Gearing Up for the First Week of Classes
I know that, despite concerns about the pandemic, you are looking forward to resuming teaching and interacting with your students. Our faculty’s and staff’s student-centric approach is part of what makes UGA such a special place. With just over a week remaining until the first day of classes on August 20, I wanted to share a few updates, resources, and tips with you.
Health and Safety Measures in the Classroom
The health and safety of the campus community remain the top priority of institution. I am pleased to report that nearly every classroom on our campus has been measured and marked to provide appropriate physical distancing, and plexiglass barriers are being installed, where appropriate, at lecterns or desks to allow safe interaction between faculty students. Each classroom also has disinfecting wipes for students and faculty to use.
HVAC operating schedules in buildings (including classrooms) have been adjusted to run longer hours, even when spaces are not occupied, to increase the amount of airflow going through space. The amount of fresh/outdoor air flow in classrooms and lecture halls has been increased, to the extent possible, and as a reminder, wearing face coverings is now mandatory whenever someone is in a classroom or a building on campus.
I would also note that the institution has approved accommodations for every eligible faculty member and graduate student who has requested one. To date, more than 370 classes have moved online to accommodate our faculty, and many others have been modified into a hybrid format to ensure social distancing can be maintained.
As you finalize your syllabi, schedules, and coursework for the fall semester, I want to make you aware of a number of resources available to help in your planning. The Office of Instruction has centralized several useful tools on the newly developed Fall 2020 Teaching Resources as part of the updated Teaching and Learning Continuity site.
Several of you have asked for additional information that you may be able to add to your syllabi, including the requirement to wear face coverings. Here is some suggested language that you could use for your classes. Please know that the use of this information is optional.
If you joined the campus conversation on Covid-19 last week, you have heard that students are eager to know about their classes. As you finalize your syllabi, explain your expectations for the semester to your students. For example, if you are teaching using a hybrid approach, identify how you plan to rotate students between in-person and online learning (even though you may not be able to determine your rotation until your class roster is final). Please publish your syllabus on your eLC course pages as soon as you are able.
A key message this semester should include how and how often you would like students to engage with you throughout the semester. There are any number of circumstances that might occur over the next few months that could require a swift change in direction. Having a plan in place early will minimize confusion and allow for seamless learning.
Many of you will be simultaneously teaching both face-to-face and via video conference, which can be tricky. While many classrooms have updated technology to accommodate this approach, it still requires some practice. I encourage you to visit your classroom before classes begin to familiarize yourself with its layout, seating, and technology. If possible, try to launch a remote session while you are teaching in the classroom and have a colleague or a TA participate remotely. Familiarity with the technology will go a long way in ensuring that your first day of class goes smoothly. In addition, CTL has compiled some very helpful tips on successful F2F-Remote Instruction.
Teaching with face coverings poses another challenge. Masks will attenuate your voice, and you may notice greater vocal fatigue. It may restrict your jaw movement and dampen higher frequencies in speech, which may make it more difficult for students to hear you correctly. Here are some simple tips to help with these issues. Wear a mask that fits you well. Keep yourself well-hydrated (water is good, but caffeine – not so much!). Speak a bit more slowly and not just louder. If you find your voice tiring out quickly, make sure you pause frequently enough to breathe. It can take a little time to get accustomed to speaking with masks, and I hope these tips help. Microphones are being installed in classrooms where amplification may be needed, and a limited number will be available to check out from the CTL.
Assessment of students’ learning remains critically important this semester. The hybrid teaching approach makes traditional exams or quizzes challenging if some of your students are in the classroom with you and others are online. Your attendance policies will need to be updated. Consider redesigning grades for participation. Classes that have traditionally given “mass exams” simply may not have the room to conduct such exercises. If you have not already done so, consider ways to adjust your assessment strategies. You will find CTL’s Guide to Assessment During COVID (PDF) a particularly helpful resources for this purpose. Remember that eLC now includes Respondus Monitor – a tool for proctoring online exams. This system will give you another resource for online assessment.
A typical fall semester also brings a number of experiential learning opportunities for students. Many of you have asked questions about hosting internships and other learning opportunities outside of the classroom. The Office of Experiential Learning has updated its guidelines for internships, including research, and these guidelines can help you and your students determine what may be feasible this semester.
Common Areas for Students
A number of you have asked for information about common areas for students to study, collaborate, or participate in classes virtually. With extensive use of hybrid instruction, students may have an increased need for safe, common spaces across campus. To assist with this, a campus team is completing an inventory of open spaces across campus. I hope to have this resource ready in the very near future and will share it widely as soon as possible.
We continue to make steady progress in preparing for the fall semester. With your help, we are getting ready to reopen our campus and provide a positive learning experience for our students. Please continue to send your questions, comments, and thoughts to us by sending me an email at: email@example.com.
Be well and remember, when we work together, we are Georgia Strong, Dawg Strong.