Fall 2020 Instruction: Academic policy reminders for faculty, instructors, chairs and directors

Aug. 7, 2020


Dear Colleagues, 

As we approach what will almost certainly be the most challenging semester of our professional careers, I write to thank you for your ongoing commitment to our mission and for the efforts you will make to support our students as they continue to pursue their educational goals under these altered circumstances. Students come to UNLV because of what they believe they will gain through their interactions with you – our faculty and staff. Many, if not most, are disappointed that so few of those interactions will be in person. Please remain mindful of this while we work to serve our students in the most thoughtful, responsive, and personal way we can while prioritizing everyone’s safety. 

We’re providing below a list of academic policies and guidelines designed to promote a safe and effective fall 2020 semester. Please remember that because environmental conditions remain fluid, we may have to adjust our plans on short notice. This means that instructors currently scheduled to teach in person should also be prepared for remote delivery of instruction if necessary.

Remote and Online Courses

Currently, about 80 percent of our courses are planned for remote delivery. Key to our success will be ensuring that all remote courses actively engage students and provide comprehensive support for their learning. By their nature, in-person courses involve frequent, substantive, real-time interactions with the instructor. After the transition to remote instruction in the spring, the disappointment we heard most often was that the revised delivery format lessened the frequency, quality, and timeliness of interactions with instructors. “This is not what I paid for,” and “I don’t learn well this way,” were frequent refrains. Our task this fall is to do everything we can to ensure our courses are delivered in a way that students get as much of the full value from the instruction you provide as possible. 

As a critical first step, we ask you to begin communicating with your students before the start of the semester. Courses that have been changed to remote delivery still have a time listed for the course – unless you asked the Registrar to make it an asynchronous course – though no room is assigned. If you are teaching a remote course, please inform students as soon as possible if you plan to offer the course materials synchronously (at the scheduled time) or asynchronously (so that they can access the materials any time). After the semester begins, your frequent communication with students and responsiveness to their inquiries will be essential to their learning and success.

In-Person Courses

Courses scheduled for in-person delivery face a different set of challenges centered on maintaining social distancing to mitigate the spread of illness. There will be two main challenges to address. First, you may have students who request an academic accommodation through the Disability Resource Center (DRC), because they are in a high-risk category and therefore cannot attend your course in-person. Please work collaboratively with the DRC to provide reasonable accommodations to students. Second, if a student becomes ill during the semester, they will not be able to attend class until they are better, and you will need to support their continued learning while they are absent from class. This also highlights the need to maintain social distancing at all times, so that others in the class will not be at high risk for contracting COVID-19 if someone in the class becomes infected. 

Supporting Students

Finally, I encourage you to show extra flexibility and empathy for students during the upcoming semester. We know that this pandemic has exacerbated long-standing disparities in our society. If we are to be a force for social justice, we must go beyond treating all students “equally,” and instead aim for equity and do everything we can to support each individual student.  

Below are relevant policies, guidelines, and suggestions, beginning with the standards that all courses, whether delivered remotely or in-person, must meet. 

Thank you in advance for your attentiveness to these guidelines and ongoing efforts during these extraordinary times.   

High quality instruction for remote and in-person courses

UNLV has established minimum criteria for high quality instruction. These include:

  • A detailed syllabus, including expected learning outcomes available online before the course begins.
  • Active instruction, including lectures, class discussions, learning or laboratory activities, student group work, and question-and-answer periods.
  • Learning materials or opportunities that support out-of-class or individual learning (assigned readings, exercises, viewing or listening activities, etc.).
  • Consistent opportunities for student-instructor interaction that support learning.
    • Virtual or in-person office hours based on the schedule in the course syllabus distributed the first day of class.
    • Responding to student emails and phone calls in a timely manner.
  • Opportunities for student-to-student interactions that support learning.
  • Appropriate assessments of learning aligned with course learning outcomes.

Preparing for in-person courses

  • Visit your classrooms well in advance of the first day of class.
  • Test equipment, practice lecturing while wearing a mask, and make sure you have access to the technology you need.
  • For assistance or to request equipment that is not in the classroom, contact Associate Director of Instructional Technology Services Joe Horne at joe.horne@unlv.edu.

In the classroom

  • Face coverings are mandatory for instructors and students in the classroom at all times. 
  • Instructors may not remove their masks during lectures.
  • Instructors and students who wish to wear face shields may do so, but face shields are not a substitute for masks. Individuals who wear face shields must also wear masks.
  • Do not alter classroom configuration.
    • Facilities Management will space the seating and desks at least six feet apart, and tape off seats and rows in lecture halls to ensure six-foot distance between seats. For more information, visit the UNLV COVID-19 best practices web page.

Preparing for student illness

Faculty and instructors teaching in-person courses should plan for students who become ill during the semester and cannot attend on-campus meetings for two to three weeks. 

  • Requests for short-term adjustments will be routed through the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Programs. The office will contact instructors and department chairs or school directors on behalf of students who report having tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Instructors will be expected to make a good-faith effort, in collaboration with the student, to make temporary adjustments for the student to complete coursework. 
  • In these circumstances, students do not need to apply for academic accommodations with the DRC. 
  • Students who require longer term accommodations will be referred to the DRC.
  • If students indicate that they belong to a group that is at higher risk of severe illness, and cannot be part of in-person activities required for their degree programs, and the course instructor is unable to provide on online or remote alternative, then the chair or director of the academic unit is expected to allow students to substitute the course(s) with a suitable web-based/remote course(s), or to waive the requirement(s).

Preparing for faculty/instructor illness

Instructors may become ill during the semester, and may be unable to teach for a period of time. 

  • Academic unit chairs and directors should have contingency plans to cover courses for ill instructors. 
  • Deans’ offices may work with the Office of Academic Resources to request funds to hire part-time instructors to cover courses whose instructors become ill.

Assessments, proctoring, and supplemental course materials

  • Clearly state procedures in the course syllabus for students who cannot come to campus for in-person assessment exercises because they do not reside in Southern Nevada, lack childcare due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or have health-related issues.
  • Procedures may include using the Respondus LockDown Browser & Monitor for test delivery in WebCampus, or the Department/School/College paying the cost of remote proctoring through ProctorU ($20 for an exam that lasts 61-120 minutes). Students cannot be asked to pay these fees, unless they were informed of the fee in MyUNLV at the time of registration.
  • Instructors cannot request students to purchase materials for a course, such as consumables, software or other technology, if those expenses were not disclosed at the time of registration.

Alternative forms of assessment

The Faculty Center, the Office of Online Education, and the Office of Information Technology offer assistance to suit various disciplines, teaching practices, and class designs, including:

  • Synchronous and asynchronous workshops to assist instructors with online courses, and
  • Design assessment instruments that discourage academic misconduct on web-based and remote courses. For more information, visit Tips for Discouraging Academic Misconduct.

Academic Year Memos

Please remember that we have many resources available through a variety of campus units. If you would like assistance with your fall teaching preparation and plans, please contact the following individuals:

Beth Barrie at Elizabeth.barrie@unlv.edu
Office of Online Education

Joe Horne at joe.horne@unlv.edu
Office of Information Technology 

Melissa Bowles-Terry at Melissa.bowles-terry@unlv.edu
Faculty Center

Brent Drake at Brent.drake@unlv.edu
Office of Decision Support

I also encourage you to reach out to me directly with any feedback, questions or concerns. Thank you again for your support of our academic mission and dedication to UNLV!

Warm wishes,

Chris Heavey
Interim Executive Vice President and Provost