Peek into Fall Academics at the School of Arts and Sciences and School of Engineering

Faculty are planning new classes and revamping coursework to take advantage of virtual learning and give students a first-class academic experience

“We want to take advantage of the COVID moment to do something outside the box that will resonate with students and speak to our own work,” said Colin Orians, professor of environmental biology.

As the fall semester approaches, Tufts faculty are taking the lessons they learned in the spring, when COVID-19 shifted learning from in-person to online, and using those best practices to develop innovative new classes for fall. Courses across the Schools of Arts and Sciences and of Engineering will be available in in-person, virtual, and hybrid formats, in the event that some students won't be able to return to campus.

The Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, CELT, has hosted multiple faculty workshops and gathered numerous resources around online instructional practices to help instructors develop and share key insights.

As a result of the support and sharing that CELT facilitated, faculty across the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA), and the School of Engineering, will be incorporating new forms of teaching, such as team-taught classes, interdisciplinary classes, and break-out groups for large classes.

Within the School of Engineering, several initiatives are tailoring online and virtual instruction to the needs of the engineering curriculum. Jianmin Qu, dean of the School of Engineering, said those decisions build on lessons from March and April, when faculty had to quickly adapt to remote learning.

“School of Engineering faculty are agile, resourceful, and innovative—qualities that make them superb engineers as well as teachers and researchers,” said Qu. “The unexpected pivot to remote learning has leveraged their talents in ways we never could have imagined but it also greatly strengthened the school as a whole. We will continue to uphold our commitment to Tufts students as our faculty bring their best ideas to learning in all its varied models."

So much time and energy this summer is focused on implementing fall classes, agreed Ethan Danahy, E00, G02, G07 research assistant professor, at the Center for Engineering Education Outreach (CEEO) at the School of Engineering. “I’m in several meetings every week with other faculty comparing experiences from the past spring, discussing what has worked and what didn’t, and developing best practices to be shared amongst our course instructors for effective course redesign for this upcoming semester.”

He said students are part of these ongoing discussions by way of surveys, focus groups, pilot tests, and informal emails and conversations. “I love how passionate our students are about their own education,” he said, “and eager to help inform us as to what works for them and how we can best address their needs, working within the restrictions and limitations that our current situation has dictated.”

The SMFA has dramatically revamped their curriculum and approach. The studio arts curriculum will mix in-depth virtual instruction with options for students to receive supplies and equipment at home or to access studios. 

Nate Harrison, Dean of Faculty, speaks to this approach in the fall catalog, and professor of the practice Joel Frenzer also produced a short video preview:

“SMFA’s faculty and staff have worked hard to rise to this pivotal moment,” said Harrison, “to help artist-students navigate the complex, find clarity in confusion, and work toward fundamental equality amidst obvious inequality.”

Tufts Now reached out to various faculty at the School of Arts and Sciences, SMFA, and the School of Engineering about how they’re adapting instructional material and student interactions to maintain high-quality teaching experiences. This article is the first in a series that will focus on innovative learning.

Ethan Murrow
SMFA, Chair of drawing and painting

The biggest challenge of remote learning isn’t technology or supplies, said Murrow, who’s teaching two three-hour introductory drawing classes. It’s finding ways for students to connect, human-to-human.

 “I really want artists, particularly young artists, to understand that art making is ultimately about connecting with society and connecting with others. Art is all about a dialog with community, with society, with the things that we see happening out there in the world,” he said.

His introductory drawing course, taken mainly by freshmen, will include a correspondence-based project, where students send post-card size drawings as gifts to classmates. Students also may interview an elderly family member about their experiences over the last six months and how that connects to earlier moments in their lives.

 “Since art is all about conversation or instigating conversation, my goal has been to really think about how drawing can play a role in supporting that kind of environment,” he said. “We'll be doing all kinds of skill-building, too, like drawing observationally from objects that might be immediately around them. My main goal is to make sure that I keep them reaching out to people.”

Nina Gerassi-Navarro and Colin Orians
Professor of Latin American literature and professor of environmental biology, respectively
School of Arts and Sciences

Gerassi-Navarro and Orians are co-teaching a new virtual class called “Sustaining your drink: The culture and science of coffee, mate, and wine.” 

Though academically they may come from different backgrounds, Gerassi-Navarro said she has long championed the concept of interdisciplinarity, through which “we learn how to talk to each other so that someone in a different field can understand us.” 

This will be especially relevant in this class, where students will be able to take advantage of global connections and learn from experts in other parts of the world about sustainability and culture.

“We wanted to take advantage of the COVID moment to do something different and outside the box that will resonate with students and speak to ourselves and our own work,” said Orians. “How do we bring the globe to the students in this time of COVID? This might be an opportunity to allow students to take a virtual study abroad.”

Jennifer Burton, Maurice Parent, and Khary Jones
Professors of the practice, Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies
School of Arts and Sciences

This fall, these three faculty members will draw on the opportunities of the current situation in their separate classes (Burton teaches Directing for Film, Parent teaches Acting on Film, and Jones teaches Screenwriting), but also through inter-class collaborations.

“We’re building in regular opportunities throughout the semester for the students in the different classes to work with each other on film projects and assignments,” said Burton. For example, students in Directing for Film can choose scenes by Screenwriting class students and run filmed casting sessions for the Acting for Film students.

They hope these new opportunities of virtual connection will foster creative relationships between different groups of students that can continue to grow once they’re on campus in person.

In addition, Parent said students can expect more engagement with visiting artists. “I doubled the amount of contacts my students interfaced with when we went on Zoom. Working artists in the field are more accessible virtually, when they can take 30 minutes from wherever they are to engage with students,” he said.

Lauren Crowe
School of Arts and Sciences
Lecturer, Department of Biology

Crowe teaches one of the largest classes at the university: Bio 13. Last fall, it had 480 students. This fall, the lecture component will be held virtually, while some lab work may be in-person.

With a class that big, Crowe brainstormed ways to break students into smaller groups—for a few reasons. First, the class is mostly freshmen and sophomores, some of whom may not know many people at Tufts yet. And second, it gives students some accountability amid asynchronous learning.

“My goal is to help create learning communities where it makes the class feel a little bit smaller, and I’m doing this in a few different ways,” she said. First, students will utilize discussion boards online in groups of 10-15 people. “Students will see the same names pop up and get to know how their classmates are thinking about the material. Plus, discussion boards give everyone a chance to be heard, even those who tend to be quiet in class,” said Crowe, who is piloting this program over the summer.

She’ll also be forming small study groups of 3-4 students who will work on case studies together and meet virtually to go over problems and concepts. This fall, there will be no exams in Bio 13; however, there will be frequent short quizzes and other methods of academic assessment.

Renata Celichowska
School of Arts and Sciences
Director of Dance, Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies

Celichowska is thinking creatively about how to make both in-person and virtual dance classes as interactive and student-driven as possible. She said student feedback after the spring semester heavily influenced how she’s planning fall classes.

“Students were telling us they valued the movement more now than ever, even if they were in isolation or back in their homes,” she said. “So, we’re accounting for students in smaller spaces. Our ballet classes will have more technique, conditioning, and stretching components, for example. One team-taught class we’re excited to offer will be an amalgam of composition and dance on camera.”

Ted Simpson
School of Arts and Sciences
Head of design in the Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies

Simpson plans to welcome “an enormous amount of talent into virtual classrooms to make guest appearances” this fall to expose Tufts students to professionals working in the industry. Students can expect weekly virtual visits from professional designers, technicians, and producers and directors with experiences ranging from regional theater, Broadway and Off-Broadway, major network television, and film.

He’s launching a new team-taught class titled “From Page to Stage,” in which “students will go through the entire production process of putting a show together, from the early conceptual stages through the final strike,” he said. Faculty members will teach their areas of expertise as designers, technicians, engineers, and managers.

Back to Top