When registration opens next week, Iowa State undergraduates can choose from 55 courses in an accelerated 25-day winter session that opens Dec. 14 and concludes Jan. 21 with final exams. The eight weeks that separate the end of fall semester and the start of spring semester in a pandemic-altered academic calendar prompted university leaders to pilot a short but intense -- and optional -- winter session. Students will be limited to one course or four credits, and all instruction will be online.
"The idea is to provide coursework so students can continue to make progress toward their degrees," said Ann Marie VanDerZanden, associate provost for academic programs who co-chaired the winter session planning committee with Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) dean Beate Schmittmann. "This is a pilot. We've never done a winter session at Iowa State, so we'll find out what kind of interest there is."
She noted students may enroll up to Dec. 16. Once they're home and have a chance to recharge from fall semester, a one-course session might appeal to some.
As with so many academic "firsts" during this pandemic, VanDerZanden said the planning committee tackled a lot of questions in a short time span.
"The five subcommittees have done an incredible amount of work. Standing up an entirely new winter session in a compressed timeline is a real testament to their skills and commitment to this project," she said.
When planning began in September, the six undergraduate colleges -- all of which are represented in winter session -- received a few guidelines about the kinds of courses that would be good candidates for the short session. Considerations included:
- High enrollment
- Meets a university requirement (general education, diversity) and is useful to students in a variety of majors
- Offered previously in an accelerated summer format
- Popular spring course (offering it during the winter could alleviate some of the pressure on spring sections)
LAS associate dean for academic programs Amy Slagell coordinated the selection process in her college, which is offering 40% of the winter courses. She said department chairs were "the big heroes" who prepared lists of eligible courses and talked with instructors with the most experience teaching them during the summer, both tenure-track and term, to assess who was on board for winter session.
"We really appreciate those faculty who are teaching as part of this new university initiative," Slagell said. "We knew early in the planning that LAS offers a lot of the kinds of courses they'd be looking for, so we were glad faculty were open to the idea."
She said LAS winter session instructors either will receive a stipend, similar to summer session, or are lightening their spring semester teaching load by teaching this winter.
VanDerZanden said graduate teaching assistants (TA) also will receive compensation or a change in their spring TA responsibilities.
Slagell said LAS' recent partnership with ELO (Engineering LAS Online) to develop an LAS curated summer course bundle -- rather than inconsistent selections from year to year -- also prepared the college for winter session. Last summer, all courses were taught online due to the pandemic, and that helped, too.
LAS is offering the only four-credit options, all calculus courses. Slagell said this will be the first time they're taught in a session shorter than eight weeks. To meet accreditation standards, that should translate to seven-hour days for students, including synchronous class activities, discussion, prerecorded lectures, exams, study time and individual homework.
"That's really like having a full-time job," Slagell noted. "At the same time, for some students this intensive focus on one course is a great fit. It's an opportunity to complete a prerequisite that allows them to continue in the series spring semester."
Fifty of the winter session courses provide three credits, and, condensed to five weeks, even that equates to about 5.5 hours per day of course-related activities and study.
Winter session registration will run concurrently with spring registration, starting Oct. 28 for seniors, continuing to Nov. 12-13 for continuing freshmen. Day 3 of class, Dec. 16, is the final date to make a change.
Per credit tuition
Winter session tuition is based on the number of credits a student enrolls in and according to standard tuition rates set by the state Board of Regents for each residency status --resident, nonresident or international. Iowa State will not assess differential tuition, normally charged to upper division students in programs that are more expensive to deliver, or mandatory student fees. The latter is a software limitation in a system not set up with a winter term. So, a three-credit course will cost $1,008 for an Iowa resident, $2,904 for an out-of-state student and $3,108 for an international student.
Plans for winter session take shape, Oct. 1, 2020