Update for Faculty on Academic-related Questions

March 19, 2020

Dear colleagues,

As we all continue to face the unprecedented challenges COVID-19 is causing in our lives and on our campus, new questions arise every day that we are working together to address. Your Faculty Senate and UFA leaders are effective advocates for you and have been relaying questions and concerns to me on a regular basis.

This morning, I had a Zoom meeting with Megan Stark, UFA President, Mark Pershouse and Chris Palmer, Faculty Senate chair and chair-elect. In parallel, Tom Gallagher, Dean of Missoula College, reached out to Pam Boyd, MCFA President. Together we crafted responses to the following questions:

  • Can UM extend spring break by one week to give instructors more time to transition to remote instruction?
  • How can we follow FERPA requirements and maintain student privacy while communicating grades in remote instruction?
  • How will course evaluations be handled this semester?
  • Can we give pass/fail grades this semester?

Can UM extend spring break by one week to give instructors more time to transition to remote instruction?

Many universities are accelerating the spring semester and ending courses early because of projections that COVID-19 cases will rise, thus increasing odds that all of us — instructors and students alike — will have loved ones we may have to care for, making it harder to focus on instruction and learning.

Faculty have the latitude to modify their courses to best fit their students’ learning outcomes in addition to their students’ needs and their own needs. As long as you are meeting course outcomes and educational objectives, and clearly communicate any changes in schedule and expectations to students, you may decide

  1. To resume your courses March 23 and complete them a week or even two before the last day of classes (May 1), or
  2. To postpone instruction for a few days or a week and end your course May 1.

Given the projections for an increase in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks, my preference is that you choose option 1 above.

How can we follow FERPA requirements and maintain student privacy while communicating grades in remote instruction?

Please DO NOT USE EMAIL to communicate grades to students.

You may share grades using UMBox, but be careful to set permissions so that only the appropriate student can see their grades.

You may request to have a Moodle shell set up for your course by UMOnline, but if you do not have experience using Moodle, this is probably not a time-efficient way to share grades with your students.

You may communicate FERPA-protected information to students during a person-to-person conversation on Zoom, as long as that conversation is not being recorded. (Zoom has a recording function that the person who schedules the Zoom session can activate; as long as you initiate the session and do not turn on the recording, this should work.)

How will course evaluations be handled this semester?

Our typical end-of-course evaluations will be not be required this semester. Faculty can still track the impact of their teaching through other means (e.g., teaching portfolio, learning outcome assessments).

Can we give credit/no credit (pass/fail) grades this semester?

Students and faculty are asking about credit/no credit options. This grading approach would afford instructors more flexibility in meeting learning outcomes and in shortening the semester if they wanted to complete instruction sooner than May 1. The possibility of using this grading approach and allowing a course taken for credit with a passing grade to count for requirements will be discussed by Faculty Senate at its next meeting March 26.

Thank you for your engagement in these important discussions. We are trying to make decisions as promptly as possible, and communicate them as clearly as possible. We must take into account what’s best for our students, our instructors, and then coordinate with our colleagues at OCHE to ensure the decisions we make are in concert with their approach for the entire Montana University System.

Please stay informed! UMToday – UM’s email newsletter – is being sent twice daily and should become your main source of information on adjustments to University operations and response to COVID-19.

Jon Harbor, Provost