I hope you are well and are having a good summer. As the fall term approaches, we are beginning to make decisions about what the learning environment will look like. Faculty and administrators have been meeting all summer to make decisions that will allow you to participate in the most robust learning and formation programs possible, while at the same time adapting to the safety measures necessitated by the pandemic.
Recently we sent you a survey asking you – if you are taking “mixed-attendance” classes – to make an initial decision about how you wish to attend. I received many emails that posed very important questions about how the teaching and learning will happen this fall. For some of you it was important to hear and reflect on this information before making a decision about your attendance. I have pulled questions from those emails and answered them below. These Q&As are part of a new set of safety policies and FAQs that will be shared with the entire community soon.
Please reach out to me if you have further questions about our academic life this fall.
What is the difference between a “mixed-attendance” class and an “online-only” class?
- Classes that have an in-person option will also have the option for students to attend online. These classes that include both modes of attendance are called “mixed-attendance” classes. In an “online-only” class, all class sessions, learning, and assessments will happen online.
What is the difference between synchronous and asynchronous learning?
- Synchronous learning is when a group of students engage in learning at the same time, either online or in person, usually with the instructor present. Asynchronous learning is when students learn on their own outside of a class session, usually without the instructor present.
Will online class sessions meet via Zoom?
- Yes, online-only and the online portion of mixed attendance classes will be conducted over the Zoom platform. In addition, significant content and class engagement will happen through Populi and other online tools.
Will online-only classes meet at their regularly scheduled time slots?
- Yes, online-only classes will meet via Zoom during their regularly scheduled time slots. This will be the synchronous portion of the class. If there are other meetings or if smaller group Zoom discussions are desirable for the learning goals of a particular class, the instructor will find a time that is agreeable to all participants. The official fall schedule, including time slots and room assignments (for classes that have an in-person option), will be released as soon as room assignments can be completed.
In a mixed-attendance class, will the online students be attending class synchronously with the in-person students?
- Various models are being discussed for mixed-attendance classes. Professors will choose the model that works best for their class and teaching style. One option is for in-person and online students to meet synchronously – online students accessing the in-person class via Zoom. Another option is for professors to divide the class into in-person and online sections that meet at separate times. In either mode, much of the course content will be accessed online via videos, readings, and other resources. If you have questions about a specific class, please reach out to the professor for more information.
What kind of technology will be used?
- Students will be expected to have access to a computer and internet. Wifi service on campus will continue to be provided by the seminary. If you have concerns about accessing the needed technology please reach out to us.
Will the assignments be the same as in-person classes?
- In classes with mixed attendance all students will have the same or commensurate assignments.
What safety measures will be taken for classes that meet in person?
- Classrooms are being adjusted to create six-foot social distancing between seats. When indoors, all students and faculty members will be required to wear masks for the entire class period. New air filters have been installed in classrooms to increase filtration of aerosolized particles. When possible, windows will be opened to maximize airflow. Students will be instructed to enter and exit in such a way that social distancing is maintained. In order to avoid passing by other students during class, students are asked to plan so that using the restroom during class is less likely. Classes may, on occasion, meet outside. In such a setting the instructor or presenter may remove their mask when at least six feet from other participants.
Will classes be outside?
- It is possible classes will be held outside. Given the Texas fall weather, however, it is impossible to reliably plan for that now. If classes meet outside, social distancing will be maintained and participants will remain masked. The instructor or presenter may remove their mask when at least six feet from other participants.
Which rooms will be used for classes?
- Room assignments cannot be made until we know the number of students opting for in-person learning in each course. Once we have that count, we can begin to assign classrooms. These rooms might include 210A/B (opened to be one classroom), 213 or 214/215 (for small groups), 259, 261, Christ Chapel, or Knapp Auditorium (for the largest groups). Only classrooms that can accommodate social distancing will be used.
Will there be a designated safe and socially-distanced space on campus for online study and learning?
- Quiet, socially-distanced spaces will be provided in the Weeks Center and Library. The need to reduce noise and reduce speaking precludes these spaces being used for Zoom classes. Some closed carrels will be available in the library for meeting with a class on Zoom.
What data and criteria regarding COVID-19 cases would make the in-person classes shift to online-only classes?
- The seminary will look to Austin Public Health and the City of Austin’s Key Indicators for Staging to guide decisions about class meetings and other gatherings on campus. If Austin enters into Stage 5, the seminary will reassess in-person classes. If a student or professor tests positive for COVID-19 the classes they teach or attended will be moved online for an appropriate period of time. Changing conditions within our community or in the overall pandemic situation may require revisiting decisions about on-campus gatherings.
If I sign up for online attendance in a mixed-attendance class, will I be able to switch to in-person attendance if my situation changes or if the pandemic gets better?
- Classrooms will be assigned based on the number of students asking for in-person attendance at the beginning of the term. Given the need for social distancing, far fewer seats will be available in each classroom. It is likely that classrooms will have one or more extra seats, but it is possible that the number of in-person students will match the number of seats exactly. In that case, there would be no room for an online student to join the in-person class unless one of the in-person learners shifts to online attendance.
If I sign up for in-person attendance will I be able to switch to online attendance if my situation changes or if the pandemic gets worse?
- If you sign up for in-person attendance, you may shift to online attendance at any time.
Will there be letter grades or just pass-fail?
- All classes will return to the regular practice of giving letter grades.
What will the assignment load be like? Will they be adapted because of the pandemic?
- The assignment load will be determined by each professor with attention both to course objectives and to the pandemic’s impact on students’ time, energy, stress levels, and family commitments.