The module system of classes was introduced the Fall 2020 semester in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to keep in person classes while still adhering to public safety protocols. This made Module A the first of its kind for many at Albion.
With the recent completion of Module A, many students and staff are reflecting on how the first half of this new semester went.
“It was new for everybody, but I think it accomplished what we set out to do with it, and that was giving students and the institution a little more flexibility if we needed it,” said Registrar Drew Dunahm, associate dean of academic affairs. “If the institution had to go online only, students wouldn’t have to be dealing with four classes at once to get through. That’s been something we’ve thought a lot about last spring when we shifted.”
Despite some of the benefits the module system offers, even before the semester began, the new system caused trouble for some students and faculty, who were required to quickly modify their courses in time for the fall semester. Some students had trouble registering for courses they either needed or wanted.
“I personally am taking a throwaway class simply because three of the classes that I wanted were in Module A,” said Tim Bullock, a sophomore from Dayton, Ohio. “Another issue that I had was that I was supposed to take a chemistry class, but it filled up.”
Upon returning to campus for the start of Module A, students, staff and faculty found that the shift from the semester system to the module system did create some unintentional benefits, however. One of these benefits comes from the pairing of First Year Seminars (FYS) with another related course for first-year students.
“I’m hearing from many faculty members that they have been able to create a real sense of community with their first year students that isn’t as possible with a single shared class,” said Interim Provost Ron Mourad. “They are able to see continuities and make connections between sections across the group. That’s really good.”
Another unintended consequence of the module system, in which only two classes are taught over a seven week period every week day, is the pace of learning. For some departments, this has improved the class experience.
“Some faculty are reporting that they have really appreciated the daily learning to reinforce skills and to keep track of student progress,” said Mourad. “That also has been an advantage from this system to some classes and some disciplines.”
For others, the advanced pace has negatively impacted their ability to learn. Though the number of classes is lowered, many are reporting an increase in workload.
“The workload for both classes was very demanding,” said Bullock. “I had pretty easy classes compared to some of my other friends who have science classes or have math classes, and they have to do exams and tests every week. That would be very mentally draining for me.”
This comes as no surprise to the administration, who has heard similar feedback from faculty and students alike.
“We’re certainly hearing lots of reports of stress from both faculty and students,” said Mourad. “There are certain subject matters where it’s helpful to have more time to process and let skills and ideas and concepts to ripen and sink in. The module process leaves less time for that kind of slow integration of new skills and concepts. That’s stressful.”
Another point of criticism in the pace of Module A is the lack of a reading day for final exams, which began on Friday. There is also notably no break between the end of Module A’s final exams on Monday and the beginning of Module B’s classes on Tuesday.
“We’re coming into the end of Module A, and we are going to go without hesitation into module B. That strikes many students and faculty that I’ve talked to as challenging and stressful,” said Mourad. “Many have articulated a want for at least a short break to regroup and take some mental health days to destress and refocus for the new module.”
The module system is intended to continue into the Spring 2021 semester, but it is currently unknown whether it will continue into the 2021-2022 school year. The college has no intention of keeping the module system once the public health situation no longer calls for it, however.
“There is no long term plan to shift to modules as the new normal from the public health situation,” said Mourad. “However, for the spring, we do plan the modules because all of the public health reasons that motivated the module system in the fall will still apply in the spring.”
The decision on whether or not the module system will be kept for next school year will likely be made during the upcoming spring semester.
“Certainly we’ll have to make a decision probably early on in the spring on what to do because we have to get ready for it, but I think we still have some time to go and see where things are,” said Dunham. “I don’t know where we’re gonna land on that. I hope as things transpire over the late spring and summer that we’ll be able to get back to what we normally have been doing.”
In the meantime, the college will continue to look for student input on areas to improve the module system in the future.
“I think there’s already been some conversations with students, staff and faculty about the kind of things they’ve seen and liking about the modules,” said Dunham. “We will be working on improving them because we will be sticking with them throughout the year so we’re going to work on improving the timing of things.”
Some potential areas of improvement the college is looking at for the spring semester include a brief break between modules, more consistent start and stop times in class blocks and the ability to rotate furniture for discussion oriented classes. No official changes have been made.
“We are taking faculty and student feedback and thinking about ways we might adjust modules in the spring to enhance learning for everyone,” said Mourad. “Those are some of the sorts of tweaks we are making‒not fundamental changes‒but tweaks for the spring Modules C and D.”
Overall for students and staff, however, the stress of switching to a new system was worth being able to come back to campus safely.
“At the end of the day, I think it was worth it to see everyone,” said Bullock. “I try to be optimistic about the module system. It’s an imperfect system for an imperfect world. I know they tried their best.”
In the meantime, students, staff and faculty will have to use what they learned in Module A to succeed in Module B.
“It works. Everyone is getting better at it,” said Dunham. “I anticipate that by next semester, we’ll all be pros at it.”