COVID-19 Academics and Instruction Update (SVPP COVID-19 Communication #6)

April 2, 2020

Dear Faculty Colleagues,

This is a second communication (first communication March 16) to address specific academic and instruction issues that are not covered in other FAQs related to Iowa State’s COVID-19 response. As with the previous communication, this is being sent to faculty via department chairs and simultaneously posted to the SVPP website.

Clarifying Expectations for Faculty 

We continue to receive questions from faculty regarding the transition to virtual instruction, primarily focused on leading courses efficiently, and making changes to courses to meet students’ needs while keeping the course learning objectives intact.

Communication with students

Instructors must continue to communicate with students, either individually or collectively on a regular basis. This communication may be via Canvas, WebEx, Zoom, or other means. Using personal social media to communicate with students is strongly discouraged because of FERPA concerns. 

Asynchronous instruction is preferred in most cases, which may include recorded lectures, as not all students are in the same time zone or have equal access to high-speed internet. You may also enhance equity for students by allowing them to participate in multiple ways if they can’t participate in real time. 

The CELT Communicate with Your Students section provides suggestions on sharing expectations, as well as information for communicating and collaborating online. Students communicate using many different platforms; don’t assume they are on email all the time.

Possible Solutions:

  • Some faculty are using the original class meeting time to hold virtual office hours. They are live chatting individually or opening a WebEx room and communicating with multiple students.
  • Some TA’s are holding recitations or supplemental instruction online via WebEx to engage students. 

Syllabus changes

Reasonable adjustments to the syllabus that reflect the change to a virtual learning environment are encouraged, as long as these adjustments benefit all students equally. Faculty may focus the remaining course work on key learning outcomes and simplify the course accordingly. Syllabus changes should be communicated to all students as soon as possible.

Class attendance 

Class attendance policies should be adjusted to reflect the reality that our students live across the country and around the world, and might have very limited internet connectivity this semester. Just as faculty are adjusting to working and teaching from their homes, our students are faced with similar challenges in completing their course work from home where, they might have to share resources and spaces with other members of their household. 

Possible Solution:

  • Faculty who award credit or extra credit based on class attendance, could consider assigning points based on virtual student interactions (i.e. discussion posts, blog posts, etc.). This practice keeps students engaged despite the limitations of virtual and asynchronous interactions. 

Allowing extended deadlines and make-up work

Allowing extended deadlines and make-up work takes into account the complications many students are facing this semester, and highlights the need for flexibility. Encourage students to contact you now to let you know if they anticipate facing these kinds of challenges this semester.

Assessment Strategies for Online Learning
The shift to virtual instruction has raised questions about conducting assessments and upholding academic integrity. When considering assessments under these changed circumstances, it is helpful to define the goal of the assessment, consider equivalent alternatives, and communicate your expectations to students to help alleviate grade-related anxiety.

Section 5: Exams of the CELT Quick Start Guide includes many options for assessment tools in Canvas, as well as ways to promote academic integrity and capture student learning that do not have to occur in Canvas. 

Online Proctored Exams
A form of online proctored exam is available in Canvas. This requires using the LockDown Browser (which locks down the testing environment within Canvas) and Respondus Monitor (which supplements the LockDown Browser with a fully automated process that uses student webcams.) More information is available in the My Canvas: Teacher course.

Potential drawbacks to this type of exam include additional planning and set up time for the instructor; potential technology or technical infrastructure issues (for both faculty and students); and added stress for students who have internet connectivity issues, which will impact time-limited quizzes or exams.  

Alternatives to Proctored Exams
There are many alternatives assessments which can meet the needs of different academic disciplines such as: a series of low-stakes quizzes; student-developed quiz questions/answers; open-book take-home assessments involving conceptual or applied questions; professional presentations or demonstrations; peer-and-self-review activities; and ‘fact sheets’ created by students explaining course concepts. 

Potential Solutions:

  • Create assignment rubrics in Canvas and use the rubrics to assign points to different elements of the assignment. This practice will make grading more transparent to students.
  • Use a variety of assessments to get a better and more authentic view of a student achievement. 
  • Schedule frequent, low-stakes assessments, rather than one or two lengthy, high-stakes assessments to promote learning, decrease pressure, and allow for just-in-time intervention should students struggle with concepts.
  • Have students connect via Microsoft Teams for collaborative examinations, and encourage students to work together remotely, mimicking the realities of the workplace. If an individual exam is required, consider a two-part exam; an individual portion, followed by a group portion. 

Resources for Faculty

  • CELT’s Course Continuity website.
  • FREE campus-wide Grammarly license: Grammarly provides powerful grammar spelling, and punctuation checking and integrates seamlessly into many online platforms (Canvas, Google Docs, and CyMail or Outlook). Faculty and students can sign up using their ISU credentials.

Addressing Students of Concern

We have received a number of questions from faculty regarding how to address students who may have difficulty adjusting to virtual instruction. Some of the most common concerns are highlighted below.

What to do if students are not accessing Canvas materials, submitting anything or responding to emails?

  • Reach out to the student and see how they are doing. This starts a conversation and shows meaningful engagement. If worried about the student health and wellbeing contact Student Assistance in the Dean of Students Office (
  • Consider a creating a spreadsheet with student names and reach out to them systematically –a few each week (or ask your TAs’ help if you are teaching a large course). 

How can I encourage students to stay involved in the course for the rest of the semester?

  • Set clear, but reasonable, expectations of student engagement. For example: students are responsible to keep up with course material, read e-mails and Canvas announcements, and submit assignments in a timely manner. Consider sharing a “weekly planner" that includes assigned readings, lectures, assignments, and due dates for the week. This will help students keep up with syllabus changes as well.
  • Design and plan for peer interaction to foster community, reinforce learning, and provide opportunity to exchange and debate ideas. 
  • Provide flexibility in how your students interact in the online environment such as through audio, text, or even recorded video. 

What advice can I give to students who report they do not have access to computers, internet, or software necessary to accomplish the learning goals of my course?  

  • The ISU library and the colleges may have laptops with basic software available for student check out. The ISU extension offices across the state have free wi-fi for students to access. And, wi-fi hot spots have been established in the parking lots around Jack Trice Stadium. If your course requires advanced software, consider alternative methods and asynchronous content delivery, to provide flexibility. 

What academic support services are available to students virtually?

  • The Academic Success Center is fully operational and has an updated service delivery plan (i.e. supplemental instruction, tutoring, etc.) for students. 

Promoting Academic Integrity in Virtual Coursework

Many students and faculty are navigating the virtual learning environment for the first time. This period of adjustment represents an appropriate opportunity to state your community standards for the course. Helpful resources in this area include:

  • Share the CELT resource on “netiquette” with your students. Simply put it is “Internet Etiquette” or the conventions of politeness pertaining to the way we use the Internet and interact with others online.
  • If you don’t already have a reference to the Student Code of Conduct in your syllabus, consider reminding students of their role in contributing to a positive learning environment.  

Pass/Not Pass (P/NP) Grading Option

Iowa State has adopted temporary Pass/Not Pass grading options for courses impacted by the transition to virtual instruction. This decision was made after consultation with several stakeholder groups. The Graduate College and College of Veterinary Medicine have developed similar policies for graduate and professional students, respectively. 

Frequently Asked Questions document was developed to address the most common questions. Updated information is being added regularly to the SVPP Academic Programs website to provide additional clarity on the implementation process and impact on other policies.