UC Berkeley works to improve online instruction for fall semester

campus conversation fall planning instruction
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The majority of fall semester instruction will be held online, with a select number of classes consisting of 25 or fewer people meeting in person, said campus faculty.

Campus administrators participated in a town hall Monday regarding fall instruction, which was the second in a series of four virtual town halls discussing the impacts of COVID-19 on different aspects of fall semester campus operations. Many of the current campus efforts are focused on optimizing the quality of online instruction.

During the summer, about 300 GSIs are participating in a fellowship to learn about how to best offer instruction virtually. Campus is also providing resources to aid faculty with online instruction, including a “remote instruction guide” course, which has more than 440 faculty members enrolled.

“We need to leave a little bit of gas in the tank because we’re going to have to be flexible in the fall,” said Oliver O’Reilly, campus professor and chair of the Academic Senate, at the event. “There will be issues that have come up that we haven’t thought about already.”

Campus will likely use its regular grading policies instead of a default pass/no pass system, according to O’Reilly.

O’Reilly added that one of the Academic Senate’s recommended “best practices for remote assessments” is to grade based on mastery instead of on a curve in order to prevent students from being negatively impacted by the academic misconduct of other students.

“Grading on a curve is not always equitable,” O’Reilly said during the event. “What we’re doing is we’re really trying to promote an equitable grading system for all of our students.”

Campus is still deciding which of the 6,000 classes offered in the fall will have in-person activities and is currently looking at a list of about 940 activities that will potentially be offered in person. For all in-person activities, there will also be a remote alternative.

The schedule for in-person classes will be released by July 8, at which point the first phase of the enrollment process will begin.

Faculty members who do not have a need to return to campus are advised to stay home to keep campus density low, according to Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Alivisatos.

UC Berkeley administration also recommended that all instruction be offered virtually after Thanksgiving to prevent the spread of COVID-19 resulting from increased travel during this period.

In response to questions about deferrals and withdrawals, Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education Catherine Koshland advised against taking the fall semester off because of the pandemic.

“This is not the time to delay the start of one’s college education,” Koshland said at the event. “This pandemic is likely to last for at least a couple of years, and it’s not just a one semester decision you’re making. You’re actually making a decision for the next several years.”

Campus will not grant students enrollment deferrals based on COVID-19 because of the high demand for a UC Berkeley education, according to Alivisatos.

Contact Emma Rooholfada at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @erooholfada_dc.