March 11: Continuity of Education Update
Dear Merrimack Faculty and Staff,
We are writing to update you on the ongoing developments of COVID-19 and its impacts on our campus, especially on our teaching and learning functions. Based upon public health recommendations, as well as recent reports, many colleges and universities are developing ways to maintain a continuity of instruction with plans including going remote. Some institutions, such as Harvard and Princeton, have made the decision to go remote, where others have extended spring breaks and plan to go back to on-ground instruction in order to limit the impact on teaching and learning.
Given the spread of the virus both internationally and within the United States, there is a potential for disruption of on-ground instruction over the next several weeks. The first act of the College in this process has been to extend spring break until March 22. There are to be no classes, on-ground or remote, next week with the exception of select online graduate classes that were already scheduled for next week. This will give us time to speak to and work with faculty on plans that will work to mitigate the impact on teaching and learning. To be clear, we must begin to prepare for the possibility that faculty will need to develop and implement remote modes of instruction to maintain instructional continuity over a period of time that could be a week or two or last the rest of the spring semester. It is important that we accommodate students who are self-isolating off-campus and need to continue their learning remotely but it is equally as important to think of the health and safety of our faculty, especially those who may be at greater risk and need to take precautions to ensure their own safety. The ability to teach remote is an opportunity for both students and faculty to remain healthy. As you can see, these are complicated issues that we must address together and will do so over the next week.
One of the reasons the College decided to extend spring break is to give faculty the opportunity to explore and develop approaches to deliver course content on-line. It gives us all an opportunity to slow things down and address the problems associated with COVID-19 and to avoid making rash decisions. In order to assist the faculty with this process over the next week the following resources and steps are being made immediately:
- The President will be sponsoring two virtual faculty and academic town halls for which faculty and anyone who is running a program at the undergraduate and graduate level can attend by telephone, video conference or in person. We will discuss the possibility of going remote, questions and concerns that faculty have in regard to this possibility, as well as any other questions you may have about COVID-19 and the campus’s response. Faculty who cannot attend these meetings are encouraged to send questions or concerns to their Dean directly, cc’ing the Task Force who is tracking all concerns and issues.
- The College’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) has created the Continuity of Education website for faculty to begin planning for remote learning. Please see this page to begin. This site includes resources and guides that will help faculty move elements of their course remotely in the event that this becomes necessary.
- In addition to being able to leverage Collaborate in Blackboard Ultra, the College has purchased an enterprise-wide license for Zoom teleconferencing, for those faculty who want to engage in synchronous instruction on-line and will be widely available by next week.
- The College is also establishing conference lines for faculty who would like to conduct their classes using this method of technology. Information will be posted to the Continuity of Education website.
- In addition to the resources above, the CETL, IT, McQuade Library, the Academic Success Center and committed faculty have partnered to create an expanded full-support team. All calls and emails will be routed through the Help Desk at 978-837-3500 and the call will be forwarded to the appropriate department. This line will be operating 24/7 for faculty convenience and support beginning Monday, March 16. In the meantime, if you have questions please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Finally, a timeline for implementing remote teaching, should we need to implement remote teaching and learning, will be developed by mid-next week with the help and feedback of the faculty through the town halls.
The College recognizes that if we need to move to an all on-line modality, even for a short period, there will be many challenges and questions. This unprecedented crisis will test our patience, our fortitude and our ability to work together. We must remind ourselves to treat our fellow colleagues and community members with care, compassion, and respect as we all navigate this fluid time together. We don’t have all the answers, but are confident, as we have weathered other crises before and came out better as an institution, that this time will be no different.
Finally, to reiterate, the health and safety of our faculty, staff, and students are of utmost importance. If students do come back to campus after March 23rd, for faculty who are at risk, or who may have family members that are ill and in need of their care, we will work with you to provide the best solution that continues the delivery of teaching and learning.
The College looks forward to your partnership and collaboration as we work together over the next several days. If you have questions or concerns, please reach out to me directly or to the Task Force.
God Bless you all. Thank you for all you do to make Merrimack all that it is. Thank you for your patience and understanding during this time.
Christopher E. Hopey, Ph.D.