This post discusses the beginning of the Zoom era at Yale and how managing the COVID fallout has given birth to a new Ivy League experience.
My current Ivy League classroom.
Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes
I just completed the tenth week of my second semester at Yale. The semester is quickly coming to a close as we head down the home stretch. Zoom, a program that I had never before used, has become the ubiquitous means of educational access. I’m starting to get used to this new normal, knowing now that I won’t return to campus for at least the rest of the semester.
It’s not at all what I expected at a place like Yale. Coming to such a storied institution, I expected to sit in classrooms where great leaders of our country once sat. Instead, I’m taking my classes over Zoom in my basement.
The Ivy League via Zoom
I must say that, despite all that is going on, the Zoom classes are not that bad. I was even able to smoke a cigar during one of my classes on Thursday. I wish I could smoke a cigar whenever I have to do something, so I’m certainly making the best of it.
Still, technical issues continue to plague my efforts from time to time. During Hellenistic Philosophy this week, for example, I had to drop out of the class several times because my internet kept cutting out. Sometimes I can get my connection working well again by recycling my modem, but that takes at least ten minutes.
I finally just called into the class using the Zoom phone number. At least then I could hear the class.
Uncertain Grading Schemes
As I discussed last week, the Divinity School currently allows us to choose to move to a Credit/No Credit grading method for any class we want. There is some discussion, however, about moving to a universal Credit/No Credit scheme—that is, we wouldn’t be able to choose to be graded under the regular system.
I understand that the Law School and School of Management did something similar already, and there are rumors that some of the Divinity School faculty are pushing for it. It’s hard to tell, though, how much support actually exists. As is often the case at Yale, there may be just a small number of loud students making these “demands.”
Part of me would like to see it. It would be a stress off, particularly since I won’t be able to produce as high-quality papers as I had hoped. I need over twenty books for my papers that I requested from the library right before it closed. I now have no access to those resources.
On the other hand, having good grades on my transcripts are essential for Ph.D. applications down the road. A lot of Credit grades could cut heavily against me. So, I don’t know what I want the Divinity School to do. We’ll see what happens.
Theologies of Religious Pluralism
Regardless of what the school decides, I am still considering taking advantage of the offer to complete seventy-five percent of the course work and taking a Credit grade in Theologies of Religious Pluralism. I have enjoyed the class, but I don’t find it particularly interesting. It’s not a subject I wish to pursue through further academic study.
Given the additional time that I will have to spend to put something good together for Hellenistic Philosophy and Roman Law, knocking out the Religious Pluralism class early and focusing on the scholarship I am actually interested in doing seems like a good option.
We’ll see, though. I don’t want simply to take the easy way out. This is just a weird situation, and I’m trying to figure out the best options.
Things are starting to get quite hectic. Despite the time that I save on my commute, I still work from the time I get up until I go to bed. I have a large number of short papers due at the beginning of next week that I have to get done.
I have a three-page paper on Roman coinage in my Roman Law class and a six-page paper on Joseph Ratzinger for Systematic Theology, both due on Sunday. I also have to prepare for my final paper in Systematic Theology due at the end of the month. And this is all in addition to the two massive papers I have for Roman Law and Hellenistic Philosophy due at the end of the semester.
My two big papers are both massive undertakings. These other smaller papers, however, are serving as a real distraction as I try to move through those.
Things are getting a little crazy now, but there are only about six weeks left before summer starts, a couple of which are reading weeks. Since I don’t have any final exams this semester, I can dedicate that time to finishing up my papers. Even then, though, I think it’s going to be close.
The Writing Center
As I have written about before, I have made generous use of Yale’s Writing Center. I’ve submitted every paper to date to the Writing Center for review prior to submitting it. This is a practice that I intend to continue. I get some valuable insight and can polish up papers better than I otherwise could.
I am pleased with the results most of the time, and I have gotten good grades on all of my writing assignments so far. This practice will help me build up a good portfolio of high-quality papers by the time I start applying to Ph.D. programs.
This practice will also be particularly useful as I prepare to write a thesis my senior year. (In the M.Div. program, first-year students are called juniors, second-year middlers, and third-year seniors.)
If I stay on to do an STM, which I might, depending on the results of my Ph.D. applications, then I will have to write a major thesis. That is something that I find exciting. I love the feeling of having an extensive piece of writing that I created.
I find it amazing how much time and effort goes into writing a paper, how many hours of work each page represents. If I were to guess, I would say that each paper I have written to date represents about three to four hours of work per page. So, I probably put about forty to fifty hours into my fifteen-page New Testament paper last semester.
I love everything about that.
Zoom and Summer Plans
My plans for the summer are a bit in doubt. I still intend to take German I and II at the University of Arkansas, but I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back home.
I had planned to go home in the middle of May, but my parents, particularly my mother, are high-risk. So, I don’t know if I’ll have a place to stay, as I might not be able to live with them for fear of transmitting the disease.
There’s a lot of wait-and-see going on. I want to get back to Arkansas as soon as possible, but I don’t know how things will look next month. I don’t know, for example, whether the government will start lifting travel restrictions or if things will still look as they do now.
I received notice that the first summer term will be online, which will allow me to delay going to Arkansas if necessary. The current plan, however, is to have German II in person. I really need some German classes for Ph.D. applications, so I’m trying to make it happen this summer.
Reflections on Yale via Zoom
As my first year at Yale slowly draws to a close, I realize how grateful I am to be here. It’s not exactly what I thought it would be, but it has been a humbling experience nonetheless. Even amid the COVID-19 craziness, I have loved my time here.
As I reflect upon my time at Yale, I realize that these blog posts will become a bit skewed. I am currently writing about an experience that no one will likely undergo in the future, at least not in my lifetime. So, I doubt it is of much value to anyone preparing to attend Yale or any other divinity school program.
Perhaps there will be some permanent changes resulting from these months. I am curious to see if, for example, we might see more lecture-based classes moved to Zoom as an ongoing option. (It’s really the seminars and section meetings that suffer from reliance on Zoom.) At the very least, the professors have been forced to become more tech-savvy. That can’t be a bad thing.
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