The Transition Period

“What’s going to happen with the second year students that I usually teach in the old curriculum when I’m teaching the new curriculum to the first years?” asked a colleague. YIKES! Somehow I had naively pictured our entire student body morphing smoothly into our new program in Autumn 2020, and had entirely repressed the reality that the Fall 2019 incoming class will be taught via our current syllabus which will therefore need to continue until they graduate. And however helpful and flexible my colleagues try to be, I see that it will be tricky for them to be (either mentally or physically) in two classrooms at the same time. Thus my introduction to the current phase of our curriculum revision project, “The Transition Period”.

Fortunately, as you might have already realised over the course of this blog, our staff are smarter than I am, and in the process of working on our new regulations with Marco Salogni in the Teaching Regulations office, Sara had already started to address the transition phase. Unfortunately, the situation is much worse than I feared: In the worst-case scenario of a student failing some assessments and deferring a couple of semesters, we might in principle need to offer courses and exams from the old syllabus for another five years! That’s even longer than the UK has spent so far in trying to leave the European Union! “We could just pass everyone for a year or two” I suggested hopefully, to justified stony mutterings about what that would do to the reputation of our degree quality. Instead, Marco helped us to construct a complex interweaving of transfers and course equivalences that will provide a coherent pathway for “old system” students to reach graduation with the time and support that they need, even after some of their early instructors are enjoying their retirement writing the Great American Novel on the beach.

But back to our original problem of how to be in two classrooms at once. Well, Sara is currently preparing individual schedules for every instructor, outlining which classes from the old and new curriculum they should teach in which semesters until 2023. Armed with this information, we’ll be asking instructors whose teaching load would be unmanageable to self-identify so that we can find a solution — extra assistants or even replacement instructors — in good time. And that, I’m guessing, is an email that won’t be mislaid in my colleagues’ Inboxes.

About Nicola Spaldin

Nicola Spaldin is the professor of materials theory at ETH Zürich. She is a passionate science educator, former director of her department’s study program, and holder of the ETH Golden Owl Award for excellence in teaching. She developed the class of materials known as multiferroics, which combine simultaneous ferromagnetism and ferroelectricity, and when not trying to make a room-temperature superconductor, can be found playing her clarinet, or skiing or climbing in the Alps.
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