June 26, 2020
I write to provide you with more information about teaching in the fall 2020 semester. As you know from my June 8 letter, we are planning to provide an on-campus learning environment for our students, while at the same time allowing students in most programs to study remotely if conditions of the pandemic or their own personal circumstances require it. We will be implementing the teaching model devised by the Task Force on Reimagining Pitt Education that we call Flex@Pitt, which allows maximal flexibility for faculty and students consistent with our plans by leveraging technology to bridge physical distance.
Many of you have asked about whether faculty will be required to be physically present in the classroom under this teaching model. Under the Flex@Pitt model, neither faculty members nor students will be required to be in the classroom in person for the majority of programs. However, for all but a few exceptions noted below, a classroom experience must be made available for students—and faculty are encouraged to physically come to the classroom where possible. Where that is not possible, the faculty member is still responsible for designing and monitoring the classroom experience.
For instance, in situations where instructors are unable to come to campus, students can still be in the classroom to connect with their peers, with the instructor visible on screen to engage with students, field questions or conduct discussions. A variety of options will be available to facilitate classroom interaction as necessary, such as graduate or undergraduate teaching assistants, faculty colleagues, or staff members. Group work can be accomplished in the classroom when students use their laptops to communicate with their peers in and out of the classroom, as well as with faculty who are remote. Some classes, such as lab classes, may require an authorized person to be present to handle equipment and ensure safety. In these cases, the person in charge need not be the faculty member of record. The University Center for Teaching and Learning offers resources and training and can suggest strategies faculty members can consider when teaching from a distance.
I am incredibly impressed by the work of our faculty last spring to quickly and successfully move to remote teaching. In fact, just this week, we posted the results of the COVID-19 survey we sent to all faculty members to get feedback about last semester. I have heard many stories of new and creative ways faculty and students found to interact and create community. We can draw on our collective experiences to ensure that we continue to provide an outstanding learning environment by combining multiple formats enabled and enhanced by technology.
Another set of crucial questions concerns the scheduling of classes and classrooms. We are working hard to identify classrooms and capacities that comport with the need to allow safe distances between students and instructors not only in classrooms but also in hallways, restrooms and elevators. As we complete our assessment of safe building and classroom capacities for both traditional and non-traditional rooms across campus, we anticipate that sections with very large enrollments may need to be fully remote (not requiring a classroom experience), while most lectures and recitations with enrollments below 60 are expected to be placed in a room that can safely accommodate the full cohort. Sections with enrollments above 60 but below our “very large” cutoff may be required to operate in a "rotated cohort" mode, whereby students cycle in physical attendance so that they attend class in-person once per week. We hope to make final decisions about classroom assignments within the next two weeks.
Faculty have also asked about the availability of technology within the classrooms and for their own and their students’ use. We are currently working with the Center for Teaching and Learning and Pitt IT to define the standard technology that will be available in classrooms and the technologies that faculty and students need to successfully participate in classes. In addition, during the coming weeks we will be surveying faculty and reaching out to students to assess needs and devise a comprehensive plan to meet them.
As part of this plan, we will ensure that all faculty have access to laptops adequate for the Flex@Pitt model. While these accommodations represent a significant investment for the University at a difficult financial moment, our investment in technology will allow us to support our faculty and students, enroll a full class of students, and transform the teaching environment well beyond the pandemic.
I know this letter does not answer every question you have. Please know that I will update you regularly with the latest information as we make decisions and continue to plan. Please feel free to share questions you may have with me. Thank you for your work and your support for each other in these difficult days.
Hail to Pitt!
Ann E. Cudd
Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor