A College Tradition Reviewed
In the October 1962 issue of Liberal Education, then President of the College Robert Strider described the Colby January Program as: "A month of the college year devoted to independent study by the student body, on a diversity of subjects, creates a new outlook on learning and offers the faculty an unusual release for routine."
1961 marks the year that the College pioneered the January program, a month-long semester originally designed as an independent program. Since then, JanPlan, as it is known on the Hill, has been adopted by over 400 other colleges and universities.
Today, JanPlan is still "about the alternative--the other thing," Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Associate Dean of Faculty Michael Donihue said.
JanPlan has seen some serious structural changes over the years. The options have expanded to include internships, courses on campus, travel abroad and, in the spirit of its roots, independent studies.
Most recently, the Curricular Review has taken a close look at how to improve JanPlan, a time that has been criticized for being too relaxed--a time for students to slack off--by community members. Donihue and the Academic Affairs Committee have examined this issue at length.
"[We've been] asking questions like, what goals do we have for our students learning? How do we know whether we're achieving these goals? How do the goals for the department fit in with the goals for the individual classes? And how do those goals fit in with the overall goals of the Colby plan?" Donihue said.
Specifically, he looked at the "type of engagement that students do." Students and faculty, he said, often view engagement differently. Faculty might look at number of homework assignment and hours in class. Students, on the other hand, "would sort of look at [their JanPlan] and say 'it was so much easier than a regular semester because I'm not trying to juggle four or five classes at one time...' But if you ask the students what they did, you find these wonderful stories about how they're intellectually engaged, almost 24/7."
"I think it's useful because at times, we think 'Oh, January isn't rigorous enough for us," Donihue said. "You want to have time to be totally engaged in your class, but also to read a novel, or to just sit and talk with your friends...your mind's still working."
In terms of managing the course rigor, this year all but two JanPlan course offerings fell under departmental umbrellas, the exceptions being the EMT training and furniture making classes. Having each class fit into a department ensured that it met certain standards. As there are a lot of non-Colby faculty that teach during January, "now those faculty, who are coming in from the outside, have [peers] within the department with whom they can collaborate and learn what it means to be a Colby professor, so the standards should be clearer and I think students are going to notice a difference in the expectations and commitment," Donihue said.
Also, Donihue emphasized that the set-up of the semester allows for more experimentation and projects outside of a traditional classroom setting. It is a time for both students and faculty to take risks. Take the class that David Freidenreich, Pulver Family assistant professor of Jewish studies, taught this JanPlan. He and his students conducted research on Judaism in Maine and put together the Maine Jewish History Project, a work in progress, which "fosters research into Jewish life in Maine, sharing the results of this research with current and former Mainers and also with students and scholars of American Jewish history," according to its website.
Anna Leavitt '12 spent this past JanPlan doing an internship with Punta Mona, an organic farm on the Southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. The environmental studies major said, "I wanted to do an internship to see my career options are in terms of environmental studies and to see what people are like who are into sustainable living and agriculture."
"I don't think I would have had the opportunity to even consider doing something like that if we didn't have JanPlan. Now I know that I am interested in that and I want to pursue [a career along these lines],"she said.
As Donihue pointed out, students are only required to do three out of four JanPlans, but on average 92 percent of students do JanPlan in some capacity every year, so "we're doing something right," he said.
"JanPlan is an integral part of Colby. It's what defines us as an institution," he said. "Students, during January, will be expected to take more responsibility for their education because it's a time of independent study. So even if you're taking a traditional class, there's an increased expectation for what a student is going to do both in and out of the classroom during January," Donihue said.
There have been changes to residential life recently, and some were particularly noticeable this past JanPlan in particular. According to Barbara Moore, assistant vice president and senior associate dean, "We required that all students who returned to campus in January be enrolled in a JanPlan course, a JanPlan Independent Study or a JanPlan internship." Though the policy already existed, it has been enforced more strictly this year to, "enhance the quality of students' learning experiences and the climate of intellectual engagement for both faculty and students," she said. "Students who were not enrolled, or who had not received special permission to live on campus, were not granted access to dining and the residence halls."
Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students James Terhune said, "Over the past three years, the student affairs division has made a concerted effort to increase the kinds of out-of-class programming that occur during JanPlan. This year those efforts resulted in over 300 programs, activities and events that were listed on the Campus Life and Pugh Center calendars during JanPlan."
He pointed to the support of the Student Government Association (SGA) as key to the programming's success, as the 2010 JanPlan marked the "first time in a very long time" that the "SGA treasury continued to meet and allocate funds throughout JanPlan."
Terhune also pointed to significant changes in orientation for first-semester away students, such as a revitalized Iced COOT2 program.
"The bottom line is that we have made significant progress in making sure that both the amount and types of activities that exist on campus to enrich the student experience during the fall and spring terms...are also available throughout JanPlan," Terhune said.