Dear SEAS Faculty,
As we move into our third week of instructional continuity, I would like to extend my hearty congratulations and sincere appreciation to everyone for working hard to make such a successful transition to online instruction! I understand how much time is involved, and I know that it can be a challenging and at times frustrating process. Students recognize those efforts, and they are appreciative and enjoy seeing you in a different environment. I’m sure we are all grateful that in most cases our technology has been holding up. I would also like to take this opportunity to remind you of some changes that have been made and to encourage you to consider some factors in your teaching and student engagement during this difficult time.
Although it might not be clear during your class sessions, students are facing a variety of challenges as they take their courses online. Some are in different time zones. Some are assisting in child or elder care while their parents work. Some are in stressful family situations as loved ones lose their jobs or are furloughed or may have even contracted COVID-19. Some don’t live in areas that support the bandwidth they need for doing video streaming and other coursework. Undergraduates do not have most of their things from their dorm rooms, and they won’t be able to retrieve them for at least another month. So there is more I need to ask of you:
You are a lifeline! If you can show up in your virtual classroom a bit early or stay a little longer after class is over, it might be a chance for students to connect with you. Let them talk about whatever they need to talk about. This can also be done during virtual office hours, which could be expanded to give students more options to connect with you, especially recognizing the different time zones our students are now in.
We instituted the Pass/No Pass (undergrad) and Credit/No Credit (graduate) option for this semester because we know students have had their worlds turned upside down.
In most cases, for most students, it is completely acceptable and reasonable for them to take a course P/NP or CR/NC. But some students are concerned that faculty and/or advisors look down on them for choosing that option. It is important to let them know that in most cases, P/NP or CR/NC is a reasonable choice.
Some students are also confused by how to request P/NP or CR/NC. Faculty DO NOT need to be involved in this request, but students may consult with you for guidance. Students make this change through their school advising or records offices by filling out an online form.
Students are responsible for following all requirements that may apply to their individual situations and being sure that they are receiving grades in courses that are required for graduate school, medical school, dental school, law school, athletic, veterans, employment, visa status, etc. They have been instructed to consult their academic, faculty, or program advisor about such requirements.
I encourage you to visit the SEAS Instructional Continuity page where you will find links to student resources. These will have further information on the P/NP and CR/NC options, as well as links to other important resources for students.
All class sessions should be recorded and posted on Blackboard. That way students who are in a different time zone or are faced with internet bandwidth limitations or challenges at home can revisit the class session later.
Students should be encouraged to attend class, but if they cannot (for some of the reasons listed above) please be understanding. This is not the semester to penalize students for class attendance.
I recognize that you might have to make adjustments to your teaching style and assignments (I’m sure that’s an understatement!), but please be careful not to pile on additional work. Adding an extra paper in lieu of discussions can undermine the connection you have with your students and add to their burdens. While recording your lectures and then following up with discussions has a lot of merit in making sure students learn the material, if you have doubled their course time and have not reduced any other assignments, then students might be overwhelmed with work.
Make sure that you are engaged with your teaching assistants and are providing them with guidance. Teaching assistants should be holding their sections and their office hours. Our teaching assistants are important resources for our students as they work their way through this challenging situation and new learning environment.
Let students know that tutoring through Academic Commons is still available. This includes the Writing Center and Stemworks.
Thank you again for everything you are doing. It is your devotion to our students and to our educational mission that will carry SEAS and GW through this uncertain period.
Dean - School of Engineering and Applied Science
Professor - Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
The George Washington University