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Faculty Update: Course Design and Resources for Fall 2020

Dear Faculty,

Following President Sands’ message on June 8th announcing our intention to provide an on-campus experience for students this fall, you have been working with department heads to design plans for delivery of courses. The goal is to provide in-person instruction to maximize direct engagement and active learning occurring in laboratories, field work, studios, artistic and creative performances, and clinical training while adhering to appropriate public health guidelines.

For smaller classes, it is anticipated that sufficient lecture space will be available to accommodate the reflective and interactive discussions that are the hallmark of student-centered learning, while complying with public health guidelines relating to physical distancing. For larger classes, online delivery of an entire course or the lecture-based part of a course may be necessary as it may not be possible to meet in-person while also abiding by public health standards. Irrespective of the delivery platform, I encourage you to adapt and design courses that engage students and invest them in their learning to the greatest extent possible.

In my experience, professors who are able to model thought processes relevant to the discipline and do so in a transparent and engaging manner are the most successful in promoting engaged student learning. Please be aware that colleagues in the Provost’s Office, the Graduate School, and TLOS stand ready to support your instructional efforts. Professional development resources and consultation opportunities are also available.

As you design your courses, I am certain that you recognize that the task involves optimizing the relationship between three primary factors – public health, academic program quality, and resource capacity. The overall goal is to implement as much direct engagement and experiential learning as possible, without exceeding the university’s resource capacity (in personnel, space and scheduling time, budget etc.), and to do so while mitigating the risk of a resurgence in COVID-19. If we achieve our stretch goal of delivering approximately a third of the curriculum in person this fall, I believe that we will make good progress in transitioning our educational program approach from the fully online mode in late spring to a well-balanced program by the end of the academic year that builds on past excellence and incorporates the lessons being learned as we work our way through the COVID-19 pandemic.

To assist you in designing your courses, I recognize that you need access to details concerning public health measures to be implemented, instructional space capacity, study abroad programs, residential housing plans etc. The following is a list of current and pending resources that you are encouraged to review:

  • President Sands’ June 8, 2020 message announcing plans for an on-campus fall semester.
  • Preliminary Recommendations for Delivery of Academic Programs in Fall 2020 (PID-protected page) – This is a “living” document informed by consultation with the Faculty Senate Cabinet and college and university leadership that is subject to frequent updating (note the document version and date.)
  • Guidelines for Implementation of Public Health Measures (pdf on VT News) – These high-level guidelines are intended to serve as a basis for further consideration of public health measures to be implemented in educational environments. For more detailed planning, faculty and department heads should contact the assistant vice president for emergency management, who will refer questions to members of the Virginia Tech Incident Management Team or public health officials.
  • Testing, Tracing and Case Management Plan - This plan provides guidelines for initial and ongoing screening and testing of students and employees, cooperation with local health department contact-tracing investigations, and effective case management within the university population should an employee or student become infected.
  • Instructional Space Guidelines to Support Social Distancing Requirements - These guidelines are being provided to departments in order to ensure social distancing requirements are being accommodated in departmentally controlled classrooms. Meeting these requirements will result in a reduction in seating capacity. While an initial estimate of these reductions was provided to academic colleges by the Office of the University Registrar, departments are being asked to provide an updated capacity for each of their rooms. This can be submitted through a Google file on the website.
  • Virginia Tech In-Person Instruction and Campus Reopening Plan – This preliminary plan has been submitted to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) and will reside on the Provost’s website for reference. After it has been reviewed by SCHEV and any required modifications are made, the final approved version will also be posted. This plan addresses the following topics:
    • Repopulation of the campus
    • Monitoring health conditions to detect infection
    • Containment to prevent spread of the disease when detected
    • Contingency plans for enhanced public health measures or shutdown considerations if necessitated by severe conditions and/or public health guidance

In addition to these resources, you can expect to receive further communications relating to issues that are still under discussion, such as enforcement of public health measures.

Although it is important that budgetary and financial matters be considered in planning for the fall semester, I want to be sure that you do not undervalue the work that you do to advance learning, research, and outreach. The mission of our land grant university is not trivial. By developing the intellectual curiosity and creativity of students, and by providing them disciplinary skills, you enable graduates to pursue their aspirations and serve their families and communities. This learning, together with the research and outreach you perform, drives our economy, stewards our natural and human resources, and protects our health and welfare.

The on-campus experience, both curricular and co-curricular, is designed to foster the development of citizens who appreciate and are committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion. Yes, there would be financial and budgetary consequences if we are not able to offer an on-campus experience to students this fall, but as you redesign the academic program, please focus instead on the durable impact of your efforts and the difficulty in accomplishing our university’s mission in the absence of on-campus and in-person experiences.

Thank you for all that you are doing to move Virginia Tech forward under very challenging circumstances.