Update on Academic Year 2020-2021 Calendar Planning

by Office of the Provost

As we continue to make our way through fall semester 2020, I think we are all happy to find that the planning we engaged in during the spring and summer has paid off. I want to thank all members of the Michigan Tech community for wearing their face coverings, practicing physical distancing, washing their hands, and cleaning the surfaces they touch. Because of our collective efforts to “Be Smart and Do Our Part,” the number of active COVID-19 cases in our campus community remains low.

We returned to Health and Safety Level Three on Monday, October 12, 2020. Because the number of COVID-19 cases on campus continues to be low, we currently anticipate remaining at Level Three until the end of the semester. Planning is underway for a COVID-modified version of our traditional face-to-face Midyear Commencement ceremony on December 19. More details about that event will be released as soon as the Commencement Committee has a chance to finalize their plans. 

As has been the case since the start of the semester, individual instructors will continue to have wide latitude in determining how their courses will be taught for the rest of the fall semester. Most laboratory-based and research courses, including Senior Design and Enterprise courses, will continue in a face-to-face or hybrid mode until the end of the semester. Many lecture-based courses will also continue to be offered in face-to-face or hybrid mode. If any individual instructor plans to make instructional changes to their courses that will go into effect after the Thanksgiving break, they must communicate their post-Thanksgiving plans to their students soon—ideally before November 1, 2020.

Fall Break (October 15-16) is coming up at the end of this week. Students who choose to remain in the Houghton area will have the opportunity to participate in activities planned by student groups and other organizations. Whether you plan to travel or not, students, staff, and faculty need to remember that the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us. The best way to stay healthy and protect others, no matter where you are, is to wear a face covering, practice physical distancing, wash your hands frequently, and clean the surfaces you touch. 

Through the remainder of fall semester, the University will continue surveillance testing and contact tracing to detect cases and keep campus safe. Increased testing will occur after Thanksgiving. Thanks to the generous support provided to the University by the Portage Health Foundation and the purchase of new equipment, Michigan Tech will double its current testing capability by the end of November. 

As we look toward spring semester, it seems probable that COVID-19 will still be present. Therefore, we will continue to use the MTU Flex Health and Safety Levels to guide our operations throughout the spring semester. We currently plan to start spring semester as planned on Monday, January 11, 2021, at Health and Safety Level Three. Increased testing will be available at the start of spring semester, similar to how testing was offered at the start of fall semester. Throughout spring semester, the Health and Safety Level will be adjusted as needed to react to the situation on the ground. Based on feedback provided by students and faculty, we intend to hold spring break as planned beginning on March 5, 2021, at 10 p.m., with classes resuming on March 15, 2021. There will be numerous opportunities to participate in physically distanced social activities for students who want to enjoy the break while remaining in the Houghton area. 

Deans and department chairs are now being asked to work with instructors and the Registrar’s Office to review the schedule of courses for spring semester. We will continue to use four definitions for courses offered in the spring:

  1. Online = course is accessible from anywhere at anytime, and is fully asynchronous
  2. Remote = course is accessible from anywhere, and students are expected to participate in class meetings at regularly scheduled times;
  3. Face-to-face = face-to-face attendance is expected for students, except those with an accommodation through the Dean of Students Office or an excused absence
  4. Hybrid = partially face-to-face, with a remote or online component necessitated by COVID-19 classroom capacity limits.

As everyone begins to plan for spring semester, it is important to ensure all students are actively engaged in the learning process, especially when studying remotely or online. Using small-group breakout sessions in Zoom and encouraging students to organize Zoom-based study sessions are just two of the ways instructors can promote students’ engagement with the course and their peers. There are many other ways to help students connect with one another and their instructors; the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning (ctl@mtu.edu, 7-3000) and IDEA Hub events are good sources of ideas.