REL Update: Starting the New Fall Semester

UA graphic listing tips for staying healthy during the Fall semester

In mid-June we posted an update about the upcoming Fall classes but with the semester’s start now just two weeks away, it’s time for another update on some specific changes to REL classes.

So while we certainly leave major details about re-entry to the University to communicate to students, staff, and faculty (with information found at UA’s health info site, concerning such things as the required COVID-19 testing, new conduct rules, and the required health check every three days [which requires your Bama credentials and a cell phone number]), there’s some details about REL that we’ll convey here.

First: due to mandated social distancing rules the capacity in all classrooms has been significantly decreased. While plexiglass dividers have been installed in some large lecture halls on campus, to separate students seated along the rows of fixed seats at tables, the majority of classrooms have decreased capacity (either with chairs removed or marked as not to be used) in order to ensure that all students remain at least 6 feet from one another. This is a significant change; in many cases the seating has been decreased by 75-80% of the room’s former capacity. There will also be guidance in each classroom — such as signage and tape on the floor — to ensure that students keep a safe distance from the front of the class and the professor.

Second: masks are required on campus as well as in public places the city of Tuscaloosa and throughout the state of Alabama (notably, in schools, beginning with gr. 2), so please come to campus prepared for this, with a sufficient supply of (presumably) washable masks that you can wear should you have in-person but socially-distanced events to attend. We ask all students to observe this rule, as do staff and faculty, to protect not just yourself but those with whom you interact, since the asymptomatic rate of infection is high. Also, hand sanitizer dispensers are now all over campus (operated by foot pedal), for single use or for refilling your own dispenser. Finally, all buildings’ heating and cooling systems have been thoroughly cleaned, with high quality air filters installed and the rate of air flow increased, to assist with making indoor spaces safer.

Third: because of the reduction in classroom seating, the first day of classes will look rather different, since not all of the students enrolled in a class can be seated at the same time in any classroom. This means that all classes will start in a remote fashion, beginning with an email from your faculty member prior to the start of the semester, that instructs you on such things as where to find the syllabus (more than likely at the Blackboard site for the course, accessible either through mybama [which requires DUO authentication] or with your Bama credentials at and what the start of the class will be like. Please watch for those emails at your crimson account.

Fourth: because your health as well as your ability to continue to make progress toward completing your degree on time are among our highest priorities, REL faculty have met regularly throughout the summer to discuss how best to approach a semester where up to 80% of the students will not be able to attend in-person due to social distancing rules. While a small number of large REL lecture courses for the Fall moved proactively to a remote format (to free up large rooms for others’ medium-sized classes to move into), the majority of REL courses adopted the hybrid format in order to be prepared for all eventualities. (Learn more about the different instructional formats.) But between decreased seating capacity in their rooms, continued high infection rates in the state and region, and the REL faculty’s desire for effective instruction in their classes, there is a good chance that even hybrid classes will make use of a variety of remote teaching techniques for a portion of the semester — or, if conditions do not improve, the full semester. Despite all of our careful planning, we, like you, do not fully know what the semester holds for us, so, as noted in previous updates, we all need to be nimble and adaptable. REL faculty have therefore revised all of their courses in preparation for this Fall, learned new technologies, and revised their expectations. Note: if your accessibility to technology (such as the internet) is impeded, then please contact your faculty member to establish an alternative process. We are prepared to help you succeed this semester. 

Fifth: should you have what you consider to be a legitimate reason why expectations from your professors should be adjusted for the Fall (e.g., you have risk factors that prevent you from traveling to Tuscaloosa for the semester or, if in town, which require you to avoid an in-person event), then please contact the Office of Disability Services, which is handling formal COVID-19-related requests for adjustments. (Submit a request.) No documentation is required to be submitted. If granted, ODS will issue a letter of support that you will then present to each professor who will each determine the best way to make an adjustment to a course’s expectations.

Sixth: if you are a Graduate Teaching Assistant, Graduate Research Assistant, or Fellowship recipient who requests a COVID-19 accommodation, then there is a different process to submit such a request. This request, which also requires no formal documentation, comes directly to the Chair of the Department for a decision.

Seventh: advising for B.A. and M.A. students will also look a little different this Fall, but we’ll roll that news out a little later, noting for now that Prof. Trost has taken over as the Undergraduate Director, for just the Fall (while Prof. Altman is on sabbatical), and that Prof. Ramey is our new Graduate Director.

Finally, the main office, Department library and lounge will not be open this Fall, as they normally are, to discourage groups from congregating. You can contact the Department by phone and email or visit the website to contact any faculty member directly. If an in-person (masked and socially distanced) meeting is required, one will be scheduled (in some cases on the balcony).

So step one is to await your professor to contact you by email soon, to signal how your class will begin. Step two is to stay safe. And step three is to
be nimble and adaptable.