George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Instructional Continuity During COVID-19

March 16, 2020
7:45 p.m.

To the Faculty Community:

A number of questions concerning instructional continuity have arisen since my earlier message, so I am providing additional clarity. Please use the web posting for the most up to date information:

  1. Per my March 13 message (see below): Most classes are on a 15-week instructional calendar, including classes that are already online. Those classes will resume coursework on Monday, March 23. For those classes that are on an eight-week calendar, or special cohort, online classes began Monday, March 16. Classes at the Antonin Scalia Law School also began Monday, March 16. For classes that resume on March 23, please suspend all course related activities at this time, e.g., collecting homework assignments, administering exams, etc. This means NO work  should be required for the week of March 16 through March 22. Once the semester restarts on March 23, faculty can begin making assignments.
     
  2. If students reach out to you about specific health issues, perhaps concerned that they have been exposed to COVID-19, please have them contact the Student Health Services at 703-993-2831. Students should also contact their healthcare provider. In addition, there are also a number of student services that are available on the University Life website.
     
  3. Regarding library access, lab work, the school calendar, etc. This is a fluid situation subject to CDC and other evolving guidelines and we are working to get you details as soon as possible. Please refer to Mason’s COVID19 website for the most updated information. We are working on a student page, linked from UnivLife, that will have information on available centers and virtual hours. This will be available to link directly to your syllabi soon.
     
  4. IP statement: Consistent with Mason Policy 4002, faculty who create “traditional works” in support of Mason online instruction during the 2020 spring semester will hold ownership in that work, just as faculty hold ownership in traditional works developed and delivered by in-person instructional means.

Sincerely,

S. David Wu
Provost and Executive Vice President

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March 13, 2020
7:00 p.m.

Dear Colleagues,

As you know, Mason has extended spring break to allow students and faculty to prepare for virtual alternative instruction, then move to virtual instruction. An Instructional Continuity Working Group has been convened this week by the Provost’s office with representative from each college/school. In the following, we are providing important updates in preparation for the university to switch into virtual alternative instruction.

Start Date for Virtual Alternative Instruction: March 23
As Spring Break has been extended through Friday, March 20, please refrain from starting your coursework early. Most classes are on a 15-week instructional calendar, including classes that are already online. Those classes will resume coursework on Monday, March 23. For those classes that are on an eight-week calendar, online classes will begin Monday, March 16. Classes at the Antonin Scalia Law School will also begin on Monday, March 16. This alternative instruction will continue at least through Friday, April 3, but please be prepared to extend that date. Prior to April 3, university administration will reassess and advise if that date will be extended so please continue to look at the main website for instruction. A revised academic calendar will be circulated soon, mid-term grades will be extended by a week, and course registration will be extended.

How to Put Your Class in an Online Format
As this change in instruction moves forward, the Stearns Center and Digital Learning teams will be temporarily shifting focus to support the hundreds of faculty transitioning their courses online. The Stearns Center and Information Technology Services are partnering to create a series of instructional continuity plans and a knowledge base, recognizing that teaching during times of potential disruption requires creative and flexible thinking about how instructors can support students in achieving essential learning outcomes. Many Mason faculty will be familiar with tools for course management provided by the Blackboard LMS. For those who are not as familiar, the Center is compiling resources including:

  • Virtual office hours with Instructional Designers and the Blackboard Support Team for assistance with using the tools and transitioning activities to an online format. You can access office hours and sign up for webinars in the Blackboard knowledge base.
  • On-demand online resources (instructional guides, videos, webinars) for becoming familiar with resources at Mason that support teaching and learning:
  • Access to proctoring options for high stakes assessments (Respondus Monitor) (https://its.gmu.edu/service/respondus-lockdown-browser-monitor/)
     
  • Upcoming Online Webinars to Use Blackboard
    • Click the link to register for one of the listed times (all times US-Eastern)
    • Blackboard Basics 3/14 10AM, 3/15 10AM, 3/17 2PM, 3/19 11AM
      For those completely new to Blackboard - Learn how to upload files, communicate with students, collect assignments, use discussion boards, and the basics of grading.
       
    • Blackboard Collaborate Ultra 3/14 2PM, 3/15 2PM, 3/16 10AM, 3/17 1PM, 3/18 5PM, 3/19 2:30PM, 3/20 10AM
      Learn how to use the live virtual classroom environment designed for teaching and learning and real-time collaboration. Use audio and video, share your screen, upload files. You can record everything in Collaborate. Also great for virtual office hours.
       
    • Kaltura Capture 3/17 10AM, 3/18 1PM, 3/20 2:30PM
      A desktop Mac and PC application to record audio, video, PowerPoint, and screen capture. Capture is a great way to create high quality lectures and post to Blackboard.
       
    • Building Blackboard Tests and using LockDown Browser and Monitor 3/16: Noon-1PM, 3/18 10AM, 3/19 4PM
      Learn how to create tests and set options. LockDown Browser is an optional tool to help ensure test integrity.

For those faculty who need assistance from instructional designers or subject matter experts, a list of those individuals will be housed in the Stearns Center for each of the schools and colleges to provide support for the different schools and colleges. The university is asking individuals who have expertise and are comfortable in launching courses in virtual formats to work with their colleagues who are not as familiar with the technology. Because of our commitment to the health and safety of our faculty community, including the practice of social distancing, the Stearns Center and ITS have created multiple online resources to support faculty, including webinars and online office hours. Please do not bring materials you need uploaded to Blackboard to the Stearns Center directly. NOTE: Each college has provided a person who will help with instructional continuity with their specific college. If you have resource needs or questions, you can direct this to your dean’s office and they will get it to the correct person.

Setting Deadlines for Student Assignments
Please stagger deadlines for projects or assignments. There is not enough support technology to assist students if they experience issues trying to submit items due at 11:59 p.m. Therefore, please create deadlines that are during business hours so there will be technical support to those who need it. Above all, be flexible with accepting assignments as we do not know each student’s exact situation. Students could need to share technology resources with family members or roommates; there is also the possibility that one of your students contracts COVID-19. If that is the case, they will need to focus on their health. In addition, please remember to use US-Eastern time when setting deadlines as we have students and faculty across the country.

Research, Scholarship and Creative Work
The university’s transition to new work and learning environments supported by telework and on-line platforms creates unique complexities in labs and other research and scholarship settings, and requires the development of strategies that reduce physical interactions among Mason students, postdocs, faculty and staff while also enabling productive research and scholarly activities. The university is working on plans to significantly reduce research and scholarship activities occurring on Mason campuses and in our off-campus facilities by Friday, March 20, with the expectation that a period of reduced physical presence may last several weeks or possibly longer. Faculty, postdoctoral fellows, research staff and students who work remotely during this period are encouraged to devote their research time to activities such as reviewing articles and papers, preparing manuscripts and books, conducting literature reviews, writing thesis chapters, performing analyses, compiling data and/or synthesizing important research ideas, among others. In some cases, faculty, students, postdocs and/or research staff may need to come to campus or to another facility to support or access research resources available only in these locations; in such circumstances, faculty and other research leaders will ensure that social distancing and/or alternate work schedule strategies are implemented as necessary. To support research group meetings and mentoring, faculty and other research leaders will utilize online platforms as much as possible to minimize physical contact among individuals. Like faculty, graduate students often play a dual role at Mason by contributing both to research and scholarship, and to the education and training of other students. Where applicable, graduate students will continue to work directly with faculty in support of on-line instruction.

Phones and Voicemail
University policy states that you cannot forward your university desk calls to your cell or home phone. The university is investigating options on getting voicemail through your email. We will send a message about this next week. NOTE: every faculty and staff member now have a WebEx account. Please use these instructions on how to use WebEx.

Please remember that this is a fluid situation and changes daily; we ask that you closely follow university instructions. You are encouraged to share this message with everyone in your unit. Thank you for your commitment to the well-being of our Mason community. Please continue to visit https://www2.gmu.edu/coronavirus for ongoing updates.

Sincerely,

S. David Wu
Provost and Executive Vice President