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California State University, Fullerton
Titans Return: COVID-19 Recovery

Message to Faculty from the Provost and Academic Senate Chair: Fall Planning

Monday February 01, 2021 11:00 am

Dear CSUF Faculty:

We are challenged in planning for fall 2021 instruction because of the unknowns confronting us. We may be able to be largely in-person, as then-incoming Chancellor Castro announced in December and reinforced at the recent Board of Trustees meeting. However, as the Chancellor also indicated, due to factors beyond our control and because of our deep commitment to the health and safety of our Titan community, we may have to temper our expectations. It is very likely that we may be some place in the spectrum between fully in-person and fully virtual. Nevertheless, we are better served by planning for a more expansive in-person presence because we want to have an intentional schedule and, importantly, if the public health circumstances require it: we know how to pivot back to virtual.

Thus, I am proposing that we plan for the fall from a starting place of being predominately in-person. This scenario assumes that the vaccine has been distributed equitably to all who desire it and that we are confident that faculty, staff, and students are protected. It also allows us to build a schedule informed by what we have learned during the last year about new modalities of teaching, selecting face-to-face, virtual/online, and hybrid modalities that best fit the courses we want to teach. If the vaccine is not successful or if we need to maintain social distances that limit our classroom capacity, we will shift toward a greater virtual presence well before the fall semester.

We also know that even as we plan a predominantly in-person schedule, we cannot simply repeat prior pre-pandemic fall semesters. We and our students have already come to expect more flexibility, more ways to provide and to access higher education, and more modalities of instruction. Though it will take us time to figure out how to use everything we have learned this past year, fall 2021 can be a first step towards applying our increased skill at using multiple learning modalities to help us accomplish our mission of changing lives through education. Foremost in our minds, then, as we approach fall should be the pedagogical needs of our courses and our students. To plan this way, we should lead the scheduling discussion with “how should or could this course be taught to optimize student learning?”

Timing

Until recently, it might have been too difficult to imagine the predominately in-person scenario for the fall. But as the vaccine roll out has become steadier and the number of vaccines administered continues to increase, we can create this scenario. At the same time, we cannot push student registration back from the typical April timeframe for the luxury of a longer decision process because it will likely hurt student enrollments, create extensive work for staff, and probably not provide significant additional information regarding health and safety projections for fall. As a result, we are asking all departments to re-consider their fall instructional plans based on the following guidelines, and to do so in such a way that their Dean’s office has those plans by February 22nd.

Modalities

Prior to the pandemic, our modalities for teaching were primarily two: in-person and online. We now have experience with virtual instruction, and all of our students have experience with virtual learning. It seems reasonable, then, for us to look to these modalities for the future. Another modality, hybrid instruction, can also be of value. Hybrid refers to courses in which all of the students are doing the same thing at the same time, and that take place with between 20-80% of course content delivered online/virtually (either synchronous or asynchronous). For instance: a 50% hybrid class might meet in-person once a week (T) and virtually once a week (Th), with assignments and discussion happening in both modalities as appropriate.

Planning Strategies: What assumptions/approaches should departments take in planning?

We request that Chairs, in consultation with their faculty, re-engage in a discussion about fall instruction and use the following considerations to guide their mix of in-person, virtual/online, and hybrid courses for fall. This process may require revision to existing instructional plans.

  • Begin with courses that should meet in person for pedagogical reasons. These might include hands-on labs, studio courses, major seminars, special cohorts, HIPs, FYEs, key pipeline courses. Build these into the schedule first.
  • Then consider which courses worked well for students in online or virtual format these last semesters. These may be courses that you, pre-pandemic, always thought you would want to teach in person but now you know can be taught effectively virtually. These may be upper-division courses, or gateway courses, or even small seminars or labs that you found innovative ways to approach in virtual format.
  • Finally, you may have faculty who wish to redesign their courses in hybrid formats. This format can provide students with some elements of that course in-person and other elements in virtual format.

Some assumptions that may be helpful for planning

  • Student success, course goals, and our experiences over the past two semesters should guide your planning process. It may be helpful for you to think, as a starting point, of having roughly half of your courses in person and half either virtual/online or hybrid, and then let the best pedagogy for the courses guide you as you adjust those ratios. It’s ok to have slightly more of one modality than another. But having a mix is important: we are envisioning “predominantly” in-person; so, the schedule of a department’s courses would be neither overwhelmingly in-person nor overwhelmingly virtual.
  • As we begin to schedule classes, we will assume that vaccine distribution has been successful and that we can use classrooms at normal capacity without social distancing. This planning process assumes faculty and students have had equitable access to the vaccine. If the circumstances turn out to be otherwise, we will adjust classroom capacity per health and safety standards and pivot to a higher proportion of virtual learning, with appropriate adjustments to schedule and notice, prior to fall.
  • Decisions about course scheduling are the responsibility of the department chair and ultimately the Dean, who will approve the plans or request further revisions, should it not be clear how or why the modalities are balanced as proposed.
  • Campus Leadership will extend, through this fall, the special ability of faculty to teach a course virtually without going through the online course approval process. Thus, the planning parameters here assume such permission.
  • As always, course schedules should be set within the context of related department offerings, student access, and adequate availability for students’ academic needs.
  • We will work, in earnest, starting this summer, to make available a campus testing/examination location so as to ensure course integrity.
  • FSS (FDC and OET) will continue to support faculty this summer to prepare to teach in all modalities. Special support will be in place for faculty wanting to teach in hybrid format, in ensuring these courses can be approved and faculty will be skilled to teach them.
  • WASC will extend its temporary authorization of distance education through fall.

Thank you for the time and attention you are giving to your students and our instructional future. We are confident that this approach will allow us to create transformative learning experiences in spite of uncertainty this fall and keep the health and safety of our community—as always—firmly in mind.

Carolyn Thomas, Ph.D.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Steve Stambough, Ph.D.
Academic Senate Chair