The Academic Experience This Fall

Dear Undergraduate Students –

I hope you and your families are well, and you have had some moments this summer where you could rest and recover. Your faculty members and I miss you, and we can’t wait to welcome our newest students to our wonderful Wake Forest community. We are all looking forward to starting the semester in our classrooms and in our vibrant learning communities — that is the hallmark of Wake Forest. This summer has been a time of in-depth planning, and I want to provide you with additional information about Fall semester and the academic experience you can expect when courses get underway. These plans are two-fold: to put the health and wellbeing of our community at the forefront of our decision-making; and to provide a rich and rewarding college experience despite the circumstances.

Your faculty and I are eager for another year of great academic and experiential learning to begin, and we want you back with us in our classrooms and offices. At the same time, we must recognize that we are not able to operate as we have done in the past. We hope most of our students will be able to join us on campus this Fall, but we also know that some of you may not be able to come to campus for a variety of reasons. While President Hatch’s message last week, along with Our Way Forward, provides the overall roadmap for the Fall semester, my message today describes our commitment to providing a diverse selection of highly engaging Fall courses for all our students, whether you join us in Winston Salem or take your classes from home.

Because of the social distancing constraints created by COVID-19, our Fall courses will incorporate a range of modalities as we open the campus again. There will be a small number of face-to-face courses provided in socially distanced classrooms, labs and studio spaces. The remainder of our courses will be offered in versatile modalities. We have two blended formats: Blended Traditional that will combine in-person and online components with the assumption that all students will be on campus for the in-person sessions; and Blended with Online Pathway that will combine in-person and online components with online options available such that you could take the course fully online if necessary. We will also offer fully online courses, too. Please know that all our faculty will be incorporating the highest-quality virtual learning practices in these blended and online formats in their courses.

We have been very busy prepping for this new kind of teaching and learning so that we can deliver our signature Wake excellence in all course formats, and I am excited for you to see what your faculty have prepared for you. It has been an amazing two months at Wake Forest since Spring semester ended. Under normal conditions, your faculty would have finished grading in mid-May and then devoted their summer to research, scholarship and creative work, along with routine course prep. Instead, 80 faculty engaged in an intensive three-week course in May that exposed them to the very best practices in adapting teaching and learning for virtual delivery. They redesigned their face to face courses and offered them in Summer Sessions I and II. The evaluations for Summer Session I underscore that we are on the right path. Students rated their online Wake Forest learning, as well as their faculty contact and student engagement, highly. Learning in this new mode with Wake Forest faculty this summer has proven to be an overwhelmingly rewarding student experience.

This month almost all our College faculty are now engaged in an unprecedented, uniquely Wake Forest deep dive into exceptional teaching and learning modalities through our exciting Peer to Peer Learning Communities. The Center for the Advancement of Teaching, the Office of Online Education, the ZSR Library’s Digital Initiatives team, the Instructional Technology Group and the Academic Technologies unit in IS have formed a unique partnership to provide all faculty with online module training, reading groups, and synchronous training workshops. Anchoring all these efforts is a new program in which 68 faculty members are developing and facilitating 61 disciplinary-based, peer-to-peer learning communities for faculty across all our academic departments.

This program is designed to uphold Wake Forest’s powerful commitment to teaching regardless of modality. It ensures faculty can facilitate community, inclusivity, and engagement in digital spaces; and that all our faculty will know how to deliver learning excellence. For example, faculty are learning how to use digital tools like discussion boards and how best to increase student engagement in class, such as through Hypothesis, a new platform that allows students to discuss a text in the text itself. They are creating new digital assignments and curating a list of disciplinary resources for their students. They are mastering how to combine asynchronous and synchronous sessions and how to build active learning activities in virtual spaces. The point here is that our faculty are dedicating their summer to designing their courses in a way that ensures exciting, empowering, imaginative, innovative learning for all our students across all our disciplines. Would Wake faculty have preferred to teach in person? The answer is, of course, a resounding yes. But your faculty’s willingness to devote their summer to designing their courses with these new modalities par excellence speaks volumes about the unwavering Wake commitment to exceptional student learning.

The Office of the University Registrar has been hard at work updating the course schedule with these new modalities and assigning classrooms for face to face and blended courses. The course schedule will be available on WIN by Tuesday, July 14. Returning students will have the opportunity to review their schedule and make any adjustments July 15-21. Incoming students will be able to register for classes July 27 to July 31. Detailed information will be forthcoming shortly. I also encourage you to consult with your adviser or the Office of Academic Advising on any changes you would like to make to your Fall course load.

For our international students, please know that we recognize the challenges that many of you may face in returning to Wake Forest. You can read yesterday’s statement by President Hatch supporting our international students here. If you are experiencing any difficulties around your Fall plans, please reach out to iss@nullwfu.edu where dedicated staff from the Office of International Student and Scholar Services will assist you. Know that we are intentionally planning online and blended courses in part because we know that some students will not be able to return to campus in the Fall. Time-zone differences will likely present a unique challenge for classroom discussions and interactive exercises, but all faculty are receiving considerable guidance in developing and executing active learning techniques to accommodate the time-zone differences for students.

As critically important as the academic experience is at Wake, our strong ties to each other also make our community special. We remain committed to maintaining the vibrancy of the Wake community — one where our students learn, engage with others, have fun, and make new friends as part of the college experience. We are grateful to our partners in Campus Life for their considerable efforts to ensure we can continue to be a true community despite physical distancing demands. Because we are such a strong community, we know Wake Forest will always be a place where our commitment to each other, to the power of learning and knowledge, to social justice and equity, and to Pro Humanitate will prevail, no matter the challenges.

Sincerely,

Michele Gillespie
Dean of the College

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