Teaching and COVID-19

March 9, 2020

Colleagues,

As you have likely seen over the last several days, some universities are beginning to suspend in-person classes as they grapple with the spread and potential impact from the COVID-19 virus. We may or may not need to take similar actions. This is a rapidly developing situation. Should we reach the point of needing to act, it is important that we begin to take steps now and think about how to begin to prepare for that possibility.

  • We should start preparing now for the possibility that our university may suspend in-person classes before the end of the semester.
  • We should immediately ensure that we are capable of working remotely if necessary.
  • We should acquaint ourselves with the covid19.unl.edu website and check it regularly for updates.

Prepare for Suspension of In-person Classes

An academic planning subgroup of the COVID-19 Task Force is preparing resources to help with this transition and provide advisement on end-of-semester assessments for students. They will be available online in the coming days. Keep in mind that not every option will work for every teaching environment and some experiential learning courses, such as labs, clinics and performance-based courses, may not easily be accommodated. In the meantime, everyone needs to consider the following options for continuing courses beyond a date when in-person classes might be suspended:

  • Be creative on how you deliver course material — from downloading to a thumb drive to uploading to Canvas. Think about students with limited access to the internet and limited data plans. A PowerPoint with voiceover audio takes up less bandwidth than video.
  • Zoom may be a good option for smaller discussion groups, but you should prepare backup plans because it is not clear whether Zoom can handle the increased usage that might occur.
  • Record lectures in advance, either video or audio, and post them in Canvas.
  • Allow assignments to be submitted digitally through Canvas.
  • Give students who were expected to make in-class presentations a substitute assignment that can be completed digitally.
  • Replace in-class exams with an assignment that can be completed remotely.
  • Consider an alternative to an in-class final exam that can be completed digitally.

Readiness Check for Working Remotely

Everyone should commit to performing the following readiness check within the next two days:

  • Do you have sufficient computer hardware to complete your normal and necessary work tasks? If not, check with your department or college to see if equipment might be available for checkout.
  • Can you access the internet and VPN? Do you have sufficient bandwidth off campus? If not, consider alternative locations for working remotely.
  • Can you access essential programs, including your email, work calendar, Canvas, Firefly, word processing (like Microsoft Word), presentation software (like PowerPoint), spreadsheet software (like Excel), and any servers that you need? If not, check with your departmental or college IT support to see if this software can be installed on your machine.
  • Do you have a webcam and access to Zoom? If you don’t have a webcam, consider purchasing one or commit to audio-only communications and recording.
  • Can you access any other program(s) that you use regularly?
  • Can you access your voicemail and receive messages? If your voicemail is not set up to forward to your email, consider changing your outgoing message to indicate that you may not be able to check your voicemail regularly and that email is a better way to reach you.
  • Do you have contact information for your department chair, technical assistance in your college, colleagues with similar teaching duties, and anyone that you supervise?

In addition, if you do not regularly teach online, you should review your on-campus courses now to identify changes that will need to be made to move online. Contact your department chair to get started. The Center for Transformative Teaching has put together a list of resources at teaching.unl.edu/keep-teaching. You can also reach out to the Instructional Design Specialist in your college.

Website Updates

The above readiness checklist will be available on the covid19.unl.edu website. Also available on the website is a temporary absence policy endorsed by Faculty Senate. Full text of the policy is below. Keep checking the website for the latest information.

Next Steps

The academic planning subgroup, which includes deans, associate deans, faculty, administrators, and students, is following this situation closely and working directly with the COVID-19 Task Force to determine potential next steps should the virus impact Lincoln. Circumstances may change rapidly and we need to be prepared for a variety of possibilities.

I realize this a difficult time in the semester to make changes to course and classroom plans. It's important to keep in mind not only the safety of our campus, but the scholarly success of our students, especially those who are on track to graduate in the upcoming months.

Thank you for devoting your time and effort to help address this serious situation.

Temporary Attendance Policy

Endorsed by Faculty Senate on March 9, 2020

We are facing a challenging situation in which all of us are called on to make a good faith effort to be flexible and to make decisions in the best interest of the community. In light of this, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, with the endorsement of the Faculty Senate, is temporarily suspending the usual Faculty Senate rules regarding instructor authority in setting attendance policies. For the immediate future, the campus-wide attendance policy is as follows:

  • Students who are sick, or who are engaging in self-quarantine at the direction of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department or their health care professional, should not attend class, will not be required to provide formal documentation from a health care provider, and will not be penalized for absences. Students should
    • Notify instructors in advance of the absence if possible.
    • Keep up with classwork if they are able to do so
    • Submit assignments digitally
  • Work with their instructors to try to reschedule exams, labs, and other critical academic activities.

This temporary campus-wide policy puts everyone on their honor. It requires that faculty and instructors trust the word of their students when they say they are ill, and it requires that students report the reason for their absence truthfully. All of this is to say that the usual codes of conduct and rules of academic integrity are still in place.

During this period, we ask all members of the University community to be attentive to their health and safeguard others by following the CDC’s guideline to “stay home when you are sick.” You should stay home if you have symptoms (coughing, fever, shortness of breath). More information on what to do if you are sick is available at the CDC’s website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/steps-when-sick.html

Many thanks,

Richard Moberly

Interim Executive Vice Chancellor