Spring 2021 Academics and Instruction Update (SVPP COVID-19 Communication #22)

Date:         January 11, 2021

To :            Associate Deans Undergraduate Academic Programs

From:        Ann Marie VanDerZanden, Chair                                             
                  On behalf of the Academic Continuity Working Group

Subject:    Spring 2021 Academics and Instruction Update (SVPP COVID-19 Communication #22)

In preparation for the spring semester, my office and the Academic Continuity Working Group are providing updates on several items related to academics and instruction. Our goal is to focus on key lessons learned from Fall 2020 and new developments for spring semester.

Spring 2021 courses will continue to be offered as a mix of in-person, hybrid and online instruction (PDF). When students registered for courses, the specified delivery mode for each class/section was stated on the Registrar’s Schedule of Classes, and in many cases was the most significant factor in students’ selections.

Effective Communication

The importance of communicating early and often with students is one of the biggest lessons learned from the fall semester. The increase in hybrid and online instructional modalities, combined with increased student absences due to illness or quarantine/isolation, made effective communication crucial. Below are a number of suggestions based on feedback we heard from faculty and students:

  • Communicate clearly when and how courses and examinations will be conducted. For online and hybrid courses, content may be delivered synchronously and/or asynchronously.
  • For courses with a WWW designation that plan some synchronous delivery, base meeting times on the Schedule of Classes. If an online course has no set meeting times, communicate in advance when synchronous meetings will occur and be mindful of scheduling conflicts with other courses, and for those students who are not physically located in Ames.
  • For online courses, provide the expected level of student-faculty engagement described on the SVPP Academic Programs website. These standards are based on guidelines from the U.S. Department of Education which require that online courses contain substantive and regular interaction between instructors and students.   
  • Create an up-to-date course in Canvas and complete steps in the CELT Start of Semester Checklist. Consider adopting the ISU Canvas Template to facilitate this process and provide a consistent experience for students. Clearly describe in your syllabus and on your course’s Canvas page how your hybrid or online course will be organized, including your expectations for student attendance and engagement (see below).
  • CELT has additional information on effective communication practices in online teaching.

Course Attendance and Engagement

Establishing expectations for course attendance and engagement will continue to be challenging during the COVID-impacted spring semester. Faculty should be guided by the following principles when establishing and communicating expectations for engagement:

  • Focus on learning objectives and adjust content as appropriate to align with the shortened 14-week semester. Base grades primarily on the achievement of learning objectives. 
  • Implement a variety of approaches to hold students accountable for engaging in the course experience, regardless of modality. CELT has developed a curated list of strategies for engagement with the instructor, engagement with other students, and engagement with course content. The list includes a number of easy to implement strategies.
  • If a student's engagement in the course will be linked to their grade, consider a holistic approach that engages students in meaningful activities supporting key learning objectives. We encourage you to consider approaches other than increasing the number of graded assignments. If more frequent graded assignments are utilized, be mindful of the additional time these assignments will require in addition to other required components of the course grade.
  • Consider alternatives for students who miss face-to-face or virtual sessions due to illness or quarantine/isolation. Provide opportunities to engage in meaningful activities that are independent of attendance.

Field Trips  and other Experiential Academic Learning Experiences

  • All field trips and experiential academic learning experiences on- or off-campus must comply with current university safety protocols. If these protocols cannot be met, the activity should be cancelled. Guidance specific to overnight field trips will be available at the start of spring semester.
  • As was the case in Fall 2020, all field trips must be approved at the college level and follow the college review and approval process, including the field trip participant agreement from the ISU Office of Risk Management.  
  • Students who are unable to participate in person due to COVID safety concerns must be informed of alternatives, including other learning opportunities, delaying registration for the course, or selecting another course.

New Required Syllabus Statement on Free Expression

As communicated in November 2020 by Senior Vice President and Provost Jonathan Wickert, a new required syllabus statement on free expression has been approved and is available on the CELT website. This statement is to be used verbatim for all Iowa State University courses beginning with the recent Winter Session.

Additional Information and Continuing Resources/Policies from Fall 2020