Winter session tweaked for year two of pilot

Registration opens Oct. 20 for the second year of Iowa State's winter session pilot, a compressed four-week option available to continuing undergraduate students. They'll choose from approximately 55 courses this winter, 90% of which provide three credits, the maximum allowed due to the shorter session. All six undergraduate colleges and the library are offering at least one course. Like last year, courses will be 100% online.

Winter session begins Monday, Dec. 20, and concludes Friday, Jan. 14. Three university holidays or designated holidays falling in that period will be observed: Friday, Dec. 24; Monday, Dec. 27 and Friday, Dec. 31.

Courses will feature a mix of synchronous and asynchronous components, as well as individual learning requirements and peer learning opportunities, said Ann Marie VanDerZanden, associate provost for academic programs who, with College of Liberal Arts and Sciences dean Beate Schmittmann, co-chairs the winter session executive planning committee. That group moved mountains last fall to develop the 2020-21 winter session proposal in about five weeks.

"It will be a time-intensive session, essentially a full-time job for the student," VanDerZanden said. "The content and learning outcomes are the same as in a typical semester-long (15 weeks) or summer session (eight weeks), but the pace is much more rapid.

"Students need to make sure they have the time and ability to engage in the work as intensely as it will need to be," she added. "And we learned we need to communicate more with them, up front, about that commitment."

More upper level courses in year two

VanDerZanden said about half of the courses offered last winter made the class list this winter. At first glance, that might be surprising, since last winter's courses saw strong enrollment, with just one dropped for low enrollment. A small reason behind the change is four-credit classes aren't allowed this winter term.

More significantly, colleges -- where the course decisions are made -- are offering more 300-level and 400-level courses this winter, in response to high enrollment rates last year among upperclassmen. More than 70% of those enrolled in the first winter session were juniors or seniors, and most of them completed a course that filled a requirement in their major program, VanDerZanden said.

About 55% of this winter's courses are 300-level or 400-level classes. A key consideration for any course remains its capacity to meet curriculum requirements for many students.

VanDerZanden said another continuing winter session strategy is to try to use faculty who previously taught their course in a condensed form, most likely for a summer session, to make the short winter session easier to plan for.

The goal of the winter session pilot is to tweak the structure to eventually get to a "steady state," she said. One of the biggest questions is about creating adequate space in the academic calendar for a winter session. That calendar is set by the state Board of Regents, but the three regent universities together are studying options that could create room for a permanent winter session.

Winter married to spring

Winter session registration runs concurrently with registration for spring courses and, like last year, winter tuition will appear in students' spring U-Bills. Because current business systems don't recognize a winter term, enrolled winter students won't pay mandatory fees. They also aren't assessed any differential tuition that normally would apply to upper division courses in certain academic areas.

Like last year, student services departments across campus will be open during winter session with the exception of the three university holidays. Hours of operation and service mode -- virtual or in-person -- may vary by department.