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Fall 2021 Return to Campus FAQ for Faculty & Staff

Drexel University will return to in-person instruction for the Fall 2021 academic term. The following are frequently asked questions about the return to campus as it relates to academics and the classroom. This list will be continually updated as new information arises. For the latest public health and COVID-19 guidelines, please visit the Drexel Response to Coronavirus.

Last Updated: September 10, 2021

Classroom Health & Safety

Are masks required in classrooms?

As of August 3, 2021, Drexel requires all students and employees to wear a mask in all on-campus public and shared spaces, including instructional and research settings, regardless of vaccination status. Specifically, masks are to be worn in classrooms, lecture halls and seminar rooms. Masks are also now required when in Drexel libraries and in designated teaching and research laboratories/spaces. In addition, masks must be worn in all public spaces and settings where members of the public will use University facilities or visit the University. In general, at this time masks should be worn when indoors unless you are alone in an office or have a special exemption.

Are there circumstances in which instructors may ask for exemption from wearing a mask?

Faculty who are seeking accommodation based on a documented disability must contact Human Resources to determine if they meet the criteria for approval. Additionally, the Provost’s Office is working with IT and Real Estate and Facilities to upgrade the technology in as many classrooms as possible, which would include podium or lapel microphones. A microphone may be helpful if an instructor is concerned about projecting their voice for the duration of the class. Please note that face shields are no longer considered acceptable substitutes to masks.

Can students or instructors remove their masks when speaking or eating in class?

No, both students and instructors must keep their masks on for the entirety of the class period. Eating in the classroom is not permitted.

What should an instructor do if a student in a class is not wearing a mask?

If a student is not wearing a mask or complying with other required behaviors in the classroom, the instructor can take the following steps:

  • Ask the student to correct their behavior. This may involve determining if there is a reason why the student is unable to comply with the request; for instance, they may not have a mask. If a solution to the problem can be easily identified, and the instructor is able to assist the student in complying, such as directing them as to where to find a mask, they should do so.
  • If the student will not correct their behavior, the instructor should inform the student that they will be referred to Student Conduct if they fail to comply with the faculty member’s request and the University’s mask requirements.
  • If the student still will not correct their behavior, the instructor should ask the student to leave the classroom.
  • In the unlikely situation that a student refuses to leave the classroom, the instructor may call Public Safety to have the student escorted from the class. After class, the instructor should send a report of the incident to Student Conduct. Dismissing the class is not recommended, as it will create further disruption.

What if I have concerns about wearing a mask while lecturing?

The Teaching and Learning Center has developed a resource document on “Teaching in Masks: Common Questions and Recommendations” as well as a Teaching Tips blog post on “Masks, Mastery and Mental Wellbeing: Considerations for Returning to Classroom Teaching.” Additionally, there are tips related to teaching in a mask in the Classroom Readiness Checklist for Teaching Remote and Hybrid Modalities, created by the Graduate College.

Here is a brief overview of tips shared in those two documents:

  • Prior to the start of the term, practice speaking in a mask, and perhaps videotape yourself so you can identify ways to improve your delivery.
  • Stand closer to students, speak slowly and articulate clearly. If you are teaching in a large classroom with many students, consider using a podium or lapel microphone.
  • Consider using exaggerated body language (such as eye movements, hand gestures, head nods and shoulder shrugs) to improve communication.
  • Use visual aids and materials like slides and handouts to help illustrate your content.
  • Pause for questions and frequently check in with students to confirm they can hear and understand you.

For information on technology in the classroom, please refer to the Technology Support section of the FAQ below. The Teaching and Learning Center also offers support as well as teaching consultations.

Can I ask students their vaccination status?

No, instructors are not allowed to ask students about medical information. The University will not share vaccination status with any faculty or staff member, other than those in a health and safety role on a need-to-know basis.

Is the University enforcing distancing in the classroom?

As of June 10, the University is operating at 100% capacity in all classrooms, labs, workspaces and University spaces. Consistent with current Philadelphia public health guidelines, there is no required social distancing.

What is the University doing to ensure its classrooms and facilities are safe?

As part of its commitment to being in-person in the fall, Drexel has taken many steps to prepare our classroom spaces and protect the health and safety of our community, with required vaccination as the most important step. Drexel Real Estate and Facilities has assessed the ventilation systems in each classroom and office space and purchased hundreds of new air filtration devices. We have also reinstated masking for all on-campus public and shared spaces, including instructional and research spaces, in line with City of Philadelphia requirements, to add a layer of protection against breakthrough infection and reduce the potential of classroom exposures. For more information on what the University is doing to ensure its classrooms and facilities are safe, please visit the Health and Safety page of the Drexel Response to Coronavirus website.

Accommodations and Absences

What kinds of accommodations are available to students who cannot return to campus in the fall?

We are committed to serving our international undergraduate and graduate students who are unable to obtain visas and travel to the U.S., as well as supporting students with documented disabilities through the Office of Disability Resources. The linked FAQs for international undergraduate and graduate students who are outside the U.S. detail the accommodation processes for these students. The deadline for all students requesting remote accommodations was September 1, 2021.

We are also working to support our U.S.-based international students and domestic students facing extenuating circumstances, whenever possible. Colleges and schools, in collaboration with the University Registrar, are managing these requests directly. To provide clarity and consistency in responses, a Teams site with detailed process documents has been shared with key members of each college and school.

How is the University accommodating students with disability accommodations?

Students who seek accommodations or temporary adjustments for a documented disability should contact the Office of Disability Resources, which is the standard process.

How are faculty expected to accommodate students with approved requests for remote accommodation?

As student requests for accommodations are approved, the Office of the University Registrar is working with the colleges and schools to plan any remote sections that may be needed. If a remote section is added to an in-person course, the faculty member will be contacted by their college. Course schedulers and the Registrar will be working to add students to existing remote or online course sections before creating remote companion sections. The deadline for all students requesting remote accommodations was September 1.

It's important to note that we are not expecting a HyFlex format for these remote companion courses; instead, most will be offered in a remote asynchronous modality to accommodate international students in different time zones. However, regardless of format, we recognize that faculty may need additional support to accommodate remote students. Remote Course Facilitators, an invaluable resource facilitated by the Graduate College and comprising over 200 graduate students, will be available to assist instructors teaching required remote sections. The Provost's Office is also in the process of updating classrooms to facilitate the recording of in-person classes. Please view the Technology Support section of the FAQ below for additional resources.

How can faculty and staff seek medical accommodation?

Faculty and staff who are seeking accommodations based on a documented disability must contact Human Resources to determine if they meet the criteria for approval. Please note that accommodations based on the needs of family members or anyone other than the individual requesting cannot be accepted through this process.

What if faculty have a concern that cannot be addressed via a medical accommodation?

If the request for accommodation is unrelated to a disability, faculty must work with their department head to determine if the issue can be addressed. However, please keep in mind that departments cannot shift courses already scheduled to be in-person to a remote format. For guidance on how to address faculty illness or quarantine requirements mid-term, please see the following question.

What happens if a faculty member becomes ill or must quarantine/isolate temporarily during the term related to COVID-19?

Given the ongoing challenges caused by the pandemic, it is possible that more faculty may be absent during the year than in previous academic years. In light of that, we are offering the following suggested approaches for handling absenteeism, as well as tips to help faculty best prepare for potential illness or required isolation/quarantine.

Scenario 1: If a faculty member is required to isolate/quarantine at home but otherwise feels able to teach, the following options are available and should be pursued in the following order:

  • Option 1: Find a substitute who can teach in person (e.g. faculty colleague, TA, etc.).
  • Option 2: Allow a TA to hold the class in person, while the faculty member teaches via Zoom remotely. (The College of Computing and Informatics is testing this model in the case of courses where only select faculty are qualified to teach the course.)
  • Option 3: Temporarily move the course to a fully remote format during the period of illness or isolation/quarantine. Importantly, if a faculty member experiences COVID-19 symptoms, believes they have been exposed to COVID-19 or is made aware of a potential exposure in the classroom, there is a process and team in place to review each case and determine whether isolation/quarantine is needed. Please refer to the question What happens if a faculty member or student is made aware of a potential COVID-19 exposure in the classroom? for more details.

Note that if persistent absence occurs, department heads may need to find an alternate instructor for the remainder of the course.

Suggestions for preparing for potential illness/quarantine:

  • Consider how you want the student experience to happen if you can’t be there. What can you do in advance to prepare?
  • If a substitute makes sense for your course, try to organize this prior to the start of classes or early in the term and provide the back-up instructor/TA with any information they may need to prepare.
  • Familiarize yourself with the Remote Course Facilitator program to understand the services they provide and how to request an RCF.
  • One of the most important things a faculty member can do to plan for absence is to use Blackboard Learn. If faculty plan ahead and build out their Blackboard site before class starts, there are fewer details to manage when faculty or students become ill. Students also appreciate having access to course materials and seeing grades via this platform, and they expect to be able to do so.
  • Establish clear lines of communication early in the course, so that you can quickly inform students if you need to be out. An email to the entire class can be sent via Blackboard Learn. Becoming familiar with this platform and using it throughout the term, whether your course is remote or not, will be helpful.

Scenario 2: In the event that a faculty member is ill and unavailable to teach remotely:

  • Every department should determine a back-up plan for each course, should a faculty member become sick.
  • Departments will need to handle these situations similarly to how they would have pre-COVID (e.g. find an alternate instructor, provide instructions to the class, etc.)

What happens if a student becomes sick with COVID-19 or requires quarantine during the term? 

We understand that the traditional Absence from Class policy is not sufficient for the unprecedented challenges our students may be facing during the pandemic. In light of that, we are offering the following suggested approaches for handling student absenteeism, as well as tips to help faculty best prepare for potential illness or required isolation/quarantine.

Scenario 1: Students required by Drexel to undergo a mandatory quarantine or isolation period will not be required to withdraw from a course. Instructors will make every effort to keep the student connected to the course material through any of the following options, as appropriate to the specific circumstance:

  • Providing remote synchronous access to the course, so that the student can participate live during the time of the class meeting.
  • Recording the course and sharing the recording and course materials asynchronously.
  • Working with the student regarding missed material: Provide an alternate assignment if the student is unable to participate in a class activity and provide guidance regarding group-based work.
  • Providing additional office hours specifically for affected students, if possible.

For more guidance and suggestions, please download the PDF “Managing Student Absences During the Pandemic,” developed by the Teaching and Learning Center.

Suggestions for preparing for potential illness/quarantine:

  • One of the most important things a faculty member can do to plan for student absence is to use Blackboard Learn. It is one of the most helpful tools for students, allowing them to find everything related to their course in one place. If faculty plan ahead and build out their Blackboard site before class starts, there are fewer details to manage when students become ill. Students also appreciate having access to course materials and seeing grades via this platform, and they expect to be able to do so. 
  • There are going to be classes, primarily discussion-based classes, that are not appropriate for recording. Faculty will have to work with students in these cases. It may be possible to create alternate assignments for these students to take the place of classroom discussion. Faculty could assign special readings, podcasts and perhaps reflection assignments for students who are affected by the inability to participate in discussion.
  • Instructors can also advise students to form small study groups with peers who can fill them in with information or notes they might miss during an absence. Instructors might also intentionally develop these groups on the first day of class and use them as needed even if there is no significant student absence.
  • Faculty can consult with the Teaching and Learning Center — which now offers individual consultations — to develop a custom solution that is based on the learning outcomes for the specific course.

Scenario 2: In the case of extended illness or absence, students should review the University's Incomplete (INC) policy and Grade Appeals policy. 

Are there accommodation options for graduate student TAs?

Teaching assistants should follow the same accommodation processes as faculty. They can seek accommodations based on a documented disability through Human Resources to determine if they meet the criteria for approval. If the request for accommodation is unrelated to a disability, TAs should contact their department head to determine if the issue can be addressed. Please keep in mind that departments cannot shift courses already scheduled to be in-person to a remote format.

What is the process for professional staff to request a flexible work arrangement?

The new process to evaluate and apply for a flexible work arrangement can be accessed on the Human Resources Flex Work page. Please visit the Human Resources page for information about flexible work arrangement options and the discussion and request process.

What happens if a faculty member or student is made aware of a potential COVID-19 exposure in the classroom?

If a faculty member or student believes they have been exposed to COVID-19 or is made aware of a potential exposure in the classroom, there is a contract tracing process and team in place to review each case and determine the best path forward. To ensure the proper protocols are followed, faculty and departments should not make decisions outside of this process or attempt their own contact tracing.

The approved process is as follows:

  • If a faculty member believes they were exposed to COVID-19, is made aware of a potential exposure in the classroom before hearing from the Contact Tracing Team, or if other extenuating circumstances arise, the faculty member should email COVID19Health@drexel.edu. Note that when the Contact Tracing team determines a vaccinated individual has been exposed, the individual is NOT asked to quarantine. They are instead asked to mask, self-monitor symptoms and seek testing on Day 5 post exposure.
  • The decision as to whether to move the class to a remote format for a fixed period of time will be made after Drexel's Contact Tracing team, led by the Director of COVID Health and Safety, has completed a review of the case. Rarely, faculty may be advised to move a course to a remote format immediately, if the situation warrants a more broad and detailed investigation based on unusual circumstances.
  • If the COVID Health and Safety Team decides that a class should move to remote format, the Contact Tracing team notifies key members of the Return Oversight Committee, the Office of Health & Counseling and Inter-College Advising. The appropriate dean and professor will also be notified and will be provided directions for the class, including duration of time to be remote, if/when all members need to be tested, and when the class can return to normal activity. A formal email from the Contact Tracing team is sent to all members of the class relaying the same information. This communication is coordinated with the faculty member, so that they can inform students of next steps regarding course material and any necessary changes to the lesson plan.

Can I change my in-person course to a remote or online format before or during the term?

Most undergraduate and graduate courses are returning to in-person teaching for the Fall 2021 term, with limited exceptions. We remain committed to coming back to in-person learning in the fall and have taken many steps to prepare our classroom spaces and protect the health and safety of our community, with required vaccination as the most important step. Prior to the start of the term, departments cannot shift courses already scheduled to be in-person to a remote format. There may be some cases when a department can change the instructor of a course to accommodate extenuating circumstances, without changing the course modality. This should be addressed by the department/college.

If a faculty member becomes ill or requires isolation/quarantine during the term, please refer to the question “What happens if a faculty member becomes ill or must quarantine/isolate temporarily during the term related to COVID-19?” for more details and recommendations.

Technology Support

Are instructors required to record classes?

The University is not requiring that all classes be recorded; however, we strongly recommend that instructors do record when possible. There are circumstances when recording may be necessary, such as when a faculty member has been assigned a remote companion course. Please also note that Drexel’s Undergraduate Student Government Association conducted a survey of student experiences during the pandemic and found that recorded classes have become an invaluable study and review tool for many students.

Some instructors have expressed concern that providing students with class recordings will disincentivize attendance. A few strategies to help combat this include making the recordings available upon request, sharing them only with students who have missed class due to illness or quarantine, or making in-person attendance/participation part of the students’ grade.

Recorded lectures that are shared with students must abide by FERPA regulations. Guidelines on Recording Classes Under FERPA and PA Law are available in this PDF from the Office of Compliance, Privacy and Internal Audit.

What privacy/FERPA considerations must be taken into account when recording and sharing lectures?

The Office of Compliance, Privacy and Internal Audit has shared guidelines on Recording Class Under FERPA and PA Law in this PDF

What is the recommended software for recording lectures?

Drexel Information Technology recommends using Zoom to record in-person lectures. Zoom allows instructors to record the class and simultaneously accommodate remote students, if needed. It can also provide automatic captions and transcriptions. Kaltura Capture can also be used for recording your computer screen, your camera and your microphone audio. When recording lectures, it is recommended that instructors repeat questions asked by students so the question is picked up by the recording.

Where can I receive technological support for the use of hybrid/HyFlex technology in the classroom, such as recording lectures?

The following are some of the resources available to faculty regarding hybrid/HyFlex technology in the classroom, including the recording of lectures:

Who do I contact if the technology in my classroom isn’t working?

Instructional Media Services maintains media equipment in classrooms, trains faculty in the use of media-equipped classrooms, and creates instructional materials. Contact IMS at ims@drexel.edu.

Who do I contact about software questions (e.g. Blackboard Learn, Zoom, etc.?)

For support with Drexel Learn, contact the Instructional Technology Group at itg@drexel.edu. For questions about Zoom, submit a ticket to ZoomAdmin@drexel.edu. For other general questions, contact the IT Help Desk at 215-895-2020 or consult@drexel.edu.

How can I learn which technology is available in my classroom?

The Office of the University Registrar and Instructional Media Services (IMS) will be in touch with faculty about their classroom assignments and available technology approximately one week before the term starts. A full list of the classrooms managed by IMS can be found on the Classroom Information webpage. Technology updates are happening in classrooms across campus prior to the start of the term, and updates to IMS-managed classrooms will be reflected on the IMS site once finalized.

General Academic Questions

How can instructors prepare for the fall 2021 term?

A number of resources have been developed by the Teaching and Learning Center and Graduate College including:

The Teaching and Learning Center also offers support as well as teaching consultations.

For information on technology in the classroom, please refer to the Technology Support section of the FAQ.

Are there any restrictions on office hours?

Instructors may choose to hold office hours in person or virtually. However, if an instructor is teaching in person, it is strongly recommended that they also offer some in-person office hours. Masks are required indoors in public and shared spaces for all individuals, including those who are fully vaccinated.

Are there any changes to the final exam period?

There are no changes to the final exam period. Please refer to the Academic Calendar for important academic dates throughout the year.

Are there any changes to grading for the 2021-2022 academic year?

No, normal grading policies will apply. The University returned to normal grading in Summer 2021 after offering optional Pass / No Pass grading from Spring 2020 to Spring 2021.

Should instructors include a specific syllabus statement related to COVID-19 or masks?

Yes. The following is the recommended syllabus statement related to masks:

As of August 3, 2021, Drexel requires all students and employees to wear a mask in all on-campus public and shared spaces, including instructional and research settings, regardless of vaccination status. Specifically, masks are to be worn in classrooms, laboratories, lecture halls and seminar rooms. Students are not permitted to eat during class or otherwise remove their mask. If a student needs to remove their mask (to drink water etc.) they may step outside the class, to do so and then return to class. Please remember your mask to avoid class disruption.

If a student does not wear a mask or follow other required health and safety guidelines in the classroom, the instructor will take the following steps:

  • Ask the student to please correct their behavior. This may involve determining if there is a reason why the student is unable to comply with the request; for instance, they may not have a mask. If a solution to the problem can be easily identified, and the instructor is able to assist the student in complying, such as directing them as to where to find a mask, they will do so.
  • If the student refuses to mask, the instructor will inform the student that they will be referred to Student Conduct and they will be asked to leave the class.

As members of the Drexel community, we all play a role in supporting our collective health and safety, and I appreciate your collaboration and commitment to this. If you have questions or concerns about masking in class, please do not hesitate to ask. More information about masking is available at the link above and on the Drexel Response to Coronavirus website.

Events, Travel and Wellness

Are there any guidelines for events or gatherings?

On-campus events, whether indoor or outdoor, no longer require approval from the Return Oversight Committee. However, event organizers must maintain lists of all event attendees in case contact tracing is required, and attendees must follow mask requirements. See full event guidelines for indoor and outdoor events posted on the Response to Coronavirus website.

What are the University’s travel guidelines and procedures?

As announced on May 28, Drexel is in Phase 3 of our COVID-19 Essential Travel Guidance and is now allowing limited University-related travel.

All Drexel travelers participating in University-related travel are required to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Travel by non-vaccinated travelers with a University-approved medical or religious exemption may be considered on a case-by-case basis. Travelers will need to complete a pre-travel attestation available at this link. This adjustment to the COVID-19 Essential Travel Guidance permits domestic travel for vaccinated travelers to occur with supervisor approval. International travel for vaccinated travelers will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the Essential Travel Review Committee. Supervisors should continue to only support essential travel at this time.

Travel must be approved in order to be eligible for reimbursement, and all travel should be booked through World Travel, Drexel’s travel management company.

Full details on updates and new guidance documents are available now on the COVID-19 Essential Travel Guidance page of the Procurement Services website.

What resources are available to support the health and wellness of faculty and staff?

Drexel University is committed to fostering a culture of wellness among students, faculty, professional staff and the surrounding community. A Healthier U is Drexel Human Resources initiative to support faculty and staff wellbeing, and more details can be found on the Drexel HR website.

Drexel's Employee Assistance Program provides access to confidential, 24/7 counseling. This benefit is offered at no cost to benefits-eligible faculty and professional staff, their family members and Drexel graduate students. Log into the SupportLinc website (username “drexel”) or use the app. You can also visit the Employee Assistance Program website or call the SupportLinc helpline at 1.888.881.5462 to find out more about these benefits. Additional COVID-19-related resources for faculty and professional staff can be found on Drexel’s Human Resources page: COVID-19 Resources.

Where can I refer students for health and wellness support?

Drexel’s Response to Coronavirus website lists resources and ideas on its Mental Health and Wellness page. The Office of Counseling and Health Services also maintains a comprehensive list of resources around topics like coping with COVID-19, suicide prevention, peer counseling, anxiety and stress reduction, and more. Please visit the Crisis Resources page for contact info related to mental health emergencies.

Students should visit the Student Health Center, staffed by doctors and nurse practitioners from Drexel Medicine, for physical health services. If they are having symptoms, students should contact the Student Health Center right away by phone (215.220.4700) or through the Drexel Health Checker. For more information, they should visit the What to Do If You Feel Sick page.