Dear Students Of CIS3750 & CIS4020: Further Updates For Fall 2020

The Fall 2020 semester is going to be – well – different. But different doesn’t mean that it’s going to be bad. It does mean, however, that it is absolutely necessary that we take care of ourselves, our families and friends, and our community as we navigate the challenges ahead.

Many people, including me, are feeling anxious about the pandemic and the seemingly endless list of awful things we are seeing in the news. Many are trying to navigate this reality at the same time as managing other significant challenges, such as caring for children or aging parents, job loss, or financial uncertainty. Mix in daily news of racism, civil rights violations, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, “murder hornets”, climate change, biodiversity loss, and more – it’s not surprising that we’re feeling uneasy, and maybe left wondering what can I do?

Despite what we see in the news it’s important to remember that everyday all around the world, people are coming together to help one another to improve the lives of those in their communities and beyond.

From simple everyday acts of kindness and empathy to movements that are challenging systemic racism, anthropogenic climate change, hunger, poverty, and more – there are more people working for change than not.

And we are going to be a part of that change. Specifically, as a student in CIS3750 and/or CIS4020, we are going to work together this fall to build solutions for our community. But more on this later.

With all that is happening in the world and given the demands of your courses, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. So as we progress through this coming semester, I want you to promise that you will take care of yourself first. To paraphrase Dr. Max Liboiron: if you are sick, heartbroken, or exhausted – please do whatever you can to get the help you need. Reach out to a friend, or a family member, or a health professional. Find time for yourself, get proper rest, exercise or meditate if you can, read for fun, sit back and enjoy some Netflix – whatever makes sense for you. Your health and wellness are more important than your work. And you will be better suited to help others if you are healthy.

If you are worried that doing what is right for your health and wellness might impact your ability to succeed in CIS3750 or CIS4020, please chat with me. You don’t need to let me know what the problem is, but together we can determine a solution that will help you succeed in these courses.

If you, your family, or people you live with are showing symptoms of COVID-19, please follow the guidance of our public health professionals. If you can’t work or study at this time because you are too sick or because you need to take care of someone else, please let me know as soon as possible. Again, you do not need to provide me details. You also do not need a doctor’s note, nor do you have to prove to me that you or a loved one in your care are sick. I will work with you to determine the best path through CIS3750 and/or CIS4020.

If you are a parent or guardian with young children at home, particularly if you are attempting to home school them at the same time as completing your own courses, let me know. Again, we’ll figure out a way that is best for you to complete the courses in a way that makes sense.

If you are living in a different time zone or have limited internet, please reach out to me to let me know how this might affect your ability to attend class or to work on a team. I will work with you to make sure you have the materials you need to complete the required work.

To accommodate these challenges and provide more flexibility for students (and building on previous updates here and here), I have modified the assessment structure for these courses.

  • I have restructured the courses from a series of large assignments and a final exam, to a series of smaller deliverables. Most of these deliverables will be worth 5 or 10 points, and a portion of them can be completed during lab or class. In this way, no single deliverable should have a devastating impact on your final grade should external circumstances affect your ability to succeed, or should you run out of time to complete them.
  • To provide as much flexibility as possible to students in CIS3750 and CIS4020, I’ve transitioned all deliverables to have a due date range (instead of a due date) that is approximately 1 week long, with many deliverables having even wider date ranges.

While this affects how you will be assessed, it by no means changes the learning outcomes of the courses, nor what is expected of you. That is, the courses will be just as rigorous as always, and you will continue to be expected to develop excellent solutions.

Having said all this, I do believe that this semester is going to be amazing. I am doing my best to restructure the course for online delivery in a way that is supportive and flexible. And we’re going to use our time together to apply the skills we learn to real challenges in our community; for CIS3750 – we will be working with a great community partner to improve the delivery of health services; for CIS4020 – we are going to use the power of data science to highlight and educate the broader public on a variety of social challenges. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I think it’s also going to be a lot of fun.

Will the courses be perfect? No, because no course is perfect and because this is the first time the courses will be offered fully online. Will I likely mess something up? Probably, especially since technology has a way of keeping me humble. Will we experience some growing pains and bumps along the way? Undoubtedly (see previous statement). But whatever happens, rest assured that I will do my best to make the fall semester as positive and successful as possible for each of you.

Given the state of the world, and the challenges ahead, our semester may prove to be more challenging than normal – so let’s do our best to practice empathy and patience for ourselves and for others. And let’s work together to make fall 2020 an amazing semester.

I’ll see you in class on September 10th.

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