Faculty face choice between in-person and remote instruction if campus reopens

Annie Lu, Lucy Walker, and Saud Afzal

Faculty members have been asked to inform the College by yesterday, June 20, whether they would teach in person or remotely if the campus were to reopen in the fall. The academic subcommittee of the working group tasked with determining what an on-campus fall would look like sent an all-faculty email on June 10 to address curricular planning in the case that campus reopens in the fall. The College has not yet decided whether or not to open campus in the fall, with the decision deadline still set for July 1.

If faculty choose to teach in person, the subcommittee has advised them to design “hybrid” courses to accommodate those students who must continue learning remotely even if campus is open. In addition to anticipating that some students may opt to remain off campus for personal reasons or travel restrictions, the email raised the possibility that “the entire campus may need to switch to remote learning at some point as we did this spring,” or that some students or faculty who begin the semester in-person may need to switch to remote learning during the term. Depending on the development of the public health situation, “we may still need these hybrid models next spring or even the following year,” the subcommittee wrote.

The subcommittee instructed faculty to assume that any in-person course may have some remote students. While in multi-section courses individual sections may be designated as exclusively in-person or exclusively remote, the subcommittee cautioned that “faculty should plan their courses with the expectation that the situation might change mid-semester.” Moreover, the subcommittee urged faculty to develop plans for how to fairly allocate in-person seats if a course becomes overenrolled.

The email also recommended that departments “consider their curricula in a holistic fashion.” According to the memo, departments cannot change the requirement that a minimum of nine courses be completed for a major, but they can relax distributional requirements within the major and be more flexible in accepting cross-listed courses for major credit. Furthermore, any majors that require more than nine courses can reduce the number of courses required to nine.

In addition to adjusting distributional requirements, units may also decide which electives to offer in the upcoming academic year. “It may well be that units will decide that they cannot offer their full array of electives as they consider the adjustments that will need to be made in other parts of their curriculum,” the email wrote.

Units must submit their preliminary list of courses by June 26, upon which they will be asked to “indicate the teaching modality for each course” (if campus reopens in the fall): exclusively in-person (if another section is made for remote students), hybrid, or exclusively remote. Units must submit their complete course packet materials by July 10. 

Co-chair of the working group and Professor of Philosophy Bojana Mladenovic did not respond to comment except to confirm that faculty would need to inform the College of their decision whether or not to teach in person by June 20. Student representative Mohammed Memfis ’21 also did not respond to a request for comment.

Some faculty members have raised the concern that requiring hybrid courses might discourage faculty from choosing to teach in person. “My strong preference all along has been to teach in-person,” Associate Professor of Political Science Justin Crowe ’03 said. “But the insistence on hybridity for all courses has me resigned to teaching remotely.” He explained, “To have the College compound the extra health risk of in-person teaching with extra workload — and the hybridity requirements are a substantial amount of extra work for anyone who chooses to teach in person — is disappointing.”

Though Crowe acknowledged that some students would need to continue remote learning regardless, he said the presence of other faculty who were already planning to teach remotely would provide “a decent number of courses for remote students to take.” Crowe added, “On an institutional level, I know there are lots of moving parts and conflicting interests, but it seems odd, given the dissatisfaction most students experienced with remote instruction, that we’d bring students back to campus and yet disincentivize faculty from teaching them in person.”

According to Chair and Professor of Political Science Mark Reinhardt, the political science department is carrying out a thorough revision of the curriculum “so that it will be better suited to teaching that will be either remote or hybrid.” This has meant lowering enrolment caps and, in some cases, adding sections. Reinhardt believes that despite these changes, student demand should be met “because few faculty are on leave and the student course load will be reduced from 4 to 3 courses per semester.”

The political science department is also relaxing some internal requirements for the Class of 2021. “Our goal was to provide flexibility,” Reinhardt said, “while [ensuring] that everyone graduating with the degree has received an intellectually serious education in the study of politics.”

Reinhardt, due to age and health considerations, said he will teach remotely. “I have not had to decide on how I would retool my course,” Reinhardt said. “But as a department chair, it is clear to me that the additional burden and challenges of hybrid teaching are leading some colleagues who had been seriously considering teaching face to face to choose or lean toward remote instruction.”

Professor of English James Pethica, on the other hand, indicated that he would still teach in person. With a hybrid curriculum, his “principal aim will be finding ways to help constitute as much exchange and community between class members as possible,” he said. He described some ways of doing this, including “setting up small student-only discussion groups with defined projects outside our synchronous meetings; two-or-three-to-one group meetings, likewise, along the lines of mini tutorials; regular use of breakout rooms during synchronous meetings; [and] more use of discussion boards.” He added that he might change the content of his courses “moderately” in order to best “generate and hold attention over the course of an online meeting.”

Like Pethica, Associate Professor of Biology Matt Carter would choose to teach in person this fall, and expressed optimism about the feasibility of teaching hybrid courses. “I greatly appreciate that faculty have been asked for their preferences, and I support anyone who prefers to teach remotely,” Carter said. “But I have realized that many of the joys of teaching, for me, occur in person.” 

While he said designing a hybrid model would “require an incredible amount of time,” he noted potential advantages for students. If he were to create narrated PowerPoint slides designed for remote students, he gave as an example, those resources could also benefit in-person students seeking a way to review or make up material, as well as future students. “Therefore, I am going to try and be smart about investing in remote teaching materials that will serve all students in my courses as well as students who enroll in the course in the future,” Carter said.

Carter cited the responses of the College community to the pandemic as the source of his optimism. “Everyone is trying their best,” he said. “Faculty and staff have worked tremendously hard to help students in and out of the virtual classroom, and students have worked tremendously hard to complete their coursework and make the best of an unfortunate situation.”