Academic Policies, Instruction & Resources
The university plans to proceed with the instruction dates outlined in the 2020-21 academic calendar, with classes beginning Feb. 8 on the Ithaca and Cornell Tech campuses. Key academic dates can be found on the University Registrar website. As with the fall 2020 semester, courses in the spring will be offered in a variety of modalities, including in-person, online and hybrid approaches.
The S21 Guide for Instructors provides guidance on how to facilitate conversations related to the Cornell Student Behavioral Compact, including how to set classroom expectations and what to do if a student is noncompliant. Additional instruction-related policies and resources can be found on the Dean of Faculty website.
If a course has been listed in the spring 2021 roster as an in-person or hybrid course, can the instructor change it to an online course?
In the fall, approximately a quarter of the courses that were originally listed as having an in-person component switched to all-online instruction. We learned from our survey of faculty that the two most common reasons for these changes were concerns about contracting COVID-19 and the difficulties of managing online and in-person teaching simultaneously. Thankfully, concerns about the former have abated, given that we found no evidence of classroom-based transmission, for both students and faculty. Neither contact tracing nor the results of our rigorous adaptive testing (of classmates and instructors in classes attended by a student who tested positive) revealed instances in which COVID-19 had spread in classroom settings. To address the challenges of simultaneously teaching students in person and online, we have invested in improvements to instructional technologies and classroom audio-visual systems, as well as centrally hiring and training classroom technology assistants to help instructors set up and operate technology when teaching in-person courses with an online zoom component.
With these assurances in place, absent extenuating circumstances, the instruction modes of courses should not be changed after students have enrolled in their classes. If a faculty member seeks to make a change, the faculty member should discuss the proposed change with and receive approval from the department chair and the relevant dean’s office.
Do I have to record classes for students requiring remote access?
Students who are attending the class from a time zone that makes it impossible for them to participate synchronously or who have an accommodation from SDS indicating that they are unable to attend due to illness will need to access lectures outside of the scheduled time. In courses where instructors use Zoom to connect with students participating remotely, recording is straightforward; thus, instructors may opt to record each class.
As with any student who misses classes because of illness, the instructor should work with the student to find a way to address missed class sessions. In some cases, where recording is not appropriate (for example, if recording would interfere with open discussions on sensitive topics), other options should be explored. Remember that students who become ill may be unable to make up missed course obligations right away.
I’m teaching a course this semester with an in-person only instruction mode, but I have students who will not be arriving on campus until after classes start. How do I accommodate their need to access my course?
We expect that some students enrolled in in-person courses may experience delayed arrival and/or quarantine as they re-enter the Ithaca community, although the numbers should be smaller than was the case for the fall semester. In such cases, faculty are asked to provide remote access to their in-person courses via Zoom if possible, or provide alternative means for students to keep up with course content.
What resources are available to help me set-up temporary remote access for my in-person course?
Please work with your college IT team and/or appropriate building IT group to arrange the technical set-up you need for remote teaching and the Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI) to learn how best to engage your in-person and remote students simultaneously. CTI offers several workshops and online drop-in hours to support your instructional needs.
How are community-engaged learning courses being handled? Are there specific restrictions or guidelines?
To every extent possible, community-engaged learning courses and activities that ordinarily involve travel and/or interaction with individuals outside of the Cornell community should take place virtually. Courses that require travel must be reviewed and approved by the relevant college leadership. Any courses that involve travel outside of the Ithaca area must comply with the university's travel policy (PDF). Instructors should also provide alternative accommodations for students who are not comfortable with, or unable to participate in, this experience and want to engage remotely. The Office of Engagement Initiatives can offer additional support in planning your community-engaged course or activity during this period.
What is the attendance policy for the spring semester?
Based on lessons learned from the fall semester, students are strongly urged to participate synchronously and in the instruction mode in which they enrolled for a particular course, provided their local time zones allow. Although many students liked the flexibility of being able to rely on course recordings rather than attend class synchronsouly, data collected from students showed that students who did so were also more likely to report being overwhelmed by the workload in those classes.
As is customary, faculty are not required to formally take attendance. Instead, faculty are asked to use the Student of Concern system, found in the Help tab on Canvas, to notify the student’s college student advising office when they feel that a student is facing significant academic or personal issues (e.g., unaccounted for class absences, lack of academic progress, etc.).
Are students expected to attend class at the scheduled Eastern Time, particularly those residing in other time zones?
The expectation is that students attend their courses synchronously, provided the scheduled class time falls between 8 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. in their local time zone, which mirrors the span of in-person class meeting times on campus. Of course, students are welcome to attend classes outside of this timeframe in their local time zone if they would prefer to participate synchronously rather than rely on class recordings.
If in-class participation counts toward students’ grades in a course, students who are not able to participate synchronously due to time zone differences must be provided with alternative ways to earn their participation grades. This expectation extends to students in quarantine who should be able to continue their coursework; it may be necessary to make further provisions for students who cannot attend because they are sick.
What are the spring 2021 rules for prelim exams?
- Timing of evening prelims
- Evening prelims will be scheduled on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, except on wellness days and the day immediately following wellness days. Prelims are 1.5 hours long.
- Instructors must provide an alternative time for students for whom the schedule prelim time falls outside of 8:00am – 10:30pm in their local time zone; any alternative time must not include time on any wellness day nor on each day immediately following a wellness day.
- In-person prelims
- Instructors have the option of giving in-person prelims for any course (for students who are enrolled from the Ithaca area), regardless of its instruction mode (including online and distance learning asynchronous courses).
- If a course has an in-person exam, an alternative assessment must be made available for students who are taking the course remotely or who have a pandemic-related accommodation.
- Instructors must request prelim exams to be centrally scheduled regardless of whether they will be administered in person or online under either of the following conditions:
- The length of the exam exceeds the number of minutes allocated to the class meeting and must be completed within a 24 (or fewer) hour period. Even if students are given the flexibility to take the time-limited exam in a time interval of their own choosing, such exams must be scheduled centrally to reduce exam conflicts for students. The allotted time window for the exam must include a centrally scheduled time slot.
- The prelim will be administered in person and requires access to a classroom outside of the regular class meeting time (or requires additional classroom space, beyond that typically needed for SDS accommodations, at the regular meeting time).
- Instructors must request prelim exams to be centrally scheduled regardless of whether they will be administered in person or online unless the exam is:
- Administered during their regular class time and is an exam that can be completed in the number of minutes allocated to the class meeting (i.e., 50, 75 minutes);
- Administered within a 24 hour window that includes a regular class meeting time AND the class does not meet on that day (thereby enabling students to use the regular class time to complete the exam); or
- A multi-day take-home exam.
- Managing exam conflicts:
- If there is a conflict between an exam listed on the university scheduled and an exam not on the schedule, the exam on the schedule shall have priority. The course not on the schedule must provide an alternate time to take the exam for those students faced with the conflict.
- If a student has conflicting examination schedules, both of which have been centrally scheduled, the instructors of the courses involved must consult and agree on how to resolve the conflict. Both instructors must approach this resolution process with a willingness to provide an alternative assessment or examination time.
- Courses with evening prelims must indicate this in the course syllabus at the start of the semester.
For courses that will use online exams, what resources/best practices are available to avoid academic integrity challenges?
Because it may be challenging to replicate a traditional exam in an online environment, you may need to adjust your end-of-semester assessments. To support this effort, the Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI) led a workshop on Assessing Learning Online, a recording of which is available on its Workshops & Webinars page.
The S21 Guide for Instructors includes additional resources related to academic integrity, including the Code itself and the Essential Guide to Academic Integrity; information about talking to students about AI; clarity with respect to allowable collaboration and resource access; and dealing with internet issues.
I have heard about online proctoring and wonder if it's a solution for exams in my online course. Does Cornell provide a central proctoring solution?
The university has examined this question closely and concluded that online proctoring is generally not a viable or desirable strategy. Among other issues, faculty and students expressed concern over the intrusive nature of online proctoring. For in-person courses, exams will be administered much as they have been in the past. For online courses, we encourage instructors to consider alternatives to the high-stakes exam whenever possible. CTI provides guidance and resources about these alternative assessment strategies.
However, acknowledging that there may be some departments or instructors interested in pursuing online proctoring, Cornell does have a contract in place with Examity, a proctoring service. It offers human, online proctoring for individual courses. They have worked with Cornell, and are ready to assist instructors in setting up proctoring. The service is expensive, and departments therefore will need to pay for their own use. In addition, if there is sufficient demand, Examity will also be able to provide automated proctoring, which is less expensive. For more information, please email CTI directly at email@example.com.
Gradescope represents another academic integrity tool. Gradescope recently released an Online Assignment feature in a beta stage. Timed Online Assignments allow the use of the Respondus LockDown Browser to help facilitate academic integrity, by preventing students from accessing online materials while they are taking the assessment. Instructors need to request access in their courses by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Exams are a challenge in an online class. What options and resources are there?
CTI produced a workshop on Assessing Learning Online, a recording of which is available on its workshops & webinars page. This course is designed to help instructors identify alternative assessment strategies for any course. Additionally, CTI has guidelines available for the best way to use Canvas quizzes, whether for persistent quizzing or high-stakes exams. These include randomized questions, test question banks, limited question availability windows and limits on backtracking to earlier questions.
In addition, the calendar has been modified to allow for in-person "semifinal" exams just before Thanksgiving for instructors who would prefer this option to online final exams at the very end of the term. Instructors of online courses also have this option. The semifinal exam schedule can be found on the University Registrar website.
Instructional and Classroom Technologies
Is it possible to visit my assigned classroom before the start of the semester?
Yes. You will be able to visit your assigned classroom in January. Details on how to make these arrangements will be provided in mid-January.
Where can I go to test classroom technology options?
Once you know your room assignment, you can contact the AV/IT support for the building that your classroom is located in.
If you do not yet have your room assignment, you can make an appointment with CIT for a demonstration of classroom technology at 120 Maple Avenue. Please reserve a time on their calendar. For general information on technical resources, see the CIT Classroom Technologies pages.
I am teaching an in-person course with an online component. What resources are available to help me manage the challenges of simultaneous instruction modes?
To address the challenges of simultaneously teaching students in person and online, we are investing in improvements to instructional technologies and classroom audio-visual systems, as well as centrally hiring and training Classroom Assistants (CA) to help instructors set up and operate technology. More specifically, CAs can support faculty by overseeing all Zoom features (chat, waiting room, breakout rooms, polls, etc.), assist with AV presentation systems (document cameras, webcams, tablets, microphones, etc.), troubleshoot participant issues, and escalate challenging issues to CIT. CIT will be contacting those faculty teaching in person to collect their requests for a CA.
Who will train or assist me with technology in class?
The university will make available Classroom Assistants for instructors teaching in-person with an online Zoom component. Classroom Assistants are students assigned to the teaching space, trained to provide in-person assistance with managing Zoom and other technology tasks in classrooms.
CIT is coordinating classroom technologies including Zoom Rooms to help you engage all your students, both in-person and online, and has provided instructions on using audio and video equipment available in the classrooms.
In addition to these online instructions, you will find laminated instruction cards with the technologies in the classroom that provide connection and operation instructions, as well as contact information for the classroom’s A/V support. Please contact support for the assigned teaching space for specifics about a particular classroom’s technologies.
When I am teaching in-person with an online Zoom component, how do I manage the gallery view of a course’s Zoom participants while sharing other media, such as a blackboard, video clip, or PowerPoint presentation?
Zoom Rooms provide a dedicated gallery view of remote students and a dedicated view of shared content. Zoom Rooms also provide advanced visual collaboration tools including digital whiteboarding and annotation and capture of physical blackboards and whiteboards.
Instructors can share PowerPoint content from their laptop using Zoom’s Share Screen button.
This is something that may be best demonstrated and tested in the classroom with the AV/IT support for the building that your classroom is located in.
If I have media or PowerPoint content to share, should the camera show me or the projector?
How do I share a blackboard/whiteboard effectively, particularly if I use many different boards?
How can I get help learning to teach my students online? I need to learn which specific techniques will work for my course.
The Center for Teaching Innovation offers a variety of webinars, workshops, teaching tips, and online drop-in sessions for individual consultations. CTI is hosting new What Works presentations from faculty who will share their successful teaching strategies, as well as offering new teaching tools workshops to help faculty create engaging, student-centered course content.
Also available from CTI is an Introduction to Online Teaching with strategies and resources for how to teach online. For information on in-person teaching with remote students and online teaching strategies, view CTI’s Spring Teaching Resources.
The Office of the Dean of Faculty has developed The S21 Guide for Instructors includes an overview of Effective Online Teaching Practices: Faculty Experiences from S20. In addition, Professor Courtney Roby’s (Classics), Guide to Effective Online Teaching Practices pinpoints selected resources and best practices gleaned from Cornell faculty online teaching experiences.
Global Cornell has also created Teaching International Students: Tips for Online Instruction, to help guide instructors in ways to think about equity for international students, as part of Cornell’s larger goal for providing a quality education this fall and beyond.
I’m teaching an online course but don’t have an ideal home setup to pre-record lectures. Would it be possible for me to prepare online course materials on campus?
Yes, faculty are permitted to use their offices. CTI has information on equipment for improving your home-office studio.
There are also a limited number of high-quality recording studios on campus that faculty may request access to through their colleges. In addition, small conference rooms can be transformed into mini recording studios (of more moderate quality). Interested departments should reach out to their local IT teams as soon as possible to coordinate central equipment orders, where needed.
How can I support international students in my class?
Global Cornell has developed Teaching International Students: Tips for Online Instruction, to help guide instructors in ways to think about equity for international students, as part of Cornell’s larger goal for providing a quality education this fall and beyond.
How can I maintain control over recordings of my class sessions? How do I restrict access to enrolled students only?
If you share Zoom within your Canvas course, recordings can be published to your enrolled students. All recordings require a NetID to view and the video cannot be downloaded. However, keep in mind students may directly share links of recordings with other students.
Is there a way to safeguard the class recording so that enrolled students cannot download and share it elsewhere?
Yes, you can control recordings of class sessions. If you provide the Zoom recording within your Canvas course (via the Zoom page in Canvas and/or by uploading it via Kaltura) it will only be viewable, not downloadable. However, keep in mind that some students may have the ability to record from their screens, so recordings can occur.
Online Access and Accessibility
Some students cannot access Google documents (because of internet or other restrictions). What options do they have?
Instructors can download Google documents in Microsoft format to be shared and accessed using Office 365. CIT has made Office 365 available across campus.
What is the expectation for accessibility?
As always, whether a course is taught in-person or remotely, course materials should be accessible to all students. New materials developed for online courses should be designed to be accessible to individuals with vision and hearing impairments (i.e., text readable by screen readers, audio transcription and video captioning, alternative text to describe images and graphics, descriptive hyperlinks).
Cornell now has Ally, an accessibility tool that is integrated with Canvas, to facilitate this process. Ally automatically checks course materials for accessibility and provides a specific report for each item. It can help instructors identify what needs to be done, making it easier to take some immediate steps toward making course materials more accessible. Ally also allows students to automatically generate accessible versions of course materials for their use.
Faculty can request that Ally be turned on for their fall courses by filling out a form and identifying the course(s) to be enabled.
Though Ally provides tools to help diagnose accessibility issues, it is important to remember that faculty are the best judge of which course materials to prioritize for ensuring students are able to achieve the desired learning outcomes for the course. The focus should not be on achieving perfection, but on making key course items as accessible as possible. As has been the norm with in-person teaching, Student and Disability Services (SDS) will assist with additional accommodations that may be needed for other individual disabilities, upon request. Individual faculty members and their departments have primary responsibility for ensuring that their courses meet the baseline accessibility standards.
To learn more about Ally, we recommend Getting Started with Ally and the Ally Quick Start for Instructors (Note: Ally is a Blackboard product, but it is integrated into Canvas). CTI also has a recorded Ally training workshop that walks viewers through understanding how Ally works, setting it up in a Canvas course, and interpreting the data it provides.
Is there a tool that I can use on Canvas to make my grading more streamlined and consistent?
Gradescope helps instructors grade problem sets and other assignments more quickly and consistently while still allowing for detailed feedback. It helps standardize grading across sections and graders, particularly in large classes. If a grading rubric is changed, Gradescope will retroactively adjust assignments that have already been graded. It has detailed analytics that show where students might be struggling with a particular concept. It fully integrates with Canvas and the Canvas gradebook, so grades can be easily exported to Canvas. To get started with Gradescope, contact Canvas@cornell.edu.
Quarantine and Isolation
What should I do if a student in my in-person or hybrid course tests positive for COVID-19?
In the event someone becomes ill with COVID-19, the Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD), as required by New York state law, is responsible for contact tracing to identify close contacts of an infected individual (the “index case”). TCHD will identify and notify all close contacts, give them instructions for quarantine, and monitor them for compliance with the instructions and to ensure that symptoms do not develop. This monitoring will occur daily for a length of time determined by the Health Department based on current state and CDC guidelines. Unless instructors are contacted directly by TCHD, no action is necessary on their part in response to a positive case.
Throughout the fall semester, the university conducted extensive “adaptive testing” – a process in which the classmates and instructors in a class attended by a student who had tested positive received additional testing – and did not find any evidence of classroom-based transmission. Our data show that strict adherence to physical distancing and mask wearing in the classroom mitigates the likelihood that others in a class will be required to quarantine.
How will faculty be notified when a student in their course is placed in quarantine/isolation?
When a student is placed into quarantine or isolation, students may elect to have Student Disability Services (SDS) send a Temporary Accommodations letter to the instructors of the student’s courses. The letter will specify that academic accommodations are requested for a 10-day period. If students need academic accommodations beyond the initial 10-day period or during those 10-days, they can connect with SDS for additional academic accommodations. Care and Crisis Services will provide additional support to students who have tested positive. Students can also request have their college student services office be notified in order to provide them additional personal or academic support.
What is the protocol if an instructor, teaching assistant, or member of their household tests positive for COVID-19?
Instructors should develop a back-up plan in case they become ill and are required to go into isolation. These back-up plans could include some combination of teaching remotely, having a colleague take over their course, or having students work on assignments or projects in their absence.
Maintaining Public Health and Safety In Academic Activities
What have students been told about the public health and safety behaviors expected of them in the classroom?
The Cornell University Student Behavioral Compact requires all students to adhere to a specific set of behaviors, including practicing appropriate physical distancing, inside and outside the classroom, by:
- remaining at least six feet from others;
- wearing a face covering when entering, and moving throughout, any university building;
- coughing or sneezing into elbows;
- washing hands for at least 20 seconds frequently throughout the day;
- staying home if sick and requesting evaluation by Cornell Health if COVID-19 symptoms are present.
How should instructors handle health and safety non-compliance in their classrooms?
The S21 Guide for Instructors includes resources on what students may already know and think, talking to students about the compact, setting classroom expectations, and what to do when a student is non-compliant. Concerning behaviors involving students, employees or Cornell-affiliated organizations that do not promote a healthy and safe community can be reported to the Cornell Compact Compliance Team.
May I hold office hours or small-group meetings in person?
Faculty are urged to be conservative about in-person meetings. Only meet in person if it is possible to do so while strictly observing public health and safety behaviors (i.e., mask wearing, minimum of six feet of physical distancing between individuals, minimal to no shared physical handling of materials, etc.).
Students often ask questions after class. How do we accommodate this with physical distancing in effect?
Faculty and students should maintain at least six feet of physical distancing when conversing after class. Keep conversations short and schedule a virtual follow-up meeting if necessary.
Students often ask clarifying questions during exams, which entails close exchanges between instructors/TAs and students. How do we accommodate this with physical distancing in effect?
Because both the student and the instructor/TA will be wearing face coverings, there is a double layer of personal protective equipment between them, which will help mitigate risks. Writing on paper may also significantly reduce the risk of transmission.
Are there policies for how to maintain physical distancing at the start and end of classes, for example by designating an entrance vs. exit door or directing the flow of traffic?
Instructors teaching in person should remind students to enter and exit classrooms in an orderly fashion and to maintain physical distance. Designated entrance and exit doors are not recommended; instead, in spaces with two doorways, both doorways should be used for entry and for exiting to allow traffic to move most efficiently.
If students have assigned seating that ensures they maintain six feet distancing, can they remove their masks in class?
Masks have been shown to lower the risk of infection. Students will be expected to wear their face coverings in class even when they are seated at least six feet apart from other students.
I’m worried that students will not be able to hear me if I’m wearing a mask. Can I wear a face shield instead?
Masks provide better protection than face shields. Faculty are strongly urged to wear masks while teaching. Masks with clear windows can be used. Feedback from students and instructors indicate that surgical masks provide better audio quality than cloth masks. You can order masks through the university’s Critical Supply Storeroom. If you need assistance, please contact Tammy Johnson in Facilities and Campus Services.
Where do faculty and staff get PPE?
- Lab managers, office managers and other Facilities staff have stocked up on PPE in preparation for the semester. Check with your department manager on arrangements made for you and your team.
- Local IT teams will be distributing masks and Lavalier lapel microphones (for instructors teaching in person with remote students). Instructors who need additional PPE should contact their local facilities team.
- Need a box of masks to have on hand? Contact Tammy Johnson in Facilities and Campus Services.
What do faculty need to know about the logistics of classroom cleaning?
In addition to scheduled cleanings by building care staff, self-service disinfectant supplies will be provided for students’ use. Disinfectant bottles will be provided based on a ratio of eight students per bottle. The following procedures are recommended:
- Students use the disinfectants and towels provided to sanitize classroom surfaces.
- One student sprays multiple towels for others to use.
- Students use their moistened towel to wipe the bottle and spray trigger after use.
- Students use hand sanitizer to clean their hands after touching the spray bottle.
At the end of class please remind your students to wipe their seats and writing surfaces. Also invite them to arrive a few minutes early if they would like to clean before class too.
The instructor station in each classroom will also be stocked with alcohol wipes to disinfect shared technology. Signage for using the wipes to clean shared technology will be placed in each classroom by the AV/IT tech team responsible for that space. The inventory of cleaning supplies is routinely checked; however, you can also request more cleaning supplies by submitting a maintenance request.