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Update for students: fall 2020 operations

McGovern College students:

This is to update you on where we stand on plans for fall operations, including delivery of fall 2020 courses. I know you have also received a recent communication from Provost Short; this message is intended to complement that message.

There is still much that is uncertain about our operations for fall 2020, and much will depend on how the public health emergency continues to evolve. I can assure you that, whatever happens, we remain fully committed to delivering the instruction--including the content and the support--you need, in the time that you need it. This is not a time to suspend plans for advancing your educational careers, making progress toward graduation, or enrolling for the first time in the university, and we understand that. We are, in addition, doing everything possible to ensure that you have safe and flexible options for your fall courses.

Bear in mind that in order maximize safety and flexibility, some of the instruction you need will necessarily happen in remote, online formats. This is necessary in order to ensure that you have as many options as possible and to ensure proper health and safety--including the maintaining of safe distancing when students are together on campus.

Fall 2020 schedule

As a result of this situation, the fall 2020 schedule that was developed in January and published in March must now be rebuilt, or "reengineered." This reengineering process is occurring as we speak. Faculty members, chairs, directors, deans, and the Office of the Provost are in dialogue on issues such as departmental schedules, space inventories, locations of any classes that will occur with face-to-face components, and inventories of alternative classroom spaces (i.e., non-instructional space that might be adapted for instructional use).

Because of the significant revisions that must be made to the existing schedule, that schedule will be "taken down" and will be invisible and inaccessible, beginning next week, for a period of about 10 days. If you have already enrolled for classes before the schedule becomes invisible, you will remain enrolled for those classes during this period. Classes will not be canceled during this period. The format in which your classes are delivered might change during this time; more detail on formats for instructional delivery appear in the next section of this message.

The timeline will proceed as follows:

  • July 5: the existing fall class schedule will become invisible and inaccessible. You will remain enrolled for the classes you have selected, if you have enrolled by this date; classes will not be canceled.

  • July 6: the date of an "open enrollment" period will be announced. Open enrollment is the period during which you may enroll for fall classes, if you have not already done so by July 5. (Those who enrolled for classes by July 5 will receive priority "reenrollment" appointments; see the next bullet point.)

  • July 9: if you have already enrolled for classes by July 5, you will receive a (future) priority appointment date for "reenrollment"--a period during which you may make changes or adjustments to your fall class schedule.

  • July 14: the revised fall 2020 schedule will be republished and will be visible again.

  • July 15: you may begin make changes or adjustments to your fall class schedule, at your designated appointment time. Priority reenrollment appointments will come first, with the open enrollment period coming next (as explained above).

Fall 2020 instructional formats

Upon republication, the fall 2020 schedule will indicate the specific format in which each fall 2020 course will be delivered. The format will be one of three types: synchronous online, asynchronous online, and the model known as "hyflex." The first two of these are probably self-explanatory. Both are remote, online formats: synchronous online courses involve students joining a class together, at the same time, in a "virtual classroom" at the scheduled time for each class meeting; asynchronous online courses involve students viewing and working with recorded (or other) class 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 instructor. Some McGovern College of the Arts courses may adopt this model. It is a model that can take many different forms, and it is not one 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, if your class were taught using the hyflex approach, you would have the option to select your instructional delivery mode on a day-to-day basis: one day you might attend a class meeting in person, while the next day you might attend that class meeting online.

But the current situation is different. Because of the limited room capacities (again, due to the distancing requirements), the number of students who may attend face-to-face meetings of a given class on a given day is limited. We also must know which class meetings you are attending on any given day in order for the university's contact-tracing protocols to be effective. Therefore, for any courses that may be offered with the hyflex model, you will be required to choose which format you prefer: face-to-face, or online. Swapping from the online to the face-to-face option on an ad hoc basis during the semester will not be permitted, again because it potentially leads to violation of the distancing requirements and renders the contact-tracing protocols ineffective.

Note that you will not be required to come to campus, if you are unable to do so or you choose not to do so. If you wish to have a schedule of courses delivered exclusively online, that option will be available to you.

Additional deadlines and updates

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

  • August 18: fall payment deadline

  • August 24: first day of fall 2020 classes

  • August 31: last day to add a class

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

  • an extension (through fall 2020) of the interim undergraduate and graduate grading policies implemented for spring and summer 2020 is under consideration; no decision has been made at this time.

  • an absence policy that addresses the unusual complexities of the current situation is in development.

  • University Information Technology will continue to make laptops available to students in fall 2020. The Office of the Provost will communicate to you any additional basic technology expectations during the summer.

  • your courses may have syllabi requiring the use of health and safety items (such as masks) in situations involving face-to-face instruction. Note that the University of Houston now requires the wearing of face coverings on campus (with exceptions as noted online). We will be continuing to communicate with you on what this means for any arts courses that include face-to-face components.

  • we recognize the difficulty posed by the potential variety in class formats, for those of you who will have a schedule that includes face-to-face instruction. For those who on any given day will be required to move, for example, from a face-to-face class to an online class and back again to a face-to-face class, we are working to provide remote learning locations--to the extent that our space allows us to do so--on campus, in the college, that you may use to attend your online classes.

  • we recognize that there are questions about work-study opportunities and the available work for students on campus in the fall. We are working to address this, and I will continue to update you as more information becomes available.

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

  • the University of Houston has announced additional cleaning and sanitization protocols campus-wide, 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).

  • for more information on parking permits, visit Parking and Transportation online.

  • campus housing will be open. More information is available on the Student Housing and Residential Life FAQ page.

I am aware of the 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 understand as well the great deal of uncertainty that remains for what to expect in fall 2020. This high level of uncertainty might persist for a while longer as we continue to address all of the variables in play, in order that we may provide you with the very best student experience possible in fall 2020.

I will continue to communicate with you as more information becomes available and as the situation continues to evolve. I encourage you to communicate directly with me if you have questions in the meantime. I will continue to answer questions as I receive them.

Andrew Davis