COVID Coping Strategies: Triaging Spring Term

As our members adjust to working remotely, we’ll be featuring strategies that departments and faculty members are using to manage the transition. If you have something to share or want to suggest a person or department to feature, send a brief pitch to

This is a guest post from Johanna Wandel, FAUW Board member and Associate Professor in Geography and Environmental Management.

The past couple of weeks have challenged us in ways most of us never anticipated. We’re dealing with moving teaching online, fielding questions from students when we don’t have the answers yet, or both—on top of the other stressors and disruptions brought about by the pandemic. Academic units are making tough decisions on very short timelines, with limited information. I’m an associate chair (undergraduate) in a medium-sized unit, and want to share how we’re making some of our decisions.

Course scheduling as of two weeks ago

Undergraduate course offerings are firmed up almost six months before the start of a given term. Once students pre-enroll, the registrar’s office projects demand for courses based on previous years’ data and units decide if they need to add or remove lab sections, increase or decrease course caps, and so on. Once scheduling runs (around the middle of the previous term) rooms and times are added, at which point it becomes much more difficult to change class sizes or eliminate/add a lab section. So that’s where we all were for Spring 2020 as of early March.

Enter COVID-19

In a very short time, we’ve all been asked not only for a plan for finishing our current courses remotely, but to move the entire Spring term online. This week, all the admin teams are asked to indicate, for every course on the Spring schedule: Will it go ahead? If yes, synchronously or asynchronously? Is there a change to the cap? It was clear to my unit that we’d have to triage: Which courses can effectively meet their learning outcomes in an alternate delivery format, and which can’t? The decisions we all have to make must balance the need for a meaningful learning experience for our students with what we can realistically do. Those of us in admin roles also need to consider students who need specific courses to graduate, prerequisite sequencing, and course caps—some courses can handle larger class sizes if we go online, but others cannot.

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