Start of semester: Important updates for faculty

Feb. 3, 2021

Dear faculty,

I hope you have been able to enjoy some much-deserved rest after the challenging fall semester and feel renewed and ready for the spring semester. With classes starting in less than a week, I am writing with some important announcements and reminders.

Instruction mode accommodations for students

Please keep in mind that the number of students enrolled in in-person and hybrid courses who need to participate in their courses remotely is likely to be higher in the beginning of the semester for a few reasons: travel delays due to ongoing inclement weather; guidance from New York state for students who have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in a state other than New York to remain in that state until they receive their second dose; and mandatory isolation and quarantine associated with positive cases identified through arrival testing. Because the exact arrival date for some students remains unknown, the Office of the University Registrar will send an updated list of students who are in Ithaca to the primary instructor of each course every week so that instructors who are planning to give in-person preliminary and/or final exams know which students can be expected to take the exam in person versus remotely.

You may receive requests from students who wish to enroll in courses with overlapping meeting times by participating in one or both courses asynchronously. We recognize that the availability of class recordings makes it tempting to enroll in overlapping courses. However, data collected from students revealed that those who participated asynchronously in courses were more likely to be overwhelmed by the workload in those classes. Allowing enrollment in overlapping courses, regardless of instruction mode, also increases the odds that students will face conflicts with in-class assessments and university-scheduled exams. Therefore, we discourage course overlaps; exception approvals should be reserved for extenuating circumstances.

New for this semester

To curb potential spread of COVID-19 and prevent disruptions to course participation, student travel will be subject to a much stricter approval process this semester. Students who are granted approval to travel due to urgent or extenuating circumstances will be required to follow re-entry testing and travel quarantine procedures.

As was the case last semester, students who fail to comply with quarantine and testing requirements or are otherwise in violation of the Cornell Student Behavioral Compact will temporarily lose access to campus facilities. This semester, access restrictions will be extended to include Canvas for repeat and/or more serious violations. In such cases, students who are blocked from using Canvas will be notified of their non-compliance status and instructed to go to the Daily Check for resolution. There is nothing that instructors can do to restore their access; students must follow the steps required of them, as detailed in their Daily Check.

We recommend that instructors teaching in person shuffle seat assignments a few times during the semester to allow students to be paired with different classmates for small group discussions. Please update seat assignment records accordingly.
Many of you have expressed concern about the need to provide students with more study spaces on campus. In addition to an increase in the number of private rooms that will be added to the Book a Study Space app, students will have access to no-reservation “zoom lounges” from which they can participate in online courses using noise-cancelling headphones (available at the Cornell Store).

New instructional resources

Building on lessons learned from the Fall 2020 student learning experience survey, the Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI) has created instructional tip sheets, organized by instruction mode. In addition, by joining the Faculty Online Community for Teaching you can share ideas and ask questions among your peers to inform and enhance your teaching. Recorded faculty presentations in the “What Works” workshops hosted by CTI are also now available.

Student well-being

Faculty play an important role in promoting and normalizing student well-being. Please utilize the following resources and tips for creating a healthy learning environment for our students:

  • During the pandemic, it’s especially challenging for students to connect with study partners. The Learning Strategies Center’s (LSC) Find Study Partners tool will help match study partners and form study groups. Last semester, students were matched in 375 different courses. You can promote this resource by incorporating LSC’s ready-made PowerPoint slide into your lecture.
  • Please minimize confusion and stress for students by communicating your planned assessments at the beginning of the semester, especially for online and asynchronous courses that are giving in-person prelims and finals.
  • I strongly encourage you to utilize the Students of Concern portal when you have concerns about a student’s academic performance or attendance. Once a notice is submitted, an advisor in the student’s college will provide timely support that is critical to the student’s academic success. Last semester, faculty in over 300 courses used this important resource. With your help, we can reach more students and give them the assistance they need.
  • The Skorton Center for Health Initiative’s Quaranzine newsletter is a treasure trove of health and well-being resources and activities available to students. Cornell Health and the Office of Spirituality and Meaning-Making offer many psycho-educational and spiritual support workshops and programs to our students living anywhere in the world. Please actively refer students to these valuable resources.

Finally, we appreciate your vigilance in helping to keep our community safe and understand the inclination to change instruction modes in response to increases in transmission. Please know that we continue to monitor COVID-19 transmission rates extremely carefully. If, at any time, an increase in transmission were to necessitate a temporary move to all-online instruction, you can expect to receive direct guidance from the university.

With deep appreciation for your immense effort and commitment to fulfilling our academic mission during the pandemic,

Lisa Nishii
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education