Return to In-Person Teaching: Class Policy and Planning

Return to In-Person Teaching: Class Policy and Planning   

For many instructors and students, returning to campus feels both positive and challenging. We are excited to be back with in-person learning communities and we continue to grapple with the pandemic’s impacts on our health and the health of those around us. As instructors plan a term of student learning in a context of community health challenges, we know having clear guidance and resources to enact that guidance is crucial. 

The Academic Council issued “Fall 2021 Guidance and Expectations During COVID-19 Pandemic,” which governs aspects of fall teaching as UO continues to navigate the COVID pandemic. The “Fall 2021 Guidance” document will answer many existing questions, and the information below offers a range of strategies you might use to enact this guidance in your teaching context. 

Questions this resource offers strategies for include:  

  1. How can I support student learning without reverting to the overextension some instructors experienced last year?  
  2. How can I support community building and engagement as we return to the classroom? 
  3. What can I do pedagogically if students get sick and/or need to quarantine? 
  4. How can I act on Academic Council guidance for making and communicating a contingency plan to students in case instructors get sick and/or need to quarantine? 

The strategies below are all full-class approaches, and each creates greater access generally for students. Because these practices expand access, instructors may see a decrease for requests for accommodation through the Accessible Education Center (AEC), although where they are still necessary, they would be made in addition to (as opposed to fulfilled by) these approaches. Our thanks to AEC for providing feedback on this resource.

We hope some of the focused approaches below support you this term. This resource is a companion to the Fall 2021 Syllabus "Starter," which builds these considerations into sample class policies. 

How can I support student learning without overextending myself? 

Three strategies we recommend for all classes this term include:  

  1. Designing your Canvas site to be easily navigable and to orient students to your course 
  2. Using some mechanism to capture class content (centralized note-taking, recording, or hyfliex) for each class period, and 
  3. Considering flexible timelines (some options require little, if any, additional instructor effort). 


1. Designing your Canvas site to be easily navigable and to orient students 

Having an organized Canvas site that students can navigate effectively is one of the most important practices UO students have identified to support their learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Canvas use is required for all undergraduate courses with five or more students, we recommend optimizing Canvas use for easy navigation and an orienting “welcome.” 

Providing a clear path to navigate Canvas allows your students to find and access the materials and platforms you will be using. Students have reported difficulty orienting to the variety of platforms, external resources, and organizational structures used in the different courses they take. Providing a clear, consistent organizational structure will help your students devote more of their cognitive energy to your course content and less to finding materials and identifying out the plan for the week. 

Using modules, consistent naming conventions, and “stable wayfinders” are all crucial ways to make a well-organized and navigable course in Canvas. Get a brief overview of designing with modules and recommended structure for modules from this great Canvas resource from UO Online. Learn more about using modules, naming conventions, and “stable wayfinders” from this resource by TEP and UO Online.  

Welcome modules are a “place” in your Canvas course where you orient students to the course and its academic content, how it is organized, and the technology you will use. You can use the welcome module to start the process of building community in the class. Find an overview of welcome modules on this resource page, where you will also find a link to a module you can import and modify for your own course. 

In addition to everything noted above, these practices also make it easier to communicate contingency plans and essential changes to the course. They also tend to decrease the number of questions instructors receive and would otherwise need to respond to. 


2. Capturing and sharing class content 

Academic Council requires all instructors to ensure “equitable access to course content” given our COVID context: this means preparing for the eventuality of students getting sick and/or needing to quarantine.  

The Council states that “Instructors are not required to add recording or streaming to all in-person classes to accommodate absent students, however 175 general pool and joint-control classrooms have been upgraded to make recording and streaming of in-person class sessions easier.” 

Several ways the Council notes that instructors can increase access include: 

  • Recording class sessions using Zoom, Panopto, or another program you are comfortable with
  • Allow remote access to live class sessions through Zoom (see instructions for setting up a “hyflex” classroom)  
  • Providing access to course materials such as slides and notes 
  • Asking for volunteers from class to post their notes to Canvas and/or to connect with students who have had to miss 

Recording video or audio and providing materials benefits all students. Students who were present can revisit these resources to increase their learning, and students who were absent can access these resources to catch up and continue the term. A significant number of students will need to be able to record or have access to recordings as an AEC accommodation, so there are benefits for the instructor to plan for this ahead of time when possible.  

Straightforward ways to capture class content (through notes, video and/or audio, or streaming) include:  

  • Having students take and share notes in a central location in Canvas. Support note sharing through making designated space and structure for student notes in Canvas. Students might rotate who takes notes (having groups of notetakers may be more useful than just one), or the full class might collaborate. This activity could be factored into participation points, extra credit, or a lower-stakes assignment. One example of how you might describe this to students in your syllabus is below: 

Capturing what happens during our live meetings is a way to take care of one another in our COVID context and help all students deepen learning. We will make a record of class content so that students who must miss will have a resource to refer to, and students who attended will have a resource to go back to and strengthen their learning. I will need your help doing this. You will find a shared document for notes in each Canvas module, and will distribute the work of taking notes for class sessions. This is an opportunity to solidify learning, surface questions, and support your peers! 

  • Using Zoom—or Panopto, or whatever recording application you are most comfortable with—to record audio and visual (or just audio). Find guidance for recording classes here, If there are parts of the course (such as small group conversations) you and your students do not wish to record, you can enlist students to help with reminders to stop/start recording.  

    We encourage you to think about recording as especially useful on days that have more substantive lecture components, and where the video is primarily concerned with capturing visuals necessary to understanding content (such as an equation you are writing, slides, or a lab demonstration). These would not be “produced” recordings—they are capturing content with the least amount of additional time required from instructors. An example of how you might describe this to students is: 

Capturing what happens during our live meetings is a way to take care of one another in our COVID context and help all students deepen learning. We will make a record of class content so that students who must miss will have a resource to refer to, and students who attended will have a resource to go back to and strengthen their learning. I will strive to record the parts of our class sessions where I am primarily sharing information, and where as a class we are applying it, and will post those recordings in weekly Canvas modules.  
As recording our time together can sometimes change how students feel about participation, I will let you know when we are recording. Federal privacy law (FERPA) restricts the sharing of recordings that identify students beyond this class. Please note that recording or sharing the recordings I make without written permission from me is also a violation of the Student Conduct Code. 

  • Provide a HyFlex option for students who cannot attend in person, but who are able to tune in remotely. You can find guidance on our HyFlex Teaching Practices and Tips page.


3. Using and communicating flexible deadlines 

Many instructors experimented with flexible deadlines over the last several terms, and many students named this practice as supportive to their learning. “Flexible” here does not mean “open-ended,” as deadlines provide support for learning. 

Flexible deadlines can be challenging in classes that are tightly scaffolded, or that center group work. Choose what works for your context (if you’d like support selecting options, please contact TEP for a consultation). Options faculty have used to make deadlines flexible include: 

  • Setting “best-by dates” or “soft deadlines”—deadlines which encourage submission by a given date to support student workflow, but where late work is not penalized. Some instructors will put parameters around this, such as having an activity due in a particular week (instead of day), or making continuing to the next activity contingent on completion of the prior one. Soft deadlines work particularly well with assignments that students can be intrinsically motivated to engage with. 
  • Giving each student a fixed number of “oops” tokens at the beginning of the term that can be used as no-questions-asked passes for late assignments or missed attendance. For students with the AEC accommodation of “flexibility with deadlines,” this practice would be in addition to the accommodation.  
  • Letting students know at the beginning of the term that you will drop a fixed number of homework assignments or quizzes and that they need not worry (or even inform you) if they miss one or do poorly.  
  • Setting a policy where assignments are due on a certain date, but late submissions are accepted up to a certain time (for example, one week). Some instructors choose to take off a percent of credit for every 24 hours after the date. With a policy like this, students don't need to email to ask permission. 

Regardless of your approach, we strongly recommend being explicit in your syllabus about whether and when deadlines are flexible, and if they are not generally, describing how students would initiate an exception. When this is not explicit, it becomes a barrier to equity for students. 

If possible, we encourage faculty to involve students in contingency planning, as this can increase self-efficacy in students. Instructors who have co-created policies with their students around things like a “class compact” or “class norms” may find this practice familiar. For example, Paula Patch, Senior Instructor of Composition at Elon University, began her term by asking students a set of questions about their safety and learning priorities, and then led them to identify some personal daily habits and group norms that would support their individual and collective priorities. She used what the group generated to create guidance for both class norms and contingency planning for illness. 


How can I support community building and engagement as we return to the classroom?

Many of us have not been in a room together with 20, 50, or 300 people within the last year and a half. What feels physically, mentally, and emotionally standard, automatic, and safe to us may have changed. And how we interact with each other to build community and engage together in learning may have as well. This clearly impacts learning, and is an area to be explicit with, patient with our students and ourselves about what we need (individually and collectively) to have a successful term. 

1. Consider opportunities for asynchronous introductions 

Dr. Anita Chari (Associate Professor of Political Science at UO and 2021 Provost Teaching Fellow) writes about trauma-informed pedagogy and slowing the pace in our classrooms. In the first week of the term, consider using Canvas for asynchronous introductions (with student choice of text, audio, or video), which allows students to initially familiarize and interact at their own pace. 

TEP and UO Online’s “Welcome Module” in Canvas, which you can import into your own course, includes space for: 

  • Students to introduce themselves to you through the student survey and identify some of their interests and needs 
  • Students to introduce themselves to you through a brief welcome video or statement 
  • Students to introduce themselves to each other through a brief Discussion assignment 

2. Use consistent small groups 

While students benefit from engaging with a range of their peers, having students work in stable groups is a practice that’s shown promise for a number of social and learning outcomes. Dr. Mark Van Ryzin (College of Education) has supported a number of faculty in using consistent groups as part of their teaching. If you already do small group active learning in class, having some stable groups may be a very doable way to support engagement this term. 

These small groups are frequently 4-5 students, and instructors might begin the class in these groups, giving students 3-4 minutes to  

If you do use consistent small groups, consider using them for most small group engagement, but not all (so students can still interact with others). Also consider inviting student input, if your class size allows, of one to two peers each student would like to be grouped with, and with a mechanism for students to let you know if there is someone they cannot be grouped with in the class. 

3. Incorporate student choice around working in a team or solo where possible  

Some of us cannot wait to be with colleagues again and will be energized by this. Some of us are still nervous being within talking distance of a number of people we do not live with (or strongly prefer to do work solo generally).  

During active learning activities, if it is possible to allow for student choice without creating more work for you, we encourage it. For example: 

  • Students might choose whether to apply a concept as a group or individually 
  • Students working in teams or groups might choose (as a group) whether to communicate aloud together or use a collaborative doc or chat tool to complete the activity 

In addition to the approaches above, we encourage you to explore this excellent thread of community-building practices compiled by Dr. Maha Bali (Professor of Practice at the American University in Cairo and Co-founder of Equity Unbound)--there are a range of creative, mask-tested, and inclusive practices to select from. 


What can I do pedagogically if students get sick and/or need to quarantine? 

If a student becomes ill or needs to quarantine, they will hopefully be able to access content from the class they missed with some combination of video, class notes, and instructor slides, and they will be able to use flexibility in deadlines you’ve already designed into the course, as discussed above.  

If your classroom is equipped with hyflex technology and you want students to have the option of attending remotely instead of completing make-up assignments Information Services can help you prepare. Tutorials for Hyflex Classroom Technology are available here. 

If you are not able or do not wish to use hyflex options, instructors have a variety of options for providing make-ups and opportunities for engagement with course content. To preserve instructor time, select a make-up that can apply to most/all of your missed classes, so you are not creating multiple assignments. 

Several examples of make-ups include: 

  • Posting recordings to Canvas and ask students who could not attend to synthesize key points and identify challenging questions as an assignment (perhaps even one they share back with the class or add to any collaborative notes).  
  • Uploading lecture notes or slides paired with specific reflective questions for students. For example, “Please review my slides and note what you learned and what is the most unclear.” TEP offers some ideas to deepen engagement with readings here.  
  • Spending a few minutes at the end of the discussion having students summarize key points on a Canvas Discussion thread. Then ask students who couldn’t attend to respond or write a synthesis. 
  • Allowing students to upload a video or audio of them doing what students did in class if your course features application (provided they have all equipment they need off site).   
  • Having students analyze a publicly available performance, chemistry experiment, court case, or whatever is relevant in your field. Contact your subject librarian for help finding resources.    
  • Having students submit a journal entry, series of sketches, or other process notes to capture reflections about course materials or their practice. 

Guidance for frequent absences and missed exams: 

The Academic Council guidance states that: 

  • “If a student’s frequent absences and lack of availability for make-ups are jeopardizing their success in the course, instructors should communicate with those students as early as possible and recommend students work with advisor to consider their options. 
  • Instructors shall provide make-ups or alternatives to exams. If instructors need support to manage an increased volume of make-ups, they should work with their department head. In cases where students are missing only minor yet essential coursework, a grade of “Incomplete” may be used for make-ups that will take place after grades are due (see Incomplete Policy ).” 

Once you have identified how you can accommodate students who become ill, communicate that to your students in the course syllabus and in person. 


What happens if I get sick or need to quarantine? 

We wish every UO instructor a healthy, safe return to the classroom. Given the unpredictability of our COVID context, Academic Council encourages instructors to have a plan of class activities and assignments prepared two to three-weeks in advance as a “cushion” in case of individual or university-wide disruption.   
Clarity in the syllabus and in Week One about how you will communicate with students in case of a disruption, including if you having to miss class, is wise. Instructors who need to miss one or more class sessions due to illness or other reasons should follow their normal departmental policies and procedures for covering missed classes. 

If you (or your children) need to quarantine, UO’s COVID-19 Resource Rubric says "units should first attempt to cover the class using their normal procedures. If unable to meet the needs of the course through those procedures, units may authorize the instructor to teach remotely during the quarantine period. To receive authorization, instructors will need to present official documentation to their unit head or supervisor verifying they or their dependent is required to quarantine.”