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People were scattered across the Iowa State campus throughout the day on March 30 enjoying the weather. A day before, President Donald Trump said he was extending the social distancing order another 30 days through April.

As COVID-19 cases steadily rise in Story County, Iowa State continues to prepare for students to come back in the fall. 

There are 291 positive COVID-19 cases that have been reported in Story County — 24 new cases in the last 24 hours. A total of 129 people have recovered from COVID-19 in Story County and three people have died. 

Senior Vice President and Provost Jonathan Wickert shared the proposed plan for the fall semester in an email sent to faculty only. Wickert said in the email more information will be shared in the following weeks as they continue work to finalize the plan. 

“I want to acknowledge the significant level of uncertainty, and even anxiety, that exists for faculty preparing to teach in the fall,” Wickert wrote in the email. “In writing this memo, I am sharing the most current information, but I know that it won’t answer all of your questions, including some of those submitted during last Friday’s town hall. Nor will this communication address all of your concerns. As the university develops, iterates, and refines plans for the fall, we will continue to seek your feedback and work with the Faculty Senate, deans, and department chairs to communicate plans to you as soon as they are known.” 

Key Dates 

As noted in Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen’s email sent out last week, the fall semester will begin Aug. 17, a week earlier than previous years, and will end Nov. 20, making a total of 14 weeks of instruction. 

The class list will be available on AccessPlus on July 26.

Aug. 21 will be the last day for students to make changes to full semester classes without instructor or an academic adviser. 

Academic advising for the spring semester will begin Sept. 28 and registration will open Oct. 7. 

“The change in the academic calendar does mean that faculty will have responsibilities during the week of Thanksgiving,” Wickert said. “Despite there being no instructional duties in December beyond submission of final grades, regular departmental business and other faculty responsibilities are expected to continue as best as possible through Dec. 16, one week beyond final grade submission.”

The date changes will not impact stipends for graduate students who were appointed as assistants.

Final exams will take place in a period of four days, scheduled for Nov. 21 through Nov. 25. No finals will take place on Sunday within the time period. The schedule is set up to enable the coursework and finals to be completed on site before students leave for winter break, according to the email, reduce travel to and from campus in the latter part of the semester and during flu season.

Prep Week, which was formerly named Dead Week, will take place Nov. 16 through Nov. 20 and include regular lectures and new content. No in-class quizzes or exams can be given on the Thursday and Friday of the time period. 

Final grades are due 2:15 p.m. Dec. 9.

Coming back to campus 

Alternative work arrangements from University Human Resources are provided to those who are high risk for COVID-19, which is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Wintersteen launched "Cyclones Care," a comprehensive campaign encouraging students, faculty and staff to practice healthy behaviors both on and off campus, including wearing face coverings, physical distancing, hand washing and staying home when sick. 

“As a campus, while we cannot eliminate all risks associated with the pandemic, we are basing decisions on science and public health guidance, and our plans may be refined as new information becomes available and/or circumstances change,” Wickert said. “While no instructor will be forced to teach in-person classes, it is appropriate to remind ourselves that the hallmark of Iowa State’s academic experience is a rich, on-campus environment that includes world-class instruction, blending practical and critical thinking skills, as well as high-impact experiential learning opportunities that prepare students to succeed after graduation.”

Wickert said engagement between students and faculty provide opportunities for research and extension service and building student and mentor relationships. 

“That is why students prefer an on-campus experience for the fall,” Wickert said. “They place a great value not only on their interactions with faculty in the classroom, but also their interactions in advising appointments, during office hours, and through faculty service to student organizations. Some students are likely to take a gap year, or seek an alternative closer to home, rather than enroll in a substantial number of online courses. Such a scenario would result in lower enrollments, and negatively impact the university’s academic mission for years to come.” 

Wickert said he asked all the academic departments to review their class schedules to match the faculty interests and teaching expertise, the needs of the students and instructional modality. 

“The goal of each department should be to meet the expectations of students who desire meaningful and safe in-person learning experiences,” Wickert said. “As decisions and trade-offs are made, I ask that particular attention be given to the quality of first-year learning as students begin their education at Iowa State University, and to experiential learning courses. Both are hallmarks of our residential campus.”

What class is going to look like 

Passing times on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (MWF) will be extended to 15 minutes in order to enable a “more orderly classroom and building ingress and egress, and promote greater physical distancing for students and instructors as they make their ways across campus.” 

The class length will not change, but there will be new starting and ending times.  

fall 2020 new start times

Passing times on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (MWF) will be extended to 15 minutes. The class length will not change but there will be new starting and ending times.

Tuesday and Thursday teaching schedules and passing times won’t change, but the length will be 75 minutes. The College of Veterinary Medicine may follow a different schedule to reflect the instructional model used with professional students.

More information will be communicated in the following weeks. 

In a classroom setting, there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach, though the delivery of the material will follow a course type, pedagogical model and enrollment. 

There will be online and small in-person learning opportunities for large lecture-based classes. On a weekly basis at the very least, the materials will have the opportunity to be delivered virtually or in-person. 

The material will be taught in person or a blend of all formats for medium and smaller classes, including studios, capstone and team-based learning courses. The blend can include a combination of in person and online instruction.

“Courses that need to be taught in a specific manner to comply with accreditation guidelines may use in-person instruction, following appropriate safety measures, and following other guidelines as provided by the respective accrediting body,” Wickert said. “There may be exceptions within this framework, and I have delegated such exceptions to college deans.” 

The college associate deans will coordinate with the academic departments to review, modify and approve all course delivery methods based on college and university priorities. In some cases, it might be temporarily necessary to “modify a course or waive a graduation or major requirement,” according to the email. 

“Any such changes to schedules, courses or requirements should be transparent and fair to faculty, and should not disadvantage the academic progress of students,” Wickert said. “College associate deans will assist department chairs with decision-making regarding faculty teaching assignments. Some faculty will be asked to teach courses beyond their usual assignments; others will be asked to teach courses using a different modality or class/section size.”

Safety measures within the classrooms, labs and studios 

The classroom will limit in-person class sizes to 50 percent capacity. For the classes where the 50 percent capacity is not feasible, Wickert said he has “delegated case-by-case exceptions to college deans, with the requirement that additional measures be employed to promote the safety of students and instructors.”

In regards to wearing masks or any other type of face covering, the issue is being studied by the Fall Planning Executive Committee, and the university’s decisions continue to be refined. Two face coverings will be provided to faculty, staff and students before classes begin. 

“A working group that includes faculty and student affairs representatives is currently evaluating options for enforcement,” Wickert said. “A communications team is consulting with faculty experts to develop an education and social responsibility campaign focused on encouraging personal responsibility to prevent the spread of COVID-19. [...] The university’s goal is to have the necessary tools in place so that clear direction exists regarding when and where face coverings are required so that faculty and staff can effectively manage this issue in their classrooms and work areas.”

Additionally, enhanced and more frequent cleaning measures will be implemented. There will be additional space at the front of the classroom, with the use of plexiglass panels, and there will be new protocols when entering and exiting the classroom. 

“The specific risk-mitigation approaches to be taken will depend on courses and the configurations of classroom spaces,” Wickert said. “With support from college administration and central university guidance, academic departments will make local decisions for department-controlled classrooms, and central decisions will be made for university-controlled classrooms.”

Labs with fixed spaces and specialized equipment will be in person with safety measures. 

Those not requiring fixed spaces or specialized equipment may be offered in blended formats.

Wickert also highlighted the policy with illness-related absence. 

“Faculty who are ill are never expected to work,” Wickert said. “University policy provides sick leave accrual for all employees, and sick leave should be used for those day(s) when a faculty or staff member is unable to work due to illness. For information specific to COVID-19 related illness, isolation, or quarantine, please see the guidance provided by University Human Resources.”

Department chairs, in communication and coordination with faculty, should identify back-up instructors and prepare continuity plans in the event of a significant outbreak in the fall. 

Grades and Labor Day

Since the fall semester is cut short, Iowa State will be open on Labor Day — Sept. 7 — for instruction, student support services and other functions. Classes, labs and studios will also meet on Labor Day. 

“Instruction and student support services on Labor Day strengthen the university’s response to the pandemic in several ways: likely reducing the amount of student travel that weekend; providing an additional in-person instructional day at the beginning of the semester, which would be useful should we need to shift to virtual instruction later in the term, as the pandemic’s conditions may warrant; and resulting in only four (rather than five) fewer days of instruction, thereby providing value to students and supporting academic continuity,” Wickert said.

University Human Resources will provide additional guidance in the near future.

Additionally, the Pass/Not Pass policy will not apply for the fall semester, and grades will continue with Iowa State’s typical grading methods. Undergraduate students can still take a maximum of nine credits with a Pass/Not Pass grade — this excludes the spring 2020 semester. 

“I want to thank you, sincerely, for your adaptation, resilience, and passion for serving our students and promoting Iowa State’s mission,” Wickert said. “I very much look forward to seeing you back on campus — safely — in the fall.” 

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