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Update for faculty and staff: fall 2020 operations

McGovern College faculty and staff:

I write to update you on where we stand on plans for fall operations, including delivery of fall 2020 instruction. There has been a great deal of work accomplished since I last wrote to you at the end of May, and there is a great deal of work to be done. I hope this will begin to answer some of the outstanding questions that I know you have.

First, our planning continues to be deliberate and methodical rather than urgent and impulsive. Our primary concern is to protect the health and safety of the entire McGovern College of the Arts community--faculty, staff, and students. Therefore we must continue to measure our desire to resume operations and instructional activities with the extent to which those activities may occur, given the public health situation at any given moment. And the reality is that the public health situation is rapidly evolving--week to week and sometimes day to day; this means that we do not know what the situation will be, and what the advisories and best practices will look like, come mid-August and the start of the fall semester. This means we must plan for all scenarios in order to preserve as much flexibility as possible for faculty, staff, and students; this is simply the only option we have at this time.

Instructional delivery formats

Many, if not all, of you have developed plans for how you will deliver fall classes. The main instructional models available to us are synchronous online, asynchronous online, and the model known as "hyflex." The first two are probably self-explanatory: both are remote, online formats; one involves all students joining a class together at a designated time, while the other involves students viewing and working with recorded (or other) content online at a time of their own choosing.

"Hyflex" is the term for courses that are delivered both in person and online at the same time by the same faculty member, allowing students to choose the format in which they wish to receive the instruction. There are many variations on this model; hyflex is in fact more of a "concept" than a "model" per se. The common feature among all models is that they allow for flexibility and student choice--two of the goals we are aiming to achieve. Hyflex is also not a delivery mode that is specifically designed for emergencies such as the one we are in now; it can, and often is, employed even in normal circumstances. In those normal circumstances, students have the option to select their instructional delivery mode on a day-to-day basis: one day they might attend a class meeting in person, and the next day they might attend that class meeting online.

However, our current situation is different. Our rooms have limited capacities (due to the current distancing requirements) and therefore the number of students who may attend face-to-face meetings on any given day is limited. We also must know which class meetings students are attending on any given day in order for contact-tracing protocols to be effective. Therefore students must choose which instructional format they prefer--synchronous online, asynchronous online, or hyflex--at the time of reenrollment; those students choosing the hyflex option will need to decide whether they wish to take advantage of the face-to-face or the online delivery option, also at the time of reenrollment. ("Reenrollment" refers to the period in which students may make adjustments in their class schedules; see below for more.) In any case, students will not be permitted to swap sections and formats on an ad hoc basis during the semester.

More on course scheduling

The reengineering of the fall 2020 schedule is the most complex optimization problem that many in the university have ever dealt with. The project is a highly centralized activity, and all of our planning on course scheduling in the college is proceeding in close collaboration with the central administration. This is critically important: none of us have the luxury of operating completely independently in an environment--like the one we are in now--that requires creating shared solutions to intractable problems. It is clear at this time that social distancing requirements have reduced the available classroom space campus-wide to about one-third of original capacity; specialized lab space has been reduced even further still. Every space on campus, including those that are not designed for and not traditionally used for instruction, are in demand as instructional spaces. The health and long-term sustainability of the university requires that all of us participate in the effort to find creative solutions to maximizing the available space on campus in which instruction can be delivered.

Scheduling decisions, including room assignments, are being made according to a campus-wide prioritization system. Limitations on space capacity due to distancing guidelines, adjustments in the number of days in the week and number of hours in the day, preferences of the faculty on instructional formats, and the status of specific courses within degree plans (including whether or not those courses are required) are all prioritization factors. In the McGovern College of the Arts, this means that some of our spaces, including Dudley Recital Hall and the Green Room in the Moores School of Music, will be centrally scheduled and will host classes from outside the college. In the case of Dudley Hall in particular, the plan at this time is for the hall to be scheduled centrally from 8 AM to 5 PM Monday through Saturday, for the hall to remain available for local (college-controlled) scheduling at all other times. The Moores Opera House and the Quintero Theatre will remain available for local scheduling at all times.

Timelines and deadlines

The timeline for announcing fall instruction and scheduling plans to students is also proceeding in coordination with the central administration. At this time, that timeline calls for Chairs, Directors, Deans, and the Office of the Provost to be in dialogue from June 22 through July 14 on issues such as departmental schedules, space inventories and locations of classes, and inventories of alternative classroom spaces (i.e., non-instructional space that will be adapted for instructional use). The fall 2020 schedule will be finalized and viewable for students by the target date of July 16, showing at that time the room locations of all classes and the format in which those classes will be delivered. Students may then make changes and adjustments in their schedules during a "reenrollment" period, from July 16 to August 31.

Additional deadlines that you should be aware of include the following:

  • fall payment deadline for students: August 18
  • first day of fall 2020 classes: August 24
  • last day for students to add a class: August 31
  • official reporting day, or "ORD" (the day on which enrollment is counted for reporting purposes): September 9

Training opportunities

The Office of Faculty Engagement and Development (the "FED") has prepared a comprehensive summer training program for faculty, on developing and maximizing online and hyflex courses. The program will include basic training modules (online asynchronous modules in many cases), pre-semester hands-on training, and advanced and ongoing training. The program has been developed for faculty members by faculty members, many of whom have already developed award-winning online or hyflex courses. Much of the training, especially in the pre-semester modules, will be delivered in the same hyflex format that will be addressed in the modules themselves, so that you may experience the hyflex format as you participate in the training. The basic training component will be announced on Friday, June 26; pre-semester hands-on training will be announced on Wednesday, July 1.

You have also received separate email communications from Associate Dean Beckham Dossett (most recently on June 8 and June 10) regarding additional training opportunities that have already been made available from the Office of Instructional Design.

I strongly encourage all of you to participate in as many of these summer training opportunities as you can. This will be key to maximizing the experience of students as well as your own experience with fall instruction.

Additional updates

I am aware of the following additional information at this time:

  • an extension of the undergraduate and graduate grading policies implemented for spring and summer 2020 is under consideration.

  • a plan for administration of final exams, to include online options and to include training for faculty members, is in development

  • a policy that will address the handling of student absences is in development

  • University Information Technology will continue to make laptops available to students in fall 2020. Students will also be asked to meet basic technology expectations, which will be clearly communicated to students this summer

  • you will receive directives on to syllabus language pertaining to health and safety concerns; this will include an option to require the use of health and safety items (such as masks) in situations involving face-to-face instruction. Note that, per the President's message yesterday, the university now requires the wearing of face coverings on campus. We will be continuing to communicate with you on what this means in arts instructional contexts.

  • a comprehensive testing and contact-tracing protocol for the university is in development

  • additional cleaning and sanitization protocols have been announced, including the installation of hand sanitizers and the use of daily electrostatic fogging (as a sanitization device, applied in the overnight hours) in all instructional spaces; we have reached an agreement that will prohibit the electrostatic fogging of sensitive, specialized equipment (such as pianos and specialized technology equipment)

  • the deadline to purchase a parking permit for fall 2020 is June 28

  • students will be permitted to live in campus housing; more information on campus housing (so that you may respond to questions from students) is available on the Student Housing and Residential Life FAQ page.

I am of course aware of the dire news and statistics coming out of Houston and Harris County in recent days. I urge everyone to take measures to remain safe and healthy. I further urge everyone to use the time to focus on maximizing your fall instructional experience, both for yourselves and for your students. The semester will be more rewarding if we use the time available to us now to plan carefully. 

I greatly appreciate the work everyone has done thus far, and I further appreciate the significant amount of work that remains to be done--during the summer months at that, in which many would normally be at summer festivals or conducting research. I appreciate very deeply the toll that this situation is taking on our personal and professional lives, and I appreciate every one of you for stepping up to the task at hand. Again, the long-term health and sustainability of the university requires that we use our collective will, creativity, and intellect to find solutions to these problems.

I will continue to communicate with you as more information becomes available and as the situation continues to evolve.

Andrew Davis