when necessary, so we will keep an eye on stress levels and perhaps declare an extra “snow day” or two if it seems that a day off is useful.  The Farmer’s Almanac promises a lot of snow (!!) so perhaps we will have a weather break or two as well, it usually comes in February.  The schedule we propose has this necessary flexibility for additional days off.

2.  Starting Date: Some of the comments said we were not clear about why we wanted to push back the CAS daytime and weekly class start dates from January 11 to January 25.  There are several reasons for this:

a) We have no idea about the course of the pandemic but the likely dispersion of people around the holiday season may well require more safety precautions in January, including changing some plans; we would rather have more time to make adjustments and also to do screening for return-to-campus for those who can do so;

b) The week of January 18, 2021 has two major holidays:  that Monday is Dr. Martin Luther King Day, and then Wednesday is the presidential inauguration; while we encourage everyone to participate in these events as you wish, the schedule disruptions suggest that it would be better to start the longer semesters after that week; we are also concerned about the anticipation of serious disruptions in Washington around the inauguration, again, not something we can predict but we have to plan prudently;

c) Winter Term: we have offered this short one-week term for many years, usually the first or second week in January, and the courses are intensive day-long sessions all week with most students from the professional schools; this year, because all courses for the professional schools are online — and given so much student feedback about too much screen time each day — we are asking the faculty who teach in Winter Term to design the courses to occur in shorter sessions over a longer 2-3 week period; the deans will work with faculty on this.  Yes, there may also be some overlap with the start of Term 1 for professional classes, but we will manage this carefully.

3.  End of Semester Dates: Some of the comments asked why we simply cannot end the semester later.  The spring ending date is fairly constrained by expectations of students who are graduating — and the graduation schedule will be more complicated than ever this year — and also, we start the summer term immediately after Memorial Day.  So, there is not much “wiggle room” in the May calendar if we want to get everyone graduated and get ready for the summer term.

We are continuing to review all of the comments and suggestions and we will certainly take them into account as we refine the plans for Spring.  What is not known at this point is whether and how we will be able to do more “live” classes and other activities on campus.  While everyone knows that online will remain the primary modality, there is a sense of weariness with some of the requirements.  Several comments lamented the need to stay in pandemic mode and expressed a desire to get back to “normal.”  I understand this frustration!!  But we remain committed to the principles in the Reopening Plan that we crafted for this fall, chiefly, the need to protect everyone’s health and safety while also ensuring academic progress.  We also remain subject to the Mayor’s Orders and DC regulations about the pandemic, so while some of the comments suggested we could relent a bit, in fact, the city insists that we stick to the rules.

4.  Commencement:  I love graduation and know how important it is for all of our students.  So many of you commented on your desire to have some kind of “face to face” ceremony in May 2021.  Yes!  We will be working to create a plan that will have a “live” element if at all possible!  I’m going to devote a special survey and time later this semester to all students who are planning to graduate this year and will invite your ideas on how we can conduct small graduation ceremonies safely and still get the great satisfaction of that wonderful ceremony of achievement.

Thanks to everyone who weighed in thoughtfully on this question!

Q5:  Please rate your experience with campus services during the fall semester:

We asked you to rate your experience with campus services during the first month and the answers are above and also we received numerous comments.  We are sharing the comments with the managers responsible for the services and we appreciate everyone’s candor.  We will be checking back with the campus community about this kind of rating survey every so often so we can collect data across time to measure improvement.

Q6: What else would you like to tell us about your Fall 2020 experience or our plans for Spring 2021?

More than 120 responses to this question, so just a few samples here, but rest assured we are reading all of them and talking among the senior staff about how we can include the great ideas in our planning!

A CAS student writes:  My Fall 2020 is great, I would like for more flexibility with the assignments and due dates. It
gets overwhelm when you get all these assignments pile up. As well as, limiting the screen time usage.

A full-time faculty member writes: I know some of the behind the scenes work that has gone into preparing for Fall 2020 and I stand and applaud the persons responsible. Virtual learning is a new territory but I appreciate it because it keeps us all safe! I think flexibility around coming to campus should remain and no one should be forced to do so. We have no idea what Jan 2021 is going to look like, so I think we should bone up on distance learning tools and tips and be prepared for a continued online presence.

A staff member writes: Seeing as enrollment has been and retention have been favorable. I highly recommend the
administration compose a committee of advisors to discuss student success strategy(ies) to help retain students. Starfish is good but we should incorporate check-ins. Advisors should play a key role in facilitating these support strategies.

A member of the adjunct faculty writes: Never realized how stressful these times are and Covid restrictions are just one component. But thanks to Trinity center for arranging Zoom workout sessions – they have been a lifesaver!

A student in NHP writes: Thank you for taking the need to stay remote/virtual due to health risks so seriously. Thank
you also for the work you are doing to understand the needs of students with children of their own, and creating flexible plans to support them time and financially. These are steps that support justice. This is something that makes me proud to be spending my time and tuition at Trinity.

A CAS student writes: I think so far the format is good but having more asynchronous classes would be helpful to
those that have children at home and cant join at the indicated class. Due to children having classes online now too it would be a huge help but maintaining the resources around campus that we do have.

A PGS student writes: My experience enrolling into grad school has been an overall better experience and the staff is
very supportive during this time. I think Trinity should be more flexible with assignments going into Spring 2021.

A member of the full-time faculty writes: These are incredibly stressful times. I am sure, like everyone else, I am working every hour of the day, every day of the week. I will do everything I can to keep going and do a good job. I value the support and flexibility Trinity is providing. I am impressed with the students and their willingness to keep pushing forward.

A CAS student writes: Right now I’m in school and my nephew is also in school. We usually are in class at the same
time often I have to help him with his class. If they are not allowed to go back to school I wouldn’t be able to go to class because i take care of him. With everything going on teachers expect us to sit there for the full hour, but when you have kids in school, or if their school day end and they running around, its harder to sit in the class. My nephew is 3 with certain disabilities and I struggle finding the balance sometimes with helping him and being in class and being able to follow along and focus.

A full-time faculty member writes:  I think that the students have adjusted pretty well and when I have asked my advisees how they feel about the online environment they do not mind it but they would rather be face-to-face but at the same time they understand the need to be online to keep everyone safe and they would understand if they were online in the spring given the lack of a vaccine and the flu season.

BONUS QUESTION:  Should the U.S. Senate vote on a Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg prior to the November 3 election?

Lots of comments on this one, but will keep them private for now so we don’t start political arguments while we’re still trying to figure out the semester!

Thanks to the 220 respondents to this question and the more than 225 Trinity students, faculty and staff who participated in this survey!  If you did not complete the survey yet and want to add your comments, I will link it again in my next email.  And please join us for “Campus Conversations” on Thursday at 4 pm to discuss!  Watch your email for the link.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: president@trinitydc.edu