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Thursday, Oct 6, 2022

College tries out new half-credit course system this fall

Middlebury College is offering six half-credit courses this fall across a few different departments. The courses are offered either full time for half of the semester or half the time for the full semester. One goal of the half-credit courses is to provide students with more flexibility to vary their credit load without adding or dropping a full course.

The half-credit courses offered this semester include Reading Islamic Sacred Texts, Early Daoist Texts, Unlearning Colonial Habits, Mathematical Problem-Solving and Experiential Learning Capstone. These courses span the Education Studies, Mathematics and Religious Studies Departments. The Experiential Learning Capstone is listed as an interdepartmental class.

The courses do not fulfill distribution requirements, and only the two Religious Studies courses count towards the major associated with their department. Other departments will make a decision about what half-credit courses can be counted towards as the model becomes more widespread, according to Elizabeth Morrison, a religion professor and member of the Educational Affairs Committee (EAC). Morrison is also teaching the half-credit course Early Daoist Texts this semester.

The EAC voted last year to implement the half-credit courses this fall. While one of the EAC’s goals with half-credit courses is to provide students more credit flexibility, according to Morrison, the courses also allow more flexibility for professors when they plan their syllabi.

Some professors took a previously taught course and adapted it to fit the half-credit model, while others designed pathway courses to prepare students for other classes.

“[Early Daoist Texts] is based on a class that I once taught,” Morrison said. “I thought that the material would be a really good fit because we are paying attention to two texts in particular that I thought would benefit from a slow reading. So I took the previous syllabus, and I took things out.”​​

Morrison also noted that the class now weighs class participation more than her full-credit version previously did.

Priscilla Bremser, professor for Mathematical Problem-Solving, thought that the half-credit structure would be a great way to address “unfinished learning” in pre-calculus topics that would aid students looking to take calculus. The course is designed to be taken alongside calculus I to address foundational pre-calculus topics that may be problematic for students.

“I hope my course gives students with uneven mathematics backgrounds a chance to solidify foundational concepts so that they can succeed in calculus,” Bremser said.

The flexible nature of the half-credit course structure impacts even the content explored in the class. Associate Professor of Education Jonathan Miller-Lane, who is teaching Unlearning Colonial Habits, was excited to explore new ideas in a space that is less rigid than the typical course structure.

“The main idea was to explore different time slots, approaches, ideas, with a little more uncertainty being an acceptable quantity,” Miller-Lane said. “I wanted to work on some ideas, but I wanted to work on them in an environment of profound uncertainty. I liked the idea of exploring what other time frames we can use to explore the questions we are trying to engage.”

Camiel Schroeder ’25, a student in Unlearning Colonial Habits, said that he was partially drawn to the course due to its unique structure. As a previous student of the professor, he felt Miller-Lane advertised the benefits of a half-credit class well.

“He said we were going to do this in a very unique sense in that it's just three long meetings on Saturdays and then a bunch of like three hour meetings during meals, which sounds ideal to me,” Schroeder said. “It sounded like not a big commitment for big rewards, academically and experientially speaking.”

Schroeder later informed The Campus he dropped Unlearning Colonial Habits during the second week of school — after his initial interview. He said he realized that taking 4.5 classes instead of 3.5 was overly ambitious for his fall semester.

Students can still sign up for half-credit courses through Sept. 23.

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