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Guidelines to In-Person Instruction

This document serves as the Executive Summary of the recommendations of the College of Idaho Academic Affairs Pandemic Planning Task Force.  It remains a work in progress; at the time of this draft, July 6, 2020, information regarding the spread of COVID-19 continues to emerge and medical best practices evolve weekly, if not daily.  Nevertheless, in order to provide faculty members with sufficient time to prepare, we advance these guidelines with the understanding that they are subject to revision as new information emerges going forward.

The guidelines derive from a review of a wide range of sources.  Of particular importance have been consultation with the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Operating Officer for St. Luke’s Health System, the American Council on Education, the Centers for Disease Control’s Considerations for Institutions of Higher Education and Interim Guidance for Administrators of US Institutions of Higher Education, the American College Health Association’s (ACHA’s) COVID-19 Resource site, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, and review of a wide range of other colleges’ and universities’ institutional plans for fall instruction.  A list of resources can be found in the Appendix, which also includes curated resources for faculty development specific to COVID-19.

This document is intended to integrate with recommendations produced by Task Forces on Athletics, Student Life, and Health & Wellness, and Finance.  Planning efforts across these groups are built on the aim to return to in-person instruction for the coming year but recognize that events may require the College to shift to remote instruction prior to or at any point during the term.

Several overarching goals identified by the Presidents in our initial charge serve as guiding values for this planning effort.  They include the following:

  • to protect the health and welfare of our students, faculty, and staff
  • to continue to provide transformative education
  • to sustain our close-knit community
  • to maximize flexibility, timeliness, and evidence-based decision making

It will come as no surprise that these goals exist in tension with each other.  Were our concern with our campus community’s health and welfare our only consideration, we would move immediately to a remote-only academic year and avoid any possible exposure of our community to the pandemic.  Indeed, COVID-19 aside, we might do well to run the College remotely all the time, thereby avoiding the full gamut of physical and other forms of risk involved in living, working, and studying within a residential academic community.   However, the value of health and welfare is not our only concern.  A reasonable amount of risk in the pursuit of education may be judged to be acceptable when balanced against our commitment to the sort of transformative, life-changing liberal education and close-knit community that are the stock in trade for schools like ours. [See the NYT article on reopening Notre Dame cited in the Appendix for an exploration of related issues] 

Our collective task is to achieve a reasonable balance among these goals while planning for the coming year, taking the pandemic into account and recognizing that we operate in an environment of extreme uncertainty.  While we will continue to be informed by the best medical models available, there are simply too many variables involved to predict how matters will develop over time with sufficient confidence to trust in the fit of our plans to actual events.  Accordingly, as one particularly sage member of our group has put it, we must emphasize flexibility above all, develop backup plans for our backup plans, and look for opportunities within each of the challenges we confront.

These considerations set a tone for the list of recommendations and best practices that follow.  Some are considered policy mandates, expectations that all instructors must follow.  Others have emerged from research or experience as best practices, and thus are strongly recommended but not required.  We build from the premise that faculty members should have maximum autonomy to draw upon the strategies that suit their curriculum, pedagogy, and setting best. 

Prior to listing required and recommended actions, a brief set of terms and definitions related to delivery modes may be helpful:

Delivery Modes and Definitions:

  • In-person: Traditional live course delivery with faculty and students together in the classroom or other setting.
  • Face-to-Face: Delivery of course content and student engagement synchronously either physically together in a classroom, via video conferencing technology, or both.
  • Remote (via Teams or similar communication platform): Follows a normal course format, but all instruction is delivered synchronously using video conferencing technology.
  • Hybrid: Combines live synchronous or in-person content delivery with asynchronous media content and student engagement (discussion boards, email, etc.).
  • Online: Delivered primarily via asynchronous communication tools (discussion boards, email, etc.), and pre-recorded media.
  • Synchronous/Asynchronous:  Meeting simultaneously (“live”) or at different times.  Asynchronous delivery may involve limited or no direct contact by students and faculty.

Policy and Compliance: “Must Do’s”

  1. In-person Delivery:  In-person, face-to-face delivery is the instructional method most aligned with the values of the College of Idaho; accordingly, it is preferred when possible.  However, we recognize that for some instructors a hybrid mode may be most feasible and appropriate.  Whether in-person or hybrid modes are utilized, at least one synchronous meeting (i.e., simultaneous participation by instructor and students) must take place each week in order to comply with federal requirements related to international student visa requirements and veterans’ financial aid provisions.  Additional meetings may be asynchronous if good reasons exist. [Note that special accommodation for at-risk individuals may be requested through the Office of Human Resources]
  2. IT Platforms:  Faculty are expected to utilize the Canvas Course Management System and the Microsoft Teams Collaboration platform for remote delivery and support of all courses during the coming year in order to provide a consistent and integrated experience for students.  Survey information coincided with widespread student feedback from other sources to confirm the fact that these two platforms were both effective and highly regarded by a majority of members of our community.  Moreover, strongly negative response was made to use of alternative or novel options such as Zoom, Instagram, Skype, Meet, or Webex.  Students requested the simplicity and consistency of the two endorsed and supported systems, both of which integrate fully into the campus calendaring system, and as a result we request that all faculty members make use of them and only them.  Additional plug-ins, applications, and other layers of functionality may be integrated into use of these platforms, and professional development opportunities are available both for those who wish to improve their capacity to utilize Canvas and Teams, and those who wish to explore additional functions available via add-ons.  [Some of these opportunities are listed in the Appendix.]
  3. Academic Calendar:  The calendar has been amended for the fall semester in order to compress the term, reduce travel exposure, and end prior to the colder months when transmission typically increases.  Classes for the fall 2020 term will begin on August 19th, a week earlier than originally scheduled, and the last day of final examinations will be November 24th, two weeks earlier than originally planned.  The traditional week-long fall vacation has been replaced by a series of one-day, mini-breaks distributed over the course of the semester.  Additional details and the full fall calendar can be found hereThe winter and spring terms have also been modified to achieve similar outcomes by faculty vote.  details will be posted on the Registrar’s Office site by August 1.
  4. Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs):  PPEs must be worn by all members of the academic community, including students and employees, in all parts of all academic buildings, including classrooms, labs, hallways, and other contexts where people congregate.  Exceptions are allowed for faculty members inside their offices if they do not meet with students in those locations.  Students and faculty will wear face coverings during classes, and in some settings faculty may have the option to deliver lectures from behind plexiglass shields. We are sensitive to the ways in which face coverings can impede the delivery of course content as well as student participation, and will make appropriate adjustments, within public health guidelines, as needed. 
  5. Social/Physical Distancing:  Current distancing recommendations of 6 feet are required wherever and whenever possible, but we recognize there may be circumstances in which proximity is unavoidable.  Passage in hallways and work in labs represent two contexts in which students and faculty may be unable to sustain distance.  Increased ventilation may help reduce risk, particularly in settings where students and/or faculty work for extended periods, and many of the strategies listed above and below will also mitigate risk.  However, physical distancing should still be practiced whenever possible.
  6. Disinfecting Hands and Surfaces:  The Health and Wellness Task Force currently recommends periodic thorough handwashing and twice-per-day disinfecting of hard surfaces likely to have been contacted by people (e.g., doorknobs, handrails, desktops, elevator buttons, etc.).  Like social/physical distancing, disinfecting should be normalized and habitual, with some discretion allowed for each person to establish a routine and frequency with which they feel comfortable, but no less engagement or fewer actions than recommended by medical authorities.
  7. Classroom and Building Entrance and Exit:  In order to avoid overcrowding in classrooms and other academic settings, students from one class session should vacate completely before students for the subsequent class session enter the room.  While waiting for classes to dismiss, students should practice social/physical distancing and avoid congregating around the entrance.  Where practical, buildings will have designated entrances and exits and traffic flow patterns in order to minimize close contact among students and faculty as they move to and from classrooms and offices.
  8. Seating Charts:  In order to support contact tracing, faculty members are asked to utilize seating charts for classrooms.  Should a student be diagnosed with COVID-19, CDC recommendations for contact tracing recommend notification of those who have spent 15 minutes or more within 6 feet of the infected person.  Class meetings represent one of the primary contexts in which this contact threshold would be met, and seating charts will greatly aid in the process of identifying and notifying those students of concern.
  9. De-densifying Classrooms:  Conventional capacity limitations for classrooms, practice rooms, labs, and other academic spaces do not allow for physical distancing and may create unwarranted viral density.  Accordingly, when possible classes should be reduced in size relative to the space in which they meet and conduct classes or other academic work.  De-densification may be achieved through various means, including having only a portion of the class meet in-person at any given session, or moving the class into a larger-than-usual room.  Faculty should also consider the possibility of meeting outdoors during periods when weather and instructional needs allow; some outdoor venues may be reserved by contacting the Registrar’s Office.

All classrooms on campus are being evaluated for new maximum capacity limits to allow for distancing, and additional rooms are being brought online to create new options for instructional use this fall.  Room assignments will be made as soon as possible, with priority given to in-person classes.  If your department wishes to change any course meeting times to achieve lower student density (e.g., to access larger rooms), please notify the Registrar’s Office ASAP to ensure student schedules can accommodate the proposed change.

Recommended Practices for Safety and Effectiveness:  Should-Do’s

  1. Office and Advising Meetings:  We recommend that instructors do not meet with students in their offices.  Meetings may be held online via Teams, outdoors when weather permits, or in indoor locations allowing for social/physical distancing.
  2. Recording Class Sessions:  Regularly recording in-person class sessions may not be practical in all cases, but whenever possible should be done.  We are exploring the possibility of equipping classrooms with technology to enable simultaneous in-person and streamed delivery of class sessions for students who cannot be present in person.  This technology should allow for recorded course sessions, as will more conventional remote sessions on Teams.  You should anticipate the possibility of some students missing from class whether through quarantine or recovery from diagnosed cases of infection; recording classes is one effective manner in which students can maintain progress.
  3. Flexible Attendance Policy:  Under usual circumstances, faculty members often require students to provide evidence of illness or having visited a health care professional in order to be excused from missing class.  This fall, the Health and Wellness Task Force will recommend that students avoid exposing others to possible illness by isolating themselves at the onset of any COVID-19-related symptoms.  Accordingly, faculty members are strongly encouraged to allow students to be excused from class and/or to be held harmless for absences due to symptoms without proof of an office visit to a health care professional. 
  4. Materials Required for Class:  Think broadly about course materials as they relate to health and safety.  For example, you may wish to bring your own chalk, white-board markers, and erasers to avoid contact transmission. You may wish to require students who have laptop computers to bring them to class to facilitate interaction with any students live streaming.  At least one colleague in the sciences is considering requiring students to procure simple, inexpensive tablets that enable 3-dimensional drawings.  In short, think carefully in advance regarding materials that you and your students might need in class, and establish protocols or requirements to enhance health and safety.
  5. Hone Online Skills:  A wealth of support is available for professional development as an online instructor.  Start with the Appendix to this document; a range of curated resources of various types can be found there, recommended by faculty colleagues and members of the Task Force.  In addition, the following technical support is also available:
  • The Microsoft Teams Quick Start Guide provides a brief, “just the facts” approach to getting up and running on Teams.  In three short pages it covers starting up with Teams for the first time, starting a chat, making video calls, screen sharing, holding class, and (crucial) Top Ten Teams Tips.
  • The Canvas global community site contains a broad array of useful information ranging from primers on getting started, setting up homepages, to instructions on using the calendar, chat, gradebook, and other functions.  The sequence of 5 short videos on how to set up a Canvas course in 30 minutes is especially useful for those new to Canvas.  Start by signing into Canvas via the College website, then follow the link above.  From there you should be able to sign into the global community site using your College of Idaho username and password (you’ll also be asked for your name the first time you log in).  The site has FAQs, community guides, descriptions of the various roles that may be assigned in Canvas, and much (much!) more. 

Appendix:  Resources

ACHA Guidelines:  Considerations for Reopening Institutions of Higher Education in the COVID-19 Era:  A comprehensive outline of concerns related to college and university return to in-person education in the fall, this report identifies key concepts and risk factors, and integrates considerations related to public health, containment, the workforce, facilities, student health care, and more.

Amherst College Staff and Faculty COVID-19 Resources:  A rich collection of webinars and tip sheets focused on issues specific to college staff and faculty.  Includes attention to resilience, managing anxiety, surviving and thriving during a pandemic, and tips for coping with prolonged stress.

Arts and Cultural Organizations:  In It for the LONG HAUL:  White paper on the effect of COVID-19 on nonprofit organizations, with particular emphasis on arts and culture.  Elements of focus include institutional value propositions, revenue propositions, and people propositions; recommendations are made for organizational survival and advance.

Carnegie Mellon University:  Resources for teaching online.  Interesting primarily due to effort made to divide resources by teaching function; e.g., labs, lectures, recitations, etc. are all described in terms of online resources of greatest utility.

College Plans for Reopening in the FallChronicle of Higher Education summary of over 1,000 colleges’ plans for mode of instruction in the fall.  At the time of this writing, 63% plan for in-person, 17% anticipate a hybrid model, 8% will go fully online, and around 10% have yet to decide or are still reviewing options.  Data are regularly updated so that this site has continuing relevance.

The Coming Disruption in Higher EducationHigher Ed interview with entrepreneur Scott Galloway on the future of higher education in the post-COVID-19 era.  Galloway predicts the disruptive effects of having gone online, and details the implications for non-top-tier schools. 

COVID-19 Impact on Higher Education:  Incisive analysis by Deloitte of the many financial implications of the pandemic, including operational tactics and strategies for addressing them. 

Duke University Guidelines for Re-opening Labs:  An especially well-designed and detailed treatment of safety issues related to scientific labs and recommendations for protocols to be followed by faculty and students.

“How Pandemics End.”  Gina Kolata, May 14, 2020, New York Times:  A thoughtful article on the historical, social, and cultural implications of pandemics, with consideration of the role of fear and ignorance on long-term recovery.

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center:  This website is a resource to help advance the understanding of the virus, inform the public, and brief policymakers in order to guide a response, improve care, and save lives.  It includes links to state information, trends in cases and tests, interviews, and breaking news.

“How I’m Spending My Pandemic Summer Vacation”:  A professor describes her creation of a syllabus to guide herself and other faculty members in preparing for more remote teaching this fall amid Covid-19.  Particularly useful for detailed discussion of course policies, goals and outcomes, and recommended readings.

OpenSmartEdu COVID-19 Planning Guide and Self-Assessment for Higher Education:  A comprehensive toolkit designed to provide practical planning resources for a wide range of educational institutions.  It includes a planning guide, self-assessment calculator, response tracker, and progress tracker, among other sections.

Reimagining the College Experience in a Pandemic:  A report advocating a re-conception of higher education in light of the possibility of a fall online semester.  Discussion includes mindsets related to change, attitudes toward online education, pedagogy, efficiencies, and a host of tips for adjusting bricks-and-mortar teaching to hybrid or online teaching. 

State of Idaho Official Resources for the Novel Coronavirus:  Wide-ranging links and information relevant to Idaho, including the “Idaho Rebounds” plan for reopening the state and stages of return to economic normalcy. 

“Faculty Home Work.”  Colleen Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed.  Discussion of the multiple challenges experienced in working from home, with focus on childcare, career, and social dimensions of faculty life during the pandemic.

“Turns Out You Can Build Community in a Zoom Classroom,” Rachel Toor, Chronicle of Higher Education, June 20, 2020:  A first-person account of a professor’s efforts to transition to online teaching, with particular focus on building a sense of connectedness and trust.  This is an especially useful article due to its operational bent; it provides detailed discussion of techniques that worked especially well in a distance-learning context, including tips for getting students to ‘show up’ during office hours, efficiencies in grading, establishing productive online routines, identifying struggling students, and more.

UC Berkeley’s COVID-19b Health and Safety Guide for Returning to the Workplace:  An especially thorough treatment of issues related to return to in-person work in a college setting.  A broad array of concerns is addressed, including the use or non-use of gloves, face shields, cleaning/disinfecting, etc.  Much of the information is covered in more technical fashion in the CDCs and WHO websites, but it is presented here in summary form.