On Tuesday, May 25, 2021, the University of California, Irvine hosted a virtual town hall for faculty featuring panelists Hal Stern (UCI Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor), Michael Dennin (Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning and Dean of the Division of Undergraduate Education), Gillian Hayes (Dean of Graduate Division), Brian Sato (Associate Dean of the Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation), Jeff Barrett (Chair of the Academic Senate), and Mathew Williams (Principal Analyst for Learning Environments with the DTEI). 

Opening Remarks

Focused on supporting the transition to post-pandemic teaching, the panel opened with Vice Provost Dennin explaining that the goal of the meeting was to offer resources and to explain where faculty could turn for support as they prepared for the return of in-person instruction. Vice Provost Dennin noted that the panel was operating under the assumption that pandemic conditions would continue improving as vaccinations became more widespread. 

Vice Provost Dennin also shared an update on approval for course delivery modes for Fall. He confirmed that there is still a waiver in place, and as long as course design is the same for all students, faculty do not need approval from the Academic Senate for Fall Quarter 2021. Approval for mode of delivery will be handled at a departmental level. Professor Barrett added that the Senate has pre-approved courses taught in Fall to be any collection of online and in-person. In the meantime, the Senate will be working on future approval policies for all the complex modes of instructional delivery that faculty now have experience with thanks to the pandemic. 

Vice Provost Dennin reminded the attendees that the number one student request coming out of the pandemic is for recorded lectures. Most students found recordings to be a helpful study tool as well as a means of fulfilling a crucial accessibility need. Vice Provost Dennin encouraged faculty to share their best practices for using lecture recordings in an effective way as well as for addressing the intellectual property concerns associated with publishing recordings. From the campus side of things, he said that they were working on increasing support within the classrooms to make recording easier for faculty.

Finally, Vice Provost Dennin reiterated that students are required to be on campus in the Fall. While some students may contact faculty about not wanting to be on campus, he stressed that it is not the instructor’s responsibility to make individual exceptions for students. If students have health or disability issues that prevent them from coming to campus, then they need to request exceptions through the Disability Services Center, and the exception will be handled centrally from there. He acknowledged that students needing exceptions in active learning classes will be a challenge. However, as of now, it seems like the number of students who will be seeking expectations is low. Vice Provost Dennin also mentioned that uncertainty surrounding the international visa process for incoming students is another concern but added that things are starting to look more promising.

Q&A Session

Following these opening remarks, the town hall took the form of an informal Q&A session where panelists answered questions submitted by faculty attendees. Here are the answers to some of the most pressing faculty questions:

Q: For a 300 student class, how many students should I expect might not be attending in-person? How will you be managing requests for exceptions to in-person instruction? What should I do differently for a student whose request has been granted?

A: The expected numbers of student exceptions will differ depending on discipline as well as on course and visa availability. In terms of management, there are a variety of online courses being offered for Fall, and the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning (OVPTL) is pushing students who need exceptions towards these classes to minimize the number of exceptions in regular courses. The goal is to have only 1-2% of students needing exceptions for in-person courses. It’s a bit early to say for sure how many students will need exceptions from a health and disability perspective, but initial responses suggest that the number of requests will be small. For the students that do receive exceptions, the main request for faculty will be to provide lecture recordings, as this will be the main course component the student will be unable to attend. 

Faculty are not expected to change their course around for the students who do receive exceptions. However, to explore possible options, faculty can refer students to the OVPTL to learn about appropriate accommodations. The OVPTL has also set up a special email (uciteachingquestions@uci.edu) that students can contact for information on the exception process. Faculty are encouraged to share this email address with students.

Q: How will we know if a student is approved to be remote?

A: The OVPTL is working with the Disability Services Center, Housing, the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships, and the International Center to determine the best way to handle notifications for student exceptions. Right now, it seems likely that all notifications will be sent through the OVPTL, so faculty will receive an official form from this office. The OVPTL will announce the final protocol regarding exception notifications in early Summer.

Q: Do students have a deadline to apply to be remote? Do we have an idea of when we’ll find out if we have students who will be remote?

A: Hopefully campus will have a better understanding of the visa situation by August, which will then make it possible to set exception deadlines for students affected by visa availability. There is no deadline for students with disabilities to apply for exceptions through the Disability Services Center. As for other exceptions, the OVPTL expects that the deadline will be between August 1 and September 1, 2021.

Q: How do we handle students needing an exception if they are in classes that are in person, such as labs or studio classes (not lecture)?

A: The number of students who may need exceptions for these types of classes is being closely monitored. The OVPTL is working with units and advising offices to come up with viable alternative schedules for the Fall. There’s also a recently formed subcommittee that’s focusing on the various reasons why a student may need an exception and what the impact of exceptions will be. So, this potential problem and possible solutions are being discussed, and subsequent information will be shared when available.

Q: When/how will we receive training on recording our lectures?

A: The Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation (DTEI) will be providing various forms of training. The DTEI is currently collecting feedback on what forms of training will be most useful for faculty through this survey here. As of now, the DTEI plans to offer both in-person and Zoom-based training during Summer. They will also be providing helpful guides on their website. Closer to the start of Fall Quarter, the DTEI will allow faculty to schedule times to come to a classroom and receive hands-on training. 

Q: If we are planning pre-recorded lectures and optional active learning in-class sessions, are we obligated to record the latter? 

A: Faculty have no obligation to record the active learning components of their courses. Unfortunately, handling student exceptions in the courses with a heavy emphasis on active learning remains an ongoing planning challenge. This will be a planning priority for the next couple of weeks, so keep an eye out for additional information and guidelines. 

Q: Can we somehow do a “synchronous” course with mostly in-person exams? Are there suggested practices for that?  

A: Yes, the OVPTL is working with the Registrar to arrange classrooms for exams. Any fully online course that wants in-person exams should make this request now because it requires scheduling and coordination. Emails were sent to department schedulers. If you were not contacted about this, then please reach out to your department to follow up with them.

If a student receives an exception for in-person exams, then they will receive the same type of separate exam proctoring as students who have accommodations through Disability Services. In this case, the OVPTL will work with the instructor to ensure that this process proceeds smoothly and doesn’t require extra work on their part. 

Q: Are we currently assuming that there will be no physical distancing in the large lecture halls? Can all enrolled students attend?

A: Yes, campus is currently operating on the assumption that there will be no physical distancing in the Fall. However, the situation is fluid, and the campus vaccination policy may impact this assumption once it is finalized.

Q: How will we handle students (or faculty) who may become sick during the quarter? Are there campus attendance policies to discourage sick students from coming to in-person classes?

A: Lecture recordings are a great tool that faculty can leverage if they become sick during the quarter or if a student becomes sick and has to miss class. In regards to attendance policies, there is nothing currently being planned at the campus level. However, faculty are encouraged to design flexible course policies that encourage students to stay home if they are feeling unwell. Best practices for designing flexible course policies will be shared in the near future.

Q: What concerns and stresses have grad students expressed about TA-ing in person?

A: Prior to the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) recommendation of mandatory vaccination, grad students reported significant anxiety about TA-ing in person. Fortunately, the UCOP recommendation has alleviated some of this concern. There will have to be a conversation on what TA responsibility will look like when it comes to things like enforcing masking rules for students who are not vaccinated or upholding attendance policies that encourage students to stay home if they are feeling ill. This discussion on TA responsibilities for the Fall is ongoing.

Q: Some of our grad students have fellowships but may not know if they can travel abroad to use them. Their TA assignments are also uncertain. What should our baseline assumption be?

A: The Graduate Division will be communicating and working with faculty to offer assistance for graduate students who have fellowships and funding guarantees. As of May 25, faculty are not authorized to hire TAs to work remotely during Fall Quarter. However, please be aware that this is a rapidly developing situation, and updates will be coming out shortly. 

Q: How can faculty receive support?

A: In the coming weeks, a convenient form will be added to the OVPTL website to help faculty access support. Faculty can also send an email to DTEI@uci.edu to request additional resources or support.

Additional Resources

To watch the full town hall meeting, click here

Additional information is available on the DTEI website and the Graduate Division website. Please check these sites and your inbox for further news and updates as we approach Fall Quarter 2021.