University faculty, administration eye new policies to alleviate impact of course changes

Myles Luckett, Journalist

COVID-19 – the virus outbreak that has seemingly frozen the world – has had a major effect on how people live their everyday lives, including UW-W faculty, students and staff. Due to the quick spread of the virus, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater started spring break a week early from March 14 through March 29. Not only was there an extension on spring break, Whitewater took action to move all face-to-face instruction to strictly online. This action to prevent the spread of the virus around Whitewater and moving everything online of course has a major effect on how students learn and how teachers are used to delivering instruction to their students. UW-Whitewater leadership recognized the potential problems of transitioning online, and so are taking further action to ensure the success of students, faculty and academic staff.

The Faculty Senate has approved the option of classes to switch to a Satisfactory/No Credit (S/NC) grading system to replace other grade scales such as the traditional A-F system. The policy would be that students need a C or better (not C-) in order to earn a grade of Satisfactory in the course remains in effect. Departments would have the option of requiring regular grades for courses or switching courses to S/NC.

“We don’t want students or instructors to be harmed by this rapid transition to remote learning. Students are now taking courses in formats they didn’t expect and might not have experience with, and faculty and instructors moved rapidly to teaching formats they didn’t expect and might not have much experience with either. Accordingly, we don’t want students’ grades to be overly impacted, so we are now looking at a recommendation to allow students to select a grade of “satisfactory” or “no credit” in courses of their choosing,” said Interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Greg Cook.

“Likewise, I would like to see a policy on student evaluation of teaching that gives students a voice and also gives faculty and instructors a choice to use the evaluations (or not) in their personnel reviews. Working together, I’m sure we’ll strike the right balances and help everyone through this unprecedented crisis,” Dr. Cook said.

The use of student evaluations were addressed in campus governance as well. The Faculty Senate passed a resolution recommending that faculty not be required to conduct student evaluations and that tenure reviews can be pushed back for a year.

“A professor shouldn’t just try to replicate what happens in the classroom and put it online. Many of the learning strategies we use in the classroom are not possible online. Creating a good online course takes a lot of time and thought, not the two weeks we were given. Also, the students shouldn’t be expected to be able to do everything that a good online course requires. They didn’t sign up for an online course, so even if all the professors were to create super great online content, it might not be able to reach many of the students,” said assistant professor Brian O’Neill. “The professors and students have to make it work and I hope this unprecedented situation doesn’t continue. I am trying my best, but I can’t wait to get back in the classroom in the fall.”

O’Neill, like many other professors on campus, are facing the challenges of having to learn how to be an online instructor and to continue the communication with their students on a regular basis about course material.

“I had started teaching my first online course this semester, so I am way behind some and ahead of other colleagues, but there’s always things you don’t expect and can’t predict,” said professor Daryle A Waechter-Brulla. “Right now, I have days when things go well, and others where nothing feels right. I know this is not the very best I can do, but it is what I can do under emergency circumstances.”

It is clear that faculty, staff and administrators are actively adjusting to the new normal caused by the COVID-19 outbreak and are implementing policies to ensure the success of the campus community.