Preparing for Classes

4 April 2020

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Dear Parents and Family Members,

As the semester picks back up in its new format, I want to forward you a letter I just sent to all students in which I share some advice for the remainder of the semester. Please see the full text of that letter below. In addition to this student-facing advice, I have a few thoughts to share with you as well. As a parent of a recently displaced first-year college student, I know first-hand how unsettling this unexpected disruption can be. I hope some of the following ideas are helpful to you.

Help your student ask for what they need. Some students have returned to their family homes, some have moved in with relatives or friends, and others remain on campus. No matter what the circumstances, your students will be facing a shift in how they go about “being a student.” The truth is, most students have grown used to doing their work in a particular way—they have developed a routine that works well for them—spaces, times, and methods for reading, writing, and thinking. Now they have to start again, and identify a new way to do their work remotely. It might be helpful to ask them what space and time they think they will need in order to be successful. Be willing to be creative – maybe earphones will help if there is not a designated quiet area; maybe there is a signal students can use to indicate to others in the home that they are “in class” in order to minimize disturbances. Figuring out what best suits your student’s needs will be a work in progress. If either you or your students are looking for additional advice on how to maximize working conditions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Dean’s Office for guidance.

Recognize that your students have a lot on their plates right now. Students and faculty alike are having to rethink how courses will work and what success will look like in a remote format. They may be using online systems that they haven’t used before and interacting with professors and classmates in new ways. On top of this, they were suddenly separated from their classmates and social activities, and have had to grapple with giving up on a lot of plans they had for the remainder of the semester. They are grieving these very real losses, while also facing the grim reality that people they care deeply about may be ill, and our health care providers and first responders are stretched beyond their limits. This is a distressing time, and your students have every reason to feel overwhelmed. If possible, let them know that you understand that this is not the spring semester that they imagined and that it is ok to feel disappointed.

Encourage your students to ask for assistance. In the letter below, we remind students that they can and should take advantage of a broad range of Williams resources and support networks for the remainder of the semester. Students can find useful advice about how to move forward with remote coursework at the Academic Resources Guide to Learning Remotely page, as well as an introduction to online tools and platforms at OIT’s  Keep Learning page. Students can still make use of remote peer tutoring, and the Office of Accessible Education is open and ready to assist you in handling all aspects of remote learning. The deans are holding virtual office hours and are available to help students with challenges of all kinds. The ’68 Center for Career Exploration is available for consultations and guidance, as are the Davis Center, the Office of Institutional Diversity & Equity, the Chaplains’ Office and the Office of Student Life. While students might see some difference in the methods these offices adopt to support them, they will find the same level of commitment, passion and engagement in helping them meet their goals. TalkSpace  (an online platform that matches students with a licensed mental health care professional) is another resource that is especially well-suited to our remote status. All students need is their Williams email address in order to register and begin services immediately.

Please know that we are committed to providing your students with a meaningful academic experience. Thank you for everything you do to support your students as they begin this new chapter of their college experience. Most importantly, stay safe and well.

All best wishes,

Marlene Sandstrom

Dean of the College & Hales Professor of Psychology

________________________________________________________________

Dear Students,

As the semester picks back up in its new format, I want to let you know that I am thinking about all of you and wishing you well. I also want to share some advice….I hope some of this is helpful to you.

It’s ok to feel uncertain. Everyone is shifting into a different mode of teaching and learning right now, and it is only natural to wonder how your courses will play out for the remainder of the semester. Maybe you are wondering what active participation will look like in a remote model, how your work will be assessed, or whether you will learn what you hoped to from the course. Each of you has your own set of questions, and that is ok. Your professors have been working hard to translate their learning objectives into a remote format, and will explain what aspects of their courses are changing, and how. Despite their best efforts, they might not anticipate the specific questions you have, so please know that is ok to ask. Your questions are likely to be useful not only to you, but also to others in the class.

Give yourself permission to take new risks. Your professors are reaching outside their typical zones of operation in order to provide you with novel opportunities for learning and growth. We have removed letter grades in acknowledgement of the reality that everyone is trying something brand new. To the extent possible, take advantage of this opportunity to take some risks. Are there new ways to participate in class? Are there intellectual arguments you’ve wanted to try but have held back? Are there topics you’ve thought about diving into but haven’t tried yet? Now might be just the time.

Ask about acceptable collaboration, use of outside sources, and the honor code. As in-class assignments and exams shift into remote exercises, it is important to make sure that you understand the rules your professors expect you to follow. If you are not sure, please ask! Is it ok to collaborate with classmates? What sources of information (online and otherwise) are you allowed to use? Are some sources restricted? Are there strict time limits for exams/assignments? Try to make sure that you ask questions before assignments are due, so that you have the time and space you need to plan your approach in advance.

Student support resources remain available. Although you are spread out across the globe, we want to remind you that you can still take advantage of a broad range of Williams resources and support networks for the remainder of the semester. You can find useful advice about how to move forward with remote coursework at the Academic Resources  Guide to Learning Remotely page, as well as an introduction to online tools and platforms  at OIT’s  Keep Learning page. You can still make use of remote peer tutoring, and the Office of Accessible Education is open and ready to assist you in handling all aspects of remote learning. The deans are holding virtual office hours and are available to help you with challenges of all kinds. The ’68 Center for Career Exploration is available for consultations and guidance, as are the Davis Center, the Office of Institutional Diversity & Equity, the Chaplains’ Office and the Office of Student Life. While you might see some difference in the methods these offices adopt to support you, you will find the same level of commitment, passion and engagement in helping you meet your goals. TalkSpace  (an online platform that will match you with a licensed mental health care professional) is another resource that is especially well-suited to our remote status. All you need is your Williams email address in order to register and begin services immediately.

It’s ok to ask for what you need in order to do your work. We are keenly aware that we are about to enter unchartered territory, and that students will be engaging in course work in all kinds of different settings. For some students, the challenges will be somewhat minimal, while for others they will be considerable. Some of you might find it challenging to find a quiet space to work, or to carve out time for your coursework amidst competing demands. Perhaps you feel uncomfortable asking for the time and space you need in your current environment; this is understandable. To the extent possible, however, please know that it is ok to have an open conversation with those around you about what the weeks ahead will bring for you. The people you are living with (whether they be family members or others) have not had the opportunity to witness first-hand much of the hard work you have done at Williams, or what it takes to do it. Communication about what your academic work looks like, and how they can support you, will be helpful to all of you during this time. And if those conversations feel particularly difficult, don’t hesitate to reach out to a dean, a chaplain or a counselor via TalkSpace – they can help you figure out how to best communicate in challenging situations.

Be kind to yourself. We are living through a stressful, uncertain, and frightening period — people we care about are ill, our health care providers and first responders are stretched beyond their limits, and we are not able to interact with others in the ways that have traditionally buoyed our spirits. We won’t know the full impact of how this pandemic has influenced us until much later. But one thing we do know now is this: we need to offer ourselves and each other as much grace as possible during this period. With that in mind, keep your learning goals in view, try your best, and be good to each other.

All best wishes,
Marlene Sandstrom