COVID-19: Academic Update


A message to faculty from the Dean of the College to help them approach the task of remote instruction for the remainder of the semester, and to provide important information related to the transition.

Dear Colleagues:

I am writing to follow-up on President Veitch’s message announcing that the College is suspending in-person instruction following an extended spring break (through 3/20) and moving all instructional activities to a remote teaching format beginning on Monday 3/23. Since this is a major shift in how we operate, we want to provide some information to faculty about how we move forward. The purpose of this message is to help you start to think through (if you haven’t already) how you will approach the task of remote instruction for the remainder of the semester, and to provide you with important information related to the transition.

I will state at the outset that I know that this transition poses an extraordinary challenge, and we are here to support you through it. As I mentioned in my message yesterday, we are making a fundamental change to an educational model to which many of us have devoted our entire careers and that we deeply believe in. And we are doing this while all of us are also concerned about our own well-being and that of our families. I know it is a tough time for all of you.

Please, take a deep breath, and remind yourself of what is truly important.

With respect to the transition to remote teaching, we ask that you set realistic expectations for yourself—we are not asking you to perfectly replicate your in-classroom environment. We know that this is impossible. Our basic advice is to keep it simple, and to check in with yourself about your current comfort level with respect to technology. We encourage you to adopt a “triage” mentality in which you focus on the basics and avoid letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. We are hopeful that this experience will provide you with the opportunity to learn tools that you may have otherwise wanted to try, and which may ultimately enrich (rather than replace) your in-class experience in the future.

Importantly, to the extent you are able, maintain a connection with your students and your advisees. Physical distance does not fundamentally alter your relationship with your students. Stay in frequent contact via email or video conference. Be transparent with your decisions that affect the classroom. Involve them in the decision-making to the extent feasible. The faculty-student relationship is a large component of the educational benefit that our students derive from Oxy, and that shouldn’t change because you are separated by distance.

Although the decision to move instruction on-line was made by me, Dean Flot, and President Veitch, in consultation Sara Semal and the entire senior leadership team, the specific implementation for how to deliver online instruction to best meet your learning goals will be determined by the faculty, with support from the Dean's Office, Information Technology Services, and the digital pedagogy specialists in the Library/Center for Digital Liberal Arts. Please review the information that follows.

Remote teaching: Some examples of what is possible

We list below some possible ways you may adapt to remote instruction for your courses:

  • You may continue to hold lectures at the designated time, with students watching a streaming video of your lecture, either synchronously (in real time, during the regular meeting time slot) or asynchronously (posted online for viewing at any time). This option may be appropriate for lecture-based courses and some lab or production courses.

  • You may hold video-conference sessions, in which all students log in to the video conference simultaneously, and discussion proceeds as if face-to-face. This option may be appropriate for seminar/discussion courses.

  • You may choose to have students read posted materials and then moderate an online discussion in Moodle.

  • You may assign students a research paper or other independent assignment, and hold phone or video conferences with students periodically to guide their work and give feedback

These are only a few suggested approaches to managing instruction in the coming weeks. Our intent is to give you some ideas here, but ultimately we want to provide you support to determine the best method for delivering your course content and achieve your learning goals while moving to online instruction.

Divisional Chair meetings

In order to best understand the differing needs of the disciplines across the academic program during this time of transition, the ADs, ITS/CLDA support staff, and I will be holding 4 Divisional meetings for Department Chairs on Monday 3/16 at 2:00PM (locations TBD)—all Departments must be represented, if the chair is not available, please designate someone in your department to attend.

Social Sciences: (Chairs of Economics, Sociology, History, DWA, Education, LLAS, American Studies, Politics, UEP), Associate Dean Brighouse, Darren Hall and Jacob Alden Sargent.  Location: TBD

Natural Sciences: (Chairs of Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, Cognitive Science, Computer Science, Geology, Kinesiology, Math, Physics, Psychology), Associate Dean Buckmire, Lily Eluvathingal and James Uhrich.  Location: TBD

Humanities: (Chairs of CSLC, CTSJ, EAS, English, Philosophy, RELS, SFS, WRD), Associate Dean Fernandez, Yovanna Cifuentes-Goodbody and Brian Chambers.  Location: TBD

Arts: (Chairs of AAH, MAC, Music, Theater), Dean Sternberg, Samantha Alfrey, and Kevin Mulroy.  Location: TBD

Note: Faculty may call in to these meetings (details TBD), but all in-person meetings will occur in rooms large enough to permit social distancing, consistent with public health guidelines for minimizing exposure and spread of the virus.

At these meetings, we will talk through the unique challenges in your programs so that we can best support your needs and the needs of your students. Please be prepared to discuss senior comps and any issues that are specific to instruction in your department. We need to understand the full range of challenges you face so that we can prepare to help you meet those challenges. It is essential that a member from each academic department attend and that the chair or designee consult with the faculty in their departments or programs so that they understand the full range of issues of concern, prior to the Monday meeting. In addition, faculty may continue to reach out directly to ITS for support at helpdesk@oxy.edu

CSP Instructor meetings

On Monday 3/16 during the CSP teaching slots (11:45-12:40, 12:45-1:40), a separate meeting will be held for CSP instructors, led by AD Ron Buckmire.  We strongly encourage all CSP faculty to attend, as we believe that each CSP course will face similar challenges, given the similar learning goals for all courses in the program. This meeting is an opportunity to share ideas and learn from each other’s experiences. Because as many as 32 individuals teach in the CSP program, we are splitting these meetings into two time slots, since the College is prohibiting gatherings of 25 or more individuals. Associate Dean Buckmire will be in touch with session information, as well as call-in instructions for those who wish to attend remotely.

Additional Training

At the level of the individual class, we will continue to encourage faculty to meet with a member of the ITS and Library/CDLA staff to understand the options that are available to you, and for you to become trained in the necessary tools to accommodate these unusual circumstances. A full schedule of workshops, office hours and training sessions will be provided to faculty by Friday 3/13.

Next week, we will also be seeking faculty feedback on a variety of issues related to student academic progress, and teaching and supporting our students toward degree completion given the shift in pedagogy that we are implementing this semester.

Students on Campus

Many of you have inquired about students’ ability to remain on campus. Although public health concerns necessitate that we minimize the number of students living in residence halls, there will be some students that remain on campus (or who return to campus) due to their particular circumstances. Students will be petitioning to remain on campus, and will need to explain their circumstances. Students may request to remain on campus for academic reasons. Although all students are expected to complete their “classroom” instruction online, there may be some special cases in which a student requests to be on campus to complete certain outside the classroom credit-bearing academic activities—for example, if their senior comps involves hands-on activities with equipment available only on campus. These requests will be handled on a case-by-case basis, and will require at minimum that the faculty member supervising the student’s work agrees to continue working with the student during this time. Such arrangements will also have to be approved by me. There will need to be compelling evidence that there are no other options that will allow the student to complete the work remotely, and we will need to make decisions that we can apply fairly and equitably, without compromising the public health concerns that have led us to make this decision in the first place.

Academic Issues for Students

As disruptive as this situation is for our students and employees, it is maximally impactful on our students. This is not how they have become accustomed to learning, and most every aspect of their lives has been completely upended in a short period of time. As the College is closed the week of 3/16-20, you should not expect your students to turn in work, take exams, or the like, even if they were previously on the syllabus. Our students, like you, should be spending this week in preparation for the remainder of the semester. ITS and Library/CDLA are also working on documentation for students who may be less comfortable or familiar with online learning. Faculty are expected to reevaluate upcoming deadlines and adjust throughout the rest of the semester.

Campus Events

Finally, many faculty have inquired about previously scheduled events and campus visits. As you are aware, the College has canceled all activities during the week of 3/16 and all gatherings over 25 people (including next week’s Faculty Meeting—more on that to come). But some of you may have visitors scheduled to visit your classrooms, research labs, or departments. Because the College is open, we are not prohibiting visitors from being on campus, provided they are in small groups. You may use your discretion to cancel, postpone, or move to a virtual format any upcoming campus visits. If you are the organizer of an event which was expected to bring more than 25 people you should communicate to your potential visitors notifying them of the cancellation. Smaller events can happen on campus, although none during the week of 3/16. If you do need support to hold a remote meeting, please note that ITS will be focused primarily on supporting the academic program in the coming days and weeks, so may not be able to support a virtual conference or other non-teaching based academic activity.

I know this is a lot to take in, so thanks for bearing with me. I would be remiss if I ended this note without acknowledging the diligent work (past, present, and future) of our colleagues in ITS, and the Library/CDLA. I believe we are well-equipped to handle what is to come, thanks to their quick action, vision, and dedication to the academic program.

Best,

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