NVU plans spring semester schedule


Nolan Atkins

For the fall 2020 semester, Northern Vermont University committed to an accelerated semester model for its course delivery.
Given the likelihood of a continued need to monitor health and safety until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, there are already tentative plans to conduct the spring semester in the same accelerated manner.
“We’re thinking about a similar structure,” Provost Nolan Atkins said of the proposed plan for the spring semester, “removing the winter and spring breaks for the same reasons.”
Atkins also said that there were no plans to alter the end of the spring semester. This would leave the end of term and commencement dates the same, while the start date would likely be pushed back a pair of weeks to Feb. 1.
“We’re in conversations with the faculty about finalizing a calendar that would look something like that,” Atkins said.
The other institutions of the Vermont State College System are thinking along similar lines, and they too will likely consider having a shorter semester.
Considering that there are still state-mandated health and safety guidelines in place for the COVID-19 pandemic, it was decided that a conscientious approach was required to make sure that students could learn in a safe manner.
The largest factor in adopting a shortened semester model was to avoid the unnecessary risk of students coming back from their break after spending time in a COVID-19 hotspot. The concern was that students returning home for fall break could potentially be exposed at home or abroad and then return to campus and risk infecting their peers.
“Given the fact that safety is our highest priority, we moved to eliminate breaks for that purpose,” Atkins said.
So far, this delivery model has met with mixed reviews. Atkins explained that he has received feedback from faculty members that this shortened semester format has caused unique challenges, particularly time crunches and overlapping deadlines, especially with the lack of a mid-semester break for students and faculty to catch up and recharge.
Students have yet to weigh in on their experiences with the new semester format, but Atkins is hopeful that he will be able to receive that feedback and use that to inform the course that the university will take.
The longer than normal break time in-between semesters has also been examined and there is the potential for that extended time frame to be filled with a wider variety of courses that could be completed with a more ample timeframe.
There are no current plans to amend the winter term at present, but the provost said that there could be an allowance for more intensive courses that require a larger timeframe to complete.
The shortened semester model has proven to be a unique experiment on how the university will structure its schedules moving forward.
Atkins pointed out that there has been a debate centered around the existence of the mid-semester breaks and that this is an opportunity to investigate what it could be like without one.
There is no plan to make a shorter semester model permanent. The measure is likely to end once the need for pandemic health and safety measures have abated. Still, the data and feedback about the fall semester and the spring semester to come will be considered once they have been received.
Now that the fall semester is at the halfway point, the pros and cons of a shorter semester model are being investigated. Until the health and safety restrictions are relaxed, the likelihood of a similar spring semester is high.
This will hopefully ensure that the students of NVU and the other VSCS schools are kept as safe as possible while still ensuring that they will be able to continue their educations.