Planning for Fall and Summer Activity – May 15, 2020

Message from the Provost to all faculty:

Dear Colleagues, if the spring 2020 semester has taught us anything, it is that our world and the institutions and expectations around higher education have profoundly changed. While UMW’s mission and vision are even more critical, meaningful, and relevant today, how we engage with, educate and mentor our students, and how we support and work with our many communities is our challenge. Just as we did this spring, we will adapt, innovate, research, create, and experiment, as we continue to plan for an immediate future we know will be uncertain and unpredictable.

While it is our intention to begin classes on-campus in August, we must plan for multiple scenarios, the final outcome of which may not be known until July, or even a bit later. Among these scenarios, the most likely are (in no order):

  • starting classes face-to-face and transitioning to remote instruction
  • starting classes remote and remaining so for the entirety of the semester
  • starting classes remote and transitioning back to face-to-face
  • starting classes face-to-face and remaining so for the entirety of the semester

While none of us yet know the most likely path, it is important to begin preparing now for each of these scenarios, and particularly the one that will prove to be the most challenging – UMW starting the fall semester with all classes fully remote.

Within those scenarios, there are permutations involving students and faculty who may need to be remote, even though the majority of our community is physically present on campus.  In our planning, we must also be cognizant of a number of potential public health requirements and contingencies that will affect our pedagogy and curriculum including:

  1. Supporting as yet undetermined social distancing requirements (e.g. no more than 10 people could meet in the same place at the same time or that occupancy of the classroom is no more than a much smaller % of the posted occupancy).
  2. Working with faculty and staff in vulnerable populations (e.g. immune compromised or over the age of 65) who may need to deliver their courses remotely.
  3. Working with students who need to be remote for some or all of the semester (e.g. because of quarantine, isolation, or accommodations for health reasons).

Throughout the semester, we have received significant feedback, gathered both formally and informally from students and their families, about their remote experience this spring. Though many give us high marks for pivoting quickly and doing our best to move to remote instruction in extraordinary circumstances, it is also clear that they now have very focused and different expectations because we have several months to prepare and the economic uncertainties have increased. Our reputation as an excellent undergraduate liberal arts institution depends critically on our capacity to continue our high-quality teaching and student mentoring, and to sustain our mission through the end of this public health emergency, in whatever modality circumstances may compel us.

In order to prepare for all these scenarios and contingencies, it is important that we establish someminimum expectations for all fall course development and instruction:

  1. All courses should contain (or be structured in such a way that they could contain) significant remote and/or on-line components (up to 49%).
  2. All courses in fall 2020 will utilize Canvas to meet minimal expectations, as outlined by the University Faculty Council and including a posted and up to date syllabus.
  3. All courses in fall 2020 will be designed to support accessibility in a remote or on-line environment and, to the maximum extent possible utilize open educational resources.
  4. All courses which are not otherwise approved to be fully on-line should contain some synchronous elements utilizing established time slots on the course schedule.
  5. All faculty will participate in training/development for remote/on-line instruction prior to the first day of classes (August 24th) to include strategies to prepare assessment/assignments and promote student engagement in remote formats.

To support faculty with their fall course development, there are substantive and on-going faculty development opportunities and resources available. The Center for Teaching and Digital Learning Support have developed a variety of options for faculty support, training, and development. Hundreds of you attended the Faculty Open Forum on May 14, when Debra Schleef provided an overview of the student course feedback data, and Victoria Russell and Jerry Slezak outlined the plans for faculty development this summer. Faculty can access and participate in these programs in a variety of both interactive and self-paced ways throughout the summer and into the fall. See the attached from the Center for Teaching and go to the Center for Teaching website for details. The Library staff and Office of Disability Resources are also available and supporting these efforts as well as offering additional resources.

A common thread running through all of the feedback from students about instruction in the second half of the spring semester was the imperative of maintaining communication and personal relationships from a distance. To this end, we are making investments in additional technology support and other strategies to build and maintain the highly interpersonal connections that have long been an essential ingredient of the Mary Washington experience.

Assuming that we will be able to start the fall semester on-campus, we still need to work to create flexibility for students and faculty with some strategically placed online course offerings. In the coming days, the Deans and the Associate Deans will be reviewing the fall course schedule in conjunction with department chairs and faculty, to identify the right mix of courses that should be online. It is important that we do this work expeditiously so that students can adjust their schedules appropriately and we can have confidence that we have some pathways for students to progress through both general education and their major programs should they all need to be remote.

For faculty who wish to have a course approved now for remote instruction, the University Faculty Council created a streamlined process and criteria for fall 2020. To move a course that is currently scheduled face-to-face to one that is majority or fully remote, you will need to complete the process approved by the UFC. Faculty must submit their request using the UMW Fall 2020 Online Course Proposal Form. This process also requires that you use Canvas to the extent described above, make your remote content accessible (see the proposal form for details) and complete a faculty development expectation. In order to meet the faculty development requirement, a faculty member must meet one of three criteria: 1) have been previously approved by the Distance and Blended Learning Committee to teach an online course (any course, not just the one they are teaching in Fall 2020);  2) have been approved to teach online at another institution (state which on the form);  3) participate in, or view, the four 90-minute interactive workshops that will be offered this summer by the Center for Teaching on the four general topics being covered. These sessions will be recorded so faculty can view them later in the summer to meet this requirement.

Finally, there will be regular communications and updates to faculty and staff on planning and other activity throughout the summer.  Each week, you will receive an email update on the work of the Fall Planning Task Force. There will also be regular open forums. The next forum will be an open Q&A livestream on Wednesday, May 20, from 4 to 5 pm, with updates on recruitment and admissions. Following that, on May 27 from 4 to 5 pm, the topic is on UMW’s virtual orientation.

As we head into summer, please take care of yourselves and those around you, find times to take breaks from your work and other obligations, be mindful and be well. We will be available to you all summer so do not hesitate to contact me or others if you have any questions or concerns, you need anything, or just want some information.

I hope you have a peaceful and restorative summer.



Nina Mikhalevsky
University of Mary Washington
Fredericksburg, VA 22401