Frequently Asked Questions

Classes and academics for faculty and instructors

How does Gov. Wolf’s July 15 order impact the University? In particular, how does restricting indoor gatherings to fewer than 25 individuals affect Penn State’s return-to-campus plans?

The University is working with the Wolf Administration on its Back to State plans and has confirmed with the Pennsylvania Department of Education that the order limiting indoor gatherings to fewer than 25 people does not apply to classrooms. Other indoor gatherings, however, cannot exceed 25 individuals and must adhere to masking and social distancing requirements. The University will continue to work closely with the Wolf Administration on its return-to-campus plans and is prepared to shift quickly as the pandemic and resulting orders and guidelines evolve, all with a focus on the health and safety of Penn State campuses and surrounding communities

All schools in Pennsylvania, including universities, continue to be subject to guidance from the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Education, which are designed to aid in safely resuming in-person instruction. These guidelines allow for larger groups in classrooms as long as face masking and social distancing are in place. The University has committed to meeting and, where possible, exceeding the Wolf Administration’s guidelines.

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To help create a safer learning, living and working environment for all students, faculty and staff, new classroom policies will be in effect this fall across Penn State’s campuses in alignment with public health recommendations and Gov. Tom Wolf’s requirements for higher education institutions. Specific policy guidance has been posted to the Office of Student Conduct website.

To reduce the risk of widespread virus transmission, wearing face masks and social distancing will be required for all students and employees in all University buildings, including in classrooms, labs and offices, as well as outdoors on campus when social distancing is not possible.

While high levels of compliance are expected based on feedback from recent student and employee University surveys, those who put others at risk by not following the University’s requirements will be held accountable in a manner consistent with how other violations of Penn State guidelines and policies are managed.

To learn more, read this Penn State News story.

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Faculty who are part of a vulnerable population or who have other challenges with providing in-person instruction at any point during the semester should work with supervisors to determine how adjustments can be made. Additional information and guidance is available and regularly updated at https://keepteaching.psu.edu/fall-2020/. Instructors should also directly review “Instructional Issues for Return to Resident Instruction,” and Return to Work resources for faculty.

Additional information is available in this Penn State News article.

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Penn State is prepared to be nimble and responsive based on the latest information, monitoring and evolving virus infection rates. The University will employ strategies to create an effective detection and management system for all of its campuses, including testing, contact tracing, and monitoring and reacting to trends in data at the community, state and national levels to see if a pattern is emerging so leaders can act accordingly.

All classes that are planned to have in-person meetings will have contingency plans for reverting to remote instruction modalities if health circumstances require ending in-person learning earlier than Nov. 20. All future decisions will be based on the best available public-health information, in the interest of the safety and well-being of Penn State students, faculty and staff.

A number of factors may lead to additional distancing measures or adjustments to campus-based residential course delivery. These factors include changes in the virus caseload of a campus or region; a county’s status under the governor’s red-yellow-green guidelines; the capacity of the local health care system; community compliance with health and safety protocols; and additional risks, such as the onset of an early virulent flu season. Faculty experts in epidemiology, medicine and public health are continuously monitoring county, state and local disease data, which will allow the University to respond to any changes in the pandemic that would require proactive steps to mitigate and manage any potential outbreak. Any recorded upticks will be analyzed and, as needed, decisions about the status of in-residence instruction will be made on a campus-by-campus basis, taking into consideration guidance from public health officials.

The University’s 16 task groups focused on responding to the coronavirus have been scenario planning for months. These scenarios necessarily include one in which Penn State must send students home from a campus and revert to remote learning. If our public health advisers become concerned that it is no longer safe for students and employees to be on our campuses, we are prepared to quickly take action and change course.

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The task groups continue to review all of Penn State’s more than 1,700 classrooms, seminar rooms and labs across all instructional campuses to accommodate for social distancing requirements. Based on a variety of factors, for example the needs and size of a class, classes will be reassigned to larger rooms to accommodate social distancing requirements. Changes will be communicated for those that have already registered, and opportunities to work with advisers will be made available.

Studies of Penn State classrooms are continuing across the campuses to revise room layouts; establish a distanced space for instructors; and to identify room capacities and potential alternative spaces for classes to take place. These efforts, along with the flexible educational model, delivering some classes remotely and/or online, will allow the University to lower classroom population density, allow for social distancing and meet both educational and safety goals.

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Yes, social distancing will be required for all in-person activities on campus this fall, including in classes and labs, as a means to reduce possible virus transmission and to reduce the potential disruption to students’ learning by needing to quarantine close contacts. When in class, both students and instructors should maintain a distance of six feet (about two arm lengths) between one another. The task groups continue to review all of Penn State’s more than 1,700 classrooms, seminar rooms and labs across all instructional campuses to accommodate for social distancing requirements. Changes will be communicated for those that have already registered, and opportunities to work with advisers will be made available. Some non-classroom spaces will be repurposed for instruction and every class that meets in person will allow for appropriate social distancing. Additional measures — for example, assigned seating and monitoring of attendance to help facilitate contact tracing will be deployed as considered necessary. To serve as a reminder to all, distance markers, directional arrows, signage and other visual cues will be installed in high-traffic areas, and classrooms, common areas, study spaces and other shared locations across the campuses.

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The health of the Penn State community is our top priority, and we must all do our part in preventing the possible spread of coronavirus. Faculty are expected to be flexible in their interpretation of class attendance policies. Sick students are expected to stay home and call their health care provider. In-residence courses will be delivered in a flexible format to allow students who miss class due to quarantine or illness to continue to make critical academic progress. University Park students experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should begin the screening process for coronavirus over the phone by calling the UHS Advice Nurse at 814-863-4463. Students at Commonwealth Campuses should contact their on-campus health services office or a local physician’s office. Penn State urges faculty and staff to contact their health care provider if they have a cough, respiratory symptoms, a fever or have concerns related to COVID-19, and to stay home as well.

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There will be changes to the academic schedule focused on enhancing safety, minimizing travel and lowering the risk of spread of the virus. To meet these goals, the fall semester will begin on the originally scheduled date of Monday, Aug. 24, and campus-based residential instruction will end Friday, Nov. 20, with the remainder of the semester—including finals—being delivered remotely and/or online when classes resume after Thanksgiving break on Nov. 30. Some units, such as Dickinson Law and Penn State Law, have different start dates and will also begin as originally scheduled. To minimize travel and lower the risk of spreading coronavirus on campuses, classes will be held on Labor Day (Sept. 7). The semester will end following finals on Dec. 18, as originally planned.

Delivery of the curriculum will occur through a flexible mix of remote, in-person, or a hybrid of both modes, mixing remote and in-person, with all courses with enrollment over 250 at University Park and over 100 at a Commonwealth Campus delivered remotely, in line with the governor’s requirements for higher education. Following University guidance, campuses and academic units will determine how to deliver smaller classes, which may need to be offered remotely due to health and safety considerations for faculty and students, restrictions that physical distancing places on class size and room availability, and the status of virus spread in local communities.

Faculty are expected to be flexible in their interpretation and management of in-person class attendance so that sick students can stay home, and the University will work with immunocompromised and other at-risk students to develop appropriate accommodations. For students who are unable to return to any campus this fall, there are flexible options so that they can continue to make progress toward their degrees.

Penn State is focused on supporting students and helping them to meet their desired educational outcomes no matter the method of delivery, and advisers will be available to assist students on crafting their individual class schedules and curricula options.

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Classroom Guidance for Instructors is posted on the website for the Office of Student Conduct. This document describes the steps that faculty can take to provide a positive learning environment and manage COVID-related concerns in the classroom. The guidance includes a sample statement for faculty to include in their course syllabi as well as a series of steps that faculty can take if a student fails to adhere to health and safety requirements. Students who fail to comply with requirements will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct and will not be allowed to return until the matter is addressed through Penn State’s conduct process. For more information on how to prepare to manage classrooms this fall, watch this video featuring Danny Shaha, assistant vice president for Student Affairs.

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Yes, a faculty member may do this, but must also securely store the recordings and destroy them at the end of the semester. If a faculty member intends to use the recordings after the end of the semester, any type of identifying information must be removed. In addition, a faculty member must inform students that they are being recorded by sharing the following language with them: “Video and audio recordings of class lectures will be part of the classroom activity. The video and audio recording is used for educational use/purposes and only may be made available to all students presently enrolled in the class. For purposes where the recordings will be used in future class session/lectures, any type of identifying information will be adequately removed.”

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No. The university has a camera-optional practice for teaching through Zoom. Faculty are aware that some students may have special circumstances that preclude the use of a webcam. Whenever possible, students should use their webcam during the classes conducted via Zoom, and they should use the other features such as chat and raise hand to participate and engage in the class.

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No. Faculty should adopt a camera-optional practice for teaching through Zoom. A camera-optional approach respects student issues such as access and equity (some may not have cameras on their devices), safety and security (some may be deployed military or in need of safety or privacy), and religious strictures. Faculty members who previously did not take attendance in their in-person classrooms should continue to respect that their students will attend remotely. Faculty who took attendance previously should explore manual and automatic options for taking attendance through Zoom. For help with these options, visit keepteaching.psu.edu/training. If a faculty member chooses to record a Zoom session, student participation during the session should not be required. Students should be provided the choice to opt-out from identification in the recording by muting their audio, disabling video, and not typing into the chat window. In these cases, students should still be considered in attendance and should not penalized in any way.

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Penn State IT and Teaching and Learning with Technology have developed a knowledge base article that provides step-by-step instructions for securing Zoom sessions from would-be hijackers. Additionally, if one of your courses is hijacked, report the incident to University Police.

Additional details are available on Penn State News.

The University also implemented new default security changes to Zoom on May 11.

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