Updates for Teaching in the Fall

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Return to Campus

We are now about five weeks away from the beginning of fall semester classes and I know that our faculty and staff are working hard to be ready for students to return. We are making steady progress each day. Our physical campus and our work culture have been designed to bring students and faculty together. Operating effectively and efficiently while physically distancing ourselves from each other is a monumental exercise. Every decision has to be adapted to the diverse needs of our large campus and the variety of spaces and programs we have. The uncertainty associated with the pandemic makes it nearly impossible to predict what the immediate and distant future may bring. Yet, our faculty and staff persevere, and I remain confident that we will come together to have another successful semester. 

Today, I want to share some additional information that may help you with your preparations for the fall semester. I realize that this information may seem incomplete and at times less than well-defined, but I hope it addresses some important concerns. 

As you already know, our campus will open for classes in the Fall semester but require all instruction to occur with social distancing. Wearing masks is now required in classrooms and buildings and significant efforts are being made to ensure that all our work spaces have adequate sanitation to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread. 

Several teams across campus have helped identify classroom seating capacities that maximize social distancing and minimize the risk of disease spread based on CDC guidelines. Classroom seats will be marked to indicate safe distances for student seating. This process is currently underway and should be completed over the next few weeks. Classrooms with movable furniture present an additional challenge. For these classrooms, images showing safe seating arrangements will be available to you soon. 

The number of students present in classrooms will be limited but the enrollment caps for courses remains the same. The revised seating capacity for the nearly 750 regularly scheduled classrooms on campus is now available in a database. If you will teach in the fall, please consult this database for the new seating capacity of your classrooms and plan your instruction accordingly. The limited seating capacity will require you to significantly re-design how you deliver your courses. 

As many of you already know, CTL’s Preparing to Pivot short-course (available through eLC) will help you redesign your courses for Fall 2020 instruction. Almost 700 faculty have already registered - the July 13-24 version is underway, and registration is open for a self-paced version (available now) and for the final version of the course (begins on July 27). We have identified some key takeaways in the graphic here (PDF)

Since most classes will require a hybrid or HyFlex instruction (PDF) with students rotating between attending class in person and remotely, many faculty are concerned about instructional delivery and logistics of splitting their class rosters. Rather than prescribe a specific method for all courses, we believe that individual faculty are best suited to make these decisions for their classes. For example, faculty teaching high enrollment sections scheduled in classrooms with severely restricted seating capacity may choose to structure their course so that the content is primarily delivered online and the face-to-face time is used for hands-on learning activities, problem-solving, and other such activities. On the other hand, rooms where the seating capacity is less restrictive could utilize a pedagogy suitably adjusted for HyFlex course design.

You should attempt to maximize face-to-face interactions with students, but will have considerable flexibility in how you split your class-rosters to determine the schedule for students to attend classes in-person and remotely. You may base this on student preferences and needs, some random selection process or using another approach suitable for your classes. Programs that follow cohort models, where the same group of students take the same courses concurrently, would benefit from acommon rotation pattern across all their classes. This would allow students to be on- or off- campus in a predictable manner across multiple classes. Department heads, program coordinators, or groups of faculty may need to come together to make this work most effectively. If this is right for your programs, I encourage you to begin these conversations as soon as possible. 

Centrally-managed, large classrooms (greater than 150 seats) are currently being equipped with cameras and microphones, while medium and small classrooms (40-149 seats) will have at least a microphone available to record instructor audio over a screen-capture video for broadcast and/or upload to eLC. In addition, the Center for Teaching and Learning will have microphones for faculty to check out for their classes. This equipment, coupled with our institutional license for Zoom, can help with lecture capture and broadcast. Zoom will be integrated with our media server (Kaltura) by August 3, making it easy for faculty to share zoom recordings within eLC. A limited number of plexiglass “sneeze-guards” will also be available – these are most useful in smaller classrooms where it may be difficult to maintain a 6-foot distance between the you and your students. Classrooms that are managed by departments/colleges are also being equipped with cameras and/or microphones by college-level teams. 

As we shared a few weeks ago, we have also altered the class periods by adding five minutes to the time between classes. This will give students more time to walk between classes and will reduce traffic on campus buses. You can see the new class periods on the Office of the Registrar’s website, here. Please note that these revised times do not currently appear on Athena. We are working to make the necessary changes and this should become available in Athena in the very near future. 

For some of you, the seating capacity of your classroom and/or the change in class period will make it difficult to teach as planned. We are currently waiting on decisions for ADA accommodation requests to be made, as that will allow us to know the full inventory or spaces available for reassignment. Once this is completed, we may be able to entertain a limited number of requests for reassignment of classrooms. If you want to change the time of your class or change your classroom assignment, you may work with your college schedulers to make such a request. More information about this will be provided to the schedulers soon. However, please note that we have limited classrooms available during the peak teaching periods (10 AM to 2 PM). Note, also, that altering your class times will limit students’ ability to take your class as it might interfere with other classes or commitments. 

We recognize that additional resources are necessary to help with your teaching efforts. I am pleased to share that we have now created a “Teaching Continuity Fund” for this purpose. We have asked your Deans to coordinate and review requests for this fund, so you may have already received information about this resource. An initial, college-level review process will help us ensure the most efficient use of these funds. We have deliberately made this fund flexible to accommodate your needs. Some examples include software for virtual laboratory exercises, or short-term teaching support, or activities to enhance the student learning experience. If you need more information on how to apply, please contact the Dean’s office in your college.

Many of you also want to know more about cleaning, notification, and quarantine recommendations for students and faculty, in case someone in a class is diagnosed with COVID-19. An updated reporting and notification process is currently being developed and more details will be shared once those are final.  Contact tracing for all COVID-19 cases will be conducted by the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and the University is working in close collaboration with them to assist with this process. FMD already has a protocol for sanitizing spaces, including classrooms, when necessary. Classrooms may be closed temporarily for sanitizing but should be available for use again once these spaces have been appropriately disinfected. 

Please remember that all classes and final exams must move online after Thanksgiving. This should be made clear in course syllabi. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Office of Online Learning for help with delivering these classes remotely; see their How To Guide for more information, or review the UGA Online 2020 Workshop Seriesorganized earlier this summer. Assessment and final exams will pose another challenge, and faculty should pay particular attention to these components. We have already made available a proctoring solution, called “Respondus Monitor” for online exams within eLC. (Note: This is in addition to the Respondus browser lockdown tool which has been available for a while.) We continue to explore other tools, and I will send you an update about these later.

The unpredictability of the pandemic also requires us to be ready to move instruction online at short notice if necessary. Factors such as travel restrictions, recommendations for quarantine or isolation, illness to oneself or family members, will continue to impact our students, staff and faculty, throughout the fall semester. These will impact instruction whether we are teaching in-person or online. Therefore, faculty are advised to be flexible with their attendance policies, record their lectures or other teaching-related activities whenever possible, and maintain frequent communication (emails, eLC, others) with their students. Identifying a back-up instructor for classes can help with such disruptions, should the need arise. Travel or health concerns may prevent some students from attending any in-person classes this semester. Please try and make the necessary accommodations, so these students can continue to learn and progress in our programs. The Disability Resource Center is working to identify these students and will be in touch with faculty or advisors as appropriate.

We don’t have all the answers, but please know that we continue to work through several scenarios and contingency plans, and develop the necessary answers and resources for you. The questions you ask us and the feedback you provide help us refine these continuously. So please continue to send your questions, comments and thoughts to us at ovpi@uga.edu.  

I greatly appreciate your dedication and flexibility as we navigate the uncertainty posed by the pandemic. However, I have little doubt that – much as we did in the Spring – our faculty and staff are up to the challenge. 

Sincerely,  

Rahul Shrivastav
Vice President for Instruction