Higher number of students expected to return to campus for spring semester

Carmichael Hall is pictured on Oct. 18. Emma Boersma / The Tufts Daily

Tufts students, faculty and staff are beginning to plan for the spring semester, which should bring some changes to life on campus, but will be largely similar to the fall. 

Students were required to fill out spring intent forms by Oct. 30 to declare whether they plan to be on campus or remote for the spring semester. Although some responses are still outstanding, Executive Administrative Dean for the School of Arts and Sciences Christopher Helmuth said responses received thus far indicate a higher percentage of students may be on campus this spring compared to this fall.

“While we expect to have a lower number of undergraduate students enrolled in the spring overall as a result of February graduations (as we do every year), we do anticipate that we will see a modest increase in the number of students on campus,” Helmuth wrote in an email to the Daily.

Academically, Tufts’ plans remain largely unchanged. Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser reported a ratio of roughly half in-person to half remote courses for the spring semester in the School of Arts and Sciences. 

As of Nov. 3, about 63% of the spring courses in the School of Engineering have virtual lectures, with many courses supplemented by in-person or hybrid components such as laboratories or recitations, according to Jianmin Qu, dean of the School of Engineering.

Engineering faculty have generated creative solutions to accommodate remote students who do not have access to on-campus spaces and resources, according to Qu. 

“Some professors are shipping kits to students that provide equipment like volt meters, sensors, oscilloscopes or microcontroller boards, so students can set up their own labs and build and experiment at home,” Qu wrote in an email to the Daily. 

David Kaplan, Stern Family Professor of Engineering and chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, explained how virtual laboratory platforms allow students to conduct simulated experiments.

“It’s almost like a video game, and [the students] can follow through and make mistakes and learn from that along with quizzes and so on,” Kaplan said. “It’s not perfect being virtual to do a lab, it misses a lot, but it is enough now where you get a sense of the experiment.”

In the spring, students and faculty in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) will continue to work through the difficulties of providing hands-on instruction during COVID-19. 

“To address the challenge of access to supplies and resources, we assembled and distributed kits of supplies and equipment to students based on the courses for which they registered,” Nancy Bauer, dean of the SMFA, wrote in an email to the Daily. 

The SMFA has also built hundreds of new private studios, created an online studio reservation system and expanded access to studios in order to accommodate students, according to Bauer. 

Plans for the spring semester are not definitive at the moment due to the unpredictability of the pandemic, but Glaser does not foresee the spring semester looking very different from the fall.

“It’s still too soon to say. We all hope that the public health situation will improve and open up more possibilities in the spring, but we’re planning for a semester like the one we are in,” Glaser said.

The Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering and the SMFA are collecting feedback from students on the current semester, with the hope of implementing these suggestions in their spring semester planning. 

At the SMFA, Bauer hopes to improve access to tool kits and faculty support for students. 

 “We’re planning to provide art-making resource support this spring in a different way that provides students with more agency in choosing supplies and equipment that are relevant to their art practice,” Bauer said. “Faculty are planning ways to work one-on-one with in-person students to do more trainings in the studios.”

Bauer also noted that the SMFA will be offering new courses that address issues raised by the current racial justice movements. 

“We are offering new classes again in the spring that will continue to take advantage of the unique opportunities provided by the current situation, such as a course that intersects with the Public Art Audit that the university is undertaking as a part of its anti-racist initiatives,” Bauer said.  

Students’ social experiences have also factored into Tufts’ planning process for the spring. Qu shared feedback that he received from students on the difficulty of making personal connections amid the pandemic. 

“Some students reported feeling a sense of isolation this semester due to the need to maintain physical distance from fellow students,” Qu said. 

The colder weather is also expected to impact social life on campus during the early part of the spring semester, and the university is looking into making outdoor spaces available for students despite the cold, according to Joshua Hartman, director of residential life and learning.

Hartman shared some of the ongoing plans. 

“A group including the Dean of Student Affairs office, Facilities, Campus Life, Student Health, and Residential Life have been working collaboratively to identify outdoor locations that can be utilized with tenting and heaters in the colder months, and plans to implement several of these are well underway,” Hartman wrote in an email to the Daily.

He also noted that students are already able to gather indoors while complying with social distancing regulations. 

“Students can also reserve a variety of rooms in academic spaces on campus to gather in groups of no more than ten (to comply with gathering regulations), so it is our hope that those spaces allow another opportunity for getting together,” Hartman said.

In the classroom, professors are still making efforts to connect with students, albeit sometimes over Zoom. This has been true for the fall semester and will continue into the spring.

Kaplan has found these efforts to be effective with his students.

“I find [I] have a little more connection to the students if they can’t be here in person,” Kaplan said.

Sophomore Amber Li, who is completing the fall semester remotely, called for greater attention to students in different time zones as the administration plans spring courses. 

“I have a class that’s [at] 9 in the morning, which is 6 in [Los Angeles],” Li said. “We have problems with doing group projects. We have teammates from three different time zones, so [it is] really difficult to find a time that we can actually work together.” 

Bauer emphasized the importance of student feedback in planning for spring courses.

“In the studios, we are keeping a close eye on what’s working and what isn’t and trying to be dynamic in making adjustments to best support students while maintaining a safe environment. This is a constant and ongoing process and student feedback has been key,” Bauer said.


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