Recommendation for Criteria to be Used re: In-Person Course Delivery, Fall 2020
Provost Brent Carbajal gave the following charge to Associate Vice President Brian Burton:
I am asking you to convene a group that will recommend to me criteria Academic Affairs, colleges, and departments can use to determine courses that should be taught in person in Fall 2020. … Because of the need to inform departments and colleges of these criteria so they can adjust their schedules expeditiously, I would like the group’s recommendations by Friday, May 22.
The working group was to include faculty, administrator, and student representation. The members were:
- Kristopher Aguayo, CSE Student Senator
- Michael Barr, Associate Dean, Graduate School
- Adah Barenburg, Student Senate Pro Tempore
- Rich Brown, President, UFWW, and Professor, Theatre
- Jack Herring, Dean, Fairhaven College
- Brad Johnson, Dean, College of Science and Engineering
- Jeff Newcomer, Chair and Professor, Engineering & Design
- Shelli Soto, AVP for Enrollment Management and Acting Registrar
- Nick Wonder, Chair, UPRC, and Professor, Finance
Two factors we would describe as constraints were mentioned by the Provost in his charge and confirmed by the working group. The first is space. Because of distancing requirements, which are envisioned by the Governor even in Phase 4 of the state’s reopening and are expected to be in place until a vaccine is developed, capacity in classrooms drops from a high of 425 to a high of about 65. Fixed-tier classrooms, the largest on campus, have the highest percentage reductions. Therefore, it becomes difficult to schedule courses with a maximum enrollment greater than 20 (fewer than 30 classrooms have an adjusted capacity of 20 or greater), and almost impossible to schedule courses with a maximum enrollment of 30 or greater (at present only four classrooms are rated at an adjusted capacity of 30 or greater).
The second, and actually more important, constraint is safety. In alignment with Western’s values as consistently expressed by the University through the pandemic, safety of students, staff, and faculty is a vital consideration. Therefore, any classes that cannot be offered safely in person in the pandemic environment should not be. Part of this statement dovetails with the space constraint, but further, the necessity of cleaning and disinfecting spaces and allowing for traffic flows may place further constraints on the type and number of classes that can be offered in person. Other working groups are considering these questions. We just want to emphasize the importance of this constraint in planning.
Because of these two constraints, it is likely that some activities that would normally happen in an in-person setting will not be possible because of social distancing requirements. Also, those activities that will happen on campus will require participants to have personal protective equipment according to public health guidelines.
In considering criteria for decisions regarding in-person instruction, the working group emphasized the nature of the student experience. This emphasis could manifest itself in several approaches, none of which are mutually exclusive. There are four essential approaches we want to highlight:
- Courses or parts of courses that cannot be replicated online,
- Cohort building for groups of students that just entered cohort-based majors , and
- First-year experience.
First, the most obvious candidates for in-person instruction are those courses, or more accurately, those parts of courses in which the in-person experience cannot be easily replicated online because of equipment-related or skill-based needs. Each department would be the best judge of such experiences, but they may not be limited to courses such as labs or studio experiences. For example, courses that might use certain types of discussion such as role-playing might fit into this approach in a flipped-classroom model. Another example might be a field-based course that needs some preparation time on campus. The working group would give these the highest priority for in-person instruction, and if space were an issue because of limits on room capacity and the number of class periods per day, these course elements should be scheduled first. It should be noted that the entire content of some courses may fit within this approach, but due to space and time limitations, other courses may need to be rearranged or have the on-campus activities reduced. Classes could be split in half such that half the students meet on campus while the others have online experiences, with the two groups alternating on a daily or weekly basis. Many variations on this approach are possible.
A second approach, and one the working group feels also is very important, is to consider student equity concerns in scheduling in-person courses. This approach could mean different things. For example, if graduation would be delayed or a certification requirement would be left unmet without an in-person experience, that experience should have high priority. If a cohort would lose the ability to have a specific in-person experience because of a move to online instruction, a way should be sought to give that cohort that experience. Thinking the opposite way, if a course is scheduled for in-person instruction, equity would require a “nearly equivalent” experience be offered to those who cannot or should not come to campus and need to take the course to make progress toward their degree. This is particularly important for those course elements described in the previous paragraph.
Third, some programs are scheduled in a cohort approach. The first quarter in these programs often includes an element of cohort building. Such programs should be considered for in-person scheduling if some courses or parts of courses can be offered in person, as the students’ experiences could be improved significantly through such scheduling. Such an approach could be broadened for consideration of programs where retention may be a consideration.
Finally, the working group notes that another group is considering the first-year experience in the context of Fall 2020, and it is likely that suggestions for in-person experiences, class-based and co-curricular, will come from that group. Because of the importance of maintaining a strong entering class, if they can be done safely, recommendations from that group should be considered along with our report.
Western is in a difficult position in Fall 2020, as are other universities. There is no good solution, although the preservation of student, staff, and faculty health is a guideline we have used in these recommendations. Within that guideline, and given the space constraint imposed by distancing, we believe giving privilege to the areas where the student experience can be improved significantly through in-person classwork allows as near as we can come to a balance among the competing aspects of Fall 2020 planning. We understand these are recommendations, to be implemented by the Provost, colleges, and departments in ways that fit the different pedagogy and student needs therein. We hope the recommendations will be helpful in that endeavor. We also recommend the Provost clarify, in any message concerning this topic, the process by which in-person courses or parts of courses would be approved, no matter whether the process is decentralized to the department level or centralized to some extent.