Faculty Reflect on Summer of Discovery Student Benefits

July 28, 2020
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As Baylor’s Summer of Discovery nears an end, faculty are reflecting on the student benefits of the experience. The innovative collection of discounted summer course bundles for current students, incoming freshmen and rising high school seniors in an online environment, were designed to help participating students advance toward their academic goals.

“I think for some students, Summer of Discovery online courses offered a good alternative to (or replacement for) summer enrichment or college readiness programs, camps and internships that were cut short or canceled due to the pandemic,” Julie deGraffenried, Ph.D., associate professor and undergraduate program director of history, said, “The great expansion in the number and types of summer courses provided this year helped many students find classes required to make progress toward graduation.”

Summer of Discovery courses offered current and incoming students a chance to get ahead on credit hours that count toward their major and graduation. Rising high school seniors gained valuable experience with university-level courses and earned credit for core requirements for many programs. Additionally, with the completion of nine credit hours and a 3.0 GPA or higher, rising seniors who participated may be among the first to learn of their acceptance to the University and receive a $1,000 scholarship to Baylor.

“For some, this is a great first taste or test run for what college might be like, even though it’s in a compressed form as a summer session,” deGraffenried said. “High school students get a sense of what a college workload and reading load is like, what college instructors expect on assignments and papers and how college students conduct themselves in a discussion.”

Faculty worked to maintain an academically rigorous environment for online learning, adapting their teaching styles and course planning to match the course format. Faculty created bonds through frequent communication and thought-provoking assignments.

“Even though class worked differently, we were able to do what’s most important: engage with the world and its immediate needs through our ideas and words,” Ginger Hanchey, Ph.D., professor of English, said. “We wrote essays and researched projects on the topic of overcoming hardship, loss or trauma. I loved reading their ideas about dismantling systemic racism (one of the most popular topics), bouncing back after severe economic downturns, gardening to stave off depression and many other personal approaches to the subject.”

Online learning allowed faculty to learn new teaching methods and engage new approaches. One of the benefits of online learning is the ability for faculty to utilize many technological resources and make quick adjustments for the best possible learning outcomes.

“In my face-to-face class we do a lot of hands-on activities, so those needed to be converted to an online format. Some were a bit different, but still successful. Another thing that I did a little differently was to utilize the online discussion board as a way to generate conversations amongst the students,” Dan Peppe, Ph.D., associate professor and graduate program director of geosciences, said. “An advantage of online education is that the students can complete the course in a way that fits with their schedule, which I think can be a productive and successful way to complete coursework.”

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