Update from Provost Jones on June 26
Updated June 29, 2020
I had written my first guidance note to you a few weeks ago, in which my objective was to encourage you to take advantage of the Kodiak, Echo 360 and Zoom training workshops and to make you aware of the Center for Teaching and Learning summer workshops that are on-going. At that time, I noted that Dr. Ken Lee was addressing operational issues related to classroom sizes in order to afford appropriate social distancing. Simply translated - this is the maximum number of students that should be in your room with you at any one time. Ken took on an enormous task and his work is now nearly complete.
At this writing, most of you now or will soon know your classroom assignments and the social distancing capacity of your classrooms. Work has begun on a broad array of preparations necessary for us to teach in person and in place that include acquiring face masks, shields, cleaning supplies, and plexiglass to separate podiums etc. Additionally, technology connected with all spaces has been examined, catalogued and where needed will be upgraded/addressed.
The purpose of this second note is to address any confusion regarding how we will deliver our classes in the fall. In this note, I want to guide you so that you can design your curriculum to meet your course learning objectives and prepare for teaching this fall.
It is worth saying that we hold our deep engagement with our students as a hallmark of a Western New England University education. There is not a one of us that does not value our personal connection with our students and I believe that our empathy and compassion for our students has only grown over these last many months. I do believe that this is a result of understanding their stories and witnessing their challenges over the course of the spring semester. There is also a shared compassion on the part of the students reflected in our enrollment numbers. Students are eager to return and to be with us and to learn. So how do we make this happen given that we are in the middle of a pandemic?
Being reasonable and being prepared are key.
I am using President Caprio’s note to the campus dated June 11th as the backdrop for my recommendations:
“It is our intention to conduct as many classes as possible on-ground and in-person, consistent with the engaging and interactive teaching synonymous with a Western New England education. To the extent possible, faculty members should expect to teach their classes in person. But because we must be prepared to deal with different scenarios, we need to prepare for a hybrid approach which will involve a combination of in-person and remote learning….In short, faculty must be prepared to teach their courses in both on-ground and online modalities to prepare for all scenarios.”
Here are a few specifics regarding how we should approach our individual pedagogy and to provide some guidelines for the faculty.
- We are reopening with the majority of our courses being taught in-person and in-place. Yet, as a faculty we need to be prepared to deliver our courses at a distance if circumstances change.
- For faculty who are scheduled to deliver an in-person class this fall, but are at a greater risk for developing COVID-19, please contact HR to request an accommodation.
- To the extent possible, we want to maximize our in-person engagements with students and this may in fact require a hybrid classroom approach in order to optimize social distancing in our classrooms or enable access for students who are quarantined. There are basic skills you will need to master: Kodiak, Zoom and Echo 360.
- For those of you who are intending to deliver your course or lab or otherwise in a hybrid format (and many of you are already doing this in the form of a flipped classrooms, etc.), I applaud you and support your work in designing and mounting this curriculum. This is an extremely work intensive and challenging form of teaching. It also may be one of the most beneficial for the students as it allows for direct engagement by putting faculty in front of students in person - in the classroom and on Zoom (or some combination), while also providing other learning opportunities that may include video, partial notes, drawings, Zoom gatherings, virtual office hours, etc. We have learned quite clearly that having the opportunity to view material multiple times in multiple formats benefits all students in all Colleges. I ask that you communicate with your department and certainly your department Chair regarding your course delivery. You would normally do this as the curriculum belongs to the faculty and department; however, this year …please make sure to keep your Associate/Assistant Deans in the loop. Additionally, as noted above, we may find a certain percentage of our population quarantined during the course of the semester. This model affords students the opportunity to continue to learn at a distance and make progress toward their degrees.
Our clear priority is to provide students with a rich and high-quality educational experience that allows all students the opportunities necessary for them to make academic progress toward their degrees with minimal disruption. We are acutely aware of the value of instructor presence and its impact on student’s success. Technology resources have been put into place and the Office of Educational Technology and Training, and the Center for Teaching and Learning are there for guidance and instruction as you reimaging your teaching practices and goals for instruction.
I personally am both anxious and excited to return to the classroom this fall. I am only now putting thoughts together regarding how I am going to address the learning objectives of my classes. I don’t have a hard and fast understanding of what I am going to do. However, what I do know is that we are in a moment to be creative, to be flexible and to be compassionate …with our students and each other.
All my best and do share your ideas,
Linda E. Jones, Ph.D.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
Western New England University