Planning for Fall 2020 Teaching and Learning Experience

Sent: April 22, 2020

From: Vincent J. Del Casino, Jr., Provost and Senior VP of Academic Affairs

Dear Colleagues,

I hope this message finds you safe and well.

I am just going to say it up front: this has been a trying year for SJSU. Like much of the rest of the planet, we find ourselves “sheltered-in-place,” trying to balance work and the rest of our lives, helping friends, supporting elderly parents or grandparents, caring for pets, or acting as “home school teachers” to our children. Our students and colleagues are struggling, as the economic and social impacts of COVID-19 wreak havoc on our communities. In the midst of all of this, we also have to plan for the uncertain reality of next fall and the start of a new school year.

It is probably a bit over-used to call it the “new normal,” but I am not sure higher education, in the near or long-term future, will look the way it did a year ago. COVID-19 is likely to be with us for some time, impacting how we interact, organize, and manage our worlds. Even when we find ourselves on the other side of COVID-19, we probably can’t be the same. Indeed, the signs that higher education was in a state of change have been with us for some time. In areas where the demographic downturn in high school graduates has already happened, campuses have struggled with enrollment. Pressures from some sectors of higher education have forced a re-thinking of modality and curricular delivery.

There have also been wholesale challenges to the “value” of a four-year degree, as various sectors of the economy and legislatures place pressure on us to offer a more “vocationalized” style of education. While public higher education in California has been less impacted by these larger trends, it is clear that we face some serious challenges in the short- and long-term. So, what do we do? How do we respond? And, what will SJSU look like in the Fall of 2020, 2021, 2022, and beyond?

Let’s look at the short-term forecast, Fall 2020, and consider how we might prepare for multiple scenarios. The best option, for now, based on what we know is to plan that the majority of our courses - particularly lecture courses - will be fully online. If, based on guidance from government and public health officials, we have the option to bring some of those back to the main campus as face-to-face courses , we will work with departments to adjust accordingly to best serve student needs. Planning this way allows us to implement a course schedule that reflects today’s reality.

I am calling together a group of campus leaders to begin planning for Fall 2020. As Governor Newsom announced, until California (and the United States) has reached a level of “herd immunity” from COVID-19, we will have to limit large gatherings and maintain physical distancing. While not referring directly to higher education, he suggested that we have to figure out how to “educate our students” and “get them back to school.” He offered thoughts about rotating students to campuses to meet social distancing needs, for example. So, what does that mean for SJSU? I think it means a few things:

Classroom capacity

In almost any currently-known scenario, we cannot hold classes that fill to classroom capacity completely in the Fall. Many courses will have to be completely online, while a small number may be flipped to limit the number of people on campus at once. This means the “large lecture” has to be completely re-imagined as either an online course or, with the right reasoning, it could be flipped, perhaps across the Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule.

Physical Distancing

We have to evaluate our physical plant and identify classrooms that have enough room in them to allow for physical distancing.

Meeting student learning outcomes safely

We have to examine our “hands-on” courses – labs, studios, performance courses – and create ways to meet student learning outcomes safely.

Invest in more asynchronous online education

We have to invest in more asynchronous online education, which provides increased flexibility for students who will continue to have to balance school with their other life realities.

Create learning communities

We have to create learning communities amongst our faculty that help pass on best practices in online and hybrid education. We have to invest in the training of faculty so that they can deliver high-quality programs not only in the short-term but over the long haul–we may never go back to a reality where 85% of our classes are 100% face-to-face.

Developing longer-term strategies

And, we have to think about how we use new techniques in developing longer-term strategies for attracting, retaining, and graduating an outstanding and diverse student body.

Research and service

We have to consider the other important aspects of our jobs – research and service – and determine how and in what ways these may change given our “new reality.” We must support our colleagues, providing pathways to professional success in the face of what is happening.

Create a community of support

We have to create a community of support and caring, while also thinking through new and creative ways to contribute the basic and applied knowledge our society needs. This is not an easy task. But, it is a critical one. And, we have to keep talking to each other about it.

Support staff

We have to determine how best to support staff, some of whom may still need to work remotely, even as we bring programming back to campus.

Be prepared

Despite items noted above, we have to be prepared that if the positive COVID-19 rates begin to jump again, we have to have everything fully-online again this fall.

The next big step is to look at how we can utilize the summer to provide faculty continuing support in training on online, hybrid, and remote education. I want to do this not only to respond to what I believe will happen this fall but because, as I said, I don’t think we will come back to the same sort of campus long-term. I think some of us already have learned that the tools and technologies available to us can augment our classes, challenge our thinking on teaching, and help us re-imagine our own work. I want to leverage those experiences going into the Fall.

There will be more to come. But, we have to be clear, we will need to invest into the crisis if we are going to come out the other side of it ready to lead regionally, nationally, and globally.

Thank you all, again, for all your hard work. As usual, please let me know if you have any questions.