May 6, 2020: Community Conversations Transcript

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Joseph Helble:

Welcome, everyone to our second Dartmouth Community Conversation addressing our planning response and operations in the time of COVID-19. I’m Joe Helble. I’m the provost of Dartmouth College and as I did last week, I’m joining you from the Star Instructional Studio on a very quiet Dartmouth College campus in Hanover, N.H. I’ll be joined in our discussion this afternoon by Justin Anderson, our vice president for communications who will be with us from another studio here on campus and also, by three members of the Dartmouth faculty teaching three different groups of students in three different parts of the curriculum. We’ll be joined by Cecilia Gaposchkin, who is a professor of history, the incoming department chair of the history department and who for the past 16 years, has been the director of undergraduate advising at Dartmouth and therefore, in many different ways, touching the lives of every single one of our undergraduate students in that time.

She’ll be joined by professor Petra Bonfert-Taylor, who is a professor of engineering at the Thayer School of Engineering, a mathematician by background and training and who has been for the past several years, the director of the Dartmouth Emerging Engineers program to help encourage students from the full range of the Dartmouth campus to consider engineering as a professional, academic and career opportunity. And finally, we’ll be joined by professor John Lynch, the former four-term governor of New Hampshire, former corporate CEO and since 2013, a member of the Tuck School of Business faculty teaching a course on leadership in the public and private sector.

Our format today will be the same as the format last week and in fact, the same as the format every week in our community conversations. I’ll start by providing a brief update on some of the decision making that’s been taking place on campus over the course of the past week and also, some insight into the issues we’ll be wrestling with over the course of the next seven days. We’ll take about 10 to 15 minutes to walk through some of those issues and then I will take your questions and try and answer them live moderated by Justin Anderson, our VP for communications. Last week in our inaugural conversation in this series, we had a very engaged discussion. Nearly 80 of you submitted questions over the course of the hour and I’m looking forward to a similarly stimulating exchange this afternoon with both me and with our faculty joining us today.

Our goal here is to amplify what’s in the written communications that the task force and president Hanlon and I are putting out to campus describing our decision making process, provide an update as I said on what we’re working on and again, answer your questions as best as we possibly can. Last week, I spent some time describing the process that led to our summer term decision-making announced about a week and a half ago. We also spent some time speaking about the early planning for fall term and the process that we would use to make decisions around academic activities in the fall term. Those processes were amplified in the campus message that president Hanlon and I sent out to the campus two days ago on Monday of this week articulating a June 29 deadline for announcing our plans for education at the undergraduate level in the fall quarter of 2020.

In all of these, I mentioned last week and I think it bears repeating today that we are being guided by our core fundamental principles. From the beginning, the safety of the extended community, the Dartmouth community and the Upper Valley community has been our number one priority. It is students returning to campus. It is students living in our residence halls. It is students engaging in their work on the campus. It is faculty and staff who are working with those students and supporting them in their educational and research adventures, and it is the community, the broader community that exists with us and around us in the Upper Valley and who interact frequently with those of us on the Dartmouth campus. It is the community health of that extended body that we are focused on first and foremost and guided by in our decision.

Our second underlying and fundamental principle is to do everything we can to ensure the educational continuity of the programs for our students. Graduate and undergraduate alike, research and teaching alike. It is your classroom education, it is your independent study, it is your scholarly pursuit and it is your progress towards your degree, your education and your career goals that motivates our thinking and our decision process. Well, last week as I said and in the campus message that we released on Monday of this week, we announced that June 29 was the date by which we would outline our plans for the fall term. In reaching those decisions, we have three working groups or task forces that are helping us address various aspects of the challenge that need to be considered in moving forward.

There’s an academic working group consisting of the deans and associate deans of the schools with undergraduate students, so that would be the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the faculty of the Thayer School of Engineering, working with the relevant faculty committees in each of those schools on curricular issues, helping us think about how we teach our courses, what the right mix between remote teaching and learning and on-campus learning can be and must be once we have a sense of the number of students we can safely and responsibly accommodate here on campus in a residential community this fall and helping us then make decisions that will enable course registration to take place over the course of the month of July and prepare students for the beginning of the fall 2020 academic term.

There is a health working group, which I also announced last week and which was mentioned in the message that president Hanlon and I sent out on Monday, that’s a collaboration or a partnership between our colleagues at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and senior staff colleagues here on the Dartmouth College campus asking questions that will enable us to safely bring the maximum number of students back to campus. How do we think about testing and monitoring? How do we think about contact tracing? How do we think about preparing our facilities for isolation and quarantine. How do we help support the healthcare of students and faculty and staff, community members who may become ill with COVID-19 over the course of the academic year?

Then finally, our existing task force that’s been operating since early January will provide input, focus and recommendations on operational decisions that we need to make to support the academic program and to support the recommendations of the health care working group. Those groups are all operating in concert with one another and we anticipate, again, being in a position to announce our decision based on input from all of those groups by the end of June. Now, all of these operational decisions have budgetary implications. For spring 2020, I have mentioned and we have mentioned openly and statements that we have made at various venues on campus and in documents we have sent out to the campus, that we like all of higher education are facing a budgetary challenge in spring 2020 and beyond associated with our response to COVID-19.

We have said openly that our operations are anticipated to lose $50 million over the course of the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020 alone. In addition, we are projecting an additional $20 to $30 million in working capital losses. In addition, we are projecting a potential $10 million in operating losses over the course of the summer 2020 quarter now that that quarter will be taught through remote learning. We have made adjustments already to try and address this budgetary shortfall. We have announced that there is a hiring freeze on all staff positions through the end of December of 2020, a hiring freeze that may, if needed, be extended beyond the end of the calendar year.

We have announced that staff and faculty wages will be frozen at their current levels for the upcoming fiscal year for 2021. We have asked all of our leaders to reduce their spending on non-compensation items in the fourth quarter of 2021 to generate some immediate savings. We have indicated and announced that we will use all of a revenue stabilization reserve that was set up by president Hanlon when he arrived as president seven years ago to help buffer some of the impact in uncertain budgetary times such as these. Those will help get us partway towards addressing the budgetary challenge, but they will not get us all the way to addressing the budgetary challenge.

So over the course of the next several weeks to a month, I and the executive vice president for finance and administration, Rick Mills, and our chief financial officer, Mike Wagner, will be meeting with and working with the leaders of different schools in divisions to outline budgetary adjustments that will need to be made in many of the units across campus in the upcoming fiscal year. Those will help us weather the short term storm, and then we will begin the process of working towards FY ’22 and beyond budgets over the course of the summer. How will we get there? Well, we won’t be doing this work in isolation. We have several committees of faculty and staff and senior leaders who will be providing critique, asking difficult, challenging, and important questions and providing input that will help inform our decision making as we go along.

First and foremost will be the Dartmouth Budget Committee, which consists of deans, associate deans, vice presidents, budgetary faculty committee chairs from all of the schools where such committees exist and school fiscal officers who meet monthly and have been meeting monthly for a period of several years to help us work through longterm questions associated with the Dartmouth operating budget in both good times and in challenging times. We will continue to meet with different faculty groups across campus, including first and foremost in arts and sciences, the Committee on Priorities, which has historically been deeply engaged in helping the dean of the faculty of Arts and Sciences and the university leadership ask questions about budgetary priorities on campus, particularly as they impact our largest faculty, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and its programs.

In addition, we have recently formed a new group, which we are referring to as a council on priorities; a short term council focused on budgetary priorities for this period of time only that draws non-administrative faculty leaders from all four of the faculty bearing schools across campus from arts and sciences, from the Tuck School of Business, from the Thayer School of Engineering or from the Geisel School of Medicine, not to represent their schools in the process, but to bring the perspective of their schools to a conversation that helps us ask and hopefully answer questions related to budgetary decisions that we all need to make that are in the collective longterm interests of the Dartmouth educational and research experience. So there will be more to come on each of those fronts, more to come from each of those groups, more to relate from each of those conversations in the weeks and in the month ahead.

Those decisions will of course, be informed as well by decisions and input from the president’s senior leadership group, which consists of the deans and the vice presidents from across campus and of course, from president Hanlon himself as we work through these challenging budgetary questions and make adjustments to budgets as necessary for FY ’21 and potentially beyond. I won’t sugar coat this. The challenge that we face is not just the immediate, but it’s the uncertainty that lies ahead of us in the next fiscal year and beyond. What will the academic year look like? How many students will we be able to bring back to residential education on campus? How many students will in fact, choose to take our classes through remote learning and residential education? What will the financial aid needs of our students be given these extraordinarily uncertain economic times?

We recognize that so many families’ financial circumstances are changing and Dartmouth remains committed to meeting families full demonstrated financial need. What will that mean in terms of additional financial aid support that Dartmouth will need to generate and provide to support that fundamental commitment? Of course, we know that a large part of our operating budget is supported by both earnings on the endowment and by the generous contributions of our alumni and friends through the Dartmouth College Fund and the various schools’ annual funds. It is impossible to forecast at this moment in time, what philanthropic giving will look like during the course of the next fiscal year and that does have significant potential impact on our budgets in FY ’21 and beyond.

So as we think about that and those ongoing conversations, let me just return briefly to an update on some of the near term decisions that I announced next week that were in process being worked through with the task force and other committees and that will be announced in the near term. Last week, I said that we had a group within the task force that was working on the question of returning student belongings to students scattered across the country in the world, belongings that had been left behind when our students needed to return to their homes at the start of spring break. We anticipate making an announcement on the process to reconnect students with their belongings by the middle to end of next week.

Grading, I know, is a question that remains on everyone’s minds and I will again reaffirm the decision that summer term we’ll be offering a graded experience in all of our courses. The faculty committees continue to discuss the possibility of an expanded NRO or looking at other ways that grading may be offered over the course of the summer term. Details on that we anticipate announcing also within the next week to week and a half. Finally, the next near term decision that needs to be made and announced is the form and structure of what I am calling the June virtual ceremony, a ceremony to recognize [inaudible] ... virtual ceremony, a ceremony to recognize award and confer degrees to our graduating students. Details on that will also be released in the next one to two weeks.

Finally in the area of research, the next major series of decisions and recommendations and announcements will center around what I have referred to as the gradual, controlled and measured reopening of the on-campus research activity and experience over the course of the summer. First and foremost, let me say research has not stopped. I have been asked from time to time if the campus has been shut down and research activity has been closed. That is absolutely not the case.

Research has been continuing in different ways through remote venues, through data analysis, people working at home, through writing of scholarly manuscripts, through writing of grant proposals. The research activity at its fundamental core has been continued. But we recognize that there is laboratory work and on-campus work that needs to be done for research to progress in the ways that it is designed to progress. Over the course of the summer, we are going to begin to release some of the restrictions and enable some of our researchers to slowly begin returning to campus under very controlled, monitored and managed circumstances.

To give you a sense of how vibrant the research enterprise has remained, let me just take a moment to relay a series of conversations I had yesterday morning. I was invited by the dean of the medical school, Dwayne Compton, to join the chairs of the foundational science departments in Geisel for a discussion around research activity, teaching, budgetary questions, and our operations in this moment of COVID-19, particularly as they pertain to graduate research activity and the activity of the medical school.

The conversation and what I learned from each of those chairs in terms of activity that’s creatively continuing in their programs is just phenomenal. I learned from the head of the Micro and Immuno Department of his work, David Leib’s work on developing rapid COVID-19 diagnostics. I learned from the head of the Epidemiology Department, Margaret Karagas, about undergraduate students in this time of disruption remaining engaged by working with faculty to develop and provide realtime evidence-based responses to global partners of the Dartmouth Center for Health Equity about time-sensitive questions related to the current pandemic in their countries.

I learned from the new head of Molecular and Systems Biology who has been with us for just a few months. She recognized early on in her tenure as department chair, as she said, “Famous scientists are sitting around at home confined to working out of their home as well. They’re available. Why not tap them and bring them into our campus as guest speakers for a seminar series?” She started one up and she’s now getting 70 participants routinely engaging in conversation with some of the country’s leading scientists in her area.

I learned from the head of the Biomedical Data Science Department a whole range of projects that students, including undergraduate students, are conducting from home under faculty guidance, some of them as part of their honors thesis. A great example of being a student who’s developing AI tools for histological image analysis. The list goes on and on.

I also learned from the head of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center that recently within the past few days, Dartmouth’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center learned that it is one of only two National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers to receive multiple COVID-19 supplements to their core grant for doing research work to help address this epidemic.

Are we closed to research? When I’m asked that question, the answer is emphatically no. But there is a clear desire and a clear need to return to the bench. Again, last week we said we would slowly begin to return over the summer. The vice provost for research is leading a working group that’s developing plans. He sent out an email to principal investigators and members of the campus research community on Friday, followed by a message from the dean of the Guarini School, Jon Kull, to graduate students and post-doctoral researchers today outlining our plans to begin to ease restrictions incrementally starting in early June.

It will not be business as usual when our research community returns to campus. Research will be conducted only where it is needed and essential to be done on campus in a laboratory environment. There will be strict limits on the number of people who can be in a laboratory at any one time. There will be strict protocols, which will be followed including disinfection between stints of researchers in the labs. But the point is that we are now working forward with concrete proposals to return some research activity to campus. We anticipate announcing full details on that plan next week.

Let me end by where I started with just a reminder of the first principles that are guiding our decisions and our response to COVID-19. First and foremost, community in the broadest possible sense, health and safety guiding everything that we do. Second, educational continuity for our community and particularly for our students in both research and teaching undergraduate and graduate.

Let me finish with just a quick note on the teaching piece since the faculty will be joining me shortly. We’ll be speaking about their teaching and their teaching creativity and innovation to give you some numbers. A few days ago, I asked the deans of each of our schools, graduate, professional and undergraduate arts and sciences faculty, to give me a sense of how many classes they had had scheduled to be offered during spring 2020 term before the pandemic upended operations and how many they eventually offered.

The Geisel School of Medicine, turns out they’re offering every single class that had been on the books except for those that had a required clinical component. Everything in the MD and MPH curriculum except for those that had a required clinical component is being offered. Tuck School of Business, 42 out of 42 classes are being offered. Guarini School of Graduate Advanced Studies, every class being offered. Thayer in arts and sciences, only a handful of classes were canceled, only those needing specialized equipment or labs. Even many of those, particularly in engineering, have gone forward. In fact, one half of the engineering courses being offered this term by remote learning have a group project, a design project or a lab component associated with them.

In total, 94% of our scheduled classes have been offered as planned. 674 in arts and sciences alone, 884 by my count across the campus. That is a transformation that happened in two weeks time from the point where we decided that spring term would be remote learning to the point where the term opened. This is an incredible commitment of our faculty and our staff to offering our students educational continuity and quality educational continuity.

Our faculty will tell the story a little bit later this afternoon, but I will just end by simply saying I am extraordinarily proud of the way the Dartmouth community has responded and the numbers I think speak for themselves in terms of what they have brought to our students this term and what I fully expect and know they will bring to the classroom and the laboratory this summer.

With that, Justin, I’ll turn to you to see if there are any questions from our audience before we turn back to our faculty guests and engage them in a conversation around teaching.

Justin Anderson:

Thank you, Joe. Nice to see you today. In fact, the questions are coming in at a very fast pace. A lot of interest in the return to campus and when that will be and how it will happen. A lot of questions about the fall term specifically. I think this question sort of represents a lot of what I’m seeing. What are the considerations underway for exactly who will be allowed on campus in the fall?


That’s a really good and important question. It’s one I’m asked frequently, Justin. But before we can answer the who, we have to answer how many. The sequence is first take guidance from the healthcare working group, the Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Dartmouth collaborative partnership and the health and epidemiology working group that’s part of our core task force and take their guidance in looking at our facilities in looking at the existence of testing capacity in the area or testing capacity that we could deploy in the area, looking at state and federal guidance and their Dartmouth-Hitchcock guidance around monitoring.

Then looking at what it would take to have appropriately socially distant safe and secure students in our residence halls and have them use all of that information to give us a recommendation on the maximum number of students we can safely accommodate. Once we have that number, which we anticipate developing over roughly the course of the next month, then we need to think about mapping that against the curriculum and the different students who could potentially come back to campus. As you might imagine, that is an extraordinarily complicated and difficult process and difficult decision to make. Every student as a legitimate claim as to why he or she would benefit most from being here on campus this fall.

My hope is and would be that we can bring every student back to campus this fall, we have to acknowledge that for us and the vast majority of campuses in this country, that is not a likely outcome. We do expect to be operating in a hybrid mode. We do expect to be operating with less than full residential capacity in this fall. We do know that we have extraordinarily difficult considerations to weigh in making the decision as to who those students will be.


A related question, Joe, which I appreciate for its bluntness. What is the point in bringing back some students during fall term, but not all students? Isn’t it either safe or not safe?


That’s an interesting question. I don’t think about it that way as safe or unsafe. I think about it as identifying the conditions under which the maximum number of students could be safe. To pick an extreme, you can imagine that one student running in the woods by him or herself right now is outdoors getting exercise and it’s a perfectly safe environment. But 40,000 people pack together on the start line of the Boston Marathon is not a safe environment because of proximity and potential for transmission.

Between those two extremes, there is a number that through social distancing, through disinfection, through personal protective equipment, through constant testing and monitoring, the authorities believe, the public health authorities believe, and we believe that we can manage in a safe and secure environment. We don’t want it to be an all-or-nothing decision. We do think that as extraordinarily well as online learning seems to be going, there is benefit to our students in being members of a collective resident and of a community. We would like to afford the opportunity to bring as many of them back to that experience as quickly as we possibly can, but we will not compromise their safety in doing that.


In your open, Joe, you mentioned return to research activity at some point in the coming weeks. A couple of questions about the prioritization process around that and how we will determine the sequence in which departments will return.


All right. That won’t be done on a department by department basis. Justin, the return will be governed on a school by school basis. There are committees in place in each school led by the dean in each school and working with appropriate research governance in each school that will review applications or requests and determine which labs are able to open when.

It will be governed largely by either the potential harm to samples if they are not able to return to campus and take care of their samples, whether these are biological samples or particularly fragile samples, ice cores for example, that may have a finite lifetime and need to be attended to. Or by the absolute requirement that on-campus, in situ laboratory work be done for research progress to continue. It will be a prioritization process governed by those with scientific expertise in each area. Then within each laboratory when a PI is given the ability to begin bringing students back, she or he will be in a position to determine who comes back when.

It won’t be all or nothing. We can imagine easily staging students so that at different points in the day, different students have access. You can easily imagine instead of coming into the laboratory for eight or 10 or 12 hours, you come into the laboratory for two or three hours to do an experiment and then you return home to do a data analysis effort for the rest of the day while another student comes in and runs his or her experimental protocols. These are the kinds of decisions that the deans and the local leadership and then the PIs themselves will be making.


In addition to interest in the eventual return and the sequence of that return, there’s also a fair amount of questions about Dartmouth finances. Question, how much is in the budgetary reserve that you mentioned? How was it funded? What are ways that department needs can save further beyond compensation savings?


Several good questions embedded in there. The short answers are the resource stabilization reserve was funded over time by growth in the working capital pool. This year we are seeing losses in the working capital pool. Those therefore need to draw on that resource stabilization reserve for part of the step we need to take to balance the operating losses and the working capital losses in Q4 of FY20.

The process for ... That the process for taking steps to make other budgetary adjustments, we recognize that a lot of our costs are in personnel, but we want to be in a position where we give individual school and unit leaders flexibility to make decisions that are in the best interest of their program, consistent with a fiscal target that they need to reach. And so, what does that mean? Well, rather than saying to any one individual, that staffing must be adjusted or a program must be closed, or that you must stop all non-compensation spending. We want to give the local leadership, school leadership, division leadership the ability to step back, look at their most important near term needs, and make decisions consistent with institutional guidance and principles, to achieve their budgetary goals.


A number of questions, Joe, about summer term and grading. This one asks, “Why was the decision made to move to letter grades in the summer term from credit-no credit in the spring, when the format and method of delivery remain the same?”


Right. That’s a good question, and the reason we made the decision to move to credit-no credit in the spring, after lengthy discussion involving the faculty across both arts and sciences and Thayer, was that the transition was so abrupt and students were going home to such a range of unknown circumstances. Technological access was uncertain. The ability of the faculty to deliver their content and engage their students in deep discussion remotely, was an unknown. And we felt that at that point in time, it was in the clear best interest of the students to give them an opportunity, given the suddenness of the change, to focus on the core of their learning and not worry about how things might be graded.

We also recognize the importance of grading and evaluation, and at that point in time, felt it was important to say, unequivocally, that by summer term we would return to a graded experience. The goal being to learn from our experience over the course of spring term, and be in a position to offer a fully graded experience in summer term. Perhaps with some flexibility, like an expanded NRO, non-recording option. That is exactly the question the faculty are debating now. Grades matter. We know that grades matter. We also want to be in a position where we can provide grades that are based on an ability to truly evaluate student work, after they and the faculty have had this term to adjust to remote learning.

Now one of the things I said last week, and it remains true, is that our calendar has actually given us certain advantages, whereas most institutions face disruption in the middle of a semester in sending students home. We had to adapt rapidly, but we were right at the start of spring term. And we will, by the end of this month, have had the experience of a complete term, start to finish, know what works well, know where the opportunities lie to improve. We can take that experience and then layer grading upon that, on top of that over the course of the summer. And that’s the goal of the faculty, that’s the goal of the faculty leadership.


Joe, we have time for one more question, so that you can move on to your conversation with the faculty. This one is about summer. What are the options for students to change their D-plans? Particularly, is there an option to remove the summer residency requirement for the class of ’22?


Right. When we announced that summer term would be a residential term, we did indicate that students had the flexibility to change their summer term to summer of 2021, if they preferred to have the in-person experience a year from now, rather than a virtual remote experience this summer. We have not, at this point in time, adjusted the summer residency experience. There is still an expectation, as of this moment, that students will engage in a single residential summer term, as part of the Dartmouth experience.

So thank you, Justin. Thank you all for the questions and the engagement, and I’d now like to turn to our three faculty guests whom I mentioned at the very beginning. I think they will appear on screen shortly, in front of you and in front of me, hopefully, as well. Our three faculty colleagues are Cecilia Gaposchkin, professor and incoming chair of history, Petra Bonfert-Taylor, professor of engineering and head of the Dartmouth Emerging Engineers program, and John Lynch, former corporate CEO, former four term governor of New Hampshire, and for the past seven years, a professor at the Tuck School of Business. Welcome to all of you.

So I’d like to start by just putting a brief high level question to each of you, and ask if you could just briefly give us all an overview of the course you’re teaching this term, your objective, your learning goals, anything you’ve had to do to adopt your remote learning format. And Cecilia, I’d like to start with you and then I’ll turn to Petra and then to John. Cecilia?

Cecilia Gaposchkin:

Sure. Sure, Joe. Thanks for inviting me here. I’m this term teaching a first year seminar on Joan of Arc. The first year seminar program is run across the college, in different departments across the college and every first year student is supposed to, is required to take one. And they’re designed for students to have an opportunity to work within the disciplines, particularly on writing and research. So, bringing students into college level expectations and training about academic writing and academic research. And I’ve taught the Joan of Arc seminar a number of times.

It’s Joan of Arc is this remarkable 15th century woman, peasant woman who took on an army and led France to victory during the Hundred Years’ War, and ended up being tried and executed for heresy. So kind of remarkable story, which is a wonderful sort of historical nugget to work with, with a bunch of students. And I found appeals to first year students, because she was 17, 18, 19 years old during her extraordinary but brief career in the 15th century. And so, that’s the seminar. I don’t know, would you like me to talk a bit about right now, about the adaptation or shall we ...


Right, so just very briefly answer this as a yes or no question, and ... back to it. Is it different this term?


Oh, yes and no. It’s a different experience. The students are every bit as wonderful and every bit as engaged, but we’ve had to figure out how to do our work. And particularly the discussion, and community building and exchange component that normally comes in a 16 person seminar. These are small classes designed to function around discussion and the exploration of ideas, and having been recommended to go asynchronous for all the issues of access and internet and time zones. We’ve had to figure out new ways of engaging in that community discussion.


Great, so let’s hold that thought. I want to come back to it and speak about specifically how you’re engaging with students. So, Petra, how about you? Tell us about how you’re teaching a relatively large group of engineering students, in an introductory class in this new format.

Petra Bonfert-Taylor:

Yeah. Thank you for asking, Joe. The class I teach is introduction to scientific computing, which is an introduction to programming in two languages that are really important for engineers. Namely, C and math language. So two difficult languages that are very different from each other. It’s a required class off the engineering majors, and they get about 60% freshmen and then 40% that makes up others in that class during spring term. And the way I run the class, is I have students watch brief introductory videos before class, interspersed with formative quizzes to make sure the students understand and follow the videos, and which leaves us time for programming exercises in my synchronous class meetings.

That way we can support students in real time, where they need my support the most. We’ve developed our own tools that allow barrier free coding on day one of the class. So rather than having to go through complicated installation procedures, students on that first day in class with me, right there, right their first programs. I use breakout rooms now in this online format, with fixed student groups. So I send students into breakout rooms to work on coding assignments, in small groups supported by wonderful learning fellows. These are students who’ve taken the class previously, and do now support the learning in class.

So in these breakout rooms, students work on programming problems, submit their solutions, so I can see what’s what’s going on in their groups. And I call them back to the main room, I go over one group’s solution. We briefly go over some new concepts. I use an in class response system to gauge understanding, and then we repeat the whole process. And I’m supported in this with an absolutely fantastic team of teaching assistants and learning fellows, who constantly help me brainstorm and develop solutions to new situations and problems that occur.


Right, so let me just ask you one very quick follow up action, give me a question, a very brief answer. Why did you choose to use fixed groups rather than variable?


So our research actually shows that having students work with the same groups is more beneficial for their learning, and I especially chose it this term, because I wanted students to be able to connect to one another. In a class of 50 students, I have two sections, each of which has 50 students. In a large class, students can not really get to know each other easily over Zoom, and I wanted to provide a social component and allow students to have this extra network of students to whom they could reach out if they’re having problems, be it in class or problems outside of class, students who they really get to know. But there’s also research reasons behind it, that support fixed groups over flexible groups.


Great. Thanks. Thank you very much. So, John, I’d like to turn to you now. You’re teaching students who are slightly older. These are second year MBA students, as I understand it, taking an elective class focused on leadership. What an extraordinary opportunity in this moment in time. Tell us a bit about the class and how you go about engaging students through this mediated electronic format.

John Lynch:

Well, Joe, again, thank you for having all of us here. I teach a course called the CEO experience, the differences and similarities between being CEO in the private sector and CEO in the public sector, looking at the leadership styles and leadership qualities. So for example, we do Jim Kilts and the turnaround of Gillette; Harvey Golub, the turnaround of American Express; Knoll, the company which I ran. We also do, what was the turnaround of United Way? And Brian Gallagher, the CEO of United Way Worldwide, actually comes to class. We do the founding of Keurig, and the Keurig founders come to class.

But we also look at the public sector. We look at Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs, Rudy Giuliani after 9/11, the lack of leadership with respect to Hurricane Katrina. In terms of my class, I have 65 students in each of two sections, and we do exclusively the case method, which is all classroom discussion. And my goal for the course, is at the end I want the students to feel like they have the qualities and the confidence to be able to run any organization of any size, in the private sector or the public sector.


So John, if you don’t mind my following up on that, the case method is an interesting approach to take to this particular medium. And one of the things you’re looking for, is vigorous debate and exchange with the students. Zoom is a tough way to manage that. I think we’ve all sat in front of a Zoom meeting where we said something that we thought might be funny, and you’re greeted by a sea of faces with muted microphones and it’s hard to tell if you’ve connected. How do you engage the students in vigorous debate and discussion over Zoom?


It’s incredibly interactive. I do it a number of ways. I cold call students. So I see the gallery of all the students and I call on them, and I do it and I tell them I’m not calling on them to see if they’ve read the case. I call on them, because I want them to participate in the discussion. I’ll also ask for volunteers. When students say something different than somebody else might say, I get them talking with each other, debating the principle that is being discussed. I also, Joe, do a lot of role playing in my class, and I also do breakout groups. But, I do them randomly and I do them in part, because the students all know each other, Tuck being such a small school, and they’ve then gone through the first year together.


All right, thank you. So it’s an interesting contrast to what Petra was saying, about having pre-assigned breakout groups a minute ago. But I think to me at least, the takeaway message that I think about, and as our faculty might think about as we think about teaching the summer term, is in one case you’ve got students who are brand new and don’t know one another at all, and you’re looking to build those relationships and give them an anchor.

In your case, John, you’ve got students who’ve been in the program for a year and a half and they’re also at a different stage in their lives. And so, there’s the opportunity to push them a bit more outside their comfort zone. So, thank you. I hadn’t thought about that. Cecilia, I wanted to come back to you for the next question. I’m intrigued you’re teaching a writing course, a writing course where I understand, from our conversations previously, you have students engaging in a collaborative group based writing project. Tell us about that briefly, and tell us how you’re evaluating student writing.


Well sure, Joe. The answer is two fold. The first answer is that, or the first one set of assignments is exactly the way I would have done it in any other class, which is to say, they have a series of essays that they write based on primary sources that we’ve read. It’s the basic building block of history, and they learn to draw information, and make arguments and offer historical interpretations. And I tell them a bit about how this works, and they do papers, and I mark them up on an iPad with a pencil. I send them the PDF back and then we conference about it, just the way I would if we were on campus, and then they rewrite it and I go through the whole thing again. In that sense, the individual assignments are designed exactly the way they would be in a regular term. But in order to engage group discussion in this asynchronous format, we are also engaging in a collective writing project of writing a book together, or rather I should say they are. Joan of arc is the figure in medieval history about whom we have the most sources, the ... materials, much of which has been translated. So, the idea of, through Google Docs, which is a wonderful online way of working on collaboration, we’ve put together an outline for a book on the life and legacy of Joan of Arc and in fixed groups, precisely in order, the way Petra was talking about, to foster sub groups and community and areas of discussion.

They are drafting, writing, debating their ideas in the written format, editing each other, trying to integrate the material of other groups, writing sections, trying to work out their interpretation of this extraordinary figure from the 15th century. It’s the first time I’ve done it. It seemed like a mad gambit, but a really interesting project to try precisely because of the credit, no credit option. This term permitted me to do something a bit more creative or something that I’ve wanted to try for a long time, but without the anxiety on their part that the project design might result in a low grade for them. So, that’s actually, for me, really been interesting to see them. ... It’s remarkable, actually, to see the way in which they’re participating and debating on it, and it’s precisely because of the fact that it’s credit, no credit that I’m able to experiment with this project, this group, term-long project of research and writing.


Do you think this is something you might take as a project and bring back to your teaching on campus when we return to regular residential operation?


Yeah, great question. I’ve been thinking a lot about that. My core goal for this term of the students was that they had a good learning experience and so, that’s what I wanted. So, I didn’t want to make it too challenging. I want it to be intellectually challenging but I didn’t want them to worry about too many steps. I am learning so much about how to run this project. I certainly am glad for this opportunity to do this and learning both how to structure, how to intervene, when to give comments. This week, for instance, we’re scheduling, which is particularly difficult, group conferences with the groups about the portions that they’ve written and weighing in. I’m hoping... We’ll see how the book comes out, but I think it’s a great project and I would love to redo it or reimagine it, given what I’ve learned, for future terms.


Okay, thank you. I love the creativity of the exercise. I really look forward to hearing about how it ends up at the end of the term, so let me know.


We’ll send you a copy of the book.


That would be great. I would love that. Please do send me a copy of the book. Thank you Cecilia. So in the interest of time, I think I’m just going to offer two more questions, one each for Petra and John, and then I want to make sure we have time to turn to our viewers and see if there are any questions coming in from our audience. So Petra, one of the things I wanted to ask you is Thayer is doing, as I know and as we’ve discussed, some really interesting and creative things in the laboratory and design space. You’ve not let the remote learning environment in any way reduce the hands-on component of student education, which I think is extraordinary. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re doing and how you’ve gone about that?


Yeah, it’s absolutely remarkable and I don’t want to make it sound like I’m doing this. This is really us as a Thayer community family doing all these remarkable and ingenious things. So, for example, within a time span of four days, we sent out 300 FedEx packages bringing the labs to the students rather than the students to the labs. Let me just give you some examples of what’s going on in some of our classes.

In our Computer-Aided Machine and Mechanical Engineering Design class, for example, each student was sent a 3D printer and they’re not as expensive as you think they are. The first assignment for the students was to print parts to modify the printer. Just imagine that, and then it goes from there. In our Digital Electronics class, which is a lab class, each student was sent a digital oscilloscope along with a programmable circuit board, let’s put it that way. Students meet in small groups in that class to complete their lab assignments.In our Material Science class, students were sent kits, salt, rock candy, different types of materials, and they can also remotely control the slides on a microscope that’s been set up here at Thayer. In our Intro to Engineering class, now you’re going to be scared here, each student was sent a credit card, but don’t worry. There was a spending limit on each of those cards.


Yeah. As the chief budget officer, my heart just skipped a beat when you said that. Thank you.


Don’t worry, we’re on top of it. Students also remotely work with the machine shop. They meet with technical instructors and discuss the design of their projects, and then the technical instructors fabricate parts that the students need and ship them out to the students. All of our lab courses remain lab courses. All of our project-based courses remain project-based courses and all our small courses are remain small. All courses are supported by even more TAs than we normally supply for courses to really make this a fabulous learning experience for all of our students.


That’s fabulous. Petra. I hope that you or Alexis or someone at Thayer will be writing up a nice summary of this at the end of the term because I think it’s something that we can all learn from, and not just the Dartmouth community but the broader educational community that’s grappling with the challenge of lab courses over remote learning, so thank you. Last question. I’d like to turn back to you, Gov. Lynch. John, through your extraordinary career, you obviously have much experience that’s relevant to the kinds of issues your students are going to be grappling with in their careers, and so let me ask you in our final question, before we turn it to the audience, as a former four-term governor, you’ve ... . Leadership in all sectors is facing an extraordinary moment of challenge. How do you help your students learn from this and prepare for that inevitable moment that they will encounter in their careers?


Well, Joe, we tell them that inevitably, as you say, they’re going to be facing some kind of a crisis, whether they’re working in the public sector or the private sector. Interestingly enough, many, if not all, of the qualities which we’ve already discussed and are discussing in our cases will be applicable to these crises and are applicable to how the coronavirus is being managed. The ability to communicate, to communicate well, be consistent. The importance of being available and accessible, building together a team which will work well together. All of these qualities, which we talk about in our cases, are so applicable to what we see or don’t see today and what the students will have to do when that crisis faces them.


Great. Thank you John and thanks to all of you. Justin, we have about five minutes left in our hour and we’d like to turn it over to you to see if there are questions coming in from outside.


Thanks Joe, and in fact there are. This question just came in actually. Petra, in reference to something you said, some of the teaching elements Petra spoke of are well-supported learning tools, i.e. formative quizzes. Historically, there’s been a bit of pushback on using these as part of the course development. Might there be more interest in including these across the board even in a post-remote environment?


I think that’s a fantastic question and one I’ve actually thought about, I believe we’ve just made a leap ahead, something like a 10 year leap ahead, in our instructional strategies and in the learning we’ve all done about what works and what doesn’t work in the classroom. We still have a lot of evaluation to do to really get the student voice into the picture and find out what works best for our students in all of these different situations, but I completely agree that we might make tremendous progress in many new ways to integrate novel ways of teaching into all of our classes, be it remote or on campus.


Thank you. A question came in addressed to Gov. Lynch. What world leader in history, public or private sector, is your favorite model?


Well, I’m currently reading a book on Winston Churchill, and he did an amazing job preparing England for World War II. So, because he’s top of mind right now, I certainly would look toward him as somebody who embodies a lot of the leadership skills which I teach in my course.


I’m wondering, based on that, are you integrating the topic of COVID-19 into either your curriculum or into any of your assignments over the course of this remote term?


We do. We talk about coronavirus all the time and what various governors are doing. Who’s doing it well, who isn’t doing it well? What are the qualities that we think are reflective of great leadership? Gov. Cuomo comes to mind in terms of somebody who we all think is doing it well. So, it’s constantly a subject which we refer to in the myriad of cases which we review and discuss.


Thanks. I have time for one more question. First Cecilia, what kinds of, quote, tricks and techniques have you been implementing in the remote format to help keep the students engaged?


There’s two kinds of engagement. One is that, like Petra, I’m using more quizzes than I would normally because history is so often rooted really in reading sources. I’ve asked them to show their mastery, what they would normally do in class, through discussion board discussions, through our learning management system, Canvas, and through quizzes. I’ve tried to make myself as available as possible. We do, it’s asynchronous in that there’s no required time together, but I’ve tried to permit or rather schedule as many opportunities. There’s one period on Friday at 3:30 when everybody seems to be available and then I open up for office hours and individual meetings and group meetings as much as possible for engagement. I find Zoom works fairly well for discussion with about five or six people and that’s been pretty successful.


Thanks Cecilia. That is about all we have time for. Before I go back to Joe, I just want to thank everyone for joining us and sending in your questions. We didn’t get to all of them. Hopefully, we’ll have time next week to get even more questions. In the meantime, please consult the COVID-19 websites for lots of information and resources. You can get to that off of the Dartmouth homepage, and please tune in next week. Joe.


Thank you Justin, and thanks again to professors Gaposchkin and Bonfert-Taylor and Gov. Lynch for joining us this afternoon. It’s really great for me, it’s a treat for me, to have a chance to hear a bit more about the teaching you’re bringing to the remote classroom this term and the creative things you’re doing to engage students in their learning. That’s all for this afternoon. We’ll convene again at 3:30 next Wednesday for our next in the series of community conversations, and I anticipate, given the work of the task force and the working groups over the next week, that we’ll be in a position to comment in much more detail on some of the operational decisions that will be made and will be then announced over the course of the next two weeks. So until then, stay well and stay healthy everyone, and we look forward to joining you next Wednesday at 3:30. Thank you.

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