Senior leaders offer first glimpse at fall instruction

Among popular topics during the June 12 town hall for faculty and staff, senior leaders answered multiple questions that offer a first glimpse at what instruction will look like this fall. In a June 17 memo to academic affairs division employees on the same topic, senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert emphasized that goals for fall semester haven't changed -- despite the uncertainty of these times.

"We will prioritize the safety of our university community; we will help students make progress toward their degrees; and we will conduct Iowa State's mission-oriented and operational functions as effectively as possible," he wrote.

This Q&A supplements town hall responses in some cases with additional detail Wickert shared in his memo.


How and when will decisions be made about which classes go online?

There is no "one size fits all" approach for how we'll deliver classes this fall. In collaboration with their associate deans, we'll be asking department chairs and faculty to determine the appropriate delivery mode for each class and to match faculty interests and teaching expertise with student needs and teaching mode. That process can begin immediately. In broad strokes:

  • Large, lecture-based classes will be online and supplemented by synchronous online sessions, in-person recitation sections or other in-person learning opportunities for students at least once a week.
  • Medium and small lecture-based classes, studios, capstone courses will be taught in blended formats (combination of in-person and online to promote safety and flexibility).
  • Lab courses will be taught in person, with appropriate safety measures.
  • Courses for which the mode is influenced by accreditation guidelines may be taught in person following safety measures.
  • All fall courses must be developed within Canvas. (Wickert)


If COVID cases in Story County have increased since businesses reopened at the end of May, why is the university being aggressive about in-person instruction this fall?

The approach we're taking is, how do we go about our business -- educating students, conducting research, serving Iowans -- while mitigating the risk. We can't eliminate all the risk, but the combination of testing, contact tracing, wearing face coverings, staying home if you're ill, hand washing and enhanced cleaning -- all of these together will help reduce the risk for all of us and allow our students to come back for an Iowa State experience. (Vice president for ISU Extension and Outreach John Lawrence, chair of the executive committee for fall planning)

Learn more

Provost Jonathan Wickert's June 17 memo shares updates on instruction-related topics participants didn't raise during the town hall, including:

  • No impact to faculty appointments
  • Labor Day specifics
  • Summer instructional support
  • Safety in fall classrooms, labs and studios
  • Back-up instructors


Why did Iowa State decide to not just stay online for fall semester?

We interviewed students after spring semester, and while they told us they understood why we went online, they also said they can't wait to be back on campus. Likewise, we hear from incoming students how much they value in-person classes. Some students are likely to take a gap year or seek an alternative closer to home rather than enroll in a substantial number of online courses. So, the fall priorities are the quality of first-year learning and experiential learning courses, which are the hallmark of Iowa State. (Wickert)


What did we remove from a fall semester that's a week shorter than normal?

The new fall calendar (Aug. 17-Nov. 25) means that students will miss only four days of instruction. By holding classes on Labor Day, we recovered one instruction day. The semester will have 14 weeks of instruction including prep week (Nov. 16-20). Final exams will be held Saturday, Nov. 21, and Monday-Wednesday, Nov. 23-25. This schedule meets federal requirements for a full semester and provides the best opportunity for students to complete the fall semester on campus. (Wickert)


What are we doing to help international students who may not be able to travel to campus?

We have created an international student bundle that focuses especially on incoming students. The bundle includes courses in four tracks based on where most of our international students register, and they'll take these courses while they're in their home country. We added a learning community component because we know our learning communities are important to creating a sense of community and belonging. The intent is to help students make progress toward their degree, and when they're able to travel to the U.S. -- hopefully in January -- they'll begin their second semester of courses. We're holding a series of webinars to alert students to this opportunity. (Associate provost Ann Marie VanDerZanden, chair of the academic continuity working group)


How is Iowa State ensuring that tenure-track faculty can maintain their research programs throughout the pandemic?

We continue to offer clock extensions to any tenure-track faculty who requests one because of pandemic-related disruptions to their research program. Other actions include:

  • The mandatory training for all college-level promotion and tenure committees will include a component to raise awareness of COVID-related disruptions.
  • ISU has implemented the flexibility offered by the federal Office of Management and Budget for faculty researchers related to how grants are managed.
  • The office of the vice president for research has extended the terms on its internal grants for research teams. (Wickert)


How will class schedules be adjusted to account for physical distancing?

Maintaining physical distances is one of the most complex challenges we face since it combines student schedules, class schedules and class locations. Our overarching goal is to keep the class schedule intact as much as possible. Passing times between classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays will be extended by 5 minutes, to 15 minutes. To accommodate this, classes on those days will begin 15 minutes earlier (7:45 a.m.) and end 20 minutes later (6:20 p.m.). Classes remain 50 minutes long and the 10 class periods will begin every 65 minutes.

Class start times on Tuesdays and Thursdays won't change; passing times on those days already are 15 minutes. (Wickert, VanDerZanden)


Will there be a fall commencement?

We've received many inquiries on this topic. The commencement advisory committee is exploring all options for fall commencement and college convocations. Their work includes reviewing the virtual events we held this spring and analyzing capacity and safety options for in-person events, if feasible. (Wickert)


Are there conversations yet about adjusting spring semester?

Right now, we're working hard on fall semester planning, but it's never too early to start considering what might happen in the spring, too. We're going to learn a lot during that first week of fall classes and we'll probably have to adjust our fall plan. We think the fall semester will inform decisions about spring semester. (Wickert)