Departments discuss fall teaching scenarios

A fully remote fall semester is ‘doable but less than ideal’

MIT administrators discussed department input about teaching scenarios for the fall at a meeting hosted by Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz May 8. The presentation notes can be found in a Dropbox folder created by the Undergraduate Association (UA).

Waitz wrote in an email to The Tech that he regularly hosts virtual meetings with about 175 people, including MIT administrators, department heads, head of house, and UA and Graduate Student Council officers. The meetings started March 9 and were originally held daily, but were held three times a week as of last week.

Waitz and Tony Sharon, acting deputy executive vice president, lead Team 2020, a group charged to make summer and fall plans.

Team 2020 surveyed MIT departments on its proposals, including potential teaching scenarios for the fall semester. Waitz wrote that administrators have collected faculty input through virtual meetings, surveys, and the Academic Policy and Regulations Team led by Faculty Chair Rick Danheiser.

Many departments responded that a fully remote fall semester is “doable but less than ideal,” according to the presentation. 

In response to a proposal to split the semester into two sessions, departments gave “mixed responses on their ability to condense the hands-on portions of classes into half the term.”

Departments “widely rejected” the trimester proposal due to concerns about “teaching load,” “condensing course materials into shorter terms,” “moving/lease concerns for students,” and “impacts on IAP and summer activities.” 

The presentation discusses several strategies for socially-distanced learning on campus, including holding lectures in large event spaces, outdoors, or in tents; holding smaller lab or recitation sections; allowing students to remotely analyze data for experiments performed by teaching staff; sending lab kits to students; and moving lab classes to the spring term. 

If only a portion of the student body is on campus, departments could offer “different classes for remote and in-person students with more emphasis on individual coaching and guest speakers for remote students.” Remote and in-person students could also be subject to different grading policies.

According to the presentation, departments may need funding to recruit remote guest speakers, mail lab equipment to students, offer financial and visa support for international students, provide more staffed hours in labs and machine shops, hire TAs for smaller recitations, and offer remote RAships or tuition support for incoming graduate students.

Departments expressed a “strong interest” in improved video equipment, editing capabilities, and video capture in classrooms. Departments also expressed interest in faculty training for online instruction, a centralized system of virtual lounges, and a forum for cross-departmental collaboration.

In response to the teaching scenarios survey, the biological engineering department proposed mailing students reusable lab kits containing electronic components. The department is considering using online simulations and emphasizing “computational work, including software development for instrument control and machine learning algorithms for image segmentation and analysis.” Classes may also use the remote cloud labs Strateos and Emerald Cloud Lab to perform wet lab experiments.

The EECS department is considering remote co-teaching with faculty at other universities for certain classes, including 6.875 (Cryptography and Cryptanalysis). EECS also wrote that large classes would benefit from a MIT-wide site license to Gradescope, a grading workflow software.

D-Lab suggested involving students in global development projects related to COVID-19. Similarly, the global languages section wrote that its classes could offer “global, diverse, multilingual perspectives on the pandemic and its social/cultural impacts.”

The chemical engineering department is considering using the BioMakerspace to “offer unique seminar series or courses.” The department also suggested that local MIT Clubs can “catalyze connections between students in remote locations.”

Team 2020 has calculated the “COVID-adjusted capacity” of campus learning spaces based on social distancing guidelines and room layouts, according to a May 13 memo. Additionally, the team has divided the campus into sectors for different departments to “minimize student and instructor movement across campus and avoid crowding in entrances.”

Department responses to the teaching scenarios survey can be found on a spreadsheet. More detailed departmental teaching plans can be found in a Google Drive folder created by Team 2020.

More information about Team 2020 can be found at Members of the MIT community can submit comments through an online form or attend community charrettes May 26-27.