Course Planning for Fall 2021: Follow Up

April 1, 2021

Sent via email to all faculty on Thursday, April 1, 2021.

Dear Colleagues,

On March 1, Executive Vice President Barbara Chernow and I wrote with information about the end of the spring term, the transition to summer, and preliminary plans for the next academic year, which will follow a traditional two-semester calendar. Our planning has continued to evolve in consultation with faculty, academic deans, department chairs, and campus public health experts. With availability and access to COVID-19 vaccines accelerating, we now believe that it will be possible for most faculty, students, and staff to be on campus in the fall, unless they are explicitly exempted. We are therefore modifying the original course planning guidance for the Fall 2021 semester and easing the requirement that all courses be available in online and/or hybrid formats.

Even as we anticipate a return to in-person activities, we expect that - for two reasons - some number of courses will continue to be offered in an online or hybrid format. First, we want to be able to accommodate the small number of students who may not be able to be in Providence due to medical issues, family responsibilities, or travel restrictions, and to ensure that they are able to continue to make progress towards the degree. We also want to build on what we have learned this year about the pedagogical effectiveness of online and hybrid instruction and to continue to innovate in this area.

As you prepare for next year, please consider whether some or all of your courses could continue to be offered in an online or hybrid mode, and whether others could transition to that format to accommodate students, or in response to public health conditions.

Our goals in course planning for AY 2021-22 include:

  • Ensuring that an array of courses is available for students who are not able to be on campus;
  • Supporting faculty choice in terms of the mode of instruction that is most appropriate and effective;
  • Promoting pedagogical innovation;
  • Remaining flexible in response to public health conditions.

Ensuring Access for Students Unable to Enroll in-Person Due to Covid-19. Based on current data, we anticipate that by fall 2021 there will be low levels of infection and widespread access to effective vaccines for individuals 16 years of age and older. In light of this, the University is planning for most students to be on campus for instruction and research in AY 2021-22; we nevertheless believe that there will be a relatively small number who will not be able to do so due to Covid-related obstacles. Undergraduate and graduate students will be able to petition for an exemption to be out of residence – and we are committed to ensuring remote access to courses for exempt students so that they are able to continue to make educational progress.

Promoting Choice, Access and Innovation. Rather than asking that all courses be available online, we are asking faculty to consider (1) whether some courses are pedagogically effective in an online or hybrid format, and should be offered again in that format; (2) which courses are ideally offered in-person to support student learning; and (3) what support would be helpful in enhancing instructors’ experiences with teaching online and hybrid courses.

At the level of the concentration or program, we also need to be attentive to whether there are adequate curricular offerings to permit remote students to fulfill concentration and other requirements. We hope that every department will have key courses available for online delivery to ensure student access to degree completion. By mid-May, we will have a clearer view of course offerings for fall and more information on the number of students who are unable to be on campus, and will therefore have a better sense of whether any adjustments will be required to supplement planned course offerings.

We also ask that departments and faculty consider in their course planning the need for flexibility should public health circumstances require transitioning from in-person to online or hybrid instruction.

Course Design, Delivery and Support. As noted in the March 1 letter, we appreciate that many faculty are interested in building on their experience this year. The Sheridan Center continues to provide professional development and other resources to aid instructors in course design and delivery, and the University is prepared to consider additional investments in technology to support ongoing innovation.

Regardless of the format chosen for presenting courses, all faculty will be expected to be on campus to perform their other duties, including advising and mentoring students and participating in University and departmental activities. Only faculty who have a medical reason for not being on campus will be given an exception to this rule. More information about the process for requesting exceptions will follow shortly.

In general, we hope that this modified approach to course planning will strike the appropriate balance between maintaining Brown’s character as a residential teaching and learning community, meeting remote students’ needs, permitting faculty to teach in their preferred format, and supporting pedagogical and educational innovation.

Thank you for your continued efforts and commitment.


Richard M. Locke