Dear Students, Faculty, Staff and Families: The start of the spring semester is quickly approaching, and many in our community are working diligently to prepare for the return of our students and to safely resume in-person teaching and learning. We…
Message from Interim Provost John Liu: Safe In-Person Instruction, Resources for Faculty and Engagement Opportunities
As we all work toward resuming in-person instruction this fall, I know that many of you have questions regarding how classes will be conducted and what resources are available to help you prepare. Today’s message provides an overview of:
- expectations and models for safe in-person instruction given constraints on classroom size;
- professional development opportunities and new resources that have been positioned to support faculty;
- the Academic Strategy/Contingency Subcommittee of the Fall 2020 Open Working Group’s recommendations and progress toward implementation; and
- opportunities to engage with academic leaders to ask questions and provide suggestions and ideas.
Much of what you will read in this message derives from the work of the Academic Strategy/Contingency Subcommittee of the Fall 2020 Open Working Group, led by University College Dean Michael Frasciello, Professor Marcelle Haddix, Associate Provost Chris Johnson and Graduate School Dean Peter Vanable.
Safe In-Person Instruction
Syracuse University is known for our commitment to providing student-centered learning experiences with a focus on in-person instruction and engagement. We are planning to continue this commitment in fall 2020 in a way that prioritizes and protects the health of faculty, students, teaching assistants and instructors in a manner that is consistent with the best public health guidance available from government, faculty experts and public health officials. Earlier this week, deans were provided with guidelines for faculty return to work with these goals in mind.
Given physical distancing and physical density constraints, classroom space is our greatest challenge in delivering in-person instruction. Applying a physical distance requirement of 6 feet reduces the capacity of our classrooms considerably. For classrooms with moveable seating, capacity reductions are in the range of 50-60 percent. For classrooms with fixed seating, reductions are greater—in some cases more than 80 percent. Therefore, we recommend that most of our classes adopt a hybrid and flexible (Hy-Flex) instructional model, in which a portion of the students enrolled in a given section attend in the classroom, while others enrolled in that same section participate remotely from other locations on campus. The expectation for these classes is that an alternate-day attendance format will allow all residential students to experience a portion of the class in person. There will, of course, be cases where circumstances will require us to consider formats involving less frequent attendance.
The nature of the course and the size of the class will inform the format for in-person instruction:
- Fully in-person classes: Some classes can be conducted exclusively in the traditional in-person format with no online instructional elements. These will be courses with small enrollments, in which all of the students are on campus and for which an appropriately sized room is available. However, even in these instances, instructors must be prepared to pivot to online instruction should public health guidance make this necessary.
- “Hy-Flex” classes that combine in-person and online instructional elements: Most of our main campus classes will combine in-person and online learning elements. How faculty combine these elements will depend on the size of the class meetings:
- 60 Students or Fewer: Most courses of this size should be able to conduct all class sessions (lectures, recitations and labs) in an alternating-day format, in which half of the class attends in person while the other half participates remotely. The two halves switch for the next class meeting and then alternate through the semester.
- 61-150 Students: The format for courses enrolling 61-150 students will vary. Because the capacity of auditorium-style classrooms is severely impacted by 6-foot social distance requirements, we have only a few rooms that can accommodate 31-75 students (half of 61-150, under the alternate-day format). We plan to prioritize scarce classroom resources for classes that enroll large percentages of first-year students. These courses will be able to offer lecture and recitation sessions using the alternate-day approach described above for classes of 60 or less. The remaining courses in this group will not have rooms for lectures. However, recitation/discussion sections can be conducted face-to-face, offering an opportunity for in-person instruction in these classes.
- 150 Students or More: Courses enrolling more than 150 students will not be able to have large-group sessions, even in an alternating-day format. However, nearly all of these courses have recitation or discussion sections, which can use in-person instruction or employ the alternate-day approach. Faculty can plan to deliver lecture material completely online. Some large classes have one large group session and two small group sessions per week; faculty can transition these classes relatively directly under these guidelines. Other large classes have two or three large-group sessions per week with only one recitation or discussion meeting. Resources permitting, deans and department chairs should consider adding additional recitation/discussion sections for these courses and requiring attendance.
- Models for mixed in-person and online teaching: For classes that combine in-person and online teaching, there are several ways to organize the remote component of the course. Of course, faculty know content and their classes best, so they can be creative in finding approaches that work best for them and their students. Definitions of some models and other resources are available on Answers (a NetID is required for login). Faculty who wish to design their courses using these and/or other approaches are encouraged to engage with the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence (CTLE) to explore their ideas.
Finally, as you’re preparing for your fall courses, we encourage you to keep a few things in mind:
- In large courses where in-person instruction takes place in recitations, discussion sections and labs, faculty are encouraged to consider making attendance in those meetings mandatory, while making exceptions for students with accommodations.
- We anticipate that there will be some students who, for myriad reasons, will not participate in in-person classes at all. This group includes international students who are unable to travel to Syracuse and some domestic students whose medical conditions make it unwise for them to attend in-person classes. Because many, if not most, classes will include students who are unable to attend in-person classes, courses must be made fully accessible to such students, including—to the extent possible—synchronous learning opportunities.
- In the classroom, you should consider how mandated physical distancing practices and other COVID-19-related concerns might potentially impact students with disabilities and take action to implement appropriate accommodations. The Center for Disability Resources is available to support faculty in this effort.
Support Services and Professional Development Opportunities
Recognizing that adapting courses to this new reality represents a significant undertaking, we hope you’ll take advantage of the support and professional development services available to you this summer. Course design and course building support services will be coordinated by the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, Information Technology Services’ Online Learning Services and University College’s Center for Digital Online Learning.
Faculty can also request support services to digitize content, evaluate online instruction and assessment options, request video production training and support, and engage in technology-enhanced instruction and online pedagogy workshops. We encourage all faculty to fill out the Fall Course Development Form to request support or to submit questions about specific aspects of online instruction and preparation. Faculty are also encouraged to bring questions to virtual “office hours” where they can meet with instructional designers and course builders every Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET and every Thursday at 10 a.m. ET. Join the sessions here.
Adoption of Academic Strategy/Contingency Subcommittee of the Fall 2020 Open Working Group Recommendations
The Fall 2020 Open Working Group has involved more than 120 faculty, staff and administrators. The Academic Strategy/Contingency Subcommittee included 27 members and was guided by the shared goals of maximizing the student experience, protecting the health and safety of faculty, staff and teaching assistants, and safeguarding our campus community.
The recommendations related to fall semester instruction were shaped by extensive faculty feedback that spanned a broad range of themes. More than 50 faculty from all schools and colleges participated in discussion groups, and more than a dozen faculty members of the subcommittee made suggestions that inform the committee’s recommendations. Based on this feedback, the Academic Strategy/Contingency Subcommittee made a number of specific recommendations, including:
- Faculty should be invited to participate in a series of discussions with University leadership around topics on public health and safety and academic planning. These discussions, in addition to regular and consistent communications, should address questions about decision-making processes, timelines and scenario planning.
- A model for encouragement and enforcement of social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols among students, faculty, staff and visitors should be developed and communicated broadly. This model should take into consideration equity and justice issues, specifically around race and disability.
- Schools and colleges should develop an accessible and equitable process to identify faculty teaching needs and preferences that take into account personal and health circumstances.
- Schools and colleges should finalize decisions regarding faculty teaching modalities (online, in-person or Hy-Flex) and classroom assignments as soon as possible so that faculty can maximize preparation time over the summer.
- Faculty should be compensated for additional time and effort over the summer for course development and teaching preparation.
- Faculty should be provided ongoing opportunities for one-on-one and group-level consultations for adapting to multiple teaching modalities and use of digital technologies and platforms.
- Criteria and expectations for promotion and tenure, research productivity, course evaluation and other forms of faculty assessment should be evaluated and adjusted in the context of academic year 2020-21 teaching priorities.
- Fieldwork, clinical experiences, internships and other experiential learning in the community are important elements of the academic fabric. The University’s approach to these experiences will be guided by public health guidelines, accreditation requirements and disciplinary norms, and faculty within and across units will collaborate to develop more specific recommendations.
- The University should provide clear guidance on intellectual property policies in relation to digital content that is created for fall classes.
Implementation of many of these recommendations is already well underway. They work in tandem with and in support of the framework released by the Public Health and Emergency Management Subcommittee at the end of May. Earlier this week, Vice Chancellor Mike Haynie and I shared a Health and Safety Update, which addressed frequently asked questions about masks and face coverings, COVID-19 testing, screening and surveillance, facilities considerations and policy adjustments, health promotion efforts, and teaching and learning. If you haven’t already done so, I urge you to review these communications.
We have clarified the University’s policy on faculty ownership of intellectual property in the context of online or hybrid instruction and provided tips that faculty can take to protect their content. The Office of Research has also provided Return to Research Guidance. Finally, central funding has been provided for course development stipends.
Opportunities for Engagement
Opportunities for faculty engagement with academic leadership, including Chancellor Syverud and myself, are being scheduled for each school and college. If you haven’t already, you will be receiving notice from your dean’s office regarding specific dates and times. Recognizing that additional issues may arise that need to be addressed and that key details need to be readily accessible to inform decision-making, additional communication opportunities include:
- a University Senate Open Forum to be held via Zoom on Wednesday, June 24, at 4 p.m. ET; and
- a dedicated landing page for faculty and staff that consolidates current messages and resources regarding the Fall 2020 semester; this page includes a link to a feedback form for questions, suggestions and ideas; incoming messages are being routed to the people and working groups/subcommittees most appropriate to the topic.
We know that you still have unanswered questions, and we are moving quickly and thoughtfully to be in a position to answer all of them. We will continue to seek your input as we work to create clear guidelines and policies and devise creative solutions to some of the challenges we know we will face this fall. I look forward to working with you as we prepare for the academic year ahead.
Interim Vice Chancellor and Provost