Fall 2021 Instruction (SVPP COVID-19 Communication #26)


Date:       April 19, 2021

To:           Iowa State University Faculty

From:      Jonathan Wickert                                   
                Senior Vice President and Provost            

Subject:  Fall 2021 Instruction (SVPP COVID-19 Communication #26)


Over the past several weeks, we began communicating to the Iowa State University community about planning for the Fall 2021 semester:

  • President Wintersteen’s March 12 message
  • Message from President Wintersteen and campus leaders. 
  • Flyer to students who are prospects, who have been offered admission, and who have accepted admission in our undergraduate recruiting pipeline about fall instruction and student life.  A similar flyer will be distributed to continuing students.

For the Division of Academic Affairs, the priorities of our planning are health, safety, and the resumption of in-person instruction for classes, labs, and studios at near pre-pandemic levels.  Changes made to course delivery modes since the Spring 2020 term were temporary, and as vaccinations become more widely available in the coming months, it is anticipated that a significant number of students, faculty, and staff will be vaccinated by the start of fall classes. 

Accordingly, in-person instruction will be the default at Iowa State for Fall 2021, just as it was before the pandemic.  In-person, hands-on, experiential learning—both inside and outside the classroom—is important for our students, and such engagement is especially critical for our incoming freshmen, and current freshmen and sophomores, who have been in and out of the classroom over the past year.  This decision also recognizes that a rich on-campus experience is a core component of the Iowa State brand and a primary reason students choose to attend the university.

Fall course delivery

Faculty, academic departments, and colleges are to plan and deliver their fall courses with modalities that are substantially similar to those in Fall 2019.  While online options will continue to be available for many courses, just as they were before the pandemic, courses and sections that have typically been taught in-person should likewise be taught in-person this fall. 

Over the past year, many faculty were in the position of “double-teaching” courses—once in person for some students, and again online for others who were unable to attend. While that practice was appropriate and appreciated during the height of the pandemic, it is unsustainable going forward. To that end, typical course modalities will resume, along with clear attendance expectations for students.

Exceptions to offering courses in their pre-pandemic modalities will be very limited and subject to special review based on the following categories and principles:

Disability Accommodation.  Requests to move a class typically taught in-person before the pandemic to online or hybrid delivery for the fall may be made if the instructor has a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and, after an interactive process, it is determined that such change in course delivery is a reasonable accommodation.  An instructor with a reasonable accommodation request should contact UHR Employee and Labor Relations.  In turn, University Human Resources will determine whether the request will be approved, and if so, engage the department chair and instructor through the normal process to determine a reasonable accommodation. Please refer to the Reasonable Accommodations for Employees and Applicants (Disability) policy for additional information.  Note that the Alternative Work Arrangements (AWA) program was created only for the 2020-21 academic year, and it will not continue.  

Pedagogical Reasons for Changing to Online or Hybrid Delivery.  For pedagogical reasons, an instructor may request to change the delivery of a course in Fall 2021 from in-person to online or hybrid. Any such request must meet the following criteria, and colleges and departments may add further criteria:

  • The proposed change increases or maintains options for students to choose from different delivery modalities.
  • The proposed online or hybrid course has been supported through a college’s online learning center or the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, or the instructor will work with one of those centers to design, develop, and deliver the course.
  • Course learning objectives and relevant program accreditation requirements will be met with the proposed format.
  • The proposed course includes substantive and regular interaction between the instructor and students as defined by the U.S. Department of Education, and adopts best practices.

The review process for such requests is:

  1. Deans will administer a process within their colleges for requests to be submitted and reviewed, at the program, department and college level, including curriculum or scheduling committees as appropriate.  Requests must be made by June 1.
  2. The instructor’s department chair must review the request, and the department or program must make a commitment to assess and monitor engagement of the instructor and students throughout the semester.
  3. The college’s associate dean for academic programs must review the request and analyze how the proposed change would impact the college’s overall curriculum.   The dean’s office review will focus on ensuring course offerings are substantially similar to Fall 2019.
  4. If the request is approved, the dean’s office will notify the department to submit a Course Offering Change Form. 

Pedagogical Reasons for Changing to In-Person Instruction.  For pedagogical reasons, an instructor who taught a course in a hybrid or online modality in the past may request to change the delivery to an in-person format for Fall 2021.  Such requests must be made by June 1 and require approval by the department chair and associate dean. If students have already registered for that class, the course offering should be canceled and replaced with a new offering for in-person delivery. As always, the ability to transition to face-to-face instruction depends on space availability for the days and times requested.

College deans will monitor their respective course schedules, compare them with Fall 2019 offerings, and report course-by-course comparisons of modalities to the Provost’s Office on June 15, and again on August 9.

Student-facing activities

While the transition for many faculty and staff to full or partial remote work last spring was sudden, the return to pre-pandemic campus life will be more planful.  Faculty have always had flexibility in their work schedules, and that will continue to be the case. Still, student-facing academic activities conducted in-person before the pandemic should be conducted this fall in a substantially similar manner. Those activities include academic advising, holding in-person office hours, team-based projects, supervision of graduate assistants, and participation in thesis committee meetings.

Virtual meetings

At the same time, we have all become adept in using virtual technologies to add value and efficiency to our work, and our plans for the fall should not exclude such options.  Indeed, I have heard many examples from faculty, chairs, and deans about online/hybrid meetings having greater participation and helping to maintain work-life balance. Faculty continue to have discretion for conducting activities such as research collaboration meetings, seminars, and departmental and committee meetings using a range of in-person, online, and hybrid formats, with an eye toward balancing engagement, productivity, and work-life considerations.

Other updates

  • The university is reviewing the continued need for face coverings in classrooms and other enclosed environments and will announce the results of this review by August 1.
  • An updated version of the Cyclones Care campaign will be deployed in the fall, based on current CDC and state guidelines, and taking into account that many faculty, staff, and students will have been vaccinated at that time.
  • We will also communicate with students regarding our expectations for the fall, including class attendance policies, and instructors’ standards for class participation.

Thank you for your efforts, patience, and adaptation through a remarkable year

We began the COVID-19 odyssey last March with great uncertainty and concern for each other and the future.  Over the past year, we learned just how resilient and innovative we can be, and how we can roll up our sleeves and tackle a complex problem. I am profoundly thankful for all that we have been able to accomplish together, yet I hope we never again have to undertake such a broad and disruptive transformation to our work and lives.

Please be sure to take time for self-care. Many faculty and staff have been working on campus throughout the pandemic, or for a significant period of time already. There will certainly be adjustments as we return to a fuller campus presence with increased in-person activity. Anyone who would like support during this transition should take advantage of ISU’s wellness resources.

Again, thank you for all you do for our students, each other, and Iowa State University, and best wishes as you enter the home stretch into commencement and summer break.  I look forward to seeing you—in person, walking around campus, or in a seminar—this fall.

Please share this information with staff and graduate assistants in your areas as appropriate.