After a semester-long experiment with the module system, Macalester has decided to revert back to its usual semester system for the 2021-22 academic year following a wave of input from students and faculty. Provost Karine Moe announced the decision in an email to the campus on Tuesday, Dec. 8.
“Last week, [the Education, Policy and Governance Committee (EPAG)] recommended to President Rivera and me that we return to a semester calendar beginning in the fall of 2021 regardless of whether or not we’re able to be fully in person,” Moe wrote. “President Rivera and I have accepted this recommendation.”
The module system has been a big topic for debate this semester. Though Macalester initially implemented this schedule aiming for flexibility and easing workloads in an uncertain year, many students have criticized the system. In opinions published in The Mac Weekly, students have expressed everything from support for the system to sharp criticism.
After publishing her opinion criticizing the module system, Amy Vandervelde ’21 circulated a letter addressed to the administration asking for a switch back to the semester system. Over 160 students signed that letter.
Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) also had extensive discussions about the modules, eventually unanimously passing a resolution that asked EPAG to hold a town hall to hear student concerns about the system and to mandate lower synchronous class time in future modules.
A few weeks ago, EPAG circulated a survey asking for student feedback on the module system. That survey had a high response rate, according to Moe.
EPAG chair James Heyman said that while there was a range in survey responses, most of the feedback was negative.
“The most common complaint was that taking half the courses twice as fast made learning more difficult,” Heyman wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “Students also said that the calendar change made it hard to register for the classes they needed and also hard to participate in extracurricular activities or find employment.” Faculty voiced issues with the module system in the survey, as well, adding that condensing a course while also adapting it for hybrid or remote learning takes a lot of work. Heyman said the feedback from the survey was the deciding factor in EPAG’s call to recommend a shift back to semesters.
Moe also noted in her email announcement that given the new COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Macalester is hopeful that students will be able to return to in-person classes next year. Heyman echoed that optimism in an email to The Mac Weekly.
“We don’t think that the college will face the same uncertainties next year,” Heyman wrote. “We are optimistic that conditions will have improved enough to let us use fully in-person or hybrid instruction.”
With or without a return to in-person learning, though, Macalester will return to semesters.
“We fully understand that we may have to continue with hybrid and/or remote delivery,” Moe wrote. “EPAG acknowledged the chance that we’ll be operating in a remote environment, but nevertheless, recommended that we revert to semesters in any case.”
Vandervelde was happy to hear the news that Macalester would switch back to semesters.
“The modules add extra stressors to mental health and the overall learning environment, so the change will ease some added struggles,” Vandervelde wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “But I still want to encourage professors to remain flexible with students after the semester schedule returns. The regular format will help in extending time and compassion — two things especially needed for remote learning.”
Note: Amy Vandervelde is the opinion editor for The Mac Weekly.