From the ARC Chair - a message regarding Spring Semester

From the ARC Chair - a message regarding Spring Semester

Dear Colleagues,

We have just completed what is probably the most unusual semester any of us have experienced. It has been extreme, but our faculty, staff, and students have risen to the challenge and continued the tradition of excellence in education and research that has become a hallmark of Rice University. On behalf of the ARC, I first want to thank you for all of your efforts to make this past semester a success. I write today to provide some reminders as we now turn our attention to the Spring semester, and would ask that you read this message carefully. Below I include information on:

  • Dual delivery for Spring 2021
  • Sprinkle Days in Spring 2021
  • Concerns for our international students
  • Academic accommodations
  • Reminders of syllabus resources and suggestions for final exams

While we all hope for as quick a return to normalcy as possible, it appears that this coming Spring will need to function in much the same way that this past Fall has, so we write to hopefully provide a single point of reference for course information for instructors as they prepare their classes for next semester.

Dual Delivery – The university will remain in a posture that most courses will be available as dual delivery. The guidelines released before for dual delivery still apply, and these can be found at https://rice.app.box.com/s/bv70t8kgh8fywkp1q7dyxapea9bw9y7s. The essence of dual delivery is that students in all locations (on campus and remotely) have access to the class material, even if it is just a recording of the class lectures posted on Canvas. Some courses simply do not work well in this mode, so exceptions to dual delivery can be obtained from the Provost.

Sprinkle Days for Spring 2021 – The experience of our students and faculty this past semester indicates that learning in the current environment is quite stressful. Spring break has been canceled for this coming semester out of an abundance of caution; however, five “sprinkle day” holidays have been inserted into the calendar to provide periodic breaks. It is intended that, to the extent possible, these be real breaks for students and instructors. Therefore, no assignments or midterms can be due on these sprinkle days. The ARC encourages all instructors to consider the intent of these days as breaks as they design their schedule of assignments for their courses – and as such, we also encourage instructors to refrain from assigning any work due the day immediately following a “sprinkle day.” For reference purposes, the Spring 2021 Academic Calendar can be found here: https://registrar.rice.edu/calendars/spring-semester-2021.

Issues for International Students – The past several months have been a particular challenge for our international students as rapid changes in rules related to what is required to maintain proper visa status have led many to worry about whether they will be able to remain in the US to pursue their studies. This is a very fluid situation, but the current rules require that international undergraduate and graduate students who arrived in the USA after March 9, 2020, take at least three credit hours of courses taught in a face-to-face mode. Rice Policy 846 and our accrediting agency have strict rules about this which were described in the ARC communication found here: https://rice.app.box.com/s/2gz663l9u2dtv53t3f8ampnhdah4z4r2.

The federal requirements may well change with respect to this issue; therefore, the ARC is considering various options to meet the needs of our international students. For example, it appears we might be able to open additional sections of some of our large, high international demand courses that will be taught online; however, for these sections, international students can gather in a physical classroom with an instructional leader (who could be a graduate TA) to participate in the online main course with students in the primary section, but who will have access to an in-person instructional leader in the classroom during class time. This face-to-face arrangement is an option for meeting the in-person component required for many international students. The ARC continues to explore how this could work. If instructors think their course could work with such an additional section, please email: cmj@rice.edu to begin this conversation.

Academic Accommodations – The Faculty Senate adopted an academic accommodation for this past Fall that was also adopted last Spring. Specifically, students were permitted to “drop” courses throughout the entirety of the semester, up to and even after grades were posted; however, the “dropped” course remains on a student’s transcript and receives a grade of “NG” (no grade) which is one of the standard grading options permitted by the General Announcements. The intent of this accommodation is to provide a safety net for students who, for whatever reason, are just not able to perform up to their potential in this highly unusual semester. The ARC is recommending that the Faculty Senate consider a similar accommodation this coming Spring. No additional academic accommodations are currently under consideration. In addition, the ARC has become aware of several additional student concerns that have been communicated in an SA resolution which is available on the Senate wiki site at: https://wiki.rice.edu/confluence/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=40744520

The student concerns can be found on pages six through seven of the resolution, and they primarily speak to the simmering stress that most of us are experiencing as we navigate the current reality caused by COVID-19. In particular, there is a sense of an increase in workload that appears to be brought on by the way in which most instructors and students are engaging in their classes. This issue has been discussed in a recent Inside Higher Ed piece, which can be found here and you may find useful to read: https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/just-visiting/guest-post-strange-case-exploding-student-workload?fbclid=IwAR1zedckeDxwiz9sUHO4b5v3BDgPHfuQy9sRjaNzYf7tCpVXHmLKL7qdLZw. This issue will also be discussed in an upcoming Learning Symposium sponsored by the Center for Teaching Excellence on January 15, the information for which can be found here: https://cte.rice.edu/symposium.

Syllabus Resources and Suggestions for Spring 2021 Final Exams – One of the most important things instructors can do now to help students prepare for Spring is to post their syllabi with a description of how the Spring course will be taught. As a reminder, the ARC provided guidelines and suggestions for things to include on syllabi, and these can be found here: https://rice.app.box.com/s/fee4m0kc4phnvsxxwn2k2nw1or3qffel. Posting syllabi early is particularly important for the “course shopping” that our students routinely do since that is severely limited by the pandemic. Additionally, we do not know just what the end of the Spring semester will look like. Given the realities of the pandemic so far, for this past Spring and the current Fall, the ARC has encouraged instructors to give take-home final exams that also allow for an open book, open note format. It is likely that many of our students will remain remote throughout the Spring semester and its final exam period, so the ARC again encourages instructors to seriously consider offering open book, open note, take-home finals and to plan their courses accordingly.

Again, let me thank all of you for all your amazing efforts this past semester, and, on behalf of the ARC, I hope everyone has had a very restful and happy holiday and best wishes for the New Year.

Christopher Johns-Krull

Academic Restart Committee Chair