Dartmouth continues to assess the return of students at peer institutions.
Watch the Aug. 19 Community Conversation with Provost Joseph Helble, Dean of the College Kathryn Lively, Director of the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning Scott Pauls, and Dean of Thayer School of Engineering Alexis Abramson.
Dartmouth will delay until early next week announcing undergraduate student arrival dates and room assignments for students who will be taking classes on campus this fall. It continues to monitor the progression of COVID-19 cases as well as the effect the progression has on peer institutions where students have returned to campus, Provost Joseph Helble said Wednesday during Community Conversations, a series of live webcasts about the College's operations during the pandemic.
"I know this is disappointing to those students who were looking forward to the arrival information coming within the next day or two," but it is essential to make thoughtful, data-driven decisions, said Helble. "We absolutely must continue to advance the public good and the health and safety of our community over any individual preference."
Helble also noted that Dartmouth's comparatively late mid-September opening provides the opportunity to watch and learn from the experiences of peer institutions.
Recently, some of those institutions have pivoted to remote-only learning for the fall semester, due to factors such as state or local requirements, or high levels of community transmission of the virus in the surrounding area, which are unlike the circumstances at Dartmouth, he said, speaking from Starr Studio in the Dartmouth Library's Baker-Berry Library. At institutions with extensive testing protocols, including pre-matriculation and arrival testing—both of which are part of Dartmouth's plan—approximately 0.07 percent to 0.28 percent of students have tested positive.
With those rates, Dartmouth could expect that between two and six of the approximately 2,300 undergraduate students—about half the undergraduate population—expected to return this fall would test positive, he said. So far this summer, Dartmouth has tested more than 750 graduate and professional students arriving on campus, none of whom tested positive.
Nonetheless, the College will continue to pay close attention to infection levels on campuses where students have returned students and resumed classes, Helble said during Wednesday's webcast, which was designed in part to address questions from undergraduate students and their families.
With the fall term quickly approaching, some viewers were concerned about students who need to make travel arrangements from great distances.
While the College thinks it's worth taking a little extra time to make a decision that will be in the best interest of the most students, "we recognize it's causing a lot of stress," said Vice President for Communications Justin Anderson, who fielded viewers' questions and moderated the discussion from a separate studio in the library.
Helble agreed, and acknowledged the challenge this poses. Yet, he said, if, over the next several days, the progression of the virus "gives us significant pause about bringing students back as presently planned, that is worse in terms of anxiety and financial outlay than asking students to please give us until early next week."
The undergraduates slated to be on campus this fall are to be assigned staggered arrival times over the course of six days. Those whose pre-arrival tests are positive will be required to remain at home for a two-week quarantine period, until their symptoms have resolved and they have been cleared by medical officials to travel to campus, Helble said.
Strict social isolation rules will be in place for students' first 14 days on campus, with increasing flexibility according to the results of COVID-19 tests administered on students' first, third, and seventh days on campus. Surveillance testing and wastewater testing, the latter in conjunction with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, will also help monitor whether there are any increases in certain parts of campus, Helble said.
Helble's guests, who spoke from their homes, were Kathryn Lively, dean of the College and a professor of sociology; Scott Pauls, director of the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning and a professor of mathematics; and Alexis Abramson, dean of Thayer School of Engineering and a professor of engineering.
In addition to answering viewers' questions and addressing issues students have raised, the provost and his guests outlined Dartmouth's plan to ensure that the learning experience is equally engaging for all students, whether they will be on campus or taking classes remotely.
This fall, the orientation for all new students, to be presented online, will feature new components that will likely be retained in future years, such as a student-peer leadership program to help new students transition into college, Lively said. It also will include pre-enrollment advisement time with faculty, "which is so important."
Sonu Bedi, the Joel Parker 1811 Professor in Law and Political Science and the Hans '80 and Kate Morris Director of the Ethics Institute, will lead this year's shared academic experience, focusing on his book Private Racism, Lively said. "We're hoping to be able to continue discussions based on that topic throughout the year within the context of the house communities."
With about half of Dartmouth undergraduates on campus—and taking classes remotely—this fall, faculty members across the disciplines are continuing to develop innovative methods for promoting student engagement, which aligns with the results of DCAL surveys completed this spring and summer.
The surveys showed that students recognize and appreciate the value of interacting with one another, both socially and intellectually, Pauls said. As faculty and instructors create their courses, they are thinking about how students can collaborate, discuss ideas, "and simply engage intellectually in the ways that we know are so effective."
Helble noted that Thayer had creatively met a challenge many engineering educators found daunting during the transition to remote learning last spring: replicating team-based design and lab components central to an engineering education.
The engineering school sent out lab kits and other materials to students who were, in many cases, "scattered across the earth" and also retrofitted some equipment on campus, including the scanning electron microscope, so it could be operated remotely, Abramson said.
Much of Wednesday's discussion focused on the importance of following COVID 19-related safety guidelines.
"We're really trying to impress upon all of our students and staff and faculty how critical it is to keep in mind exactly what Provost Helble said earlier, which is that we are all in this together," Lively said. And while some personal decisions may appear minor, she said, "in the case of a pandemic, every decision, every choice, actually matters."
Staff, faculty, and students will complete a module around public health expectations, "but in the end, if we don't follow the rules, it's very likely that we will have an unsuccessful term, she said. "We're seeing it around the country. People didn't follow the rules and (places) are closing down."
Helble ended the program with a related suggestion: If you are asked to mask up, he said, take it as a friendly reminder, not a personal critique.
"And for those of us who see someone a student or an employee who may have forgotten their masks, please remind them please mask up," he said. "It matters to us all if we're going to make it through the term successfully and together as a community."
Community Conversations is an online forum for Dartmouth community members to ask questions and learn from campus leaders about the institution's priorities, decisions, and operations during the pandemic. The live discussions, produced by Dartmouth's Media Production Group and the Office of Communications, air on selected Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m. The next webcast is set for Sept. 2. Past episodes are available on the Community Conversations site, which also includes call-in numbers for those who want to listen to the show without video. Find out how to watch or listen to the live webcast.