From the Provost - Fall Course Instruction

Fall Course Instruction

Dear Rice Colleagues and Students,

We are writing today to provide clarity and new information about instruction this fall for both students and instructors, including new guidelines on courses approved for modified delivery. On Aug. 5, the university updated the policies we will adopt for the fall semester to reduce COVID-19 within our community while continuing to deliver on our teaching and research mission.

COVID-19 poses a very different challenge today than it did during the earlier phases of the pandemic more than two years ago. We now have effective vaccines, booster shots and pharmaceutical treatments to combat the effects of COVID-19, and we have a better understanding of how we can protect ourselves with simple precautions like wearing good quality masks in certain public settings.

We still have to be responsible for our own health and respectful of other people’s health care needs. Therefore, while classes that are normally taught in face-to-face mode will continue to be taught in this manner this semester, we have instituted policies to ensure we prioritize both delivering our educational mission with in-person instruction and the safety of the members of our community.

These policies include:

Masking
The university’s policy strongly encourages everyone to carry masks on campus and to use their best judgment on when it’s appropriate to wear one. While there is not a universal masking requirement, faculty have the option of requiring students to wear masks in their classrooms and research spaces. Faculty who will be requiring masking in the classroom should set these expectations clearly on the first day of class and are encouraged to include this in their syllabi. Students are expected to respect and honor these classroom guidelines as they would all other requirements for a specific course.

Vaccinations
The university will no longer require those who are unvaccinated to wear masks and undergo regular surveillance testing. Nonetheless, we urge all students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated and stay up to date with COVID-19 boosters. Based on prior survey information, more than 90% of our total community of 12,000 students, faculty and staff were fully vaccinated at the end of the 2022 spring semester. Student data for this semester, which includes first-year undergraduate and graduate students, also shows that over 90% of students are fully vaccinated. If you haven’t already done so, we urge every member of our community, who is able, to get vaccinated and to remain up to date with all recommended boosters. It’s the single best thing to do for our own health and the health of our community.

Exposure and Illness Protocol
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an online calculator that can help you determine the appropriate number of days you should isolate if you are feeling sick, know you have been exposed or have tested positive. There are additional instructions at coronavirus.rice.edu. In general, if you are feeling ill, we encourage you to test and consult with your health care provider as appropriate. Antigen test kits can be ordered through Rice but are limited to one kit (two tests) per month. Use this link to order a test kit. Additional tests can be ordered through COVID.gov.

Illness and Classroom Accommodations
Classes that are normally taught face-to-face will continue to be taught in this manner. However, we know that there will be times when students are unable to come to class, either because they are ill or because they do not want to expose others to possible infection. All instructors should be as accommodating as possible as they manage student absences related to illness and isolation protocols. As stated in the Aug. 5 message to campus, the goal should be to keep people who are not feeling well out of the classroom, but still engaged with their academic pursuits. Faculty are strongly encouraged to make accommodations for students who are ill and cannot attend in person by recording their classes for asynchronous delivery, teaching in a dual-delivery mode (students in the classroom and online), or by providing additional instruction, support or materials so that students absent from live classes because of illness are not disadvantaged.

There are multiple resources for faculty needing help with accommodating students. The Office of Information Technology Learning Environments Group is available to help faculty who need assistance with recording lectures. For remote teaching resources, including modules on best practices for online pedagogy and for one-on-one assistance from an online course designer, please visit https://teaching.rice.edu/remote-teaching-resources or email RiceOnline@rice.edu.

The Center for Teaching Excellence can provide advice on good practices. Dual-delivery classroom information can be found at this link. Tech teaching assistants can provide support to faculty with the additional technology requirements needed to teach in dual-delivery mode or to record their classes upon request. Faculty with questions about the TechTA program should email TechTACoord@rice.edu.

It remains best practice for all instructors to plan for how they will administer their course(s) should they become sick and 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 until the recommended isolation period has ended.

New guidelines on courses approved for modified delivery
It is generally expected that all courses are to be taught face-to-face, unless an instructor has an approved exception. However, the instructor does have the latitude to incorporate a blended mode of instruction in their course design. Courses using a dual-delivery or blended mode of instruction must maintain a significant face-to-face component, such that the course remains classified as a face-to-face course instead of a distance and online education course as defined and governed by Rice policy 846. Rice defines a face-to-face course as one with at least half the instructional contact hours occurring with the student and instructor in the same physical space. These hours are exclusive of office hours.

Instructors who choose to use dual delivery or adopt new blended learning methods (such as a flipped classroom) for pedagogical reasons for the fall semester should consult with their chair (or dean in schools that don’t have departments). After approval, instructors should also inform the Office of the Registrar to officially change the mode of instruction and make sure appropriate classroom technology is in place, and they should update their syllabi to accurately describe how instructional material will be delivered in their courses.

Instructors may request an exemption from face-to-face teaching. In instances where an exemption is approved, it remains vital that even when the course is taught remotely that the instructor provides other ways to interact with their students in person. These interactions should be set in a way that is consistent with the reasonable accommodations determined in the exemption process.

Instructors with an approved exemption should consult with their chair (or dean in schools without departments) to develop their plan for in-person interactions outside of the remote class time.

Instructors requesting an exemption from face-to-face teaching must petition the vice provost of academic affairs (VPAA), who will work with the Disability Resource Center (DRC) to process the requests based on the following overarching categories:

  • Significant medical issue as defined under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and may allow for a reasonable accommodation;
  • All other nonmedical issues.

Exemptions within these categories are expected to be based on one or more of the following medical and nonmedical issues, namely that the faculty member:

  • Has medical issues that create a weakened immune system and put them at a significantly higher risk of death or sustained injury from COVID-19 exposure;
  • Has a household member in the above high-risk group;
  • Has a household member who cannot be vaccinated.

These exemptions must be requested at the start of each semester and approval in one term does not guarantee approval in future terms. Instructors must copy both their chair and dean on their petition email to the VPAA (vpaa@rice.edu). (Please note that medical details should not be included in this initial email. The DRC will reach out to medical exemption requesters and personal medical issues can be discussed at that time.) Instructors from schools that do not have departments may just copy their deans.

These exemptions must be requested at the start of each semester and approval in one term does not guarantee approval in future terms. Instructors must copy both their chair and dean on their petition email to the VPAA (vpaa@rice.edu). (Please note that medical details should not be included in this initial email. The DRC will reach out to medical exemption requesters and personal medical issues can be discussed at that time.) Instructors from schools that do not have departments may just copy their deans. All instructors who receive an exemption from face-to-face teaching and who have not had online course instruction training must email RiceOnline@rice.edu and complete the training for online course instruction.

It is important to reiterate that we expect that courses in general are to be taught face-to-face. As always, we appreciate everyone’s efforts to support the health and safety of our community while continuing to maintain an environment best suited for learning and collegiality. Your continued flexibility and respect for one another are central to who we are as a university. We look forward to an engaging academic year.

Warmest Regards,

Amy Dittmar, Howard Hughes Provost

Alexandra Kieffer, Faculty Senate Speaker

Bridget Gorman, Dean of Undergraduates

Seiichi Matsuda, Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies