From the Provost - Fall 2021 Course Instruction Update

From the Provost - Fall 2021 Course Instruction Update

Dear Rice Community,

We are writing today with information on how we will proceed with classes next week and for the foreseeable future depending on the COVID-19 situation.

Over the past three weeks, we have collected data about the state of COVID-19 on our campus and have found that while the positivity rate is somewhat higher than what we’ve seen over the past year, it is still considerably lower than the Houston area.

In addition to a relatively low positivity rate, Rice’s vaccination survey results show that 91% of our overall community of 12,400 is vaccinated. The actual percentage is higher because some people have indicated they are in the process of getting fully vaccinated, and not quite everyone has filled out the survey.

Based on these testing results, the high vaccination rate of our students, the requirement to wear a mask indoors (including in the classroom), and the physical modifications that have been made to our buildings, we have decided to return to face-to-face instruction beginning Tuesday, Sept. 7 for classes that have an enrollment of 50 or fewer.

Classes with over 50 students are expected to be delivered remotely. A list of these classes can be seen here. Instructors of classes with more than 50 students should notify the provost office at provost@rice.edu by 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3 if they would like to request an exemption and teach face-to-face so that this information can be recorded in the Office of the Registrar. As larger classes are moved online, the registrar’s office will continue to rearrange and reassign classrooms to enable greater spacing between students attending face-to-face classes.

Instructors who plan to teach online for the first time must contact RiceOnline@rice.edu and complete training for successful online course instruction. Instructors who have already completed the training do not need to do the training again, but are welcome to work with a Rice Online Learning course designer as needed to improve online course delivery.

Classes that have an enrollment of 50 or less are expected to be in person unless the instructor has previously requested an exemption or would like to request one now. All exemption requests should be submitted by 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3. Please see the Aug. 11 communication for details on exemptions.

International students generally need to take at least three credits of face-to-face courses to meet the terms of their visa. The Office of Academic Advising will guide undergraduate international students on appropriate face-to-face courses. Individual academic degree programs will ensure that the courses graduate international students take will fulfill visa requirements.

As previously noted, we will continue to adhere to the following precautions to help ensure a safe teaching and learning environment for instructors and students alike. If you have any questions, please reach out to your dean or department chair.

Masks
Students — vaccinated and unvaccinated — must wear a mask in the classroom. While lecturing, vaccinated instructors can forgo wearing a mask if they maintain a distance of at least 10 feet between themselves and their students. Vaccinated individuals who are not formal course instructors but take an instructor-like role (such as a teaching assistant while lecturing, a student defending a thesis or a guest speaker) may similarly choose to forgo wearing a mask if vaccinated and maintaining appropriate distance. Unvaccinated instructors must wear a mask at all times. Microphones will be available to those who wear a mask while lecturing.

Class Seating and Contact Tracing
Contact tracing this fall will be very important for protecting our community and could potentially be more difficult since there are more people on campus than last year. To make the job of contact tracing easier, we ask that all classes where it is possible maintain consistent student seating arrangements throughout the year. Furthermore, we ask that a recording of this seating be maintained. The most reliable way to accomplish this is to have instructors produce and utilize seating charts. In addition, it would be helpful for instructors to record which students were absent from class each day. If instructors choose not to record attendance in classes, we ask that at the start of each class instructors have their students record the names of the students sitting immediately around them. Some courses will not be amenable to this request, but many are, and we ask everyone’s cooperation with this. The goal is for people to easily know who they were around should they be contacted by the contact tracing team.

Preparing for Alternate Teaching Methods
Instructors of in-person classes must make preparations to accommodate students who may need to quarantine or isolate due to exposure to COVID-19. Please keep in mind that isolating students may miss over a week of class.

  • Courses with students who must miss extended time due to illness: Dual delivery is encouraged to accommodate students who must miss class due to illness. Recording classes and making them available to sick, quarantining or isolating students is sufficient.
  • When instructors must quarantine or isolate: Instructors should plan for how they will accommodate their course should they need to quarantine or isolate for more than one or two class meetings. If able, such instructors can teach via Zoom or they can have a colleague or qualified postdoctoral student or graduate student cover their course.

As previously noted, people who do not feel well should stay home. For this reason, it is important that all instructors are as accommodating as possible in their management of absences related to illness. Our collective goal should be to keep people who are not feeling well out of the classroom but still engaged with their academic pursuits. Tech teaching assistants will be available to instructors who would like them. Please contact teaching@rice.edu to request such accommodations.

We thank you for your patience over the past several weeks and for giving us the time to analyze the data about COVID-19 on Rice’s campus and make an educated decision on how to move forward. We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation at Rice and in the Greater Houston area and we will continue to pivot as needed. Our main goal is to provide the highest standard of academic tutelage in a safe and healthy learning environment.

Warm regards,

Reginald DesRoches, Howard Hughes Provost

Christopher Johns-Krull, Faculty Senate Speaker

Bridget Gorman, Dean of Undergraduates

Seiichi Matsuda, Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies