Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers to frequently asked questions about the fall 2020 semester.

Browse All Fall 2020 FAQs

Assessing Students

Whether teams are all in residence, all remote, or in a mixed setting, CATME is an option for peer evaluations. This tool requires some initial setup. CATME is a paid service. You will have to discuss this with your academic unit regarding fees.

The Schreyer Institute has provided strategies to discourage academic integrity violations.

Learn more about your options to assess students and verify they are not using external resources.

If you feel that your exams require proctoring, read more about your options.

For information on writing quality exams, choosing among different types of exams, and administering exams in a remote environment, you can read the following resources:  

If you offer the exam in a synchronous, remote environment for all students, consider creating a break-out room in Zoom for each student to take the exam. The instructor and any grading assistants can monitor by circulating from room to room.

Class Participation

Remote students can collaborate in Zoom or using digital tools such as Canvas groups or Microsoft Teams that provide workspace, communication, and file sharing. Students have many other online applications to collaborate remotely (i.e., Zoom, Google, etc.).

Students will be enrolled but will not be required to be on campus. Start from Home is for first-year students. Continue from Home is for upperclass students. Learn more about Start from Home and Continue from Home.

Instructor feedback will be particularly important for students who are new to a remote setting and don’t have regular face-to-face interactions, as well as for students who may be absent for an extended period from an in-person course. You are encouraged to provide feedback during office hours or via tools such as Canvas. If you wish to provide feedback via Canvas, see Canvas feedback guidance.

Students can use Zoom to meet with their group to discuss, collaborate on, and rehearse group presentations. One team member can submit the group’s recording link or file to the corresponding Canvas assignment dropbox. If the course is being delivered synchronously, groups can present “live” during the class session using Zoom. Consider using VoiceThread for asynchronous presentations that allow students to comment/question on the presentation.

You may provide traditional sorts of make-up assignments (e.g., provide slides, offer office hour appointments, extend due dates, etc.) appropriate for the course and its designated delivery mode. Policy 42-27 on Class Attendance states, “Instructors also should provide, within reason, the opportunity to make up work for students who miss classes for other legitimate but unavoidable reasons. …it should be recognized that not all work can be ‘made-up’ and that absences can affect student performance in a class.”   

Consider asking if the student is unable to participate in the whole course or unable to participate in certain elements (e.g., cannot attend any in-person sessions but can complete assignments on time). Current policy applies, in that you can’t adjust the grading scheme for a student who needs make-up work since all students have to have the same opportunity to earn grades that you outlined in your syllabus. For example, if a student has missed a quiz but all students have the opportunity to drop their lowest quiz grade, you can’t have the student be forced to drop the quiz that they missed as their lowest grade. Determine whether there are simple ways to provide access to the elements that the student will miss, so that there would be no need for make-up work.  

For example, in the case of a student who cannot attend class in person, it may be easy to record a live lecture and post it in Canvas; but it may not be easy to simulate a physical lab experience for the student to complete outside of class. Instructors are not asked to create alternate ways to deliver course material; rather, they are asked to provide flexibility, within reason, on how students might achieve learning outcomes to students who unexpectedly cannot participate in part or all of a course for a period of time.

Health and Safety

Instructors will be issued an initial box of 50 procedure masks. It is recommended that the instructor bring 2–3 additional procedure masks to issue to students who forget their mask. Instructors also may ask the student(s) to leave the classroom and retrieve their cloth mask before returning to class. Instructors will be able to obtain additional procedure masks through their Department or College.

Instructors will be issued alcohol-based hand sanitizer that can also be used to clean and disinfect the microphone in between uses.

The 500,000 cloth masks referenced by Dr. Barron, as well as the PPE procedure masks needed to support teaching and instruction, are scheduled to arrive on or around August 7. PPE will be distributed to individual campuses, colleges, and administrative units the week of August 10. There are no costs associated with these masks.

However, if you require PPE or supplies before the University supplied masks arrive, you can order supplies through General Stores. Find ordering information on the Environmental Health and Safety Pandemic Supply List.

Testing is ongoing and the recommendations will continue to be updated. Multiple sub-groups are evaluating additional pedagogical learning environments before the fall semester, including instructional laboratories, performance settings (music/vocal/theater), close contact settings (nursing/physical therapy/allied health), and others.

The University has purchased 1.5 million procedure masks (in addition to the 500,000 cloth masks previously purchased) for instructor use in general purpose classrooms, more than 14,000 face shields, and 8,000 clear masks to meet specific teaching and learning needs for University Park and all campuses. For each instructor teaching in-person classes, 50 procedure masks will be provided before the fall semester begins, and masks will be replenished as needed.

At least 50 faculty and staff members from many Penn State campuses and disciplines contributed to the initial phase of researching and testing various masks and other PPE in classroom, laboratory, and other campus settings.

Yes, instructors are required to wear face masks covering their nose and mouth. Each employee will receive two cloth face masks. In accordance with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, all University employees will be required to wear masks  — ideally cloth — while on campus, including outdoors and in hallways, classrooms, shared work areas, and other public spaces. Face shields are not considered an adequate substitute for masks, but should be worn in combination with a cloth or procedure mask in certain circumstances outlined in the “PPE and Instruction Recommendations per Learning Environment” section of the Universal Masking and PPE Recommendations document. Read more about mask wearing on the Penn State Coronavirus Information site.

Refusal to wear a mask will be considered a violation of the Student Code of Conduct. 

Learn more about the evolving guidance about mask-wearing and universal masking and PPE recommendations.

You can also read about how the University will support professors when students do not adhere to mask-wearing guidelines.

When students don’t wear masks, they will be asked to leave the classroom. Students who are not present cannot participate. It is on this basis that instructors may reduce participation points — and encourage wearing a mask.

Paper poses low risk for virus transmission. Classroom requirements related to mask wearing as well as encouragement of hand sanitizing should reduce the risk of transmission via paper syllabi, handouts, or exams. Instructors should use their own judgement and deliver documents via Canvas or other digital tools and administer exams electronically to diminish concerns about the use of paper. Such tools also support Penn State’s broader commitment to sustainability.

Read guidance about what to do if you test positive on the Penn State Coronavirus Information site.

Also, instructors (faculty or graduate instructors) should work with supervisors to determine how adjustments can be made.

Some faculty have been seeking additional guidance on how to work with students who test positive for coronavirus or who find themselves in other special circumstances created by this crisis, which could include:

  • caring for family members and friends who contract the virus;
  • caring for children who are not attending school/daycare;
  • food and housing insecurity caused by loss of employment; etc.

Students who contract this virus will have varying symptoms, from mild cold symptoms to flu-like symptoms to hospitalization (the least likely). Mild to moderate illness can last up to 14 days. Students are being encouraged to communicate with their faculty to describe their level of illness and the work that they can accomplish while they are ill. Other related challenges that might impact attendance should be communicated to faculty in a similar fashion.

Senate Policy 42-27 on Class Attendance emphasizes the importance of regular attendance but also grants faculty a great deal of latitude in providing reasonable opportunities for students to make up work for legitimate and unavoidable reasons including illness, family emergency, etc. Although faculty can use their judgment in assessing a student’s illness claim, students are not required to secure the signature of medical personnel and faculty do not need to secure documentation to support their professional judgement.

When undergraduate students are ill:
In situations where undergraduate students become ill near the end of the semester, faculty have the option of assigning deferred grades under Senate Policy 48-40. This policy requires students to complete the work within the prescribed timeline or else the grade is converted to an F. Students and faculty will be notified of the approaching deadline, and faculty have the option of requesting an extension; they can also update the F grade later using the grade-change process. The use of deferred grades is appropriate on a case-by-case basis but not for an entire class.

When graduate students are ill:
When a graduate student becomes ill near the end of the semester or faces other significant life events, policy GSAD-906 Graduate Student Leave of Absence provides three opportunities to meet the needs of the student:

  • Short-Term Absence (< 3 weeks)
    • appropriate when the graduate student is expected to be able to complete the work within the semester
  • Extended Absence (within a semester)
    • appropriate when the graduate student is expected to be able to complete the work within the semester or when a Deferred Grade will allow the student to finish the work when they have recovered from the illness; Graduate Council’s policy GCAC-401 Grading System has additional information on Deferred Grades for graduate students
  • Leave of Absence
    • appropriate when the graduate student is not expected to complete the work in a timely fashion even with the Deferred Grade extension
    • if necessary, an Extended Leave can be converted to a Leave of Absence as described in the policy

Students can also refer to the Penn State Coronavirus Information site for guidance on what happens if they test positive.

Desks, podiums, conference tables, interior doorknobs, interior doors, push plates, handrails, light switches, and other identified high-touch areas will be cleaned and disinfected at an appropriate frequency. The University has procured several thousand hand-sanitizer stations, which will be placed in high-traffic areas, and hand sanitizer and/or cleaning wipes will be available for each classroom and classroom building. Enhanced cleaning practices will also be implemented for these spaces. Find further information on the Penn State Coronavirus Information site.

Teaching and Mode of Instruction Support

The department and campus scheduler can create a “mirror” section, which provides remote options to students who request them. A “mirror” section is a CR (Remote Synchronous) or CW (Remote Asynchronous) coded section that is added to a course that is currently CP or CM. It provides a remote option for what is otherwise a course with significant in-person content. The mirrored section will meet all of the same learning objectives as the original CP/CM section. The multiple sections can be merged in Canvas to aid the instructor in providing a unified and coordinated experience for both in-person and remote students. See the evolving document, “Creating Remote Mirror Sections for In-Person Courses” for details.

No, instructors are not required to provide courses in delivery modes other than the delivery mode designated for their course. Instructors should consider how students may make up missed work if students are out for short or lengthy periods of time.  

For student expectations for in-person courses, review the in-person details page. Students are expected to attend all classes in-person. Instructors should follow Faculty Senate policy 42-27—Class Attendance, with some flexibility. If a window of absence is lengthy, instructors may need to consider additional flexibility.

Although instructors are not required to provide courses in delivery modes other than the one designated or prepare their courses in multiple delivery modes, they may be asked to consider alternative ways for students to participate, especially if students who have chosen Learn from Home options have no other course sections to choose from. Not all courses can be offered in a different mode than that originally scheduled.

The online tool LionSpace FIS (Facilities Information System) has a new feature that provides detailed information and photographs of many Penn State classrooms. All General Purpose Classrooms (GPCs) at University Park, as well as many other rooms at University Park and the Commonwealth Campuses, are included. You can access LionSpace FIS with your Penn State credentials. The link “How to Find Room Photos” provides instructions on how to use the tool and you log in by clicking the blue “LionSpace FIS” button.

Review the Flexible Instructional Modes section for the latest information. This includes in-person, mixed-mode (including the most common mixed-mode options), remote synchronous, and remote asynchronous options.

At this point, yes, the SRTEs will be administered and instructor peer reviews of teaching are expected to resume in fall 2020. If this changes, instructors will be notified by the Provost or Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs.

There are many reasons why a faculty member might not teach in person, such as pedagogical considerations, classroom availability, and scheduling. As outlined in “Instructional Issues for Return to Resident Instruction,” the University will provide guidance for decision-making about the teaching assignments for instructors and the pedagogical considerations that would indicate that certain types of courses should be offered in-residence. In addition, some faculty members who are part of vulnerable populations may have concerns about returning to the workplace. Faculty who feel that they are part of a vulnerable population or who have family members who are part of a vulnerable population and have concerns about teaching in person should first work with their unit executive (dean/chancellor or a designee) to determine whether adjustments can be made to their teaching duties and/or other duties. Faculty are urged to consider a variety of available instructional modalities. In addition, a faculty member who initially decides to teach one or more classes in person may request to alter the instructional modality if they believe circumstances warrant it. 

Faculty members who believe they have a disability that necessitates a reasonable accommodation or leave should contact the Affirmative Action Office or Absence Management, as appropriate.

You may make video clips of short portions of DVDs and Blu-Rays to provide for in-class or out-of-class viewing. Find more technical help on creating these clips in Kaltura. You are encouraged to rely on licensed video already provided by the Libraries for out-of-class viewing. Libraries also already have subscriptions to a significant set of streaming audio options for Penn State users. Please contact your liaison librarian or the Libraries’ Music & Media Center for help determining if the audio or video content you need for teaching is available through the Libraries. If it is not, the Libraries may be able to purchase streaming access for additional media.

For assistance with copyright-related issues, please fill out the Copyright, Publishing, and Open Access form or book an appointment with a librarian from the Office of Scholarly Communications and Copyright.

You can see guidance on recording your class via Zoom on the Penn State Coronavirus Information site. Additionally, you can read information on preparing recorded lectures for remote asynchronous courses.

Motivation for remote synchronous and asynchronous courses may be different for traditional residential students than their motivation for in-person courses. Consider adding a statement to your syllabus saying that remote courses require a certain level of motivation. For many students, this may be the first time that they have taken a course in this mode. In addition, consider adding an (recorded or live) orientation meeting to go over expectations for the remote course. Especially in remote asynchronous courses, it is a good idea to review the syllabus and materials in Canvas (calendar, assignments, common due dates), as well.

Engaging students with course content through reflective activities, peer discussions, and instructor feedback increases the likelihood of achieving learning outcomes. Consider the following resources for engaging your remote students: 

Assign students to participate in an introduction discussion forum in Canvas to introduce themselves to you and their classmates. Hold open office hours via Zoom to meet your students. We encourage all instructors to engage with their students and create a learning community in the course, no matter the mode of instruction. For more ideas related to getting to know your students, view resources from the College of Information Sciences and Technology and the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (see “Creating Community”).

See University guidance on what to include in course syllabi about the mask requirement.

In addition, see Penn State syllabus requirements outlined in Faculty Senate Policy 43-00, including a number of example syllabus statements

Be sure to check with your college or campus regarding locally mandated syllabus policies. 

There are also additional syllabi recommendations for in-person, mixed-mode, remote synchronous, and remote asynchronous courses.

Instructors should follow Faculty Senate Policy 42-27, Class Attendance, which identifies examples of legitimate, unavoidable reasons such as illness, injury, military service, family emergency, or religious observance. Instructors should accommodate student absences with flexibility during this pandemic period, especially as we don’t want students who feel ill to think that they should attend class so that their grade is not negatively impacted by an absence. 

Other general resources about attendance requirements as a part of participation in the course:  

There are also additional attendance recommendations for in-person, mixed-mode, remote synchronous, and remote asynchronous courses.

Consult your local college or campus for offerings via Teaching and Learning with Technology Campus/College/Course Liasons.

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