6.11.20: Fall 2020 Planning

Update to faculty and instructional staff from Provost Pat Farrell and Incoming Provost Nathan Urban.

Dear Faculty and Instructional Staff,

As expected, the Fall 2020 semester will be very different from past semesters. The changes needed to protect the health of our community this semester will require from all of us a good amount of flexibility, creativity and careful preparation.

You will have seen President Simon’s recent message that we are planning to have a significant number of students on campus for the start of classes on August 24. We will also have many students who will not be on campus at that time due to health concerns, travel restrictions or other reasons. In addition, continued social distancing will limit our ability to hold in-person classes in traditional classroom settings. To overcome this constraint, we can expand the range of facilities we use for classes and will also look at whether we can expand the times and days that we use our classroom facilities by looking at our scheduling a bit differently. The result will be a significant amount of online learning in every course, and effective use of live education opportun ities where that is possible.

With all this in mind, faculty should plan to have their fall courses accessible to remote students throughout the semester. This will accommodate students who cannot attend class in a live setting, as well as faculty who may also not be able to teach in-person for health or personal reasons. It will also allow flexibility should a COVID-19 outbreak require a swift and substantial change to our on-campus population.

You can expect access for some class meetings to on-campus classrooms or facilities, which will be maintained and sanitized frequently, especially high-touch surfaces, spaces and restrooms. Given social distancing guidelines, these likely will be different venues from your usual classroom venues. Student numbers in classrooms will be lower, and conducting an in-person class may require a different approach from what worked a year ago.  We urge you to use in-classroom time for learning experiences that most benefit from people being physically together. These changes are made to support your health and safety, and that of the Lehigh and Bethlehem communities.

To help you with course planning, we recommend you adopt a blended approach by first developing robust online asynchronous coursework that will serve as the backbone of your course, and then planning for how best to build on that coursework during synchronous class meetings, which—depending on who is able to physically be in the classroom and which classrooms are available—may take one of the following forms: all Zoom; all in-classroom; or some combination of in-classroom/on-Zoom, where the frequency and type of each class meeting is determined by student availability and classroom capacity.

Our success in the fall and beyond will depend on the contributions of ideas from faculty, staff and students from across the campus. We have quite a bit of planning to do and many decisions to make. Along with its considerable challenges, this new and different semester offers opportunities for thoughtful reflection on how we might approach instruction more broadly in Fall 2020 and beyond.

We ask that you include in your planning some careful thinking about how your teaching and research can respond to issues of equity and justice. For some disciplines these topics are a typical part of discussions or readings. For other disciplines, inequality and diversity are less traditional topics for discussion. In some classes, the approach may focus more on pedagogy than on content. We ask that you take seriously the charge to create an equitable learning environment and experience for all your students.

We think the effort to clearly describe the academic environment you want for your students—and the act of figuring out what it takes to create it—can serve equity and justice, and the need to develop high-quality, engaging student experiences. This is also an opportunity to discuss the ways in which a diverse and inclusive environment is one that aligns with and advances the research and teaching missions of our university.

We have about eight weeks until the start of the fall semester. We urge faculty to start preparations for the fall now. Spend some time learning from what went well and what did not go well for you and for your colleagues last spring. Consider with an open mind student feedback you have received. Have honest conversations with other faculty members about how to improve. Use what you learn to plan an even better student experience in the fall. Odds are that better student experience will be a better teaching experience for you. 

We understand all of this preparation will require deliberate planning, learning and collaborating, as well as considerable changes to your normal course-preparation activities. We also understand that for some, time spent in preparation for fall courses is time not spent on scholarship or other faculty responsibilities. We expect this temporary shift in planning effort will be reflected in what you report in your PAR or annual summary. Your effort to develop the best course possible for this environment may seem a huge effort for a one-semester change, but we think that much of what we can develop for Fall 2020 will be useful in future semesters, even when the pandemic crisis has passed.

We are confident that faculty will have many questions about how to approach the fall semester and we will seek to be in frequent and transparent communication over the coming weeks. As a start, you will receive a number of detailed communications in the coming days, including: a message from Greg Reihman with additional detail regarding the plan for faculty- and course-development support for the summer; a message regarding the Faculty Senate working group’s review of the spring semester and recommendations for fall; a message soliciting faculty and TA preferences and needs for instruction in the fall; and messages from deans and/or chairs providing additional college-specific course- and curriculum-development plans. In addition, detailed procedures for instructi onal staff who have concerns about teaching on campus are being finalized and will be distributed shortly. Please read these carefully, and actively engage with colleagues in your department, college and across campus to develop outstanding educational experiences for our students for the fall. As questions arise, please contact the Provost’s office at provost@lehigh.edu.

Thank you for your continued hard work, dedication and patience as we navigate our path forward. We are aware of how much each of us cares about Lehigh’s educational mission and the students we serve. We are confident that the Fall 2020 semester will be a meaningful and memorable one for all.

Please continue to take care of yourselves and your loved ones.

Pat Farrell

Nathan Urban