Academic Policies & Instruction Modes
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. As with the fall 2020 semester, courses in the spring will be offered in a variety of instruction modes, including in-person, synchronous online, hybrid, and asynchronous distance learning approaches.
Tools for Learning
The Learning Strategies Center has developed a checklist to help students learn online, and additional resources are below.
As with the fall 2020 semester, courses in the spring will be offered in a variety of modalities, including in-person, synchronous online, hybrid, and asynchronous distance learning approaches.
The instruction modes are described in The Guide to Spring 2021 Enrollment and include:
- In person – Course is delivered in-person (i.e., face-to-face instruction). All required class meetings occur on campus, during scheduled meeting times.
- Online – Course is delivered online, delivered synchronously (live, in real time) during scheduled meeting times. Student are expected to participate in synchronously as long as the scheduled meeting time is between 8 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. in their local time zone.
Hybrid – Online and In Person – Course combines in-person instruction during scheduled meeting times with online learning, using a rotational attendance model. Some in-person activity is required.
- Rotational Hybrid: rotational in person attendance to be determined by instructor.
- Split Hybrid: in person attendance supplemented by additional online contact hours.
- Distance Learning Asynchronous – All students and instructors interact online. Involves well-designed, pre-recorded content and curated asynchronous interaction. Content is accessed by students at unspecified times.
- Direct Research – Research work supervised by an advisor or a faculty member. Delivery varies.
- Independent Studies – Coursework supervised by an advisor or faculty member. Delivery varies.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can instruction mode vary within a course?
Yes. For example, the lecture component of a course may be online or hybrid, but the mandatory discussion/recitation sections or field trips may be in-person. If a department teaches two or more independently taught sections of the same course, as often occurs in the more popular foreign languages or large-enrollment courses, each section can differ in its instruction mode. Sections with different instruction modes are identified as such in the course roster.
If a lecture is online, should I assume that the discussion or lab sections will also be online?
No. As noted above, different components of a course may vary in their instruction mode.
Are all students (in-person and remote) expected to attend class at the scheduled time?
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. 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, but they should not be compelled to do so.
I'm studying away from Ithaca this semester and live in a time zone that is 12 hours ahead of EST. Do I have to participate in my classes synchronously?
Students are not expected to participate in their online courses if the scheduled course meeting time falls outside of 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. in their local time zone.
Academic Policies and Information for the Spring Semester
Pre-Enrollment, Drop/Add, Grading and Transcripts
When will pre-enrollment open for spring 2021?
Pre-enrollment was held December 8-16. The Guide to Spring 2021 Enrollment details pre-enrollment timeframes, instruction mode options, and helpful enrollment resources.
Are students allowed to enroll in courses with overlapping meeting times? Will time conflicts exist as much this spring as they did in the fall?
Enrolling in courses with overlapping meeting times is strongly discouraged for the spring semester. The 5-minute overlaps that triggered many minor course conflict requests last semester have been eliminated for the spring semester so students can more easily plan schedules without time conflicts.
We recognize that the availability of class recordings in many courses makes it tempting to enroll in overlapping courses, with the assumption that students can keep up with coursework even if they do not attend one of the courses synchronously. However, data collected from students about their learning experiences in the fall show that students who relied on class recordings rather than attend class synchronously (local time zones permitting) were more likely to report being overwhelmed by the workload in those classes.
Students should contact their college advising office for further guidance.
If I enroll in an in-person course, but arrive to Ithaca after the semester starts, will my spot be reserved for me?
A spot will only be held for students through the add deadline. After that point, students will need to switch to the online modality for the course. Exceptions may be made for international students who are required to have one in-person course for visa reasons.
For one of the courses in my schedule, I assumed I’d be able to take it online, but it’s only offered in person for the spring. What should I do?
Students should look for a different class if they are not planning to be back in the Ithaca area to participate in in-person classes. If they feel they absolutely need a particular class in order to graduate, they should contact their faculty advisor or their college advising office.
How do I add or drop a class?
Pre-enrollment for the spring 2021 semester will take place in December. Thereafter, you may add and drop courses through Student Center starting prior to the first day of classes, as usual. For the scenarios that used to require submitting a paper form (for example, instructor permission is required or you missed the deadline), you may use the online add/drop form available through the college registrar websites, the University Registrar’s website, and Student Essentials.
What are the course add, drop, and grade option change deadlines for the spring semester?
Add/drop begins Feb. 2. The last day to add (for most regular session courses) is Feb. 22. The last day to drop or change a grade option (for most regular session courses) is April 5.
Can students enroll in credit overloads in the spring semester?
The undergraduate colleges have specific policies pertaining to permissible maximum credit hours per semester. Please note, though, that course overloads, or going “over hours,” are a significant source of mental health stress for Cornell students. As in the fall, students should limit their credits in the spring semester to 18. If a student wishes to enroll in additional credits, they should discuss their plan with their faculty advisor or college advising office.
What is the grading policy regarding S/U grades?
There is no university-wide policy. Individual instructors may choose to offer their course with the S/U grading option or not. Individual majors, minors and colleges may create their own policies about accepting S/U grades for requirements. Note that some colleges have a minimum number of credits that must be taken for letter grades.
Will my transcript reflect whether my class was in-person or online?
No, it will not.
What is the Classes and Activities Agreement that I attested to in the Spring Checklist?
The Classes and Activities Agreement reads:
I will review all course information for my classes before enrolling for the spring 2021 semester and, by enrolling in my classes, I understand and acknowledge the following:
- The format in which and duration for which the courses are anticipated to be offered;
- Other than when isolating because of COVID-19 infection or quarantining because of possible COVID-19 exposure or related health and safety concerns, I will be expected to participate in each course in the format in which the course is offered;
- Students, including me, who are registered as being in the Ithaca area for the spring 2021 semester and are enrolled in a course that is giving an in-person preliminary or final exam are expected to take the exam in person, absent compelling circumstances. It is the responsibility of students, including me, to timely obtain approval and coordinate exemptions to in-person exams with the appropriate university unit, college and/or instructor. (Departing the Ithaca area prior to the conclusion of the semester or engaging in non-essential travel that would necessitate quarantine will generally not be considered a compelling circumstance.) Any Ithaca-based course — regardless of its instruction mode — can give an in-person exam.
- Students, including me, may have access to Canvas restricted for violating the Behavioral Compact or failing to respond to the Cornell Campus Compact Team or other Cornell staff members contacting me about COVID- or Compact-related issues;
- Students, including me, may have limited or no access to certain Cornell University-maintained facilities;
- There may be disruptions or cancellations of campus services, programs, activities, or events for the spring 2021 semester;
- Cornell may change the format or duration of my courses based on factors including but not limited to health or safety concerns, the judgment of the instructor, instructor status, pedagogical needs, or student enrollment numbers; and
- Cornell may be required to shift all classes to an online format, or modify the duration of the semester, if Cornell or the government (at the local, state, or federal level) determines that pandemic conditions make continued in-person instruction unsafe during the spring 2021 semester.
Finally, I understand, acknowledge, and agree that in no case will there be a tuition or fee refund if I remain enrolled through the spring 2021 semester. The only eligible tuition and fee refunds are those that take place in accordance with the published schedule of early withdrawal dates from the spring 2021 semester.
Spring Semester Exams
If a course is offered online, will my exams also be online?
No, not necessarily. Some instructors of online courses may choose to have online exams, other instructors may choose to have in-person exams and expect students located in Ithaca to take them. Other instructors may assess learning using alternative methods, such as with a final paper or project rather than an exam.
What are the rules surrounding exams and finals during the spring semester? Can I take my exams from anywhere?
If you are enrolled in a course that is giving an in-person exam or final and you are registered as being in the Ithaca area, you will be expected to take your exam in person. Any class – regardless of its instruction mode – can give an in-person exam. Therefore, even if you are enrolled in all online courses, it is possible that you could have in-person exams and finals and will be expected to take them in person, here in Ithaca. For planning purposes, faculty are provided with information about which of their students are registered as being in Ithaca and therefore available to take exams in person.
Students are not permitted to leave early or engage in non-essential travel that would necessitate quarantine that would make it impossible for them to take their exam(s) in person. Students should not expect to be able to take in-person exams remotely.
Engaged Learning, Study Abroad, Physical Education
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.
Will Cornell offer study abroad opportunities for spring 2021?
Due to ongoing travel, health and safety concerns, the university has cancelled its spring 2021 study abroad programs, including virtual opportunities. Once conditions allow for students to safely and effectively participate in programming abroad, students who applied for study abroad in spring 2021 will be contacted about submitting a new application for the next available term. Education Abroad advisors remain available to consult with students on planning for future opportunities, as are study abroad advisors within Cornell’s colleges and schools. For further information, students may contact email@example.com.
Are physical education courses available?
Yes, physical education courses are continuing to be offered with COVID-19-sensitive modifications. As with all of our COVID-19 planning and reactivation, this is subject to change. Courses are being offered virtual and in-person. Virtual courses are conducted over Zoom and through free phone apps. In-person classes are held outdoors and in larger facilities to provide for physical distancing, and all spaces have disinfecting procedures. PE is also offering more courses focused on meditation, relaxation, and mental health in both formats. More information on specific classes is available on the Physical Education department website.
Will the swim test be required for graduation this year?
The swim test has been waived as a graduation requirement for seniors who are graduating in spring 2021. We will not conduct swim test clinics in the spring. For first-year students, the fee that is normally charged for delaying the swim test will be waived.
I plan to graduate in May 2021 and have not completed my swim test or my PE requirement. Will I be able to graduate?
Your swim test requirement will be waived, but you should enroll in a PE course to fulfill your PE requirement. A range of virtual PE classes are available.
Study Spaces and Study Partners
What spaces on campus will be available to me for quiet study or online class participation?
Students will find more rooms available and new functionalities in the Book a Study Space app for the spring semester. Students who are registered as being in Ithaca and are compliant with surveillance testing requirements have access to academic spaces such as libraries, studios, labs, and study rooms. You can reserve space in rooms designated for studying through the “Book a Study Space” feature, available in Cornell Chatter (website and app). Learn how to use the feature to reserve a quiet space for reading, writing, listening; an interactive space to use Zoom or other videoconferencing; or a small group space. The colleges, schools, and libraries set the hours and monitor use of the spaces. Each space has a cleaning station, and Cornell’s custodial staff clean the spaces once a day.
Classroom and Lab Safety and Cleaning
How have classrooms, studios, and labs been modified to ensure physical distancing?
Classrooms, teaching labs, studios, and other academic use spaces have been de-densified according to New York state and Tompkins County Health Department guidelines. In classrooms, students have assigned seats that are at least six feet apart, and to every extent possible, faculty remain further than six feet from the first row of students. Both instructors and students are required to wear face coverings in class. In labs and maker spaces where the norm is for students to move around the room as they interact with equipment, modified workflows and protocols are in place to facilitate physical distancing.
How can students help with sanitizing classrooms?
In addition to scheduled cleanings by Building Care staff, self-service disinfectant supplies have been provided for students’ use. 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 students can wipe their seats and writing surfaces. Students may also arrive a few minutes early if they would like to clean before class.
The inventory of cleaning supplies is routinely checked; however, faculty can also request more cleaning supplies by submitting a maintenance request.
Please visit the COVID-19 Enhanced Cleaning page for additional information.
Impacts of COVID-19
Are students able (or expected to) continue with their studies even while in quarantine/isolation?
In most cases, we expect that the answer is yes. Many individuals who are quarantined because they have been identified as a close contact of an individual who has tested positive do not develop symptoms, and similarly some people who are isolated because they have tested positive remain asymptomatic. Other individuals who have tested positive experience a range of symptoms. Cornell Health staff will monitor the symptoms of students who have been quarantined/isolated.
Provided students feel well, the expectation is that they continue with their studies so that they do not fall behind. Faculty have been advised to plan ahead and support students who are unable to attend in-person classes while in quarantine/isolation, including hands-on lab, studio and performance classes.
When a student is placed into quarantine or isolation, Student Disability Services can send a Temporary Accommodation Letter to the instructors of the student's courses. The letter will specify that academic flexibility and remote participation are needed for the required quarantine/isolation period. Students can communicate with Student Disability Services if they require accommodations beyond the initial quarantine/isolation period. Students may also elect to have their college advising office notified in order to receive additional personal and advising support.
What happens if my instructor goes into quarantine or isolation?
If in quarantine, most faculty should be able to teach remotely. If the instructor becomes sick with COVID-19, the department will respond with a pre-determined back-up plan, such as substitute instructors or alternative lesson plans.
Textbooks, Library Access, Technology
Can I access library materials and research help when I'm off campus?
Online resources and virtual research help are available. The Library continues to provide on-site and remote services for Cornell students and faculty. Find a listing of current services on their website.
How can I order my textbooks and other course materials?
To maintain physical distancing and reduce contact, textbooks and course materials should be ordered online at cornellstore.com for store pickup, curbside pickup or shipment. In-person textbook shopping and browsing at the Main Store is not available at this time. In-store shopping in other departments is available. Visit The Cornell Store website for additional textbook information.
Are digital textbooks available?
The Cornell Store has worked closely with the Office of the Provost and university faculty to significantly increase the digital textbook options for courses, allowing for instant and contactless delivery. This semester, many faculty are using digital textbooks in place of physical books.
Many courses are participating in the Cornell Store’s Instant Access Program which provides automatic access to digital course materials directly in Canvas by the start of the course. No advance purchase is necessary. Students have two weeks from start of class to decide whether to keep access to the digital textbook or to opt-out. Access materials are billed to the student’s bursar account.
What is the deadline to return rental textbooks?
The rental return deadline for spring 2021 rental textbooks is May 25, 2021. Students may return their rentals to The Cornell Store before they leave campus for break or may request a prepaid shipping label to return their rental by mail at no expense. View all rental return options on The Cornell Store returns page.
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 technology do students need for the spring 2021 semester?
Laptops with Wi-Fi capability are necessary, and noise-canceling headphones are highly recommended, for students taking in-person or remote classes this semester. If you are in need of assistance to purchase a laptop, please contact the Office of Financial Aid.
In-person students: If you are on campus for extended periods of time, a power bank for your laptop is highly recommended given the limited number of power outlets.