MTU Flex for Academics

by MTU Flex for Academics Team

Michigan Tech faculty, staff and students have formed a number of working groups to focus on different aspects of the University’s plans to return to campus this fall semester.  These groups and their members can be found on the MTU Flex Task Force web page. Provost Huntoon is leading the MTU Flex for Academics group. Since May 28, this group has been meeting twice a week to discuss various topics, which all fall under the broad umbrella of academics.

The members of the academic team and the areas of the University that they represent are:

  • Jeff Allen — faculty
  • Laura Bulleit — student services
  • Will Cantrell — faculty and graduate students
  • Dave Chard — IT
  • Paul Charlesworth — faculty
  • Theresa Coleman-Kaiser — facilities and administration
  • Zofia Freiberg — undergraduate students
  • Jake Guter — facilities and University Senate
  • Alex Guth — accreditation and policy
  • Jackie Huntoon — academic affairs
  • Theresa Jacques — academic records and policy
  • Charles Kerfoot — faculty and University Senate
  • Steve Knudstrup — IT and University Senate
  • Michael Mauer — graduate students
  • Audrey Mayer — faculty and equity/inclusion
  • Mike Meyer — faculty and Jackson CTL
  • Allison Mills/Jessie Tobias — University Marketing and Communications
  • Amie Ledgerwood — academic affairs
  • Mary Raber — IDEA Hub
  • Dave Reed — research
  • Heather Suokas — budget

To date, the discussion has focused on the various models currently being considered for fall semester instruction as well as possible guidelines to help protect the health and safety of students and faculty. Both faculty and students recognize the value of face-to-face instruction, while also acknowledging the realities imposed by COVID-19 on the number and ways in which individuals can come together at any one time.

The group has also discussed a variety of options that would limit the spread of droplets and/or aerosols in classrooms — including those emitted by instructors who are lecturing while facing students in their class. While recognizing that cloth face coverings are probably the best option from a health and safety perspective, the group is also discussing other types of physical barriers, including custom-designed face shields and free-standing sneeze guards. The potential impact of different types of barriers between instructors and students on classroom interactions has been discussed at length.

In the near future, the group intends to make a recommendation to the University regarding:

  • the lengths of class periods — to potentially allow for more time for instructors and students to travel from one location to another while maintaining physical distancing; 
  • possibly staggering start and end times for classes conducted in high-traffic areas — to reduce the potential for crowding in hallways, stairways, and elevators;
  • maximizing occupancy limits for the different instructional spaces on campus — based on the understanding that all instructors and students will be wearing face coverings and maintaining six-foot physical distancing at all times;
  • examples of strategies gathered from across campus and elsewhere to allow all students access to face-to-face instruction within the constraints imposed by COVID-19; and
  • suggested personal cleaning protocols for instructors and students sharing classroom spaces each day.

At the request of the group, the deans have been asked to work with academic units across campus to review planned course offerings and develop backup staffing plans in case of illness. CDC and the American College Health Association (ACHA) guidelines have been referenced throughout the groups’ work together.

While the group continues to work through the topics listed above as well as other topics that arise, we now know the University will require six-foot distancing in all classrooms and that everyone will be asked to wear a face covering. We also know that all students will be required to return to campus with a computing device; see the newly created Computing Device Requirement web page for further information. Students will need to have a camera, headphones, and microphone in order to participate in remote instruction. Remote instruction will be necessary for students who are exposed to COVID-19, since they will be asked to isolate themselves. Others may need to periodically participate in classes remotely due to classroom capacity limits imposed as a result of the six-foot physical distancing requirement. The website referenced previously provides guidance on specifications for the computing device.

Please feel free to reach out to any member of the group if you have a question or topic you would like the group to consider. Please also join the IDEA Hub and Jackson CTL for the Teaching Q&A and creative collaboration sessions that are planned for each Wednesday afternoon during the coming weeks. Register online to be added to the calendar invitation for today’s session.