Shared on behalf of constituent faculty members:

We understand that there is still much uncertainty about the Fall 2021 semester and that plans are in flux. However, the current planning strategy is causing frustration and concern among some faculty, especially because the communication to faculty from the Provost’s Office has been sparse and vague.

The following are concerns some faculty have expressed regarding the instructional modes and transparency of decision-making. As members of a research-intensive university, we are asking for evidence in support of student preferences, pedagogical reasons for the instructional modes, and other decisions being made for the Fall 2021 semester. Additionally, we request more transparency and faculty input in the decision-making process.

Note: For the sake of clarity, we use in-person, some online, hybrid, and web-based instructional models according to the Registrar’s definitions: https://registrar.schedule.wsu.edu/students/instruction-mode/

1. Student Preference:
Given WSU’s announcement of an in-person experience in the fall, it appears that students’ and stakeholders’ preferences for in-person classes are known. It is unclear, however, whether there is evidence to support the assumption that students prefer courses to be in-person, some online, hybrid, or web-based. Does WSU have data to support the preference for one format over the others?

2. Pedagogical Concerns:
The hybrid and some online models may not be pedagogically superior to fully remote instruction especially as faculty move to implement them for the first time.

First, there is an inherent difficulty in managing both in-person and remote course delivery simultaneously. Many of the approaches instructors use to facilitate interactive, student-centered learning, such as small-group discussions or clicker questions, may be particularly difficult to implement in a hybrid or some online format where remote students may be excluded. Additionally, as has been experienced with AMS courses, if the instructor’s attention is focused on in-person students, remote students may feel they are getting a second-rate learning experience.

Second, there is a concern about how students will manage a schedule that includes both in-person and synchronous remote classes. What do students do, on a given day, when they have a schedule that includes different modes of course delivery? Issues related to this include whether there is available physical space on campus for students who attend in-person classes to also attend remote classes, access to laptops or on-campus computers to attend remote classes, and—if the physical space or technology resources do not exist—the burden placed on students to find a hotspot off campus.

Finally, we are concerned about the effect of offering a mix of course delivery methods on equity gaps such as differential access to technology and the internet as well as balancing work and school responsibilities. Having more formats may lead to more work and confusion for the students we know are already struggling.

3. Attendance for In-person Classes:
Another concern is that, despite the loosening of room capacity restrictions expected as vaccine rates increase, the course enrollment (especially for large classes over 100) will exceed room capacity and attendance will need to be monitored. What responsibility will the instructor have in ensuring that in-person attendance does not exceed room capacities? Will instructors be asked to police mask requirements if masks are mandated for in-person classes? How will students be compelled to attend the in-person session(s)?

Anecdotally, colleagues at other institutions that have been using a “some online” model of instruction have experienced very low rates of in-person attendance and higher remote attendance. This worries some faculty who must risk exposure to leave home and be in the classroom regardless of in-person attendance.

4. Faculty Workload:
There is a substantial concern that there will be an increase in workload with a change to hybrid or some online instructional formats. Already, faculty have been asked to redesign their courses over the past year and without compensation. Ongoing redesign expectations disproportionately impact lecturers and career-track faculty with higher instructional loads. If faculty are asked to use the hybrid or some online models, they will need to invest time and effort in adapting the design of their courses and course components to accommodate both in-person and remote environments. This work will likely need to be done when faculty are off contract. Additionally, this increased workload will disproportionately impact instructors of large classes and departments that teach high enrollment classes. Finally, with WSU moving to Canvas next fall, there will be the additional workload associated with learning a new learning management system (LMS) and building a course in the new LMS.

5. Transparency of Decision-making and Faculty Input:
So far, there has been little communication to faculty, staff, and students about fall plans. It is important for the administration to keep us informed even if plans have not yet been finalized. Currently, the faculty are relying on second- or third-hand information about fall plans which adds inaccuracies and confusion to an already uncertain future. Additionally, with improved communication, students and staff, especially professional advisors who are actively advising students, can be better informed to make academic and personal decisions. Finally, it is unclear whether faculty are involved in the decision-making process.

Recommendations:
We request that faculty are provided with research indicating the effectiveness of instructional modality as well as student and stakeholder preferences. Faculty should be provided with more freedom over choosing the class format that facilitates their instructional goals and that does not lead to additional uncompensated work. Additionally, the Provost’s Office should communicate more with faculty and include faculty input into the decisions that have a direct effect on them.