Preparing for the February-May Portion of the Spring Semester

To All Faculty Teaching Undergraduate Courses during the February-May Portion of Spring 2021:

With the regular portion of the spring semester set to start soon, I want to review some important dates and policies, as well as provide some perspectives that may be helpful as you think about the flow of the semester and put finishing touches on your course syllabi.  I apologize for this email being very long, but I have tried to make it as comprehensive as possible so that you have a lot of information in one place.  I have also tried to highlight the connections among topics, particularly interactions between usual procedures and those specific to the current semester.  The information below is divided into the following sections:

First, I want to thank everyone for all you did to make the fall semester successful, despite unprecedented and stressful circumstances.  The end of semester course evaluations showed a significant increase over recent fall semesters in students’ overall assessment of their courses.  Students also indicated that they were quite satisfied with their educational experience on several questions focused on the impact of the constraints of the pandemic on their overall experience.  This was due largely to the care with which faculty adjusted their instruction on relatively short notice, thinking carefully about how to convey course content in new ways.  It also reflects the good nature of our students and their understanding of how both we and they had to adapt to new teaching and learning modes.

Spring Semester Calendar

The Faculty Senate approved several changes to the spring semester calendar in order to postpone the start of the regular portion of the semester and limit travel by students living on or near campus.  Please take note of these key dates:

  • Monday, February 1: First Day of Classes
  • Friday, February 12: Drop/Add Deadline (see more on Course Enrollment Deadlines below)
  • Tuesday, March 16: No Class Day (see more on No Class Days below)
  • Monday, March 22: Mid-semester Grades Due in SIS.  Note that this is a week earlier than usual in the flow of the semester, but at the true midpoint of instruction for the semester.  (see more on Mid-semester Grades below)
  • Wednesday, March 24: No Class Day (see more on No Class Days below)
  • Friday, April 9: Course Withdrawal Deadline & P/NP Deadline for Students Who Matriculated at CWRU Spring 2020 or earlier and New Transfer Students; i.e. students not in one of their first two semesters of college (see more on Course Enrollment Deadlines below)
  • Friday, May 7: Last Day of Classes; Course Withdrawal Deadline & P/NP Deadline for Students Who Matriculated as First-Year Students at CWRU Fall 2020 or Spring 2021; i.e. students in one of their first two semesters of college (see more on Course Enrollment Deadlines below)
  • Monday, May 10: Reading Day
  • Tuesday, May 11-Thursday, May 13: Final Exams (see more on Final Exams below)
  • Friday, May 14: Reading Day
  • Monday, May 17-Wednesday, May 19: Final Exams (see more on Final Exams below)
  • Friday, May 21: Final Grades Due in SIS by 11 AM
  • Sunday, May 30: Commencement and Degrees Awarded

Note that there will be no Spring Break. 

You can find the full academic calendar on the University Registrar’s website.

Course Workloads and Credit Hours

In 2012, the Faculty Senate adopted the following definition of the work associated with each credit-hour of a course:

  1. The assignment of credit-hours to a course occurs through a formal review process conducted at the appropriate levels of faculty governance.
  2. For courses in lecture format, one credit-hour represents the subject content that can be delivered in one academic hour of contact time each week for the full duration of one academic semester, typically fourteen weeks along with a final examination period. For undergraduate courses, one credit-hour also includes associated work that can be completed by a typical student in 2-3 hours of effort outside the classroom. For graduate and professional courses taught in lecture format, 3-4 hours of outside work is expected for each academic hour of contact time.
  3. For courses taught in other than lecture format (e.g., seminars, laboratories, independent study, clinical work, research, etc.), one credit-hour represents an amount of content and/or student effort that in aggregate is no less than that described in (2) above.

While abiding by this definition, the pace of the spring semester without a week-long spring break, along with the continued stress associated with the pandemic, suggests that this may be an appropriate time to stick closer to the lower limit on expectations of students’ time commitment.

Those of you serving as academic advisors to undergraduates may also want to encourage advisees to take fewer credit-hours this spring than they might otherwise do in a more normal spring semester.  Given the absence of the week-long spring break, the semester will be 16 straight weeks of instruction and exams (19 weeks for those who chose to take a class during the January session).

Local Students, Remote Students, and Time Zones

This spring, some classes will be offered in person and others offered remotely, either synchronously or asynchronously.  These different modes of instruction raise different issues with regard to delivery.

For classes being offered in person, students should be expected to follow the safety protocols in place, including masking, social distancing, and cleaning their seats before and after class.  If a student arrives for class and refuses to follow these protocols after being asked politely, you should cancel class for that day and inform students that the class cannot resume until everyone adheres to the campus protocols.  You may also file a COVID-19 CARE Report to report non-compliance.  Other offices will be monitoring adherence to the requirement that all students, faculty, and staff have surveillance testing in any week for which they are on campus, even if only for a short period.

Faculty may hear from students who wish to enroll in an in-person class remotely and/or a synchronous remote class asynchronously.  These decisions will be up to you based on the format and learning objectives of your course, though it will be important for departments to consider ways to help students continue to make progress toward their degrees in a timely fashion; this may involve course substitutions or careful advising about alternative course sequencing.

With regard to students taking courses remotely, please review the Provost’s message about accommodations for students scattered across time zones around the world during the spring semester.  While students enrolled in synchronous remote classes are expected to participate in class at the posted time unless they have received the instructor’s written approval of alternative arrangements, students may not be required to take graded assessments outside of the hours from 8:00 AM to 10:30 PM in the time zones in which they are living.  It will also be important that faculty be available for office hours to students in disparate time zones.

While most of us gained a great deal of experience teaching remotely during the fall semester, for those who are new to planning courses in this format, either synchronously or asynchronously, I want to call your attention to [U]Tech’s Teach Everywhere page and UCITE’s Rapid OnLine Learning (ROLL) page.  These sites provide guidance and information about resources available to help you convert a course that you have long taught in person to a remote environment.  These resources can also help you improve on your experience from the fall semester.

About 45% of undergraduates will be living on campus for the spring semester and many others will be living locally.  Please consider safe, in-person opportunities for these students, while being sure to provide an equitable educational experience for students who are not local.  This may be as simple as helping local students form in-person study groups and remote students form online study groups.

Finally, we heard from students during the fall semester than many synchronous remote classes continued to zoom beyond the official end time of class.  Please do your best to end class on time.  Students need a break between classes and, in some cases, they will need to relocate for an in-person class.  On the other side, it may be helpful to open your zoom session early so that, as they arrive for class, students can engage in informal chat with you and with classmates of the kind that occurs naturally when classes meet in person.  Of course, formal instruction should not begin until the prescribed time.

No Class Days and Mid-semester Grades

As noted above, we will have two “no class days” in place of spring break this semester.  As such, these days should be seen as the equivalent of fall and spring break and should not have class activities or assignments due.  Also, so that these can truly be days for students to take a breather, I urge you not to plan exams or due dates for other assignments on Wednesday, March 17 or Thursday, March 25, the days following the “no class days.”  More generally, it will be good to build some periods of lower stress and lighter work into your courses.

I also want to remind you that mid-semester grades are due on Monday, March 22.  You will want to take this deadline, the “no class days,” and the fact that mid-semester grades are due a week earlier in terms of the flow of the semester into account when planning instruction, assignments, and assessments for the semester.  This deadline for mid-semester grades is critical for providing students sufficient time to review their progress with advisors and navigators before making appropriate adjustments to their course loads by the deadlines for course withdrawals and choosing the P/NP option.  Even in project-based courses, it is important that advisors and navigators hear whether students are making satisfactory progress.

Course Enrollment Deadlines and the P/NP Grading Option

The dates for dropping and adding classes, for withdrawing from classes, and for choosing the P/NP grading option are noted above, though I want to add several footnotes to these dates:

  • For courses that run for half of the semester, students will be allowed only a one-week drop/add period at the start of the course, and students will not be allowed to withdraw from a course after a grade has been posted.
  • Deadlines for dynamically-dated courses (i.e. those that meet on some alternative schedule) are set in a proportional manner.
  • Some faculty may wish to limit the period during which a student may add a course to only the first week of classes.  This can be done by asking the person responsible for listing your courses in the Schedule of Classes to add “Instructor Consent Required” to the course listing at the end of the first week of classes.  However, as a matter of fair notice to students, the fact that this earlier deadline will be imposed should be entered in the Schedule of Classes as a Class Note by the start of the semester.  It will also be important to remember to delete this permission requirement after the second week of classes if you do not want this to be a constraint on student registration that rolls over for the next iteration of the course.

Exceptions to all of these deadlines may be granted only by the Deans Committee in the Office of Undergraduate Studies on behalf of the Academic Standing Board in response to a student request.  Students wishing to make such a request should be in touch with Undergraduate Studies.

Again, please keep these deadlines in mind when planning assignments and exams during the semester.

As usual, students are allowed to choose the P/NP grading option for only one course during a semester, provided that they will not be using that course to meet a major, minor, or general education/core requirement.  Some students will have used this option for a January class and will not have P/NP grading available for their February-May classes.

Absences from Class or Exams During the Semester

Faculty may establish their own procedures for handling absences from class meetings or exams that occur before the final exam period, being sure to treat all students equitably and to maintain the integrity of the course while responding to legitimate extenuating circumstances that interfere with a student’s ability to attend.  Under the present circumstances, this may include students who cannot attend in-person class meetings because University Health Services has directed them to quarantine for a period of time because of possible COVID-19 exposure or to isolate because they have been diagnosed with COVID-19.  Please keep in mind, however, that health information is private, and just because someone is excused via UHS does not mean they have COVID-19.

Even though CWRU expects those students who can attend classes to be present in the classroom, please be flexible with make-up work so that students do not feel pressured to attend class when they perhaps should not attend.

Note also the importance of accommodating students who must miss class because of religious observance (see the registrar's site for the University policies and some helpful resources for course planning).

When requested by a student, their navigator will contact the student’s instructors about legitimate, documented absences from classes.  While our policies allow faculty to receive documentation for absences directly from a student, many faculty direct students to record their special circumstances with Student Advancement and ask to receive notification from a navigator.  The navigators are happy to play this role as it streamlines communications for the student who otherwise would need to notify several instructors during what may be a difficult period for them.  It also gives the navigator greater perspective on any challenges the student may be facing during the semester.

Final Exams

The final exam schedule is set by the University Registrar largely based on the class meeting schedule.  The translation of the class meeting schedule into the final exam schedule was established to minimize the number of students who have more than two exams on the same day, two exams at the same time, or an evening exam followed by another exam first thing the next morning.  There are also special times assigned to the basic biology, chemistry, computer science, math, and physics sequences to spread out the courses that tend to enroll in common large numbers of first-year students.  Faculty may not change the date of a final exam without my approval.

Unlike the Fall 2020 semester when all final exams were conducted remotely, faculty teaching in-person courses should plan to give in-person final exams.  Faculty teaching remotely may choose alternatives to traditional synchronous “in-class” final exams, perhaps substituting a take-home exam for an extended period of time or giving a timed exam spread through a 12- or 24-hour period to address students living in different time zones (note again the Provost’s directive that students not be required to take graded assessments outside of the period 8 AM-10:30 PM where they are).  If there is to be an alternative, asynchronous final assessment, I ask that students be given sufficient flexibility in terms of time to complete the work so that it does not create conflicts with other exams being given at scheduled times.  In those cases in which there will be a synchronous final exam, it should occur during the standard time based on the meeting schedule of the course, as posted in SIS and on the University Registrar’s website, with accommodations made for students in other time zones.  If you are giving a 12- or 24-hour take-home exam, it should similarly be on the day of the posted final exam so that I can recognize students who have three exams on the same calendar day and qualify for having an exam rescheduled.

If you are planning to give a synchronous final exam or one limited to a 12- or 24-hour period, please be sure that this is noted in the Schedule of Classes with the synchronous time based on the class meeting schedule.  Similarly, if there will be no “in-class” final exam or if there will be a take-home exam spread over a period of time longer than a day, please make sure that no final exam is listed.  We use the final exam listings in SIS to monitor student schedules, not as a record of whether there will be a final assessment.

Final exam times have not been assigned to remote courses meeting asynchronously.  Faculty who are teaching such courses and wish to give a final exam to all students on a single day during the final exam period should let me know and I will assign an exam date and get it posted in SIS.  This will not be necessary if the period over which students may take the final exam or complete a take-home exercise extends across several days.

Remember that our rules prohibit giving a final exam during the last week of classes or on Reading Days, as well as holding any mandatory class sessions on Reading Days or during the final exam period.  The last exam for a course should be given during the assigned final exam time.  It is also poor practice to give any exam during the last week of the semester when students are often completing final projects and beginning their exam preparation.

Following the course withdrawal deadline for upperclass students, I will reach out to students with more than two exams on the same day, two at the same time, or an evening exam followed by another first thing the next morning and work with faculty to set alternative arrangements.  If a student expects to miss a final exam due to other special circumstances, please direct the student to the Office of Undergraduate Studies.

We ordinarily require approval from Undergraduate Studies to reschedule an exam for a student due to illness, other immediate personal circumstances, or confusion about the time of an exam.  Given the range of circumstances that define this semester, individual faculty may make these arrangements for students in their courses.  Navigators in Student Advancement and deans in Undergraduate Studies will be happy to assist in verifying student circumstances should you have questions or concerns.

Academic Integrity

While students will be taking exams and completing various assessments remotely, our academic integrity standards remain unchanged: Students are expected to complete their own work, citing the work of others, as appropriate, and collaborating with others and using resources only as permitted by the course instructor.  Please review the academic integrity policy for undergraduates with your students, highlighting its application to your course.  In particular, students taking exams remotely should be reminded to create an appropriate testing environment, putting away unauthorized materials and phones.

The good news in this area is that, unlike what many of us have read in the press, we had significantly fewer academic integrity violations reported during the Fall 2020 semester than in other recent fall semesters.  I believe this is due both to the integrity of our students and to the care with which faculty reminded students when assigning work and administering exams of our collective expectations and why they are important for what we do.

Please contact me if ever you have concerns that an undergraduate may have committed an academic integrity violation; if I am not available, my colleague Nancy DiIulio, Senior Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies, will be able to discuss the matter with you.  We will review with you the circumstances and the procedures to be followed.  While our academic integrity policies allow some latitude for faculty to set an appropriate penalty for a student’s first violation, it is important that all academic integrity violations be reported.  That is the only way we will know if a violation is not a student’s first.  If you include a statement about academic integrity on your syllabus, which is a good practice, please use this link.

Concerns about a Student

The navigators are always interested in hearing any concerns  you have about a student’s general well-being or ability to perform academically.  As a course instructor, you can identify each student’s navigator on your course roster in SIS.

Of course, in an immediate crisis situation, you should contact the CWRU Police and Security at 216.368.3333.

My colleagues in Undergraduate Studies continue to be responsible for issues related to academic standing at the end of the semester and degree certification, so questions on these topics can be referred to us.

I know that this is a lot of information, but it is all important as you plan for another unusual semester.  Please know that my colleagues in the Office of Undergraduate Studies and I are available to help you should you be uncertain about where to turn with a specific issue.  Let us know if you have any questions.

I wish you all a successful, fulfilling, and enjoyable semester!  It will again be one that will require all of us to draw on our reservoirs of patience, understanding, and kindness.  We can all hope that over the coming months the restrictions on our activities will begin to be reduced.

Best,

Jeff

Jeffrey Wolcowitz
Dean of Undergraduate Studies