The University had an extra-long winter break because of the coronavirus pandemic, with students finishing their exams in late November and returning for the spring semester in early February.
To fill the gap, Notre Dame debuted an experimental Winter Session. Professors created more than 125 virtual courses that met online during January. Students also found ways to participate in virtual internships, research experiences and service learning throughout the month.
The response was enthusiastic. Nearly 4,000 students signed up to take at least one course, earning one to four credits per class. Here are a few especially creative offerings that caught our attention:
Boxing in America
The study of the sport from the 18th century to the present in its full context, including the rise of cities, mass migration and issues of race and class. The course covered finer points of the craft, and students trained as boxers themselves.
A graduate-level look at Laudato si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, exploring resources for a “contemplative ecology” in both Christian and non-Christian writers, with a focus on the United States. The course included nature writing, poetry, film and student journaling drawn from contemplative observation of a nature setting of their choosing.
Web Development Boot Camp
A three-week immersion, created in partnership with South Bend Code School, aimed at students with no background in computer science or coding. The course taught programming for the web, provided an introduction to databases and offered participants the skills to create web applications online.
LifeDesign: Mindsets, Skillsets and Habits for a More Joyful and Purposeful Life
A virtual journey exploring psychology, behavioral science and neuroscience concepts that students could put into daily use. The process begat a “LifeDesign,” a method for developing habits for better living.
Practical Radio Communications
An introduction to radio communications designed for any student interested in obtaining an amateur radio license from the Federal Communications Commission. At the conclusion, participants could sit for a remote licensing exam.
Structural Timber Design
An engineering course about wood and concepts for aspiring builders and designers. Students worked on hands-on projects to learn the structural properties of wood while studying contemporary issues and codes, standards and commercial software.
How We Got Here
A one-credit course built around the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the civil unrest it triggered, focusing on the 2016 novel The Nix and the recent Netflix film The Trial of the Chicago 7. Students examined the social and political impact of those events up to the present day.
A philosophy course looking at the increasing role robots or “autonomous systems” play in our lives. From weapons and driverless vehicles to health care and consumer services, students examined whether “ethics modules” can be built into such systems.