The Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor recently announced guidelines and clarifications for University of Nebraska–Lincoln faculty who, like their students and university staff, are contending with complications and difficult choices amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
The guidelines and clarifications come on the heels of the university’s March 12 decision to suspend in-person instruction and move to remote teaching for the remainder of the spring semester. That decision prohibits the face-to-face instruction of any students, even small groups or individuals, and includes assessment activities such as exams, labs and performances. Any type of in-person instruction runs counter to the university’s efforts to maintain physical distancing and creates equity issues for students who have returned to their permanent residences, as directed by the university.
No adjustments are being made to the final exam schedule for spring 2020. Timelines for submitting degree grades and final grades will likewise remain unchanged.
However, faculty should be aware of and act on the following considerations for the remaining semester.
Revisions to syllabi deadlines and assignments
Faculty are strongly encouraged to contact their students as soon as possible and let them know of ongoing plans for the remainder of the semester. So that students can know what to expect and schedule their time accordingly, faculty are asked to provide the following information on Canvas no later than 5 p.m. on March 29:
- A revised syllabus, clearly marked and posted on Canvas, that includes the latest revision date
- A revised grading scale, schedule and list of assignments
- Expectations for exams and participation
- The faculty’s contact information
- Guidance on how students can access help for the course
Though further revisions to syllabi after March 29 may be necessary, they should be minimal and communicated clearly and immediately to students.
Suspension of Fifteenth Week (“Dead Week”) policy
The Fifteenth Week Policy exists to assist students in planning their time as they complete courses and prepare for finals. The primary tenets of the policy limit instructors’ ability to add assignments or exams during the final week of classes after the eighth week of the term.
Given the shortened schedule and sudden shift to remote instruction, instructors need flexibility to make substantial revisions to their syllabi. After consulting with the leadership of the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska, the university has thus suspended Fifteenth Week policy for the spring 2020.
Instructors are still expected to uphold the spirit of the policy as they develop assessments to meet the demands of the new learning environment. Adding high-stakes assignments to the fifteenth week is strongly discouraged unless those assignments replace high-stakes exams.
Adjustments for testing
Different strategies can help modify exams to ensure that students demonstrate learning. Some options:
- Replace final exams with projects or assignments.
- Convert exams into take-home exams.
- Reduce the point values of tests and exams while increasing the value of assignments.
- Randomize exam structures and use question banks to make it more difficult for students to collaborate on individual assessments. The order of questions and the order of choices for answers can be randomized in Canvas. Questions banks can present a random subset of questions to each student.
- Use algorithmic questions to test quantitative concepts. This approach, which can alter variables to generate unique questions for each student, is classified in Canvas as a “formula quiz question.”
- Faculty with students who qualify for Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD), which includes extra test time, should be sure to moderate their tests in Canvas to provide that extra time.
Instructions on how to set up and manage tests in Canvas are available on the Center for Transformative Teaching website. The center is currently developing additional resources on this and related topics, so faculty should continue checking its Keep Teaching guide for updates. More specific support can be sought through the instructional designers in each college.
Adjustments for ACE outcomes
Instructors teaching courses certified as Achievement-Centered Education (ACE) may modify how they assess ACE outcomes. Those modifications may include choosing a different assignment than originally planned. Instructors are encouraged to remain flexible and creatively consider how to best help their students meet learning goals for ACE outcomes.