Over the past few weeks, Academic Affairs has been working out USD’s approach to scheduling fall courses. We have been comparing ideas with peer institutions, consulting with our vendors about what our technology can deliver and working with offices across campus to assess our classroom capabilities. While much work remains before we have a solid schedule, I wanted to update you about where things currently stand.
Since my June 5 email about the fall schedule, all regular classrooms and laboratory spaces in Vermillion and at the Community College for Sioux Falls have been resized for physically distanced capacities and we have added some new temporary classroom spaces in Aalfs Auditorium, Farber Hall and the Neuharth Conference Room. The challenge now is to figure out which mix of classes can fit in these spaces, as we have lost a lot of seating capacity. In general, we can use 17%-24% of our existing large lecture hall capacity and 40%-55% of our other existing classroom capacity.
The university is committed to offering as much of a face-to-face experience as possible, but Academic Affairs is also cognizant of the role that large classes can play in increasing the rate of transmission of the coronavirus. This recent working paper from scholars at the University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore College suggests that “moving the largest classes online is also crucial for controlling both the size of outbreaks and the number of students in quarantine.” While models are often imperfect, they can also be informative, and so we will incorporate efforts to control the number of students physically present in a classroom into our overall scheduling efforts.
I have been working closely with the Registrar’s Office to run virtual scenarios with USD’s central classroom scheduling software. The outcomes of these first scenarios, informed further by discussions with the academic deans, have resulted in the following general approach to course scheduling:
- USD will not offer face-to-face courses that would place 100 or more students in a classroom space at the same time.
- The Registrar’s Office will begin the scheduling process by assigning classroom space to as many courses as possible enrolling fewer than 100 students.
- The majority of our large 100+ student sections will be asked to transition to online instruction, unless we are able to place them in a classroom space that would allow for hybrid instruction with different groups of students attending on different days. Deans, chairs and faculty will be involved in those discussions. Academic Affairs is also taking a closer look at our Supplemental Instruction program to provide maximum support to our larger General Education courses.
- There will be some classes for which room assignments are not immediately available, especially during key Tuesday/Thursday offering times. Academic Affairs will work with deans, chairs and faculty to identify appropriate strategies for offering those classes, preferably those that work with each course’s current time slot and retain a significant element of face-to-face instruction.
- Faculty who are asked to shift to online or hybrid models of instruction will receive a course redesign stipend.
- Courses in the School of Law and School of Medicine are scheduled locally and will not part of this larger process.
This approach to assigning classroom spaces will likely evolve as I engage in further discussions with a faculty advisory group next week, receive additional input from our professional advisors, and then begin the scheduling process itself shortly thereafter. The goal will always be to provide as much of a face-to-face experience as possible to students, and to do so safely. When the schedule appears relatively solid, we will let faculty know that.
Finally, I am pleased to report that Academic Affairs has been working with USD’s Purchasing Office to supply basic face shields to all faculty teaching face-to-face courses this fall. We have looked at several designs and have found one that is relatively comfortable and can be acquired in sufficient numbers before the start of the semester. As we get closer to the start of the fall semester, those shields will be distributed through your schools and colleges.
Dr. Kurt Hackemer
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
Professor of History