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Academic leaders outline options for autumn courses, classroom spaces

New semester will feature variety of instruction formats, room for physical distancing

When autumn semester begins Aug. 25 at The Ohio State University, teaching and learning will take place in new ways and unfamiliar places.

Ohio State announced on June 3 initial plans to resume in-person classes for the autumn semester, emphasizing that the return to campuses will require reduced population density and that all decisions will be guided by health authorities and faculty expertise.

The university is providing updates about on-campus activities as detailed plans are finalized. The Office of Academic Affairs recently outlined course-planning expectations in an email to deans, department chairs and faculty governance leaders.

Faculty and administrators are engaged in planning for a variety of course options and formats that will allow classes to resume under conditions that enhance physical distancing. Some classes will be fully in person, some will be offered fully online and some will use a blended approach – these will be described as “hybrid” or “distance-enhanced,” depending on the nature of the course.

“We’re finding ways to balance our approach to delivering the curriculum,” said Randy Smith, vice provost for academic programs. “We are asking each academic program and department to ensure that opportunities for in-person instruction are available to students.”

No in-person classes or course sections will be permitted to exceed 100 people – students, faculty and staff included. Large-enrollment courses that are primarily taught online may include in-person labs, studio sessions, recitation sections and other options for smaller groups.

The university will not be limited to traditional learning spaces for class instruction, Smith said. The Office of Academic Affairs is consulting with units across the Columbus campus about the potential to use non-traditional spaces as classrooms.

On the Columbus campus, decisions about classrooms and other learning spaces will be centralized to optimize their use. Departments and programs will be able to continue scheduling their specialized learning spaces for instruction that requires the use of equipment or a specific type of space.

Regional campuses will maintain responsibility for their classroom spaces and scheduling.

The modes of teaching for fall semester are expected to be determined in time for unit schedulers to update all sections no later than July 1, allowing the registrar’s office to inform students about their course schedules at least a month before autumn semester begins.

President Michael V. Drake told the university community in the June 3 message that “we are dedicated to continuing our core mission, including providing the best possible college experience for our students while operating under a set of circumstances that no one has experienced before.”

In addition to physical distancing, the resumption of full operations on Ohio State campuses will include a combination of the use of appropriate face coverings, hand hygiene, limited density in indoor spaces, control of the flow of traffic into and around buildings, continued employee teleworking when possible, testing, symptoms tracking and contact tracing. 

Additional guidelines will be announced in the coming weeks based on guidance from state and local health authorities and recommendations of the Safe Campus and Scientific Advisory Subgroup of the university’s COVID-19 Transition Task Force. 

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