Fall Update: Changes to Courses

Books and a Department of Religious Studies mug in a library

As noted in the previous update on the Fall semester, being nimble and adaptable to changing circumstances is among the key skills students need for success this Fall, whatever university they’re attending; after all, COVID-19 continues to present very real challenges in many U.S. states, let alone countries around the world, significantly affecting the well-being of some age groups as well as people with certain risk factors; in response, such new policies as regular use of masks in classes and decreased seating capacity in lectures halls and labs due to physical distancing guidelines developed by the UA System and the University itself (see the Academic Affairs portion of UA’s now-released guidelines) mean that a number of adjustments are now being made to ensure successful Fall classes. After all, if you’re familiar with the seating pattern in a typical classroom at any university, maintaining the mandated 6 feet of distance from the instructor or from the nearest student (something that will be indicated with lines on classrooms’ floors and with seats marked so as not to be occupied) means that a room will now only seat a small portion of those enrolled in the courses.

So, to prepare their Fall courses for all of this, faculty are now working to make full use of a wide variety of options and resources; and some of these adaptations are now evident to students when they view their Fall course information online — such as the way the course will be held or where and when it will be held. Please note: the way REL is handling this means that students will not have to unregister and re-register for a different section of any of their REL courses.

First, as indicated in our previous Fall update, it may mean that your large enrollment REL course is moved to a remote format, making use of such tools as Blackboard, Zoom, Slack, and a host of other technologies that REL faculty are now discussing, because they allow for routine but also live contact with students, whether in groups and individually — a change that frees a large classroom space into which they were formally scheduled for a mid-sized or small class to move into, thereby increasing the likelihood that the smaller class would have sufficient room for all of its students to meet in-person in the proper socially distanced manner. It is important to note that such a revised remote course is not to be confused with the actual online courses that REL offers most semesters and which were developed for Distance Learning students (while also being open to Main Campus students); that’s why we are referring to the adapted courses that some of us are now developing for Fall 2020 as remote instead of online — an important distinction to keep in mind.

With regard to students checking their Fall schedule online, such remote courses may now be listed as either AV (Audiovisual: a designation that means the course’s regular class meeting time still holds but that the course is now being offered remotely) or IN (Internet: a designation that means students are able to complete the material remotely but also outside the course’s previously scheduled meeting time); AV course locations are now listed as TBA (To Be Announced) while IN course locations are listed as Online. While students in AV courses should therefore expect that the regular class meeting time may involve synchronous remote teaching, tutorials, discussion sessions, etc., both AV and IN courses will also involve routine and substantive live interactions with faculty and other students — something just not possible in the small number of regular online courses that REL offers each semester. IN courses will establish their own days and times to do this, outside the class’s original schedule — taking into account the other commitments students have, of course.

Another designation students might now be seeing in the system is HY (Hybrid); there are many models for hybrid courses, allowing faculty flexibility to devise a way to meet and teach students that adapts to the changing circumstances that might be presented throughout the new semester. So think of hybrid courses as inhabiting a wide continuum: on one end might be a largely in-person but socially distanced class that is periodically augmented by a discrete number of remote learning sessions or assignments to, on the far other end of the spectrum, a course that is largely remote but with periodic in-person interactions, such as socially distanced office hours or tutorials and review sessions, individually or with small groups of classmates in the course. Between those two more extreme options there are a variety of combinations that can be made, to adapt the course to the semester’s needs. The vast majority of REL courses for Fall are designated as HY, in hopes that in-person will be possible in many cases but while also being well prepared for the possible need to employ remote teaching tools if the situation requires it. The meeting times and locations of HY courses remain listed in the system as they were each already booked, since these times and these rooms continue to play a central role in the semester.

And finally, as noted in the earlier update, regardless the adaptations being made to each course, all Fall REL courses, in both of our degree programs (B.A. and M.A.), can be completed in a remote fashion for students who, for whatever reason, are unable or unwilling to attend in-person. We therefore hope that no one thinks they need to sit this one out — REL faculty are prepared to make this a successful semester for everyone.

We hope that this helps to explain changes that students may now be seeing in the online system regarding their Fall semester. Because the situation remains fluid — what with the virus continuing to spread, at increasing rates in some places, and none of us being able to see into the future — we’ll continue to be nimble and monitor things, updating you periodically, knowing that further adaptations may be required. But students should know that their safety, their continued learning, and their steady degree progress are our highest priorities in REL, and that any further revisions to the Fall semester will be made with those in mind.