Hello everyone, and welcome to our 14th Community Conversation addressing planning, response, and operations in the time of COVID-19. I’m Joe Helble, the provost of Dartmouth College. And I’m joining you from the Star Instructional Studio in Berry Library on this Wednesday, Sept. 30. I’m joined again by Justin Anderson, our VP of communications from another studio on campus. Justin and I will be joined today for a conversation focused on the academic side of fall term by Sue Mehrer, Dartmouth’s dean of libraries, who’s in her fourth year in that role. Lisa Baldez, a professor of government, and of Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies and the former director of DCAL, the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning. And Meredith Kelly, an associate professor of earth sciences, in her 12th year as a member of the Dartmouth faculty.
We’ll follow our usual format today with a campus update, live Q&A moderated by Justin, a conversation with my three colleagues. And finally, a chance for them to answer your questions directly.
As I sit here today, it’s hard for me to believe it’s almost October. We’ve had undergraduate students back on campus for more than four weeks. Students, local and remote, are now in their third week of classes and many graduate and professional school students have been busy for months. And in some cases, in the labs since the end of May. Mask and social distancing and the high availability of parking spaces make it pretty clear that this is not like any other year at Dartmouth, but for me, the campus truly feels alive once again, as it should on a fall afternoon. Today, I’d like to focus my comments on an operational update focusing on testing, some policy reminders, the conclusion of orientation for first year students, and the start of classes for all before turning to my colleagues for a discussion of their work and their teaching in the classroom and in the libraries.
First, I’ll turn to testing. We’ve now moved fully beyond arrival testing, which had all undergraduate students screened on arrival or day zero, on day three, and on day seven to the asymptomatic surveillance testing part of our fall term operating plan, which now has all students being tested weekly. Dartmouth has performed more than 16,000 tests on campus. 16,548 to be exact with a total of four positives as of this morning. A positive test rate of 0.024%. This information is reported on a revised COVID-19 dashboard, which can be accessed directly from the Dartmouth Together, comprehensive resource for campus operations during COVID-19 accessible directly from the Dartmouth homepage. We’ve moved from updating our dashboard twice per week to now updating it daily, including over the weekends if new information is available. Dates reflecting the latest update are displayed in each table, so the community will know it’s seeing the latest information.
Now, as a regular point of comparison, and one I had been pointing out since testing data began several weeks ago, most of our NESCAC peers in New England remain in the same range. With a positive test rate of 0.01% to 0.05% and total positives for most campuses, including ours in the single digits. UNH and UVM, with their larger populations, have rates that also remain relatively low at 0.16% and 0.05% respectively, rates that are far below those of many larger universities in other parts of the country.
Now, by way of comparison, the state of New Hampshire reports a 0.4% positive test rate for Grafton County and a 1.9% positive test rate for the state of New Hampshire. We need to remind ourselves the comparison of our college and university data to state data is certainly not a direct apples to apples comparison, because colleges and universities are testing asymptomatic individuals with high frequency. Whereas the general population is not tested with the same regularity. But I mentioned this because we stay abreast of the data overall to keep track of the potential for community transmission. And through September, it’s worth noting that the picture in New Hampshire and in the state of Vermont remains very positive, not perfect of course. We also we’ll need to remind ourselves that the ultimate goal is zero transmission and that hasn’t changed, but the signs to date for the campus in the community are strongly encouraging.
Testing itself underwent a transition this past week and thanks are due to many, but particularly the many volunteers at the student testing tent and the team from student health services or Dick’s House facilities, and also the division of athletics. The tent covering the front part of the Maynard Lot, where staff and volunteers processed over 1,000 students per day with virtually no lines through more than two weeks of daily testing has disappeared, replaced by just a few cars in the parking lot as I walked across campus this morning. A sign of a return to normal for the lot, but the relative emptiness of cars, a strong reminder that this is not a typical term.
Testing is now moved to the Leverone Field House, where it will remain for the rest of fall term as a consolidated location for student and employee testing. The Leverone facility just opened Monday morning. And I do understand that there were some lines as the Leverone testing facility first opened, but I’m told that the system adjusted. Because by the time I went for my test Monday afternoon, there were no more than perhaps four or five people in line ahead of me for the few minutes while I waited to be signed in and tested. Our expectation is that approximately 5,000 samples will be collected at Leverone for testing this week, a rate that we anticipate continuing throughout the duration of fall term.
Now for this week, Leverone remains the single testing site for all who are being tested. But within the next two weeks, we do anticipate opening a second testing center one day per week for those who work and study on the Lebanon medical research campus. The testing center will be in the Williamson building. Details are being finalized and should be announced sometime before our next community conversation two weeks from today.
As a reminder for all employee testing, all of those who were in student facing positions and all those who are currently authorized to work on campus regularly, five days per week are being tested weekly. Those employees who are on campus for a fraction of each week will be tested every other week. And those who only need to be on campus occasionally will be contacted by human resources for periodic testing. Again, to avoid long lines and the needs to wait, employees will receive an email to register for specific testing times and appointments.
Now, in addition to Leverone being the site of COVID testing this week, through tomorrow, which is Thursday, Dick’s House staff have been and will continue to be available to administer flu shots for anyone receiving their scheduled COVID test between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. For those who have not already received a flu shot and who aren’t scheduled for their COVID test tomorrow, our colleagues at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center are running a drive-thru by appointment clinic throughout most of the month of October. Details and sign up information are available to members of the Dartmouth community through the DHMC website. A reminder that Dartmouth employees can also schedule one through Dick’s House pharmacy or through their primary care physician.
Now, I mentioned this because simply put, we are encouraging everyone to get a flu shot this year, to help protect your health, to support community health, and to reduce the complicating risks of flu combined with COVID-19.
Now in terms of campus operations, overall, we remain at the middle-limited access level as indicated under the campus life tab on the Dartmouth Together COVID-19 website. As a reminder, this means that those employees whose job allows them to work remotely should continue to do so. For those who are working on campus, including those who may be permitted to return to occasional on-campus work and of course, for all students who are accessing the campus or living on the campus, a friendly reminder that the temperature self-assessment or TSA must be completed daily, or whenever you will be on campus, if it is not daily. Details, including the brief TSA questionnaire are accessible via the daily TSA button, which is displayed prominently immediately under the Dartmouth Together logo on our Dartmouth Together COVID-19 website.
Related to this, I need to again ask that everyone, students, faculty, and staff alike, know and follow the restrictions on travel, which are an essential part of our continuing to keep infection rates low and thus keep campus facilities operational. I cannot stress this enough. As task force co-chairs, Dr. Lisa Adams and Josh Keniston, mentioned in their email update to the campus sent just this morning, we continue to receive inquiries regarding travel outside of the local region. And specifically, the question of whether one can test out of the quarantine requirements.
I cannot say this clearly enough, you cannot. No one, employees included, may test out of the quarantine requirement after traveling outside of the designated area. Travel is strongly, strongly discouraged. And for those who do travel outside of their allowable regions, which differ for students and employees, quarantine for 14 days upon return is required. Yes, I recognize this as restrictive. We all recognize this as restrictive. But as I said, when we last met, we are asking everyone, not just our undergraduate students, to sacrifice some individual freedom in support of the greater community good. More information is provided in Lisa and Josh’s email this morning, including a link to the policy. And details can readily be found by following the links on our COVID website.
As also noted in the task force message to campus this morning, Dartmouth has partnered with EVERFI to offer a COVID-19 prevention course called “Staying Healthy in a Changing Environment” for students and for employees. Students have already been provided with the link to this training and faculty and staff will receive one later this week. Even if you are familiar with our policies and practices for reducing the risk of infection, it’s a helpful refresher and a reminder that this is indeed a global pandemic. A global pandemic, meaning that it affects everyone. And it affects some communities disproportionately, something that we cannot lose sight of. Those who are older and at later stages of life, those who are immunocompromised or may have other underlying medical conditions, and those who come from communities of color, where the infection rate and death toll had been disproportionate and alarming.
I think we all owe it to everyone to make sure that everyone who works and studies on this campus feels that we each have one another’s best interests in mind. We are each being attentive to community health. We are each doing everything we can to protect the health of the community.
To that end, one of the data sets that I continue to keep an eye on is the national data set as a reminder of the overall scope of the challenge that we face. So, I’m an engineer. I’ve said before. I love data. Humor me and let me take a look back at the past six months of data. At the national level, the infection rate, the number of daily reported positive cases grew steadily and rapidly from that point in March, when all colleges and universities and most businesses closed onsite operations into mid-April. From there, a period of slow but steady decline in infection rates followed, even some cause for optimism before climbing again substantially to a mid-July peak of more than 70,000 confirmed positive new cases each and every day. Well, this mid-July peak was followed by an encouraging decline in daily new cases through mid-August. Since then, things have stalled, and we have remained at a level of more than 40,000 new cases per day for more than a month since. I offer these as a reminder that we are not close to being out of the woods in our continued engagement as a community by engaging with the COVID-19 prevention course, by completing the TSA daily, by adhering to restrictions on travel, and continuing to mask and practice social distancing. All of this is important to all of us in our navigating through this successfully as a community.
Now, let me finish with some observations on our academic mission, particularly as things have gotten underway over the course of the month of September. Fall started, as you know, with a virtual orientation for first-year students and a two-week period of restricted mobility quarantine for all students returning to campus. This was asking a lot. There is absolutely no question this was hard. I connected by Zoom with several of my advisees who assured me that they were hanging in there and doing okay. I heard similar stories from many faculty colleagues who were checking in with their advisees.
Our student life staff undertook what I will call a period of creative experimentation, coordinating over 125 sessions of in-person activities for students during quarantine, ranging from different forms of painting to outdoor yoga and mindfulness in partnership with student wellness, to encouragement to explore the self-guided campus public art walking tour developed by the Hood Museum of Art, or working through our outdoor programs office participating in one of 56 sessions in eight different kinds of trips, all of which started and ended on campus. From Velvet Rocks hiking to Upper Valley on bikes to canoeing on the Connecticut, all designed for individuals with no prior outdoor experience, all designed to give students, particularly first year students, an introduction to what we and so many alumni mean when we refer to our sense of place that is so much a part of Dartmouth.
With quarantine behind us, I note that there are tents, a dozen of them, scattered about campus and available for gatherings, reservable, and to be used while observing the masking, social distancing and nine person limit requirements for unscheduled events or available to be scheduled for up to 25-person events, depending upon the space, of course, and space associated limits.
We now see classes fully underway for all students, be they resident on campus, in Hanover, or at home, wherever that may be. Faculty and staff doing creative things to engage all students. The professor of theater creating a radio drama with remote students. Peter, I would love to hear that when the term ends. Engineering professors teaching human centered design open to all or computer design shipping materials to students learning remotely so they can conduct the design and project assembly work expected as part of the course no matter where they are on the planet. A religion course on Shamanism, pairing students for discussion that involves collaboration across sections, putting a student from a remote section paired with one from an on-campus section to foster discussion and dialogue. These are just a few examples of the commitment to engaging students that we see from faculty across the entire campus. And we’ll hear more of this from my colleagues shortly.
And what do I see? I see students scattered on the green and around campus, more of them now that arrival quarantine is over for all. They’re socially distanced. They are wearing masks. I had the director of dining services, John Plodzik, who was with us just a month ago for a community conversation, tell me that even with last night’s rain, roughly 80% of our students still ventured outside with their meals, with the rest using our open table reservation system for dining in. And John said directly that the energy from the students was hardly deterred by the weather. What an incredibly encouraging sign. I ran into a few of our safety and security officers Monday night and just ask them how things were and how the weekend had been. And they said, “You know, the students seemed appreciative to be here and they were doing what we asked them to do. They were masking, they were social distancing.” All of this is so incredibly positive.
So, let me end by reflecting back on where we were a month ago after President Hanlon and I announced the decision to continue with Dartmouth’s plan to bring approximately half of our undergraduate student community back to campus for residential education this fall. At that moment, I said directly to our students that I and we, this campus community, believed in you, that we knew you recognized that this was indeed our moment to come together as a community and steer a path for Dartmouth through challenging times. We’re still a long way from our destination, but here we are a month later, and I could not be prouder of the way everyone, students, staff, faculty, and the local community, everyone have come together to make this work. So, to everyone in the Dartmouth and in the local community, let me simply say sincerely, thank you.
We still have much work to do. We know that winter is coming, but we’ll learn from the fall to help us chart our course through the winter. And we’ll speak more on this and coming community conversations. But as of today, I could not be happier with the start. Thank you to all who have helped make this happen.
Justin let’s turn to you and see if there are any questions that I can help answer.
Thank you, Joe. I think I do have some questions that you can help answer. I want to start with something that you said in your introduction about despite positive signs and how well the campus seems to be adapting so far that we are not close to being out of the woods. And I realize you mean that sort of on a universal or global scale, not just simply relevant to Dartmouth. Nevertheless, I think it’s an important reminder and it actually runs counter to a lot of the questions that have come in that are sort of wanting to know when we will loosen up restrictions, when will we think about increasing the number of students on campus. Is what we’re seeing now going to change the number of students who will be allowed on campus in winter term or in spring term? Likewise, might we start more in-class instruction as things are going smoothly?
So, I guess could you talk about that tension, about how we are a long way from being out of the woods? Yet at the same time, it seems like things are going well and I think that has people yearning to be able to do more than what we maybe had been planning on.
No, thank you, Justin. That’s a good question and I have different variations of that asked of me often by students, by alumni, even by some parents and members of the faculty and staff. Our approach has been to be data-driven, to pay attention to the situation on campus, to pay attention to state and federal guidance, to pay attention to levels of disease transmission nationally, and to recognize that there is great danger in becoming complacent. There is great danger in becoming overconfident.
And so, what does all that mean? It means that I too would like to move to a condition where we can bring more employees back on campus. I too would like to move to a condition where we can bring more students back on campus. But we are paying careful attention to what is working and what the guidance is and what we are seeing in terms of disease transmission rates increasing in areas that loosen their restrictions too quickly or loosen their restrictions in ways that we think may be too flexible given what we’re trying to do.
Let’s not forget that we don’t have 2,000 or 4,000 individuals, if you count graduate and undergraduate students, all living in single bedroom apartments by themselves and never interacting with other students. This is a community. And we know that the greatest risk to college campuses is community transmission when one or two individuals are hosting the virus, hosting the disease and gather in large numbers with their peers. The surest way to manage that is to keep the campus relatively de-densified. And so, we in the task force are looking at that very carefully as we think ahead to winter term.
As of today, our plan is for the winter term to look very much like the fall term. I think it’s very important that we navigate and complete the fall term successfully before we think about whether differences might be possible in winter term. But Justin, I’ll tell you that my objective is to help see this campus through this entire academic year successfully, with a positive experience for everyone, faculty, staff, and students. And if that means we’re going to be a little bit more conservative, that’s the direction we’re going ahead.
Speaking of winter term, Joe, there definitely is interest and curiosity about when there will be an announcement about what winter term will look like.
Yeah. In terms of classes right now, we anticipate it looking, as I said, much like the fall term. We are going to continue to give faculty flexibility in deciding how they would like to offer their curriculum. I’m an optimist, Justin, and I’m going to be optimistic that as more and more of our faculty members see us continue to navigate the fall term in a positive way, more and more members of our faculty will be open to individual or small group meetings with our students, will be open to offering hybrid sections of their classes that have in-person components for students who are here, who will bring students into their lab for independent research experiences or who will in fact teach fully residential sections on campus.
But the answer to that question is going to evolve and emerge over the course of the fall term. And the more we do to continue to navigate fall term successfully, I think the greater the chances that it will be even more in-person opportunity for students on campus in winter.
Joe, a question about masks. And before I get into the specific question, let me just say that just being on campus now over the course of the last couple of weeks, it’s incredible just how often you see groups of students outside exercising by themselves wearing a mask. It’s rare that you actually don’t see students and others on the green in Hanover not wearing masks. It’s really been impressive to see how seriously people are taking a measure like masking up that we know can make a difference. And I think it speaks to how seriously committed the students are to, once they are here, doing what they can in order to stay here and to really put the community first. So, I wanted to take a moment to give everyone, the students in particular, a shout out for really taking the measures that we have requested seriously.
I appreciate your noting that, Justin. It’s what the safety and security officers, first thing they said to me the other night. It’s what I notice. It’s what Sue Mehrer said when I ran into her, socially distanced, on campus a week ago. There was even a letter from a resident in the Valley News this morning, making exactly that point saying, “Kudos to use students. You’re wearing masks and being socially distanced.”
Yeah. It’s great to see. And I know that it will keep up as long as we need it to be the case. And I suspect that’s going to be for a while. The question though, that comes in, it’s a good question and it’s a hypothetical. It’s premised by saying there’s a little bit of confusion about the mask policy. If a student is in a basement of a dorm, say, doing laundry, and there was no one else around, they’re by themselves, they’re doing laundry, are they required to wear the mask? And the question comes from a place of concern. If that person is not wearing the mask in those circumstances, they are concerned that perhaps they would be reported, and they might be asked to leave campus. So, I guess we’re just looking for a little bit more clarity on exactly when and where to wear the mask. We know the why, but the when and the where.
Right. So, I’m going to offer this, Justin, as I have with other things as a word of caution and being conservative. I think there will be circumstances that students and faculty and staff will interpret as gray zones. When in doubt, wear it. So, my view and what I have said to students, faculty and staff consistently is if you are in a place that’s a public space and so another individual could easily walk through, your mask should be on. If you are in your individual room or an individual office that is yours and yours alone and someone would knock to enter, it is not a public space, it is a space that is reasonably thought of as yours, then you do not need to be wearing a mask. But if you’re in a space that could be public with other people passing through, wear the mask.
We ask that you wear it indoors and, quite honestly, we ask that you even wear it outdoors. I make a point of wearing mine when I walk across the Green, even if no one is around within 100 feet of me and I see everyone else doing the same. Part of it’s to build a habit. Part of it is to build reassurance in the community if anyone sees you at a distance that we’re all taking this seriously. And so that’s my answer to the question. Wear it whenever you’re in a public place.
Right. So, in this scenario that I relayed, if you’re in your basement by yourself doing laundry, you should still wear a mask because there’s certainly a chance that you could be greeted by others at any moment.
So, we have time for one more question. Not just when John Plodzik is a guest with us, Joe, we get a lot of questions about dining and about food and about when and about how much. But a couple of questions came in acknowledging that though summer seems to be extended, at some point it is going to get colder and what will we do when students can no longer eat outdoors, either in the tents or on the Green? So, either formally or informally, how are we going to handle just sort of the need to have more people eating indoors than is currently the case.
Yeah. And so, Justin, I’m not going to answer that question directly because the answer is, as of today, we don’t know. That doesn’t mean we have absolutely no idea. It means that we are evaluating different options. We’re learning from what works and what doesn’t work so well over the course of the fall term. We’re learning from how students are using the Open Table app to schedule in person or in facility dining, what hours are popular, how do they spread themselves out? Can we adjust capacity? We are asking questions about what other spaces we can make available. And we recognize that being able to solve that for winter term is critically important because there’s absolutely no question that both winter term, and if we were still operating in this mode, the start of spring term, we’re not going to have the flexibility to be outdoors the way we had fall term.
But we’re beneficiaries of starting with fall term where we can learn by observing student behavior. We can learn, as I said, from seeing what works and what doesn’t. And I know that John Plodzik and his colleagues, Josh Keniston as the VP for campus services and the taskforce co-chair, and the taskforce (members) themselves are very much on top of this.
We will have future conversations about winter term. I think we will probably not be ready to start discussing some of the options and details until late October, but I anticipate being able to provide a significant amount of detail before students leave in mid-November. So, thanks. Thanks for raising that question. It’s obviously an important one and it’s very much on our minds, not just on the minds of our listeners.
So, with that, Justin, sorry for not being able to get to more questions, but let’s turn to our guests this afternoon. So, I’d like to bring back Sue Mehrer, Dartmouth’s dean of libraries; Lisa Baldez, professor of government and of Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies, and the former director of DCAL; and Meredith Kelly, associate professor of earth sciences. Sue, Meredith, and Lisa, great to have you with us all as first-time guests in Community Conversations, and welcome.
So, I’d like to start with a question or two for Sue since I’m sitting here physically in the library. And the library, in many ways, is the nerve center of both teaching and so much of research that happens on campus. And I know that when we were planning back in May to reopen parts of our physical campus, one of the things that was most important to the campus was the reopening of Baker-Berry Library as a physical space. And also, the reopening of the capabilities that the library staff make available.
You, of course, would always remind me in the community that the library never went away. You were just doing your business in different ways. Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like in those early days when everything was being done remotely? Just quickly, how did you and your colleagues help support teaching and research at the beginning of the pandemic?
Yeah, very happy to. And thank you for inviting me today. Gosh, at six months, if you’re thinking about early spring... And, of course, at that point, almost all library staff worked remotely, but continued to work very closely with faculty and students, with our campus partners like DCAL and ITC, to really transition to online learning and playing our part in all of this.
So for example, in addition to co-teaching online, our subject specialist librarians work very closely with faculty and students to identify those types of resources that will be suitable for online learning and for online teaching, or find alternatives for resources that were temporarily unavailable, provide scanned and digitized copies available of materials from our own collections. So those were making sure that the resources were still available in that online environment.
But as you said, even though we closed our doors in mid-March, there was still a library staff present on-site on campus here. So that allowed us not only to offer the click and collect service that we had throughout this pandemic, so that the Dartmouth community here on the Upper Valley had the opportunity to get access to the physical collections that we made available through that curbside collection.
But it also meant that having staff on-site, we were able to scan articles or book chapters from our collections, again, to support teaching and classwork throughout the term, which I think was much appreciated. So, from the very beginning, we were part of that transitioning to online learning and finding ways to make that possible.
All right. Great. So, let me ask you a follow up question as we fast forward to where we are now. So just yesterday, I was walking across campus and I ran into Jason Lyall, who’s a relatively new member of the faculty, a professor in the government department. And I saw him walking past, and he had a stack of books with him. And, “I know where you’ve just come from.”
And even behind a mask, I could tell that he was just beaming. And he said, “You don’t know how great it feels to be able to walk out of the library with this in my hand and be able to go home and read.” So, with that as background, what kind of in-person service and access is available now? What kind of services are you providing to faculty, staff, and students?
Yeah. So, our in-person services are mainly in Baker-Berry Library. And as you know, from the beginning of July, we’ve been able to make access to the physical collections in Baker-Berry in the stacks available again to the community on campus. But, of course, now we are open again in Baker-Berry for studying, which is really great. And we’re there for throughout the week and will be throughout the term. And that is also much appreciated.
Throughout that time, we’re still providing the paging service, so the click and collect. You can come to the Berry Library circulation desk to pick up a stack of books that we retrieve for you. But also, services like BorrowDirect are coming online again, and interlibrary loans are coming online again. And I know that our faculty have been really waiting for that to come back, and that’s up and running again.
And there are a number of in-person services that we’re still providing that are prior appointment. There are many of specialized assistance that you would get through the Jones Media Center, or the Book Arts Workshop, the Art Library, and the Map Room. So those, you have to plan ahead a little bit and make an appointment.
But we are here to provide that in-person status and be as flexible as we can to work with you all.
Right, right. That’s great. And it’s great to see students taking the rules and guidance seriously. And staff, I know, certainly are. As I came into the library earlier this afternoon to access the media center, I had two of your colleagues make sure that I produced my ID before they would let me into the building. So, I thought that was a wonderful thing to see. So, thanks very much.
So, Lisa, let me turn to you and talk a bit about teaching this term. So, you’re teaching an Introduction to Latin America class, a class for first year students. And you mentioned to me the other day that this is, in fact, the first time you’ve taught a class online. You’re the former director of DCAL, our Center for the Advancement of Learning. And I know from conversations you and I had five years ago that you’re always thinking about how best to engage students as partners in their own learning. So, did you approach things any differently this term? How has it gone so far, and what are you doing?
Yeah, thanks. Thanks for having me. I think that the first thing I want to say is that I’m really grateful to Dartmouth, that we had the choice of how we wanted to teach. That meant a lot. And that put the ball in our courts in terms of what we’re comfortable with. That is not the case at all universities around the country. And so, I’m really grateful for that.
In some ways, having been DCAL director, in this context, has increased my anxiety about teaching. I have worked hard to incorporate active learning and all kinds of interesting pedagogical techniques in my classroom. And the transition was not obvious. I was a little worried about it. And I actually went to a couple of DCAL sessions over the summer.
And I started off one meeting by saying... I was talking about what I was worried about. And one of the learning designers, Adrienne Gauthier, she looked at me and she says, “We got you, Lisa.” And I just felt my anxiety just melt away, because one thing I know of a being director of DCAL is we have an incredible amount of support to support us in every aspect of anything we want to do in teaching.
So, I have worked with her, I’ve worked with Adam Nemeroff, I’ve worked with people at DCAL. This term, I’m working with Amelia Kahl and the Hood Museum. She put together an incredible project that we’re going to do on some art that we have in the collection on based on Cuba for the course. I ran into Sarah Song yesterday. I’m sorry, Sarah Smith. Sarah is the director of the Book Arts Workshop. We’re going to put together a project for my students who are here on campus in a couple of weeks.
And in some ways, I’ve been almost enchanted by things that are ... There’s things that we can do online that I’m not sure how we’d replicate it in an in-person classroom. I’m using a tool that I’ve learned about at DCAL called Hypothesis, which allows students to annotate a single text. And so, everybody’s annotations show up online in a single text.
And so, it’s kind of a collaborative reading process. And it allows people to literally highlight what they find important and have a conversation about it. And that would be difficult to do in an in-person classroom with an actual paper document. It wouldn’t quite work as well.
So, is that something that you think you could bring back to your in-person offering?
Yeah, I do. But it works really well online because students can do it on their own time.
And my students have also told me they really appreciate having recorded lectures because they can watch them on their own time, they can go back, they can speed things up, they can slow things down. So, it’s been a boon for them.
Yeah. That’s great. Thank you. So, Meredith, let me turn to you with a question or two about teaching, and then I’m going to ask a few more before we turn to our audience and see what’s on their minds. And I’m interested in how you’re approaching the fall term.
Because as I understand it, you’re teaching two classes, an introductory physical geology class that you’re teaching remotely. Or in fact, a fully online, not just partially online. And then a graduate level class that involves some field work.
So, if you don’t mind, just first tell me briefly about the remote class. Any particular challenges that you’re experiencing and demonstrating scientific concepts in a virtual environment? How are you doing that? How are you getting students to engage with the material in an online context?
Thanks, Joe. And thanks for having me here. So, the remote classes is an undergraduate class. It’s called EARS 1, and the title of it is “How the Earth Works.” So it’s a big, broad spectrum view of earth sciences. And I’m co-teaching it with Sarah Slotznick. And this is also similar to Lisa, my first-time remote teaching.
But luckily, Sarah and Ed Meyer, who’s also in our department, taught this class in the spring. And that was a first trial run through it. So, they really set things up. And we’re building on that and changing some things.
But essentially what we’ve done is flip the class. So, all the lectures are pre-recorded, and students watch them prior to the class meetings. And then we use class time for exercises, for data analysis, for all kinds of things, and then also discussions. And then there’s an additional required weekly three-hour lab session. OK? So, it’s interesting. Earth sciences is really inherently a hands-on field.
Right? We like to pick things up and look at them. And that’s one of the reasons why I got into this field, is because I love that. And that’s what, in a way, gets me excited about teaching and doing all this.
So typically, in an in-person class, we have labs where we have students investigate hand samples of minerals and rocks and interrogate these with different physical properties and learn about them. And then we actually take the students out into the field. We go on field trips around in the Hanover area and use that knowledge base of mineral and rocks to interpret the geological history of the area.
So obviously, we can’t do that. But I think, I hope ... really tried to get a different way of doing that remotely. So, we’ve had incredible support from DCAL. We were really fortunate to get one of the experimental learning initiative grants. And with that grant, we were able to purchase and send mineral and rock kits to every student in the class. So, each student in the class should now have their own personal set of 75 different minerals and rocks that we’re going to use through different labs and also in class exercises. So, they’re going to be able to scratch these things, and throw them in vinegar and see if they fizz, and all these tests that we can do to identify different properties. They’re going to be able to do that. And they do that in, again, in the lab setting or a class setting.
We also have been working with Ed Meyer and Jonathan Shipman to make our field trips virtual. And our initial effort to do this was to make them accessible. But it’s been a boon because now we can really use them in a remote environment. And so, we have great 3D imagery and videos of these field sites, and we can actually do virtual field trips.
Right. So, by virtual, you truly mean virtual. You don’t mean they’re going out in their own backyard wherever they are, and you’re guiding them with a GoPro camera on their head. You mean you have a virtual image of a specific site and that’s what they’re examining?
Oh, yeah. We have 3D images of the bedrock at the floor of Quechee Gorge, where we usually take them. And you can go in and actually tilt in a Sketchfab model. You can look at the different faces, and zoom in and out, and investigate minerals, investigate rocks; and really use those skills that you use learned with the kits to start interpreting geological history. So that’s exciting. And that’s been fun and fun to develop. We’re really working on that. So, you asked about how students are interacting, and debating, and discussing these?
Yeah, yeah. So just quickly, tell me a little bit about that.
Yeah, OK. So, one more thing. So, all of the classes are either exercises or discussions, and the labs are small groups. So, we have students mainly in small groups working on questions, on projects, on ideas. And they can discuss them in small groups. And then in class, we have a larger discussion.
I have to say, I was really worried that people wouldn’t ask questions in a Zoom environment with 60 people. And they do. I want to give a shout out to all my year one students. That people are unmuting themselves and asking questions. And we’ve been having a great discussion. It’s been super fun.
That’s great. Well, thank you. So, I’m going to turn to Justin in a minute, but I just want to ask one last question. And Lisa, I’m going to put this to you, particularly with Sue sitting here. One of the things you and I have spoken about is how the library and library staff have been particularly supportive and helpful to you in getting your class underway and pulling materials together. So not to put you on the spot, but this is an opportunity to ask how the library, and more broadly, how the staff community has been able to support your teaching. You’ve already mentioned the learning designers in DCAL, but what about the library?
I don’t know how I’d teach the class I’m teaching without the library. Every source that I wanted to include, every source that I needed is available online. And that makes it possible for my students in Mombasa, in Miami, in Los Angeles to have easy access to the texts. When there were things that I couldn’t find, people came together to find them really quickly. All the films that I have are online. It’s been really great knowing that I have that kind of support. And it’s been really easy as a result.
So, thank you, Lisa. And that’s really helpful, I think, as a reminder to all of us that 50 years ago, we thought of the library as a collection of books, and magazines, and physical resources. But it’s really become, for this campus, certainly, a collection of intellectual resources where we have specialists who are working in tandem with our faculty to pull together the resources that they need to deliver the content to their students. It’s one of the things that’s most impressed me about Dartmouth and the library community since I came here 15 years ago. So, thank you all. I’m going to turn to Justin now. I’m sure he has questions that have come in from the audience and he’ll take it from here. So, Justin, over to you.
Thanks, Joe. And since you ended with a brief conversation about the library, I’d love to start with the library. This is a question for Sue. Although, Joe, don’t go too far because you actually may be the person that would be most capable of answering this question. But the question is, when will the public be able to access the library again? And one of the reasons I wanted to ask this was what you said, Joe. I wanted to acknowledge to Sue that people want to come back to the library. And I know that she knows that.
But that is a question that we’ve gotten over and over, over the course of the last couple of weeks, is about access to the library. And so, I thought I’d put that question out there for Sue to address, or to Joe. But Sue, people are dying to get back into the library. And so, when can the public expect access again?
Yeah, it’s a different question to answer. And it’s great to hear that the public want to come. I think one of the best things about Dartmouth and the library’s been always this very open-door policy and open-access. Right now, of course, the health and safety of our Dartmouth community comes first. And it’s all part of the keeping the campus de-densified. So right now, the library services are for faculty, staff and students who are approved to be onsite, and therefore there’s an access system that prevents public to access. And we are really part of adhering to the Dartmouth visitor policy, which right now as a say does not invite visitors other than those on campus on site. Until that changes, we will adhere to the same policy, but perhaps Joe is better placed to answer when that might change. That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
Yeah. Sue, you’ve answered that beautifully. And all I would say is that given everything that you’ve just said, and given our determination to navigate this term successfully for our students, faculty staff and the local community, there are going to be things that people desire in terms of campus access that we are simply not going to be in a position to provide. And so, I don’t anticipate that changing over the course of the month of October. Might it later in November or December, I don’t know. It depends upon so many things, but certainly for the foreseeable future, meaning the next month, with apologies to the community we’re going to continue to operate in this restricted mode.
Lisa, if we can, I’d like to go to you and a couple of different questions have come in that I think would be perfect for you based on something that you said in answer to one of Joe’s questions, which is that you found some of some characteristics or aspects of teaching online to be enchanting, which was a great description. And I find myself wanting to hear more about what it is that has been enchanting beyond the examples that you provided such as being able to record lectures so that students can go back more readily. But in that vein, one questioner asks: Based on your teaching experience this term, what will you be adjusting going forward and then relatedly, could you envision teaching online or hybrid courses in the future regardless of COVID restrictions?
I think I could absolutely envision doing it. Again, I said we have lots of resources to support us in that endeavor. And I think one of the aspects of it, and Meredith alluded to this, is that I was worried about the dynamics of the classroom. Would people feel literally remote? And my experience too, is that the dynamics of what a classroom are is just different and it’s just different. It’s not better or worse, it’s just a completely different configuration of power within the classroom. And I think it’s in ways that have I would say even democratized the nature of class discussion. So, while I can see this moving forward, there is nothing to replace what it feels like to have an in-person classroom. And I’m grateful that I have an in-person component to my classroom, it’s just the dimensionality of getting to know students, of the flow of conversation, of the way that people ask questions, of the things that happen just before class and just after is really valuable. And I’m glad that I just have a small piece of that, but I’m glad I have a piece of it for right now. And I certainly hope we’ll have that in the not too distant future.
Meredith, if I could turn to you, you gave a shout out to the students in EARS 1. A questioner asks about advising. And so, I think that you said that there’s about 60 people in this class. How are you engaging with them individually in terms of office hours or when they have individual questions that go beyond the actual class time? Do they send you a Zoom invite, do you have open office hours? How is that working?
Great. OK, so I’m co-teaching this again. So, the way that I do it is I have a set office hour and I have a note that just says, “Anytime you need something, just email me and we can set up a meeting, or I can answer questions by email.” And I have to say, my office hours are more packed now than they were when I was teaching in person, and I feel like it’s just made it easier to pop in and say hi or ask a simple question, and it’s great. And so, I let students know if they want an individual meeting with me that they can schedule a time for that, even during office hours if they don’t mind having a couple of other students there, that we can all discuss a certain question.
I’ve had students just come by and say hi, and I think that was more during the quarantine period when people were just feeling like they wanted to see other people and were feeling lonely. And so, we just chatted about what Dartmouth is like, and it’s been really fun. I totally agree with Lisa though, there’s nothing that replaces the in-person classroom. You see someone walk in and you realize, “Oh, they’re on this sports team.” And you can chat about that, or ... I miss that. So, it’s not the same, but I do feel like I’m getting to know students and it’s still fun. And my co teacher has a different set up, so she has nightly office hours where people can schedule, and then she has, I think, a cookie and teatime where people can stop by and there’s more of a group setting. You try to offer a variety of things for people.
Lisa, it would be great to hear from you on that same question of advising. How is it that you are interacting with your students beyond simply the classroom time?
Like Meredith said, time open on Zoom. When I did first year advising and second year advising, because now we’re advising second year students, it was like a joyous reunion. It was like, “Hey, you’re here.” It was so great to see people and connect with them. There’d been so much anticipation about how this was all going to go, especially for first year students, some of which were really quite far-flung. So, it’s given people a mechanism to connect and it’s a metaphysical thing. “How is it that you’re connecting in this weird space that we’re all navigating?” But I think people are not taking things for granted and they realize how precious these connections are and really using them to the fullest.
Sue, if I could go back to you with a question about special collections and the question is about students, but faculty I suppose as well or staff, how can they access special collections during this period? Is that possible? How does that work?
Yes, it’s absolutely possible. I think I mentioned earlier that some of the in-person library services are by appointment only. So, students would make an appointment with Rauner Special Collections and be given a time and they probably ask what kind of materials they would be using. So, that’s for the students that are on campus, on-site at the moment for the in-person visits. But I also just want to say that in addition to that, the Rauner staff, we have also devised a system for streaming materials from their classroom. So, students, wherever they are, can interact with special collections and rare materials. So, there are different ways of accessing those materials, whether you are here or remotely, and we’re trying to remove as many barriers as we can to make access to those materials possible for students.
Meredith, if we could go back to you for a question and both you and Lisa just said that as positive as the online experience can be, that it’s also not the same as being with students in the classroom, in the lab, in the field. So, beyond that, which is hugely significant, what are some other challenges that you are facing by this new medium? What are things that have been difficult and how are you dealing with that or how might you adjust as you move forward?
That’s a good question. I think there’s a whole array of things from just the challenges of working with a remote environment, but as Lisa said, the support that we have through resources … those have been incredible resources for preparing that. I think the timing is hard. I spend a lot more time preparing materials, prerecording lectures. I spend the time pre-recording lectures and then the time in class, and I’m really finding myself triple checking things to make sure they’re absolutely clear. If I’m writing an exercise, if I’m writing a lab, if I’m writing an assignment so that the directions on the printed material are so clear so that if I’m not in that breakout group when that group starts doing the exercise or starts doing the lab and they have run into questions, they don’t get off on the wrong track from the get go. I think that’s hard. I think, yeah, that’s a couple things.
We have time for one more question and I want to go back to Lisa for the last word here and I’m sorry to come back to your description of being enchanted. We’ll bring this up when we bump into each other in town, we can talk about this more. It’s been a very short term so far, but what’s been the most pleasant surprise that you’ve experienced during this most unusual fall term?
I’m not sure what’s behind us, but there’s a level of ease in the discussions. This relates to that point about students feeling really comfortable asking questions, where in person sometimes it requires some structure to get people to ask questions. There’s almost like some threshold is lower for participation. It feels more casual, people speak more freely. And that to me, I think there’s something there about all kinds of almost invisible dynamics within the class. They’re invisible within the classroom, but they’re very felt, and those things are gone. And so, there’s a very different dynamic, and that’s what by democratizing the space. Maybe there’s an op-ed to be written in there.
I’ll call you about that later on. That sounds good. Thank you very much, Lisa. Thank you, Meredith. Thank you, Sue, for joining us and Sue, thank you for allowing us to use this space over the course of the last couple of months. It’s been great to be here and a pleasure to see you over the course of those many months. That is all we have time for today, so I’ll just go back to you, Joe.
Great. So, thank you, Justin. And Lisa, Meredith, and Sue, let me add my thanks to you as well for the discussion and conversation. And you’ve got me excited wanting to spend more time in the library again and wanting to take each of your classes. Let me just end with a quick comment, Lisa. Something you said right now at the end struck me. I’ve noticed as I’ve walked around campus over the course of the past month, that when I pass students just walking on the sidewalk, there’s a level of engagement that I don’t remember being there before. And I don’t know it’s because we’re all masked, and so somehow that makes us more comfortable as strangers to just say good morning and hello to one another, but there is eye contact in that brief human interaction that isn’t typical. And maybe I, and maybe our students, are just not paying attention to their iPhones in quite the same way.
I prefer to believe that we’re all just so happy and appreciative of being on a campus where we can physically interact with one another at a distance, after all this time of isolation that there’s ... I don’t know what it is, but it feels different and it feels special to me. So, as you write that op-ed, think about this aspect of it as well, because it truly has been, for me, an unexpected surprise and welcome.
So, thank you all. Thanks to everyone for joining us today, once again, for a community conversation. We will be back in two weeks and again, two weeks after that, in October with additional updates. We’ll begin to talk about our planning for winter term, as I alluded to earlier today. And as I promised last week, at some point in the next month, in the next four to six weeks, we will spend some time speaking about planning for Dartmouth’s fiscal year 2022 budget. Until then, stay well, everyone. Stay safe, have a good couple of weeks. Thanks for engaging with our students and our community, and we’ll see you soon. Have a good afternoon.