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…
Important Syllabus Reminders
Let me start this “syllabus reminders” email with a thank you. What a year 2020 has been, and we are barely halfway through it. You migrated your classes online last spring with little advance notice. Those of you who taught summer classes developed them for fully online instruction. And you all have been working diligently to prepare for multi-modal instruction this fall. You are all heroes in my book, and I thank you for your hard work.
This is a long message, and necessarily so under the circumstances. I do hope you will take the time to read it through, perhaps save it to someplace where you can retrieve it easily later. In it, I provide a number of updates that I hope will help you get off to a good start for the fall semester, including:
- Issues related to classroom instruction (mask usage and social distancing)
- Online teaching and assessments (academic integrity)
- Changes to the academic calendar
The beginning of the fall semester is only three weeks away. For most faculty that will mean teaching a mix of in-person and online instruction, with challenges in both spheres. As always, I encourage all faculty, especially new faculty, to read the detailed information and suggested syllabus language at provost.syr.edu/important-syllabus-reminders. The page has been updated with notices specifically pertaining to academic operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. I highlight a few of them in this message but encourage you to visit the site for a more comprehensive review.
Classroom instruction this fall will take place with masks and social distancing. Because of the 6-foot social distance requirement, our classrooms are simply too small to enable all students to attend the class at the same time. Nearly all of your classes, therefore, will employ some form of alternate-attendance model, in which a subset of students attend class on a given day, and the subsets rotate through the semester. To the extent possible, room assignments were made with the assumption that half of the students would attend each class. If your classroom is a registrar classroom, you can find the social-distance capacity and information on the technology available in the room at the Classroom Resources webpage. If your classroom is a captive space, consult your department chair or classroom scheduler for that information. As you read this message, we are making a few final classroom adjustments based on the registrations of first-year students, which just finished last week.
It is crucial that the number of students in the classroom not exceed the social-distance capacity. Therefore, you will need to email your students prior to the first day of classes to let them know who should attend on the first day and who should attend on the second. The easiest way to do this will be to divide the class equally, alphabetically by last name. Also, the age-old tradition of students “shopping” for classes, attending classes in which they are not registered, to choose which ones they will take, is not possible during the pandemic.
Once in class, students are expected to wear a face mask over their nose and mouth. This is crucial to our public health mandate and part of the Stay Safe Pledge that students will take prior to returning to campus. On the Important Syllabus Reminders page you will find syllabus language to reinforce this expectation, along with a link to a document that has some thoughts on how to discuss this with your students.
In the days since the syllabus reminders page was updated, I have heard from some of you with questions about students who cannot wear masks due to disabilities. Students who are seeking accommodations for the mandatory mask policy should be directed to register with the Center for Disability Resources (CDR, formerly the Office of Disability Services). Because this policy addresses public health, students cannot be in the classroom without face covering. CDR will discuss alternative accommodations with students who require them. This alternative could be a face shield, scarf or alternate means of accessing the course content, such as online instruction.
Face masks with clear openings are available for classes where it is important for instructors to see the mouth movements of their students. Contact the CDR if you need these masks for your class (email@example.com).
In response to your suggestions, the University has arranged for three tents to be installed on the Shaw Quadrangle from Aug. 17 to Oct. 16. These tents will be divisible into a total of ten spaces, with social-distance capacities of either 26 (six spaces) or 32 (four spaces). The tents will be open on all sides to maximize air movement and will have the appropriate number of chairs. We are working on the details of reserving these spaces and will get that information out to you as soon as possible. Some schools and colleges have also arranged for tent spaces adjacent to their buildings.
The online portion of your course could potentially include two populations. Most students will be able to participate in class synchronously (if you so choose) with the students who are in the room. This will include residential students who are not in class that day and online students who live in time zones that are amenable to attending class during the normal class time. You may also have students who live in time zones where attending class during the scheduled time is not practical. It is critical that all students have an opportunity to engage in class activities and to interact with their instructor(s). Therefore, it is important that you record your class sessions and that you schedule time for remote students to engage with you, no matter where they are. This may mean scheduling a weekly office hour in the evening or the early morning so that students in Asia can ask questions and get feedback on their work. The most common point of feedback that we received from students in the spring transition to online learning was that they lacked opportunities to interact with their professors. It is imperative that we give all of our students that opportunity this semester.
For those of you who are teaching exclusively online, it is crucial that you conduct synchronous portions of your class during your assigned class time. We had some difficulties in the spring when some faculty changed their class time, causing conflicts for some of their students. As with hybrid instruction, it is also imperative that you provide all students with opportunities to interact with you live.
The switch to online teaching last spring was accompanied by an unprecedented surge in reporting of suspected academic integrity violations—over 500 in the academic year ending this summer, compared to 242 for the prior year. In the interest of promoting academic integrity, the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence (CTLE) and the Center for Learning and Student Success (CLASS) have developed a set of quick steps that faculty and instructors can take in reviewing your syllabus for effective online assessment. Promoting online academic integrity effectively does not require a large investment of time up front. The key is reviewing your syllabus now to ensure you have sufficient flexibility and opportunity to address academic integrity throughout the upcoming semester.
Additional recommendations for promoting academic integrity in the classroom during the semester are available on the CLASS website. The Promoting Academic Integrity page of the website includes materials you can tailor to your course and use in the classroom to convey your expectations and promote student engagement and learning.
Calendar and Other Reminders
By now you are all aware that we are working with a modified calendar this semester. This includes instruction on Labor Day (Sept. 7) and on three weekend days (Sept. 5, Oct. 25 and Nov. 8). Monday classes will meet at their scheduled times on Labor Day. Wednesday classes will meet at their normal times on Saturday, Sept. 5; Thursday classes will meet at their normal times on Sunday, Oct. 25; and Friday classes will meet at their normal times on Sunday, Nov. 8. Your assigned classrooms are reserved for your use on these days. If you are unable to teach on one or more of these days, you may arrange an asynchronous learning experience for your students.
If you have questions or need help with your preparations for hybrid or online teaching, the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence and ITS stand ready to assist you with pedagogical and technological help, respectively.
As mentioned above, please consult provost.syr.edu/important-syllabus-reminders for more detailed information and suggested syllabus language on a wide range of topics. I note only a few below:
- Our Religious Observances Policy recognizes the right of students to be absent from class for faith-based observances. Students must never be asked to choose between observing sacred holidays and completing coursework. Students are expected to register their expected absences within the first two weeks of the semester on MySlice (Student Services/Enrollment/My Religious Observances/Add a Notification). Faculty may wish to plan pro-actively the dates of exams, group presentations and other significant class events to avoid major religious holidays. Hendricks Chapel maintains a list of holy days and holidays for many world religions. In this particular semester, you may find that students register faith-based observances on one or more of the weekend instruction dates as appropriate to their faith tradition.
- All faculty are obliged to follow the University’s policies and federal law related to serving students with disabilities; the Center for Disability Resources (formerly the Office of Disability Services) is your partner in these processes. The Disability Faculty Portal, located in the Faculty Services field in MySlice, can be used to view accommodation letters for your students, upload exams and assignments, and provide feedback to CDR.
I wish you the best for this semester, and I thank you once again for your hard work.
Associate Provost for Academic Affairs