Optional four-week winter term to be launched remotely in December


Jakob Menendez

A lone traveler pulling their suitcase through the snow in the Boston Common.

By Ann E. Matica, Deputy News Editor

Emerson will offer nearly 40 full- or half-credit courses in an optional remote winter term this December that will replace the typical week-long intersession courses offered in between semesters.  

The term, scheduled from Dec. 10 until Jan. 8, will offer a variety of course options, including general electives and new topic courses proposed by professors from all departments. Registration will begin on Monday, Oct. 5. 

The expanded term, modeled after the summer session, which offers full- or half-credit courses at a discounted rate, is an expansion of the intensive two-week session typically offered over winter break, Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies Jan Roberts-Breslin said in an interview. While the shift was already being discussed by administrators before the pandemic, the decision to broaden the term, she said, was spurred by the extended gap in between the fall and spring semesters under the college’s pandemic-era hybrid learning model.

“With the pandemic and especially when we started talking about adjusting the calendar for the fall and basically folks going home at Thanksgiving and then not coming back, [we thought] that this might be a good time to do it,” Roberts-Breslin said. “Kind of open up a four-week period, which, while not as long as a summer session, is getting there.”

Students who wish to participate will be limited to taking only four credits—one full class or two two-credit courses. Offerings will be limited, Roberts-Breslin said, because officials didn’t want to overwhelm students with multiple classes during the intensive four-week schedule. 

Tuition for winter term courses will follow the same discounted price per credit as summer 2020 session courses. Students will pay $778 per credit, meaning a full class would cost just over $3,100. Courses will have a $35 registration fee. 

The winter session will operate remotely with synchronous and asynchronous class options. Students will get days off for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. 

“It is a hundred percent online this year because people will have gone home over Thanksgiving, and we’re not expecting people back until the spring semester,” Roberts-Breslin said. “There has been some talk about being able to provide limited housing for people that can’t travel home.”

The college offered a similar housing option after students were forced off campus in March as the pandemic set in in the U.S. Some students, who could not go home or needed to stay on-campus for another reason, were granted extended dorm housing.

Students who live internationally or can not travel home for other reasons will be given the option to apply for break housing to continue to live on campus over the winter break, Roberts-Breslin said. 

Planning for the winter term, she said, began over the summer, and the schedule was officially finalized in September. 

The college sent out a survey on Sept. 25 to gauge students’ interests in enrolling in the winter term and their plans for the spring semester.

“We did a survey of the undergraduate students, and from the students who responded about a third of them were interested,” Roberts-Breslin said. “The others weren’t sure. So, it certainly indicates a strong interest, and so we’ll see how that works out.”

Every department at the college will offer classes during the winter term, with courses ranging from 100-level to 400-level. The majority of classes offered will be for earlier undergraduate students, though some 400 and 600-level classes will be available for seniors and graduate students. One specialized course called “Media Design” that is part of the School of Communications will only be offered to graduate students. 

“This gives students the freedom to try something new without committing to it forever,” Roberts-Breslin said. “So we offer a lot of topics courses that are particularly appropriate for this.”

New courses, which will touch on topics around race, gender, and politics, will also be introduced. These courses were specifically proposed by faculty for the winter term, Roberts-Breslin said.

To teach a winter term course, faculty members had to write and submit proposals to their department heads beginning in September. Roberts-Breslin said each department was asked by the Office of Professional Studies to offer approximately four classes for the winter term, with a couple of departments being approved to offer five. In total, 36 class proposals were approved for the winter term. 

Communication studies professor Mary Ann Taylor said she led the Global Pathways program in Sydney, Australia during previous winter sessions. Because the program was canceled this year, Taylor said the winter term was the perfect opportunity to submit a class proposal in her field of expertise.

“When it was first mentioned my interest was piqued because my research area is gender and political rhetoric,” Taylor said. “We’re in the moment that Kamala Harris was announced as the vice president candidate. I [had] already been working on a research project with a colleague and I thought, ‘Wow, it’d be really nice to kind of tailor a class to that and be able to sort of teach in real time.’”

Taylor will be teaching a topics course called “Topics in Communication Studies: Gender and Presidential Rhetoric,” where students will discuss women in politics and how they conduct themselves in the public eye. 

“We’re going to be looking at media mediums as a platform and then the candidates themselves and their own speech and language,” Taylor said. “What it means to really navigate politics as a woman.”

Performing arts professor P. Carl will be teaching “The Fictions and The Facts: Americans in Conversation About Race,” where students will read and analyze Claudia Rankine’s new book, “Just Us,” a collection of essays that focus on conversations around race in America during the age of white supremacy. 

“I’m really excited about it, because I think the unique thing about the winter [term] for me is we don’t often get to dive into something at that level,” Carl said. “We are in such an incredibly important time in America in terms of this conversation and making real progress toward not continuing to repeat history. So it just felt like a great chance for the students to sit together and really kind of hash it out.”

Carl said he worked with Rankine to figure out the best way to format the class and have in-depth conversations with his students. Carl said he is planning for Rankine to attend one of the remote classes to discuss the book herself. 

The winter session course list was supposed to be released on Oct. 1, but was delayed, likely due to technical difficulties with the Emerson website, Roberts-Breslin said. The list was released on Oct. 4.

Roberts-Breslin said that administration and faculty are excited to workshop the new term.

“There’s excitement around trying something new, offering something that is not required but that allows students to catch up with a course or try something that’s a little different or get a little ahead or just use their break time productively,” Roberts-Breslin said.