Lessons from the Pandemic

April 8, 2020

MBU's Carpenter Academic Hall in late March

For many years after the current global pandemic has waned, writers, artists, and scholars will choose to examine these extraordinary times. At Mary Baldwin, a group of more than a dozen faculty has said “why wait?”

MBU's Carpenter Academic Hall in late March

They have developed a new general education course for May Term that thinks through the world’s current circumstances from a number of different perspectives. Named We’re in This Together: Living and Learning the Pandemic in Community, the course will help students respond to the coronavirus pandemic and analyze its effect on their own and others’ lives. It will also fulfill general education requirements in an online format. Below is the course description: 

INT 277 We’re in This Together: Living and Learning the Pandemic in Community   

How are you responding to the current global pandemic? Are you creating art? Keeping a journal? Constantly reading the news, looking for signs and omens? Searching for scientific studies? Do you wish you had a better grasp on the tools and knowledge needed to provide analytical context for this crisis? Our current global pandemic touches not only our health but also the economy, politics, the environment, family relationships, the criminal justice system, and human creativity, among other factors. This course illustrates the ways in which very different scholarly disciplines across Mary Baldwin analyze, understand, and respond to the current coronavirus pandemic. If you choose this course, you will enroll in a specific section that offers arts (A), natural science (N), or international (I) general education credit. In each of those sections, you will start by doing a common set of units that considers the insight scholars in different fields can bring to a global threat. The second part will look at the pandemic more specifically from the perspective of arts, sciences, or social sciences and include projects, experiments, and studies that tie lived experience to understanding in the liberal arts.

The MBU community is responding enthusiastically, and as of April 3, there are about 120 students registered for the course’s five sections, which is about 35 more than initially registered for the previously planned on-campus classes. From the offset, faculty members volunteered to participate even before any official word went out about the idea’s feasibility. Others at the university eagerly said they would like to take the course. 

“Creating this course seems to speak to MBU’s mission and the desire to assure that a Mary Baldwin education provides students with meaningful tools for understanding the world around them,” said Martha Walker, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Faculty were excited about the prospect not only of teaching about the pandemic from their disciplinary perspective, but also of working with one another to identify the  connections. Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences was a natural place to start to talk about a health crisis, but the collaborative spirit of MBU’s faculty translated into the organic development of  a course that looks at how people respond not only medically, but also creatively, economically, culturally, and historically to such crises. 

A number of more traditional May Term courses have also been adapted to an online format, and in the current environment where online education is the only option, MBU benefits from years of experience with online instruction and has the pedagogical and technological resources to support it effectively.

Traditionally offered exclusively to residential students, and included in their spring tuition,  May Term (which will run from April 27 to May 15 this year) offers an opportunity for students to complete a full, three semester-hour course in an intensive three-week term. For May Term 2020, MBU has moved these innovative courses online, using instructional technology platforms to create distinctive learning experiences for both online and residential students. 

“Creating this course seems to speak to MBU’s mission and the desire to assure that a Mary Baldwin education provides students with meaningful tools for understanding the world around them.”
Martha Walker, dean, College of Arts and Sciences