An Open Letter To The Students Of Fall 2020

Dear Students of Fall 2020,

The last few months have been a challenge. You have had your regular winter semester interrupted and upended as we made the switch to emergency remote online teaching. Many of you have faced difficult financial and personal challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The world is a different place than it was, and a lot of questions and anxieties remain about what’s next.

Many of you will soon be making decisions about whether or not to return to campus this fall or to take time off. If you decide to return, you may be wondering how many courses you might take, how those classes will function, and how you will manage your academic and extra-curricular activities in the face of the ongoing pandemic.

While I can’t provide answers to all of these questions, I wanted to use this letter to provide you some clarity regarding the courses I will be leading and the decisions I have made about their delivery.

First and foremost, all of my courses will be offered remotely. There will be no face-to-face classroom, no face-to-face labs. While this poses a challenge in terms of some of the activities that are typical of my classrooms, I am confident that we will find a way to work together to make our fall semester fun and rewarding.

This holds for the following courses:

  • CIS3750 Systems Analysis & Design In Applications,
  • CIS4020 Data Science, and
  • UNIV4200/4210 The Ideas Congress Transdisciplinary Classroom.

It also holds for independent study courses CIS4900, CIS4910, MATH4600, and STAT4600 should you be interested in working with me on a project under those course codes.

I have made this decision for several reasons. I am unsure as of yet how exactly the University of Guelph campus will approach face-to-face delivery this fall while maintaining physical distancing. I do expect that a 2nd pandemic wave will force us to switch – like the winter semester – to online delivery. And I know that even though the campus is currently expected to be open, many students are uneasy about returning because they worry about the risk it might pose to them or their loved ones. With this in mind, I believe it best not to meet face-to-face.

Second, I am working to transition my courses to include both synchronous and asynchronous components. This means that if you are in a different time zone, or if your internet isn’t the best, you will have the opportunity to access course materials. I am also exploring options for the delivery of office hours, particularly for those who may be in different time zones or with limited internet.

Third, there will be no final exams. I will not ask you to download or use any proctoring software because I personally find such tools to be invasive of personal privacy, and often demanding students have access to technology that may prove a financial burden.

Fourth, I am working to introduce more flexibility in my courses – particularly with respect to due dates and delivery formats. This likely means that there will be more deliverables required, but each worth fewer points so that no single deliverable will have undue power over your final grade.

Fifth, I will continue to provide the materials necessary for the course. You will not be required to purchase lab or class notes, slides, or the course manual. I will not require you to purchase a textbook for any of the courses I am offering. Instead, I will make sure you have access to open source materials. Any software we might use will be free of charge.

Finally, my promise to you is that I will do my best to be open and transparent about all decisions related to the classes I lead this fall. I will make sure to provide regular updates about each of my courses as I transition them from a face-to-face format to online delivery. And I will be happy to answer any questions you might have about what the upcoming semester might look like.

Yes, the Fall 2020 semester will likely be different than what you have come to expect from your campus experience, but I am excited about the opportunities that this challenge brings, and I can’t wait to welcome you to my classes.

See you in September!

Header image credit: “26-100” by drgandy is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

1 Comment

  1. This is really good, Dan. You have inspired me to develop a similar policy for my courses. Thanks for this. -Stefan

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