TO: All Faculty
FROM: Jill Dolan, Dean of the College
RE: Undergraduate teaching continuity, spring 2020
March 19, 2020
Colleagues, we so appreciate your patience and goodwill as we work to conceptualize and organize teaching continuity for this spring. For the last week, people across campus have worked to help as many undergraduate students as possible to leave and, if they are able, to return home. At this point, fewer than 500 students remain.
Our criteria for allowing students to remain were stringent, given the public health crisis. Many are international students who can’t travel home; many are low-income students or those facing other sorts of financial or housing precarity. They appreciate Princeton’s support.
As we come to the end of “spring break” (a misnomer for the ages, at this point), we’re turning our attention to how best ensure teaching continuity through spring 2020. I’m sure you all have many questions; please don’t hesitate to email me or my team at odoc@Princeton.edu. We want to help in any way we can.
Let me begin with a few issues to emphasize (and I apologize in advance for the length of this memo/email. We want you to have all the information you need). We must continue teaching so that our students can continue learning this semester. Although remote teaching and learning will be hugely different for many of you, depending on your typical teaching formats, our collective goal should be to continue teaching as effectively as possible. (Some of you might have seen this McSweeneys piece on teaching remotely; it’s a good laugh.) Students continue to pay tuition this semester; our goal is to get them to complete their courses successfully so that they can preserve their progress toward their degrees.
The McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning stands ready to help you adapt your course to a virtual format. McGraw has set up a calendar for faculty to schedule 30-minute remote teaching consultations over Zoom. You can also contact McGraw’s instructional design team directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have hardware or software needs, please contact your department SCAD. If you need immediate assistance using Blackboard or Zoom, please contact the OIT Support and Operations Center at 8-4537 or email email@example.com.
Remember, too, that our undergraduates are distraught at leaving their friends and their campus. They’ll be very happy for the structure that continued instruction will provide, and for the rigorous intellectual community of your classroom, however transformed. They need you now, in new and different ways, more than ever.
I’m including below information that will help you move forward. I’m also linking to new FAQs from McGraw that respond to questions a number of you have raised over the past week. We’ll continue to modify and expand these as we move forward. My staff and I know that beginning March 23rd, your questions will only increase—we’re here to support you.
Exams and Independent Work Advising
- • Midterms. Many of you have already provided maximum flexibility and permitted on-line submission of these exams. We encourage you to reweight the assignment’s grade at your discretion, bearing in mind the stress and anxiety students suffered during midterm week. The deadline for submitting midterm grades has been extended until Monday, March 30.
- • Senior thesis deadlines. Departments should move their deadline as close as possible to the University deadline of May 4 to give students ample time to complete their work. All faculty/departments must meet the May 21 senior thesis grading deadline so that we can be ready to graduate our seniors.
- • Senior thesis advising. Please let your advisees know how best to contact you remotely (Skype, Zoom, email, phone, etc.). Departments should establish local norms for maintaining regular contact with student advisees, so that all students and faculty have similar expectations. Regular communication among students and faculty is key to the successful delivery of the rest of the semester’s curriculum.
- • Senior thesis grading and assessment. As you know, some students have been permitted to remain on campus; some students are returning to home environments that might impede their ability to concentrate on (or in some cases consistently access) their academic work remotely. Given these unusual circumstances, departments should consider how best to assess senior theses, junior papers, and all student work fairly and transparently.
- • Senior comprehensive exams. Departments will have to administer these exams remotely and may adjust the format as needed. So, for example, an oral defense of the thesis can be scheduled in Zoom, but a department-wide poster session may need to be modified.
- • Junior independent work: We urge you to be flexible with deadline extensions. The University deadline will be extended to May 15.
- • Dean’s date. Dean’s date remains May 12. We currently have no plans to extend the date. We can, however, offer flexibility with extensions this semester.
- • Final exams. Final exams should be administered remotely through Blackboard or Canvas. More information about scheduling and administering final exams to come shortly.
- • A.B. sophomore concentration declaration. Departments should post instructions on their websites telling sophomores how to meet department requirements for concentration declarations scheduled for April 2nd. Please add instructions on how to call, Zoom, or Skype the appropriate faculty member for course advice. We’ll send more detailed instructions to both you and your students about this next week.
- • Academic resources for students. The McGraw Center has created a virtual learning resource for undergraduate and graduate students; study hall, individual tutoring, learning consultations, and workshops will move online. Students can now schedule online consultations with the Writing Center.
- • Communication. To reassure students that your teaching and their learning will continue remotely, please keep in close contact with your concentrators and all your students. Communicating any changes or updates to course policies will be very important, as this unpredictable and unprecedented situation continues to evolve. Create a listserv or shared communication platform for your concentrators that might inspire community and shared virtual space, as well as providing a place to inquire after their health, their academics, and their lives. They’ll appreciate the gesture.
We know that faculty, departments, and students will look to the Pass/D/Fail (P/D/F) option to help navigate the new landscape for teaching and for assessing learning this semester. We’ve expanded the use of this option in these ways:
- • For the current term, we urge faculty to change the grading basis for their courses to include the P/D/F option. This will permit students to elect this option, even if your course is graded as usual. You may make this change to your course grading options any time between now and April 2. Contact your departmental undergraduate administrator, who will facilitate this change with course information systems.
- • We also encourage faculty to considering changing to the P/D/F-only grading option for your courses in-progress. This choice may be particularly appropriate if you have concerns about your students’ equity of experience with learning online and your own ability to grade consistently and fairly, given this change in instruction format. You can elect this change any time between now and April2. Again, your undergraduate administrator will facilitate this change.
- • We have extended the student deadline for electing to P/D/F their courses. The period when students can select to P/D/F now begins Monday, April 6, and will extend until the last day of class on Friday, May 1 at 11:55 p.m.
- • In a typical semester, students can only elect to P/D/F one course. For this semester, we’ve waived that restriction. Students may choose the P/D/F grading option for any course that offers the option. This decision will not limit their ability to choose the P/D/F option according to the usual policy in future semesters.
- • Given the extraordinary nature of this crisis, for the spring semester of 2020 only, departments will be expected to accept the P/D/F for departmental courses and prerequisites.
- • Please remind students that a passing grade in your course is not a given. Explain your expectations for their continued work and let them know they must work for a “P” grade.
- • The Registrar’s Office will notify students of these deadline changes and the use of the P/D/F option by Friday, March 20.
Teaching in a Global Pandemic
- • The McGraw Center will continually update their very helpful FAQs on their website. Do read them carefully and write to McGraw with any other questions. If you have a question, you can imagine others do, too. We’ll try to answer them all.
- • We urge you to revise your course syllabi, given the changed circumstances of this semester. The syllabus represents a contract between you and your students. Revising it now will let you reflect your new expectations for students’ engagement with the material and for how you’ll assess their work. Be as clear as possible about what you expect and about your grading rubric. Clarity will allay anxiety, for you and for the students. Continue holding them to clear, rigorous standards.
- • Many of you have asked about whether you can require students to attend a synchronous class meeting, given that they’ve dispersed to different time zones. We encourage you to teach in real time, while recording your session so that students can watch it and engage asynchronously if they can’t “attend” the meeting.
- • Some of you have expressed concern about your students having reliable access to high-speed internet. Students can apply for emergency funding to secure hotspots.
- • As you revise your syllabus, think about shifting your course’s structure. Assign students projects to accomplish independently or in small, online groups. Ask them to engage the materials in ways that don’t require synchronous instruction, but that let them explore and think outside the strictures of a conventional class meeting.
- • We realize there’s some rightful concern about what happens if a course instructor falls ill and can’t continue teaching. As a campus, we must make every effort to complete every course, which may mean that another faculty member or an AI might assume your teaching responsibilities if you became too ill. Courses with seniors enrolled are of particular concern, since they will be depending on those courses to graduate. I encourage all of you to think in advance about potential back-ups, should the need arise.
- • Remember, too, that all the typical support services for students in difficulty remain available remotely. Coaches, residential college deans, Directors of Studies, and Directors of Student Life all remain available to support you and your students as necessary. Just reach out.
- • Eventually, we’d like to provide funds for faculty who might want to use this unexpected opportunity to think about innovative online teaching formats. The 250th Anniversary Fund for Innovation in Undergraduate Education might soon be deployed for these purposes. Stay tuned.
Thanks for your willingness to read this far. I know this memo can’t be exhaustive (even though I might have exhausted you by asking you to read it). I realize that we’re all bewildered, trying to contemplate and adjust to how our lives have been utterly rearranged.
Please consider us your partners as we see our way through together.