Heller embraces instructional technology with virtual Summer Institute for incoming students

November 30, 2018

For Heller’s globally-focused master’s programs, it’s both a joy and a challenge to properly welcome scores of students from dozens of countries every August. In addition to navigating the visa process, moving to Waltham and securing housing, many are brushing up on old skills like statistics and academic writing, while also learning about their new community and the U.S. classroom context—in other words, drinking from a fire hose. 

Dean David Weil says, “Faculty leaders and staff from these programs identified the need for students to have more than just a few days of orientation, especially international students.” Using technology as a solution, staff worked together to solve a common problem by piloting a six-week online Summer Institute.

“In the end, the Summer Institute made a big difference for a lot of new students,” Weil continues, “and we learned a lot along the way. I’m proud that we tried something new, we’re getting feedback, and I’m confident that future iterations will be even stronger." 

Voluntary participation in the Summer Institute was offered at no cost to incoming students from three master’s programs: sustainable international development (SID), conflict resolution and coexistence (COEX), and global health. COEX program manager Marc Kiredjian ‘05 directed the program, partnering closely with SID program director Joan Dassin ’69 and a team of instructional designers from Brandeis’ Rabb School of Continuing Studies, which offers online graduate programs.

Rabb School Instructional Designer Carol Damm says, “What made the Summer Institute successful, right off the bat, is that we took into consideration the needs of the students. For example, we asked ourselves, do we let students work at their own pace, or require that they stick to a schedule? What we ended up deciding was to walk a line between the two. We made materials progressively available on a weekly basis but allowed students to retroactively view the work and complete the quizzes.”

The final product was a series of online tutorials housed on LATTE, Brandeis’ web-based course platform. The tutorials include hard skills—such as writing, academic citations, and basic statistics and economics—supplemented by information on housing, student finances, career development and more. Returning Heller students acted as teaching assistants, and Professor Dassin taught a four-week academic writing course.

"The Summer Institute provided incoming students with the opportunity to prepare for their arrival at Heller.  Their positive response validates our idea that students would take advantage of the materials and arrive at Heller better prepared for their fast-paced programs,” says Dassin. “The online platform was also a great way for students to meet each other, even before arriving."

“The online Summer Institute made me feel like I was already a part of the Heller family even before arriving on campus,” says Christine Rostampour, MA COEX’19.

Another student, Tozoe Marton, MS/MA SID’20, says “I just graduated from college in May, and was a bit scared of entering graduate school. The Summer Institute gave me a little piece of mind since it gave me brief overview of the basics.” 

Overall, feedback from the pilot has been very positive, of course with some suggestions on ways to improve the program for the future. Kiredjian says, “For me, being able to engage with students who are literally around the world and finding ways to help prepare them for their experience at Heller is a great thing to be a part of. In doing so, we are helping to create an environment that will enable students to succeed in making a positive impact in the world, which is what our work at the Heller School is all about.”