Archive of Emails from the University Provost

Please note that some statements in earlier emails might be superseded by statements in later emails due to the changing nature of the situation.

Friday 3/20/2020 9:57 a.m. | Friday update

Dear Colleagues,

First and foremost: Thank you for what you have been doing this week to make our unprecedented move to remote teaching. By all accounts, you are approaching this task with energy, creativity, collegiality, and good cheer. I am extremely grateful. We’ll undoubtedly encounter bumps in the road as we move forward, but I remain optimistic that we are going to serve our students as effectively as we can.

Updates

Reminder: Our goal is to complete this semester’s coursework on time for all students. Do not plan on the wholesale awarding of grades of Incomplete. We’ll have some, of course, as we always do, as normal life happens to our students. However, if you think you might have an unusual number of Incompletes, please consult with your chair as soon as you can. As you likely know, there is a range of potential negative consequences for students who receive Incompletes, including the prevention of degree completion for graduating seniors, significant financial aid problems, effects on GPA, effects on the progression through degree programs, and so on. 

There will be no student evaluations of teaching this semester. If you want student feedback, feel free to administer surveys on your own or through your department. Such surveys would likely produce some really useful information, but they will not be used in any official way in the tenure and promotion process or in annual evaluations.

The deadline to withdraw from classes has been moved from March 29 to April 10. 

There is no expectation that faculty members use Zoom or any form of synchronous teaching. As I said last week, faculty still control their classes. Speaking of Zoom, the University has acquired an enterprise license for the Pro version of Zoom, which I believe includes the ability to record your session, but now we are waiting for Zoom to take some final step before we have access. Rest assured that I ask about this at least once a day. 

Finally, I ask you to continue reading my emails (if you’ve gotten this far in today’s message, I’m assuming that you are actually reading them). I realize that your email traffic has probably gone up considerably, and may well continue to rise next week. I’m trying to strike a balance between adequate communication and sending too many emails, and I appreciate you bearing with me. (Digression: Early in my career a woman working in the Provost’s office, now long retired, sent frequent email announcements out under her own name. Over time, the number of people on campus who deleted messages from her without opening them became substantial. Help me avoid that fate!)

Thanks, and please do your best to have an enjoyable weekend.

Mark

Monday 3/16/2020 9:14 a.m. | Subject: Access and Remote Teaching

Dear Colleagues,

Our move to remote teaching entails some challenges regarding (1) internet access, both to Wi-Fi and to equipment and (2) accessibility for students who have accommodations approved by our Disability and Access Center (DAC).  

Internet Access

Not all students and faculty have reliable access to the internet, either because they lack a sufficient data plan or they lack an appropriate device. 

As you communicate with your students about your plans for instruction, please let them know that our Division of Information Technology (ITD) has laptops, Chromebooks, and Wi-Fi hotspots available to loan to students. While the University will cover the cost of the hotspot access fees, we expect students to return the equipment in good condition once the University returns to normal operations. Determining a way to assess comparative need has proven elusive, so we’ll rely on the students to accurately report their needs.

ITD’s supply of laptops, Chromebooks, and Wi-Fi hotspots are also available for faculty use. In addition, webcams are available.

Both students and faculty should contact ITD’s Robin Jones (Robin.Jones@mtsu.edu or 615-898-2214) to secure equipment.  

Accessibility for Students with Approved ADA Accommodations

Students with disabilities who need accommodations in order to fully participate in courses must register with the Disability and Access Center (DAC). (Chances are that your students with approved accommodations are already being served by the DAC.)  If you have questions regarding how best to serve your students with accommodations as a result of the shift from on-ground to online instruction, don’t hesitate to contact the DAC (dacemail@mtsu.edu or 615-898-2783). The Faculty Instructional Technology Center has compiled information about making your courses accessible here. If students have issues accessing the redesigned courses because of their disabilities, encourage them to contact the DAC for assistance.

Thanks for what you are doing in these strange times to pursue our fundamental mission—educating our students.

Mark

Monday 3/12/2020 11:21 a.m. | Subject: Updates on Teaching

Dear Faculty:

Three things:

  1. A reminder that next week is to be treated just as Spring Break when it comes to your courses—no assignments should be due, no quizzes should be given, no student participation expected, and so on. This applies to all courses, including those already online. If you are teaching an online course and need to adjust your syllabus, please do so, with the understanding that we do not expect the length of the Spring semester to be extended. You can, of course, allow students in existing online courses to work ahead next week if you’d like, but it can’t be required. (Note that this is a change from my earlier stance, which attempted to allow flexibility in online courses but wound up causing confusion. Sorry about that.) Again, there are to be no expectations for student work in any courses next week. 

  2. Please visit www.mtsu.edu/stayoncourse for resources related to teaching remotely. You’ll find a range of useful materials there aimed at users with different levels of experience in using online tools. Also listed are ways that you can get individualized help. This site is based on years of good work done on distance education by our faculty in conjunction with ITD. Special thanks to Barbara Draude, Brian Hinote, Alecia Heidt, and Bruce Petryshak for their work in getting this webpage up so quickly. 

  3. ITD is working to acquire an enterprise license so that you can use all the features of the video conferencing tool Zoom. We’ll let you know when that’s ready. 

Thanks. 

Mark

Wednesday 3/11/2020 | Subject Line: Our Response to the Coronavirus Crisis

Dear Colleagues,

As you’ve likely heard by now, MTSU will suspend on-ground class meetings and will move to a system of remote learning on March 23. We’ll extend Spring Break for a week, through Sunday March 22, both to help fight the spread of the virus and to give you time to prepare for the change.

Unfortunately, I have no button to press that will magically transform our current courses to online or, in the newest lingo, “remote learning” formats. I well understand that this will be quite disruptive and will require considerable extra work from you. But, like an increasing number of institutions around the nation, we saw no better option as we try to keep our campus as healthy as possible without sacrificing half an academic semester. As the situation unfolds, we will reassess, with the advice of health officials, whether and when to resume on-ground classes this semester.

Just what the remote learning versions of your courses look like will be up to you. Your solutions might be as simple as email exchanges with your students or as elaborate as D2L will allow. The goal, of course, is to provide the best instruction possible under these unprecedented circumstances. We have been working to compile online resources that should be helpful in this transition. As soon as it is ready, probably tomorrow, I’ll share the link with you. ITD will also announce a range of training opportunities for next week.

You will undoubtedly hear more from your department chairs and deans. In the meantime, thanks for your understanding and for the work you will do to make this abrupt change. Even during this crisis—or, perhaps, especially during this crisis—we want to do the very best we can for our students. 

Mark 

Mark Byrnes, Ph.D.

Friday 3/06/2020 | Subject Line: Contingency Planning

Dear Colleagues, 

As you most likely read in President McPhee’s recent message to campus, the University leadership has been closely following the COVID-19 outbreak. We obviously cannot predict how the disease will spread or how MTSU’s operations might be affected. We have no indications that there will be major effects any time soon, but with at least one confirmed case in Tennessee, it seems prudent to do some contingency planning for our academic work.

First, we’ll need to be as accommodating as possible for students, faculty, and staff who become ill. We ask that everyone who becomes ill, or thinks they may be ill, to stay home from class or work and seek appropriate medical care. This means that instructors and supervisors will need to be understanding when students and employees are absent. 

Second, faculty should start considering how they could continue working with their classes in the event that the University closes, or they are ill, for an extended period of time. We’re currently working to compile resources to help with this and plan to distribute something shortly. ITD reports that most faculty already use D2L, and I imagine that D2L would be a key element of most contingency plans for teaching. But, as under normal circumstances, individual faculty members will control how they handle their courses, with the expectation that some type of instruction continues.

Finally, flexibility and a spirit of cooperation will be essential for all of us. In the event of a closing, our goal will be to provide instruction for our students as best we can while keeping everyone as safe as we can.

More to come. In the meantime, have a pleasant Spring Break. 

Mark 

Mark Byrnes, Ph.D.
Provost & Professor of Political Science
Cope Administration Building 110
Middle Tennessee State University
Murfreesboro, TN  37132
615-898-2953