10.16.20: Spring Course Planning

A message to faculty and instructional staff from Provost Urban

Dear Faculty and Instructional Staff,

We are now past the midpoint of our Fall semester, and in the midst of planning for the Spring. I want to thank all instructors for the great work they are doing to educate and support students this Fall. I also am writing to share some expectations for all our Spring courses, both for undergraduates and graduate students.

The first expectation is that every course will have at least some designated time each week for synchronous interaction with students—either in class or via office hours. Some courses will be completely asynchronous. However, I think it is important that every course should have at least one regularly scheduled “office hour” session during which a faculty member is available for consultation—or just a check-in—at a standard time each week for at least an hour. This will guarantee that students know how to access faculty members even as we teach courses in different modalities.

The second expectation is that by the time registration opens for students in early November, we make available descriptions of how instructors intend learning to take place in each course. This description should assume that the university is in the “Open IV” phase of the return to campus plan. This is important because students need to know what to expect. We are gathering these descriptions, which should be no more than a few sentences in Banner. Examples might be:

  • “Most lectures will be via Zoom and I will expect students to attend lectures synchronously. I plan to hold six in-person sessions starting in March.”


  • “Two one-hour lectures per week will be via live Zoom with students expected to attend. In addition, students will be expected to watch an hour of recorded material.”

More detailed descriptions should be added to department web pages as well. Students should know what components of a course will be in person, if any, and they should know how online components will take place. They should know if they will have synchronous class meetings or if they will be watching recorded lectures or other asynchronous materials.

I also expect that once faculty determine how they will be teaching, they will not change a course’s structure unless there is a campus-wide change (such as a shift to fully remote) or they get approval from their dean (or designee). Students (and their parents, who are now more involved than they might otherwise be) have been frustrated when they have been told that a course will be taught in one way and then it is taught in another way without a clear explanation.

Given what we have learned this semester, if next semester plays out similarly in terms of COVID cases in the region, I would like to aim for 25% of courses having an in-person component of at least a handful of meetings RAS will be communicating very clearly to students that if they enroll in a course that requires an in-person component, they will need to attend those class meetings and not participate remotely.

You have my assurance that if COVID cases rise on campus, we will move to remote teaching until it is safe to return to in-person instruction, just as we have this semester. I also hope that instructors are reassured that there is no evidence that in-person instruction has led to transmission of COVID at Lehigh or on other campuses that have followed similar protocols. We do not wish to put those of you who are teaching in person at risk. In addition to following university-wide opening phases, if an instructor has a class in which more than 20% of students have active COVID cases, the class should be automatically shifted to remote. We are also expanding surveillance testing for COVID in faculty and staff who interact with students.

If a particular course section hits that 20% COVID threshold, the deans will automatically approve a switch to remote instruction for the particular course. We understand that the winter is unpredictable, and I want faculty to be comfortable teaching in the classroom, with the understanding that there may be temporary switches to remote learning that might be put in place either by the university or by an individual instructor (with deans’ notification and authorization).