I hope you’ve had an opportunity to catch your breath now that we’ve concluded a very challenging spring semester. We have much of which to be proud. I recently received student survey results about our pivot to distance learning, and the results were more positive than we might have expected. Although things were not perfect, many students praised their instructors’ efforts and commitment to them despite the less than ideal conditions. We should take great satisfaction that our community continued to place the needs of our students first, even in the face of adversity. That is simply who we are at Georgia State.
As we begin to plan for fall semester, I am sure you have many questions. I am writing to share what we know and do not know as of this moment, understanding that things may change.
Commitment to Your Safety
Above all, I want to stress how seriously President Becker and I take the issue of your safety on campus. Our highest priority, and the focus of every planning discussion, is minimizing the risks posed by COVID-19. The difficult truth is that no one can eliminate all risks, and that the virus will remain a threat for the foreseeable future. However, we are committed to taking all steps within our control to create the safest environment we can as we resume on-campus activities.
Return to Work
As the State of Georgia reopens, University System of Georgia institutions are developing plans for faculty and staff to return to work in a phased basis over the summer, starting June 1. This does not mean all or even most personnel will report to their offices on June 1. Instead, deans, department chairs and administrators will be asked to evaluate how select staff who are needed in person or cannot conduct their work effectively from a distance may safely return to campus. Such plans may include staggered schedules, continued telecommuting and other arrangements that diminish the number of people on campus to facilitate social distancing. Faculty will continue to have access to their offices. Plans for returning to research labs will be issued by Interim Vice President Michael Eriksen very soon. You will learn more about these plans from your colleges and direct supervisors in the coming days.
Requests for Accommodation
As we begin to repopulate our campuses, some instructors and staff may find it difficult to return because they are in a high-risk group for COVID-19. Requests for accommodation should be submitted to the relevant college Human Resources Officer.
Planning is underway for the return of students to campus for the fall semester, with the goal being to offer face-to-face (FTF) instruction while also following social distancing guidance from the Georgia Department of Public Health. Creating a high-quality plan for instruction that is consistent with both objectives would be challenging in any circumstance, and it is particularly so for Georgia State in light of our limited classroom space relative to the more than 6,000 courses scheduled for the fall.
I am pleased to announce that with the input of many people, we have charted a strong path forward. Our default format for courses in the fall will be a Blended Learning Model (BLM).
Most courses, with limited exceptions, will be taught with both an online and FTF component. Using this model, fall classes will meet in their assigned classrooms at their assigned times with their assigned instructors. To ensure social distancing, students will be divided into cohorts that attend FTF class on specific days. For example, depending on the social distancing model in use, 50 percent of the students in a Monday/Wednesday class might attend in person on Mondays and the other 50 percent in person on Wednesdays. The remainder of the content will be delivered online.
Using this model, most students will have 10 to 15 in-person classes in each course across the semester, providing important opportunities for engagement, assessment and enhanced learning outcomes. Significantly, instructors have flexibility to determine how to deliver course content within these parameters, provided the contact hours and regular and substantive interaction necessary to meet accreditation standards are satisfied.
There is no doubt that some courses, such as labs, seminars, studios, graduate and professional courses, first-year courses, would strongly benefit from an exclusively or higher percentage FTF format or can be delivered in a traditional format even with social distancing restrictions because of a very small class size. I have asked the deans to work with department chairs to identify and prioritize courses that fall within these parameters and can be delivered with appropriate social distancing. Limited exceptions will be granted by the Office of Provost depending on available classroom space and university priorities.
Any course that was originally scheduled to be delivered as a fully online course should remain fully online. We recognize that other courses due to their pedagogies, instructional needs or social distancing requirements also may benefit from being offered online. I have asked deans to work with department chairs to identify and prioritize courses that fall within these parameters. Limited exceptions will be granted by the Office of Provost depending on university priorities and instructional needs.
For a more complete description of the academic plan for fall, visit the new Fall Plan section of CETL’s Keep Teaching website.
There is no doubt the shift to a Blended Learning Model will require a lot of work. We are committed to providing you with as many resources as possible to help facilitate this transition and support your professional development.
A. Training Opportunities
CETL has expanded opportunities to take its four-week Mastering Online Teaching courses in June, July and August. These courses are being tailored to provide specific instruction in blended-learning design. Instructors teaching in the fall should strongly consider enrolling in this training. It will significantly aid you in the preparation of your course and result in higher-quality instruction for our students. You can get more information about the Mastering Online Teaching program and access the schedule of webinars on the CETL website.
To the more than 1,500 instructors who have already enrolled in or taken this course since April, thank you so much for your time, effort and professionalism. Completion of this training will be counted favorably as part of our annual review process and in any applications for promotion or tenure going forward.
B. Web Resources
CETL has been working hard to provide resources to help you adapt the Blended Learning Model to your courses and specific pedagogies. The team has developed student engagement strategies and assessment tools to help you ready your course for the fall. This is also an excellent time to seek out the resources available in your colleges and departments. Several deans have informed me that this spring they developed repositories of online materials that provide discipline-specific ideas.
Earlier this year, we issued a call for proposals to develop master courses for large enrollment, multi-section classes. Using this model, faculty experts in relevant departments work with CETL to develop online course templates that share a common framework, measurable student learning outcomes and common assessments. We awarded funding to eight courses that will be created this summer.
To support our transition to the Blended Learning Model, we will provide funding and CETL personnel to create additional master courses this summer. This work will alleviate some of the burden on individual faculty by creating collective, high-quality online modules to be used across all sections. I have asked the deans to work with department chairs to identify priority courses for these resources.
I encourage those of you in all other courses to work across all campuses to share materials, ideas and strategies. The more we work together, the more we can leverage our resources and minimize the load for any individual instructor. Be mindful that your colleagues at other Georgia State campuses may be working on the same or similar courses. I encourage you to reach out to them, especially those with experience in online and blended modalities. The excellence of our teachers is unparalleled, and I have no doubt our creativity will be in full force as we consider how best to meet our students’ needs in this new format.
I said at the beginning of our COVID-19 journey that I would say thank you many times. I say thank you again here. Our ability to meet the needs of our students during this incredibly difficult time depends upon you. I know it will not be easy, and I know this creates burdens that we did not wish for. But there is no doubt in my mind that once again,we will do what must be done and rise to the challenge for our students and for each other. That is simply who we are at Georgia State.
I am so grateful to be part of this community.
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs