Students, faculty find success in first offering of winter session

Virginia Hanson
Virginia Hanson, assistant teaching professor in agricultural education and studies, was one of six CALS faculty members who taught a course during Iowa State's winter session.

With an extended winter break, some Iowa State University students took advantage of the opportunity to get ahead on credits by taking a winter session course.

More than 140 students enrolled in the six winter session courses offered by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. This was the first time a winter session was held at Iowa State, with the online courses taking place Dec. 14, 2020, through Jan. 21. All courses offered met core curriculum and general education requirements.

Virginia Hanson, assistant teaching professor in agricultural education and studies, said the experience with online courses during the spring and fall 2020 semesters prepared instructors and students for success during the winter term.

“The students and I were able to leverage virtual meetings to connect quickly and discuss our objectives,” Hanson said of her AGEDS 327: Survey of Agriculture and Life Sciences Communication course. “We worked with focus and support, and even had a bit of fun along the way.”

Mike Rentz, assistant teaching professor in natural resource ecology and management, took advantage of the longer class times to offer students in his NREM 460: Controversies in Natural Resources course the chance to interact with five leaders on the topic of wolves. The students and leaders communicated via Zoom so the students could gain a better understanding of each leader’s values and beliefs.

“Each of these folks have very different backgrounds and different opinions on wolves. Hearing each of them explain their journey with this issue helped the students get beyond talking points and hopefully truly understand the stakeholders and why they feel the way they do about these animals,” Rentz said.

The key to students’ success in the condensed courses was time management, especially for those enrolled in Russ Hoffman’s TSM 444: Facility Planning and Management class. The assistant teaching professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering packed a long list of topics into those five weeks.

“I made it clear to students on the first day of class we would adhere to the full-term schedule where each week would be compressed into a single day and expected them to keep up, but I was prepared to make modifications as necessary,” said Russ Hoffman, assistant teaching professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering. “To my delight they did a tremendous amount of work in a timely manner. I’m proud of the students and pleased with the outcome.”

Olivia Mitchell, senior in agricultural studies, took Agron/FSHN 342: World Food Issues, instructed by Smaranda Andrews, assistant teaching professor in food science and human nutrition. Mitchell said she appreciated the flexibility the winter term offered in terms of finding time to study and commit to other responsibilities, such as jobs or family life.

“Students were able to work at their own pace, which was perfect for my schedule,” she said. “Dr. Andrews always answered questions and responded in a timely manner.”

Despite the condensed instruction period, Andrews found she was better able to work one-on-one with students in her course.

“I am happy with the quality of their work, but I also made the time to answer their questions quickly and spent time helping one-on-one,” Andrews said. “This was the best thing this winter session – I could focus on students more.”

Hoffman echoed Andrews’ sentiments of having more time to interact with students to help them grasp the concepts being taught.

“I believe we got to know each other better. I feel the students and I came away from the experience understanding that we’re all in this together,” he said.