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FAQs about flex design

These are based on questions faculty have raised at online workshops and in direct correspondence with the Center for Teaching Excellence. We have categorized them by topic as much as possible. We will continue to update these when we are able to provide answers.

Class format

If my class sizes dictate that I teach in person, how do I accommodate students who cannot make it to class (because they are sick, out-of-state/country)?

This is easily the question that faculty have asked the most, and it has been the focus of this website. There is no single approach that will meet the students in all disciplines and all types of classes. Rather, instructors need to provide flexibility in class structure and assignment design so that students have options for completing coursework and so that class can shift between in person and online as circumstances dictate. That approach definitely takes more time and upfront work, but it will accommodate the greatest number of students.

Do we have to prepare classes assuming some students might not be on campus, even if the class is scheduled to meet in person?

Yes. No matter the class format, there may be students who cannot return to campus. So instructors need to create ways for students to engage with the course when they are not able to attend in person. 

Does a live Zoom session count as an on-campus session under the university’s guidelines for hybrid courses?

No. A course conducted solely through videoconference would be considered online.

If we teach online, do we assume all asynchronous, some synchronous?

A combination of synchronous and asynchronous is usually best, but it depends on what you want to accomplish in your course. The size of your course may play a role, as well. It is best to ask yourself some questions:

  • What will students get from synchronous sessions that they can’t get through asynchronous activities? For instance, a large online session makes it difficult for students to ask questions unless you have someone monitoring a discussion board or you create breakout sessions with smaller groups.
  • Will all your students have equal access to live class sessions, given time differences, family concerns, and variability in technology?
  • How will frequent live sessions affect students’ mental health or contribute to what some faculty have called Zoom fatigue?
Why should I allow students to work in groups if they don’t have a thorough understanding of course material? I’m the expert, after all.

Group activities help shrink the size of the class and allow more students to participate. Even in small classes, some students are more likely to participate in groups than they are in full-class activities. Group activities also help students learn from one another. They provide opportunities to ask questions of peers, share ideas in smaller settings, provide feedback, and gain skills in problem-solving. Group work enhances critical thinking and allows students to move deeper into course material through collaboration.
Group activities don’t eliminate the need for instructor input, though. It is important to establish ground rules for groups, provide guidance, help students understand how to work effectively in groups, and to monitor the groups and mediate conflicts. Group work changes the role of the instructor, but guidance and feedback from the instructor is as important as ever.


Will instructors be allowed to rearrange desks in smaller classrooms?

No. The desks in smaller classrooms are pre-arranged to maintain social distancing. They should not be moved.

Attendance and class policies

Instructors are looking for clear guidance on how to adjust their attendance policies for the fall semester to accommodate online teaching (and associated struggles students may have with it). Any suggestions?

The university has provided guidance on student absences and requests for course adaptations. Many students may not be able to attend classes in person for some or all of the semester, so instructors need to consider ways for them to complete coursework in different ways. We also have to trust students who say they are too ill to attend class or who have relatives who are ill. So deadlines may need to be negotiated with students in some cases. Rigid rules will help no one in the long run. This doesn't mean we should lower standards, though. We must be flexible and compassionate, but we must still maintain academic standards and hold students accountable for coursework.

Can you explain study week? What are the limitations for instructors?

Study week is the equivalent of a week-long stop day. Students can use the study week to work on projects and prepare for finals, but nothing can be due that week. (The university has granted an exception for projects in the School of Engineering). Instructors may not hold a required class meeting that week, introduce new material or conduct a quiz or exam. But instructors should expect students to work on projects and study for finals during that week. 

Technology use

Do I have to use technology in my courses?

No. Although technology isn’t required, technology can certainly help engage students and make assignments and class time more meaningful. For instance:

  • Having students work through online assignments can free up class time for activities that promote deeper learning.
  • Using software and apps in class can allow for broader participation through polling, texting and other means.
  • Allowing students to produce multimedia work can increase digital literacy and improve skills they will need in the workplace.
  • Using technology can increase the data instructors receive on student learning and provide means for improving courses.  

Even if you use no other technology, though, most courses should at least have basic information on Blackboard. This includes a syllabus, a class schedule, and a gradebook.

Classroom recording

For classes small enough to meet face to face, will instructors be able to record lectures for students to view online and require in-person attendance only for discussion-heavy days?

Ideally, yes, but there is no blanket policy that provides a definitive answer. Instructors should be able to determine the best approach for helping their students learn. Individual schools and departments may have specific guidelines or policies about class formats, though, so it is best to check with your department chair or dean.

Must I always record my class sessions?

No. That is up to individual instructors. IT is working to set up technology that will allow instructors to record their classes. In some cases, instructors may receive mobile recording kits to take with them to their classes. Recording of class sessions is optional, though. The most important thing is to create ways for students to interact and complete coursework if they cannot attend in person. 

Privacy in online classes