Guidance to Prepare Instruction for Fall

Barbara A. Bichelmeyer Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor
Monday, June 15, 2020, 3:23 p.m.
KU Lawrence Faculty,KU Graduate Teaching Assistants,Deans directors and department chairs


Dear Colleagues,

I hope you are recovering from the work of spring semester, and that you and all your loved ones are well.

Earlier today, Chancellor Girod and I sent a message to all students, staff and faculty that provides a general update on our plans for returning to campus this fall, which includes information about changes to the academic calendar, course scheduling and classroom configurations, as well as our plans for testing and contact tracing, and on-campus housing and dining. The message outlines some of the commitments we will ask of you, and provides details for how to request accommodations for those faculty and staff who are at-risk and can’t return to campus in fall.

This message is focused specifically to those of you who are responsible for our learning and teaching enterprise – our faculty, instructors, graduate teaching assistants, associate deans, deans, and vice provosts. I’m sure you have other plans for summer – research, travel, spending time with loved ones. I’m sorry that we must impose on your activities, and I truly wish it weren’t necessary. Because your work is the core of our mission, it will take our collective effort over the course of these next nine weeks of summer to address the challenges COVID-19 presents for fall. I know you have many questions about how we will provide instruction when we re-open our campuses, so my goal for this communication is to provide you with comprehensive and detailed answers that will be helpful as you prepare yourself and your courses.

We are planning to re-open campuses in fall because what we do is essential

As the results of the recent survey conducted by Faculty Senate indicate, there is a wide range of views among our faculty about whether and how we should return to our campuses for fall, so let’s take a moment to address why we are planning to do so.

At KU, we make discoveries that improve the human condition, we model for our students the processes of learning, and we provide innovation that serves the greater good. These aren’t just words, they are a truth that is represented in countless critical programs, services, events and activities we provide every day.

The need for our work didn’t disappear when we were introduced to COVID-19. In fact, the needs have only become stronger and more urgent in the wake of this pandemic and the deeply disturbing events of racial injustice that have transpired. At KU, we strive to move beyond a past built on racism, prejudice and systemic oppression, and we aim to create a present and future of inclusive excellence in which we celebrate diversity and foster equity and social justice for all. We are planning the re-opening of KU campuses this fall because we simply cannot achieve our highest aims, our greatest goals, and our fullest potential if we continue to learn and work solely at a distance, as a community remote and separated from each other.

We did a remarkable job this spring of making a fundamental shift in direction at warp speed under extreme circumstances to provide remote instruction that delivered on our commitment so students could complete their studies. One lesson we learned from spring semester has been key to planning our fall academic program:

The pandemic is fluid, we can’t predict it, and we don’t know when it will end – so we need to leverage the best of place and the best of virtual space to create a community of learners that is not solely bound by either.

On one hand, many Jayhawks – students, staff and faculty – are experiencing real challenges because they are not able to learn and work on our campuses. On the other hand, many Jayhawks will not be able to return to our campuses even when we re-open them. Therefore, because our students will literally be all over the world in fall, we must prepare so that the same high-quality course can connect and engage a group of students who may simultaneously be on Mt. Oread, in Shawnee Mission, in Minnesota, or in Malaysia.

Our goal is to meet our students wherever they are with a highly engaging Jayhawk experience

Our most important work now is to get our students back in classes and making progress this fall – and not simply because our mission and passion is education. Honestly, tuition income is the single lever over which we have greatest control, and it is our best strategy for financial recovery now. It’s a simple and powerful formula: The more students we have in classes this fall, the less we will need to cut to recover.

Therefore, our goal for fall is to provide the greatest value possible for our students – a high-quality education that is a highly engaging experience – no matter where in the world they may be. This is critical not just to our students’ future, but to our future.

Students, like all who pay for programs and services, have choices. They will choose to enroll/return this fall based on their confidence that we will provide an engaging learning experience (one that is active and interactive for them) – whether it’s on-campus, online or a blended approach. Our students who can’t return to campus rightfully expect that their online classes will be highly engaging. Our students who are returning to Lawrence rightfully expect that they will have an on-campus experience; it won’t be acceptable to them to be in residence halls doing the majority of their coursework online. Given our financial challenges, we simply cannot provide two different courses to these two different groups of students. The same course must be delivered to, and meet the needs of, both groups.

The only way forward that serves us all well is to leverage the best of place and the best of virtual space to provide as many highly engaging, high-quality educational experiences for the most students. The best answer to our situation now is to engage in backward design to provide as many courses in blended and hybrid formats as possible.

Leveraging the best of place and virtual space is a tall order, to be sure. Please know I am absolutely certain we can get this done. So let me provide some information about how we will make this happen.

Close and in-person, but not too close

Several of our workgroups have undertaken herculean efforts to prepare for fall classes. One of the most critical teams involves the ongoing work of our Deans, Vice Provost for Operations Mike Rounds, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Matt Melvin and Chief Data Officer Nick Stevens. They are going to unprecedented lengths to inventory all our classroom spaces and our course offerings, and to coordinate our fall on-campus offerings so that, while compliant with HLC accreditation requirements, we reduce safety risks through de-densifying, social distancing, modest changes to class time, and, when needed, modifying course section sizes. Their work will be ongoing until the first week of classes as we finalize our enrollments. It will require reassignment of some room locations, and changes to schedules for on-campus courses and changes to delivery format for other courses. We are working to meet the expectation that our on-campus students, particularly first-year students, will have a majority of their courses in-person.

Course scheduling that makes sense for these times

We have shared with Deans the principles that guide our efforts to de-densify classrooms and make optimum use of our spaces. To help students hit the sweet spot for in-person instruction, we are working to:

  • Clearly define what constitutes an In-Person Class, a Hybrid Classroom Class, a Hybrid Online Class and an Online Class.
  • Ensure sections have adequate enrollment size to justify use of classroom space.
  • Combine or replace courses when multiple sections with low fill rates are available.
  • Prioritize those courses that provide:
    • On-campus engagement for freshman (KU Core, FYE, etc.).
    • Facilities necessary for highly engaging experiences (labs, studios, etc.).
    • Requirements for degree programs.
    • Barriers to completion that require extra focus and planning (bottleneck and high high-challenge courses).
  • Course scheduling is being adjusted as follows:
    • Optimize the class scheduling time window from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. M-F; Saturday will be used as last resort.
    • Modify MWF class passing time to 15 minutes and reduce class time to 45 minutes.
    • All changes to class schedules will occur centrally through the Office of the Registrar between July 13-31. Units will submit their changes to the Registrar, who will hold changes until orientation is largely complete. There will be clear proactive communication with each student about schedule changes.
    • Transition class scheduling from departmental control by coordinating efforts centrally to optimize room utilization for sections that exceed social distancing capacity.
    • Only as a last resort, students may be required to re-enroll, although some adding and dropping of sections may be necessary later this summer.

The critical work that only you can do – planning your courses for any scenario

While we have many people working tirelessly through the logistics and to complete countless tasks in preparation for campus re-opening, the single most critical task to ensure our success this fall is one that only you can do.

We simply must provide highly engaging experiences for our students in seamless flexible formats that reach students regardless of where they are – that are built for students who are in our on-campus community, that can reach students who are out of state or around the globe, and that can instantly move online, should pandemic conditions require us to do so.

This means we need to build courses that provide students with lots of interaction with faculty, connection to other students, active learning that involves projects and meaningful engagement with the content of their courses, and considerable feedback on their assignments and tests.

For you, this means designing a lot of activity and incorporating new technology in a lot of blended courses. We know this is unfamiliar territory for many of you, so it’s time to come back to the idea of backward design for blended/hybrid courses.

It might sound like an impossible paradox to design a course that is both highly engaging and available to students who are anywhere, and that can be both on-campus and online. I know I’m asking some of you to take a leap of faith that it can happen. Though this process might be a bit different than what you are used to, it’s a proven approach and I know so many of you already have done it. I’m sure it can help others, too. It’s a relatively simple and logical process called “backward design” and it boils down to beginning with the end in mind. We are prepared to offer you a great deal of help and support to work through the design process with your course transformations over the summer.

Here’s how the process works. Your task is to answer four questions, in order. This will help you will find the solutions to help infuse your courses with highly engaging activities that can be delivered in both in-person and technology-mediated formats to reach students who are both on- and off-campus.

Question 1: What outcomes do you expect your students to achieve, as a baseline, by the end of the course?

Clearly define what is it you want students to be able to do or to demonstrate by the time they have completed your course. Look at the outcomes for your degree program, and work to ensure your course outcomes align with these broader program outcomes.

Question 2: What assessments will your students complete in order to demonstrate they’ve mastered each of the learning outcomes you articulated in Question 1?

Create assessment activities that help you understand how and to what extent students are achieving your course outcomes. Ensure assessment activities are aligned with each of your course outcomes.

Question 3: For each assessment activity, what kinds of engaging experiences can you provide so students will be best prepared to be successful when they complete the test?

Brainstorm as many active-learning opportunities as possible for your course, where students are not just listening to a lecture on Zoom each day. Then select the experiences that provide students with the best opportunities to practice, discuss, and ask questions about their learning.

Question 4: How can you provide these activities in a variety of formats (in-person and online), and what technologies are available to support these activities?

Design for flexibility. Place all of your course material, syllabus, grades, etc. into your learning management system – Blackboard for most of us. This will ensure you reach the maximum number of students, wherever they are, and whether you are teaching face-to-face, online, or a combination of both. Keep your gradebook up to date on Blackboard, and use it to maintain regular communication with your students.

I hope and believe you will find this simple process helpful in designing your fall courses. Though there will be a few exceptions where this may not work, it should provide some clarity for most courses.

Finally, as you work the process of backward design to develop the experiences you want to provide to your students come August, please consider how you can create a class climate that embraces diversity, promotes equity, and creates an inclusive environment. We simply must acknowledge and support the necessary conversations that will inevitably occur in all of our courses, in order for each student, faculty member and staff member to support the university’s mission.

These themes will be integrated into the Center for Teaching Excellence programs this summer. There will be lots of opportunities for you to discuss and think through the design process with your peers, and examine ways we can promote equitable outcomes and transformative experiences for our students. Other events and programs are being planned including some exciting collaborative work, funded by the Mellon Foundation, involving the Lied Center and several campus offices, that centers on the work of visiting performing artists.

Please join me in recognizing and thanking all who are spending countless hours leading the charge to organize, develop and provide support for learning and teaching. First, I want to thank our team who lead the transition to remote learning and teaching starting in late February. This group includes Chris Brown, Laura Diede, Dea Greenhoot, Doug Ward, Robert Tonnies and Ben Wolfe. As we move to blended learning. they have recently been joined by Michelle Carney, Stuart Day, Rick Ginsberg, Sharon Graham and Neal Kingston. Thanks also go to the faculty consultants, all the staff in many offices such as the Center for Teaching Excellence, the Center for Online and Distance Learning, KU Information Technology Educational Technology Support, KU IT on the Edwards Campus, and all the members of our newly formed Design teams for learning and teaching, faculty success and student success, as well.

Resources are available to support your course planning

  • To help you get started, our leaders in Faculty Development, CTE, the CODL, KU IT and the School of Education and Human Sciences have worked together to envision the guidance you will need this summer. CTE and colleagues are using this knowledge to develop an online guidebook (available at that will introduce the four questions in more detail and provide you with a comprehensive guide to the resources available to help you answer each question.
  • To work with you as you design and develop your courses, CTE, CODL and IT have ramped up for summer, with numerous offerings that provide you with options for support in self-paced, group and individual consulting formats. KU IT is also working on quick reference guides for the technology that can help instructors shift between in-person instruction and remote instruction.
  • Discipline-specific guidance is available. “Rapid Response Teams” are being created that include faculty consultants, instructional designers, instructional technologists and academic staff who will be dedicated and available for each school. These groups will be ready to provide support for high priority and particularly challenging courses. These resources will be made available in academic units through the dean or chair.
  • Judy Eddy, Assistant Director of CTE, has graciously agreed to act as a concierge resource to help you find whatever support you need. She can be reached at, 785-864-4100.

A token of appreciation for your work over summer

Realizing this is a critical and unprecedented time for the university, that our students have high expectations regarding their courses in fall, and that I am asking many of our instructional personnel to go above and beyond to prepare for fall, I want to provide what I know is a small token of appreciation for your efforts over summer. KU will provide stipends to each department that completes backward design for all fall courses, as well as stipends for each school that achieves the participation of all departments in the backward design process, as evidenced by the outcome of placing syllabi in Blackboard for all fall courses. You will learn more details about this soon through your chairs and deans.

Especially for GTAs

For New GTAs: The New GTA Orientation Program led by CTE each semester will be delivered partly or entirely online through tutorials, readings, asynchronous discussions, and breakout sessions on selected topics, including new material on flexible and online teaching and technology. The program will formally begin August 18 with some components available earlier and will extend through the fall semester. If you are designing a fall course and need help prior to August 18, please contact Judy Eddy at CTE and let her know what help you need, and CTE will connect you with appropriate support.

For Continuing GTAs: You will have the option of participating in CTE’s GTA Flex and Online Teaching Program. The program is a self-paced and individualizable program using online modules and the Instructor Guidebook. There are opportunities for discussion groups and consultations with CTE staff and Graduate Student Fellows. It is available July 6 to August 17.

We will provide a number of $500 stipends to support your course design efforts as you make your way through the GTA Flex and Online Teaching Program. In order to qualify for the stipend, you must agree to provide CTE with a copy of your course design product at the completion of your program. To apply, please visit the CTE homepage and click on the link for GTA Flex and Online Teaching Program.

In sum and in thanks

Thank you for wading through this long document. I hope it was helpful in providing you with answers and preparing you for fall. While I said the design of instruction can be simple work, I also know it’s not easy work. Please remember, you are not alone. We saw so many amazing examples this spring of teamwork and support for the creation of great instruction, great engagement and great connection. I know this can be a most rewarding endeavor – an opportunity to let your passion for your academic discipline and your talents as a teacher shine.

Please don’t hesitate to email the Provost Office to let me know any concerns and questions you might have from this message.

Finally, a note to the many Jayhawks who have been, and continue to be, unsung heroes of our COVID-19 response and recovery. I am so deeply thankful to each of you for all that you’ve done and are doing. I wish I could thank you all by name. I look forward to hosting a big celebration party one day in the future when we can finally say we’re past this. In the meantime, as the saying goes, “the only way out is through.” And though some of you may be tired of hearing it by now, I still say, and I sincerely mean, though I would rather not be experiencing COVID-19, if I have to, there’s no place I’d rather be than KU.

Thank you so much for all you do. Rock Chalk.



Barbara A. Bichelmeyer
Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor