Office of the Provost
The entire university community has been working tirelessly since the COVID-19 pandemic began to ensure that our students continue to receive high-quality, uninterrupted academic instruction. I thank all of you for your commitment to excellence. Your efforts have been nothing short of remarkable.
As with any endeavor, it is important to listen, gather feedback and consider how we can improve what we are doing. I am writing today to provide feedback about our collective efforts this fall and update you on the ways we will need to incorporate that feedback into our academic plans for spring.
1. Fall 2020 Feedback
This fall, we maximized in-person attendance to the extent possible while also meeting guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control andPrevention and the Georgia Department of Public Health. Achieving both objectives on six campuses with more than 11,000 course sections has been no simple task. To preserve six feet of social distancing between students, most classrooms have been capped at 25 percent of fixed seating. This reduced capacity necessitated creative thinking about course modality, delivery and educational needs. The resulting mix of blended, in-person and online instruction this fall has provided students with much-needed flexibility and allowed faculty with high-risk health profiles to receive necessary accommodations.
I am pleased to report that the safety measures we employed have been largely successful. The diminished density on campus, consistent use of face masks, and social distancing in our offices and classrooms are working as intended. We now have several months of data reflecting low COVID-19 positivity rates and no known transmission in classroom settings. We could not have achieved this result without everyone’s cooperation and planning. Thank you so much for your teamwork.
These safety measures are not without cost, and we all have experienced campus environments that are quieter and less dynamic than usual. Many of our students, eager for the engagement that is such an important part of the university experience, are feeling isolated and struggling to make meaningful connections with each other and with instruction conducted virtually.
2020 continues to find ways to stimulate and challenge us all at the same time.
2. Spring 2021 Updated Plan for Blended Classes
As we look to 2021, we continue to operate within a pandemic where the safety of faculty, staff and students must take precedence. As a result, our academic plan for spring remains largely the same. To comply with social distancing requirements, most classes necessarily will be delivered in a blended or online format, with pathways for traditional face-to-face classes preserved for those students who need this modality and for courses which benefit significantly from in-person delivery.
At the same time, we have learned important lessons this fall about the blended learning model. Further, the Board of Regents, which directs all University System of Georgia institutions, passed a resolution last week instructing all universities to maximize safe in-person instruction as described in this news release. Our need to achieve this objective, combined with our culture of continuous improvement for students, requires that we adjust how we deliver blended classes this spring.
As I shared in my last communication, our surveys of students and reports from individuals reflect that students and faculty are both struggling with the blended format. A meaningful number of students report that they are overwhelmed by the workload and complexity of scheduling, are less engaged with the material, and have little or no contact with professors. Additionally, a meaningful number of faculty report challenges adapting the blended model to course content, especially in a 25 percent attendance model, as well as students who do not show up for in-person sessions.
Everyone is trying their best to make this new format work, and those efforts are greatly appreciated. In conjunction with CETL, we are working hard to provide you with ideas for qualitative improvements and faculty-created strategies that respond to student feedback in blended classes. This week, for example, you can learn tips and strategies from your colleagues in the upcoming virtual conversation “Getting Maximum Educational Value from In-Person Blended Class Sessions.” You’ll find further information here: https://cetl.gsu.edu/lessonslearned/
We have heard from many of you that the lack of consistency in the definition of “blended” has contributed to its challenges. We now address this concern with the following clear expectation.
Beginning this spring, instructors in all blended classes will either (1) meet in-person for each scheduled class period using a cohort model that maximizes the percentage of students in the course that can attend at one time safely with social distancing; or (2) design the course to ensure that at least 25 percent of all instruction takes place in-person for each student. Meeting once or twice in-person during the semester, or delivering material synchronously but virtually, will not meet this requirement.
The 25 percent target identified above is not a magic number and can be increased based on the seating configuration of the classroom to which a course is assigned. If a higher number of students can be accommodated safely with social distancing, the corresponding percentage of in-person instruction can and should increase.
Significantly, faculty may request to be assigned to a larger classroom that will allow more frequent in-person instruction within these parameters, and we will accommodate as many requests as possible.
Please begin thinking how best to use this in-class time to create meaningful connections with your students in blended courses. You will find numerous resources on how to structure a course and other materials on CETL’s website at https://cetl.gsu.edu/lessonslearned/.
3. Delay of Spring Registration
I have asked the registrar to delay the opening of spring registration until November 2. This pause will be used to identify all classrooms and times that remain open on the spring schedule. During this time, I ask that faculty work with deans and department chairs to consider a more frequent attendance model for all blended courses to the extent we can provide a larger classroom. Using this information, we will take all steps possible to ensure we meet the BOR’s directive for maximizing safe in-person instruction. This short delay also will ensure the learning models on the schedule are coded correctly before registration, as required by the USG.
4. Attendance Requirements
In our effort to meet the needs of our students throughout the pandemic, we stressed the need for flexible attendance requirements this semester. Students who report that they are ill with COVID-19 or have been exposed to the virus and need to quarantine should be excused liberally from class without a physician’s note. Some faculty and staff have reported that this has resulted in a belief that in-person attendance is optional, with few students appearing for the in-person portion of blended courses.
To clarify, faculty may enforce an attendance policy that meets their needs and may take attendance in all classes. Faculty should clearly post the relevant attendance policy on course syllabi and consistently communicate their expectations to students. We will stress in our messaging to students that in-person attendance is an expected and necessary part of blended coursework. This will help to resolve some of the challenges we are encountering. Students should not be excused categorically from the in-person portion of a course unless they are granted an accommodation through the Access and Accommodations Center.
We have been through a lot in 2020, and the year is not over yet. I am grateful for all that you have done thus far to advance the teaching andresearch mission of Georgia State and thank you in advance for your continuing assistance. I will continue to communicate with our community as information becomes available. Working together, we will get through this challenging time.
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs