Faculty update from the Dean’s Office

A note from the Dean of the College to clarify several points about the shift to remote instruction beginning on Monday, March 23rd.

Dear Faculty:

So much has transpired over the few days since the College’s announcement about the move to remote teaching for the remainder of the semester. Since that time, many of us have also been faced with the closure of our children’s schools, worries about our parents or other family members, and have had to quickly adapt to teaching remotely for the rest of the semester. It has been very hard indeed. There is little that I can say that can change these realities, but I hope that providing information to reduce uncertainty can help.

First, we hope that your plans for modifying the remainder of your spring semester courses are moving along. We would like to clarify a few points about this shift to remote instruction that begins on Monday March 23rd.

Academic Technology Resources

The staff in ITS, the Library and CDLA are ready to support your pedagogical needs during this transition. Now that you have given some thought as to how you would like to approach the remainder of the semester, please check in with ITS to ensure that you have the hardware/software that you need to accomplish your remote teaching goals. The College can provide equipment such as webcams, tablets, and microphones, but we need to know what you need. Please use the helpdesk@oxy.edu address to request support as soon as possible.

The Academic Continuity Planning (ACP) team has put together a collection of web pages to support you as you plan the transition to online teaching here. As you navigate the pages you’ll find some suggested exercises here to test your preparedness, and that of your students, to use alternate forms of instruction. You’ll find a list of applications and software that will be useful tools for offering instruction online here. ITS’s Virtual Computer Lab offers remote access for you and your students to software such as Mathematica, Stata, SPSS, Matlab, and more. And the link here gives you this week’s schedule of training and workshops, all of which are being offered remotely. These pages are being updated daily with new resources, and are all directed toward faculty as you prepare to offer your courses online. By the end of the week ITS will have an additional collection of webpages aimed at students that will deliver step-by-step instructions so that students will know how to access the online resources you have chosen to use. We encourage you to give your students guidance on which resources you will be using so that they can start familiarizing themselves with those resources in time for classes to start up again next week.

Connecting with students

In meetings with Department Chairs on Monday, we learned of several innovative and resourceful methods that faculty and departments are using to manage their courses. (Carmel Levitan, interim director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, is creating a repository of good ideas that may help to spark your thinking about how to address your pedagogical concerns). Please do communicate with your students to let them know how you are thinking about structuring your courses for the rest of the semester. This is especially important for courses that are “non-standard” (e.g., labs, studios, etc.). Students are anxious about how they will be able to complete the semester, so hearing that you have a plan moving forward would be most helpful.

Expectations from the College regarding remote teaching

As always, faculty have autonomy in designing and delivering their classes, and we recognize that you are adapting to a new system to meet the learning goals of your courses as best you can. But we do wish to articulate a few expectations for the remainder of the semester. The shift to online learning must involve active participation by both the faculty member and the student. Simply directing students to read materials and then take exams with minimal interaction with the professor is not an appropriate approach. As the professor, you need to support and guide the students through the course material, as you would in person.

Keep in mind that the organization and delivery of the material may require weekly checklists or set-ups to keep the students organized and engaged—for example, readings, discussion chats, quizzes, comprehension/reflection questions, supplementary links, and modules to complete final assignments.

You are also expected to hold office hours at the same level of frequency as usual. Through BlueJeans, you can set up regularly scheduled office hours via “meetings” in 15-minute increments. But if you want to avoid multiple students wishing to talk with you at the same time, you’ll need to either set up “appointments” on Google calendar [see instructions] or email students and schedule office hours that way.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Classes

Some faculty will prefer to have their classes meet “synchronously” during regularly scheduled class time with students participating in real time through video or teleconference. You may set attendance policies according to your preferences and goals for your course. If you choose this option, however, you will need to create an alternative “asynchronous” participation mode for students who may be in different time zones or whose access to a shared computer may be limited by other family members in similar situations. Oxy students are scattered around the world, and even among domestic students, there is a six-hour time difference between Hawaii and the East Coast. If you set mandatory participation requirements, you will need to allow for exceptions for students that are unable to participate live. Students will be advised that they need to discuss their needs with you for an exception to a mandatory attendance policy. For all synchronous learning platforms, there is a “record session” feature, that will allow you to create a resource that can be made available for students who could not participate live. Please work with your students to ensure that they can meet the goals of your class.

Guest Speakers

If you have scheduled a guest speaker in your class, you can still proceed as planned (assuming your guest speaker is willing). The speaker(s) will need to get into BlueJeans and join the class. Please contact ITS for assistance with such a set-up.

Intellectual Property, Fair Use, and Library Resources

Several faculty have asked about whether materials they develop for remote learning remain the intellectual property of their author. The College does not claim ownership of intellectual property of faculty that falls under the category of “traditional academic works,” including course materials, whether or not they are created or placed online. So you can be assured that materials you create remain your own intellectual property.

A helpful, short report entitled “Public Statement of Library Copyright Specialists: Fair Use and Emergency Remote Teaching and Research” has been released. In short, it concludes that “It is evident that making materials available and accessible to students in this time of crisis will almost always be fair use.” Any course materials the Library/CDLA digitizes will be restricted to students enrolled in the course. The content will only be available for the period of time needed.

This is a great opportunity to explore the wide variety of Open Educational Resources (OER) that are freely available for use via the web. We recommend beginning with LibreTexts and Open Textbook Library. It would be beneficial to both faculty and students if OER could replace traditional print textbooks during this period of remote teaching and learning, and perhaps even beyond that.

VitalSource, an e-textbook vendor, is providing free access to an expansive catalog of digital learning materials through May 25, 2020. Students can download the VitalSource Bookshelf app, login using their Oxy email address, and then view course materials from participating publishers by utilizing its Explore capabilities. Please note that of the 38 titles in the Library’s Textbook Reserves, VitalSource Bookshelf has copies of the same edition (or a newer version) for 29 of them. Each students can check out seven titles total.

The Library/CDLA is not supporting the use of print and other analog resources during this period of remote teaching and learning. The Library is closed to users and is not circulating materials. Link+ book borrowing and lending have been suspended. Borrowers who have circulated Oxy, Link+, or Interlibrary Loan books should keep them until further notice. They will be automatically renewed and borrowers will incur no fees. To request scanned book chapters from Oxy’s collection or from other libraries, use the Book Chapter Request form in ILLiad.

Faculty requiring print, videos, and other analog materials to be digitized for course reserves should contact library@oxy.edu. I ask that you first explore electronic alternatives before making requests. Digitization is a time-intensive operation and requires staff to complete the work on site.

For updates on Library/CDLA resources and services, please check back here regularly.

Dates and Deadlines

As mentioned in a prior email, the deadline for filing senior comprehensive grades has been extended to Monday April 20. We are not currently considering other changes to the academic calendar at this time. We have received several questions about the community-building day scheduled for Tuesday, April 21 (the “Founders Day” Celebration of Equity and Inclusion), during which classes are canceled. We would like to keep that day free of classes, and we are contemplating ways to preserve the spirit of that occasion through remote means.

Advising and Registration

Advising has been moved back by one week and will be extended over a two-week period, with registration taking place the week afterward. Advising now will take place from March 30 to April 10. Registration will take place during the week of April 13. Please connect with your advisees to see how they are doing and reassure them that you will work with them in this new format. We are still working on the details of major declarations, PIN distribution and the like. Please see the helpful remote advising guide that was prepared by Ed Johnson. He will be updating this resource frequently.

Academic Honesty

Some faculty have expressed concerns about academic honesty in light of the move to an online format for exams and quizzes. We continue to uphold student responsibility for academic integrity and will provide guidance on alternative ways to offer exams.

Disability Accommodations

Academic accommodations approved through Disability Services must be honored, even in an online capacity. Although most accommodations should transfer to an online setting, some previously approved accommodations may no longer apply. Please contact Disability Services with any questions that may arise. The most commonly assigned accommodation is extra time on exams. If you plan to give your students timed online exams, please ensure that students who have made you aware of their approved accommodations via an official accommodation letter are granted extra time online. See the tutorials on how to add extra time for a quiz or grant an assignment extension. Please note that an extended time accommodation is not the same as providing more time for all students; students with an accommodation should get an additional percentage of time above whatever other students are granted.

Many of you will be scanning materials (textbook pages, articles, PDF, etc.) for your courses. Please be aware that students with (and without) disabilities may use screen reading software to access digital text. In order to maximize the effectiveness of these programs, please ensure you are scanning clear copies in a straight, vertical orientation.

Anxiety can impact all aspects of attention and focus. Consider building time and redundancy into your remote curriculum, assessments and messaging to students.

Academic Flexibility

As previously discussed, our students’ lives have been upended--not only are they experiencing a shift in their educational program, they have also experienced a radical change to their living arrangements and separation from their close relationships with friends and peers. It will take them time to adjust. We ask that you approach the remainder of the semester with patience and compassion. We do not ask that you modify your standards, but you may need to adjust your expectations for the time and support that your students will require in order to meet your standards. This is especially true for the first week of remote teaching. Some of our students will be beginning their journeys home late this week, and will not be ready to attend classes early next week. We will communicate with students that if they are going to be late “returning” for the remainder of the Spring semester, they must let their professors know. We would ask that you consider a late return due to the hardships imposed by an unexpected mid-semester relocation to be an excused absence, and that you work with the student to allow them to make up the work that they missed.

Disadvantaged Students

Building on the last point, some of our students will struggle more with the hardships imposed by the global health crisis, in general, than others. The inherent inequality in our society makes some students particularly vulnerable to the negative consequences of this situation. While the College is working with each student to meet their technological needs, the differences in circumstances between our more affluent students and our less well-resourced ones will be exacerbated. We ask that you be attentive to the needs of these students and work with them to find ways to support them in achieving the goals of your courses. Oxy’s commitment to equity requires us to ensure that all students have the support that they need to meet the College’s academic standards. Student services offices are doing their best to provide our students with the support necessary to succeed in these circumstances. You have a part to play.

Use of campus facilities

Yesterday, some 200+ students were granted permission to remain on campus to live and eat here. All students, whether or not they reside on campus, will need to participate in remote learning, and will not be permitted to use campus resources that are unavailable to other students who are learning from home. This includes art studios, laboratories, production facilities, and the like.

Course evaluations/faculty review

We understand that faculty, particularly pre-tenure faculty, are concerned about how they will be evaluated by students during this extraordinary semester. We have been focused on managing the transition to remote learning during this last week. Once we successfully launch the remainder of the semester, we will let the faculty know how we are planning to approach faculty evaluation. We plan to consult with Advisory Council and Faculty Council, and will report back when we have more information.

If you get sick

Of course, the health and safety of the members of our community is the College’s most important priority, and is the primary motivation for the measures we are taking to control the spread of the virus. As always, whenever a faculty member falls ill we will work with the department and the faculty member to find a substitute to take over the course. Before you cancel any scheduled class meeting, you should contact your department or program chair. Depending on how long the faculty member is ill, we work with HR to get the faculty member set with paperwork for short-term disability leave.

Finally, we want to acknowledge that we know that you are being bombarded with information and it may all seem overwhelming. Please use the resources that are here for you. If you need help connecting to the resources you need, please call on us for advice. The Associate Deans and I stand ready to help.

Take care,

Wendy F. Sternberg, Ph.D.
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College