Winter term provides students with unique opportunity to take courses over winter break

Graphic by Alice Belaya

Tufts University has had a winter term in place for three years, in which students take credit classes for three weeks in January. With some international students not being able to return home for holiday break and some students wanting opportunities to continue their education, winter term has gained considerable attention. In the past, these courses have been unique to winter term and are not available to students during a normal semester.

“We had the campaign school, and some workshops on DISC about machine learning, and a workshop on nutrition about surveying a healthy diet that anyone could enroll in, which is different from anything in the fall or the spring,” Karen Mulder, executive director of strategy and program development at Tufts, said.

The campaign school, which was a five-day intensive program through the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, taught students how to be effective campaign staffers and how to engage in professional political affairs. The course brought students to all different campaign offices, where they could go and experience the presidential campaign live, Mudler explained.

With its unusual format, the winter term enables students to survey different fields of interest, like political affairs, and expand their education beyond the scope of their major.

“I think it provides a really unique opportunity for students to do coursework or types of courses that they might not be able to do in their normal academic schedules,” Mudler said.

Offering these courses outside a normal semester allows students more time for exploration. 

“There are lots of kinds of opportunities, electives and even off-campus types of education that are really difficult if not impossible to squeeze in when you have a full course load,” Mudler said. “I think the winter in its really compressed time frame allows a really quick way to access those kinds of either subject matter areas or off-campus opportunities.”

Many students have already expressed interest in a more advanced winter term.

“I feel like this gives me an opportunity to explore things outside of my comfort zone because I haven’t taken any political science classes but the skills in, say, a campaign management class would be applicable in other fields because its management, finance and other things,” Hannah Olson, a freshman studying economics, said. “I think that even if it’s not directly going towards my major, it would give me the skills that are still relevant to my major.”

Kate Guttilla, a junior studying environmental studies and economics, agreed with the benefits. 

“I have friends who have completed a winter term and all of them have had an incredible experience, and been able to take classes in areas outside their majors,” Guttilla said. “One of my friends took a cooking class that definitely inspired her. Also, a lot of my friends have used it as an opportunity to travel around to different sections within campus and also outside of campus.”

Guttilla is a manager for one subdivision of Tufts Consulting Collective that has been working with the Office of Strategy and Program Development to research possibilities about how a winter term may be expanded and improved. Her team recently sent out a survey to elicit interest from the student body about having a winter term. 

“What we found through the survey is that there is a high level of interest,” Guttilla said. “Over 90% of students are interested in a winter term.”

One thing that may make winter term so desirable is that it may provide them with just enough time to complete desired coursework without the stress of having to juggle multiple classes.

“I like the idea of a winter term because I want to pursue two minors and it would help me work toward those minors,” Olson said. “And I learn best when I’m focusing on one thing. So being able to focus on just one thing for three weeks will help me learn that content effectively.”

Olson also noted how winter term would provide her with a way to keep busy and motivated during an otherwise quiet time for students.

A winter term could also prepare students for their spring course load. 

“[Some students want to] use this time as an opportunity to fulfill academic requirements or take some sort of preparatory class that could potentially prepare them for a potentially more rigorous class in the spring semester,” Guttilla said.

Mulder said that unfortunately, the decision of what courses or programs can run is not always up to the administration.

“The extent to which that becomes possible depends on the compatibility of individual courses,” she said. “Faculty are really invested in how they structure their curriculum and staging readings and that sort of thing, which can be really important to them.”

Currently, Tufts is working to expand its winter term to encompass more opportunities and courses that would be non-credit. 

“Right now we are focused on building out non-credit or very low-credit opportunities in fields that are complementary to but not the same as subjects that you would get during the regular term,” Mudler said. “I don’t think in the near term you will see any psych, chem or bio … We are starting with concepts that are one-off in a workshop or intensive format and less on replicating the fall, summer or spring.” 

Whether the winter term will be in person, online or hybrid still remains undetermined, but students are leaning toward a hybrid or asynchronous online learning platform.

“There is a lot of interest in a hybrid model for winter term, offering classes both in person and online,” Guttilla said.

As Tufts works to continue refining its vision for what a winter term will look like, Mulder hopes that students will reach out and share their own perspectives.

“If anyone has ideas about what they would like to see offered [in a winter term], we would love to hear about them in University College,” Mudler said. “[I am] so happy to be an advocate for what students are looking for.”


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