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Guidance and Reminders for Spring 2021 Instruction

As we begin the Spring 2021 semester and continue in modified instructional modalities, clear and sustained communication between faculty and students is essential for effective teaching and learning, and for providing students with the information needed to understand expectations for course instruction, assignments, and assessment. Below are some guidelines and resources for faculty and departments to support course progress and success.

  • Provide students with a clear and complete syllabus that acknowledges any modification based on modality, and is facilitated through a well-constructed Canvas course site. Per the Faculty Handbook (section 9.6.1), the syllabus should include course objectives, topical outlines, expected performance for which grades will be assigned, and the instructor’s attendance policy, if any. The syllabus should also include information regarding office hours and how the instructor can be reached directly or through the departmental office.
  • Students who register for coursework with an in-person learning component (hybrid or face-to-face) are expected to attend in-person instruction unless they need to self-isolate or quarantine as described below. This expectation should be clearly articulated in the syllabus and in communications with the student (e.g., through Canvas) prior to the start of the semester.
  • Assignment due dates should recognize the obligations and time commitments students may have beyond their academic work. As much as possible, due dates should be established at the beginning of the term. In general, assignments should not be due on weekends. While many students may choose to work on the weekends, it should be a choice, not an expectation.
  • The syllabus sets expectations for a course, including those related to course attendance. Faculty members may establish attendance and participation expectations for all courses as appropriate for the modality and learning goals for the course.
  • Course attendance and participation expectations for in-person instruction should continue to account for the health and safety protocols established for Fall 2020. Students should not be encouraged to come to an in-person class if they are feeling ill or exhibiting any COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Alternatives to earn credit for the missed class sessions or participation should be available to students who cannot attend or participate due an excused absence, including absence required to uphold the wellness agreement. We ask faculty to work directly with students to respond to extended absences.
  • For Spring 2021, faculty members may ask for absence verification from the Dean of Students office for in-person classes and for exams, major deadlines, or other situations in which a student’s absence due to health status or some other situation may impact their grade.
  • Further guidance related to attendance is available on the Provost's website and in Section 9.6.2 of the Faculty Handbook.
  • Direct communication and engagement with students should be sustained throughout the semester, in all course modalities. This engagement should include preferred means for communicating (i.e., Canvas, email, phone/text, etc.) and posting of office hours and how the instructor can be reached directly or through the departmental office during normal working hours.
  • Faculty members must be present with their students in all course delivery modalities and be as accessible and responsive as possible to student inquiries/requests. Faculty/instructors should endeavor to create a classroom atmosphere that promotes learning and engagement for all students and all modalities.
  • Beyond the time allocated for instruction, the Faculty Handbook (Section 9.7.1) describes expectations for office hours. As a part of their teaching responsibilities, faculty members are expected to provide office hours each week for consultation with students. Although a specific number of office hours is not stated in university policy, faculty members should ensure that they are readily available, both through office hours and by message at other times during the normal workweek.
  • Strategies for building inclusive and engaged learning in online environment are available through the CETL website, including a useful chart of key considerations.
  • To support student mental health and wellness, faculty should ensure the one-day 2021 spring break holidays (February 5, February 25, March 17, April 6, and April 26) are preserved as non-instructional days. According to the University’s academic calendar, there should be no class meetings, assignments due, nor exams administered on these dates. Faculty should also do their best to avoid assignment due dates and scheduling of exams on instructional days immediately following one of these spring break holidays so that students do not feel obligated to spend their down time studying or completing course requirements.
  • Faculty should ensure they and their students remain vigilant in complying with public health measures proven to be effective in reducing the risk of spreading coronavirus. Chief among these is wearing a face mask and avoiding exposure to those who are infected, facilitated by testing, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine.
  • Virginia Tech will continue to employ a consistent, thorough, and deliberate classroom and facility cleaning process. This process includes innovation and technology to minimize high-touch points across campus sites in combination with frequent cleaning of the remaining high-touch point surfaces. In addition, Virginia Tech will provide cleaning and disinfection actions aligned with the use and operational hours of building spaces. These guidelines apply to all facilities owned or leased by Virginia Tech.