Teaching in Person Fall 2021

UPDATE: COVID-19 and Teaching at Penn

University of Pennsylvania plans to hold classes in person starting August 31, 2021. Please visit the University’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information and Resources website for the latest information about Penn’s measures related to Coronavirus Disease 2019.

For policies around in-person teaching and the pandemic, see the Provost’s frequently-asked-questions page for instructors.


Key Resources

Considerations and resources for moving your course online temporarily.

Logistical and pedagogical approaches to address the anticipated challenges to wearing masks in class.
Ways to teach this fall that address the challenges students will face in the classroom as they return and begin to account for the traumatic events of the past 18 months.
Approaches to teaching that will help mitigate challenges when students must miss class.


Strategies for Returning to In-Person Teaching

The return to in person in the fall of 2021 is not fully a return to "normal." The experiences of the pandemic have changed all of us and you and your students will bring those changes into the classroom.

Penn's plan currently is to have a fully in-person semester in the Fall of 2021.  It will be helpful to check with your school for any additional guidelines.

Then, it will help to start thinking about how you will build stucture and flexibility into your classes. 

  • Structure can take a variety of different forms (from providing staged assignments that build to a larger project to providing short, small-stakes assignments) so that students have clear guidance about what you expect and the opportunity for practice and feedback with critical content or skills.
  • Flexibility will remain necessary; the pandemic is not completely over and for many life has become increasingly complicated over the last few months.  Combining structure and flexibility will ensure everyone can readjust and thrive.

You can click these links to learn more about how to implement structure and flexibility.


What can you and your students do in class?

Returning to in-person class means that instructors have a variety of ways to encourage students to interact with each other and with the material.  Across Penn, schools hope that instructors can make the most of in-person classes to encourage meaningful interactions for students.

Remember some of your students haven’t been in a physical classroom for some time, so it may help to set expectations about how you want students to interact with you and with each other. 

Note on being in class: In fall 2021, all students, staff and faculty (with rare exceptions) will be vaccinated and everyone will be required to wear masks indoors.  Students and faculty may feel anxious and/or excited about being back inside with so many other people.  It will help to acknowledge these anxieties, note that not wearing a mask (or wearing it improperly) is a student conduct violation and tell students that you are happy to talk to them about their concerns.  Additionally, wearing masks may make teaching difficult.  Addressing these concerns too and allowing the class to co-create a set of guidelines for how to handle the challenges of this fall may help students feel more control over the situation and help you have guidelines that everyone agrees to.



What can your students do outside of class?

Instructors have long assumed that students would engage with material outside of class.  Teaching in the pandemic showed that there are many different types of materials (from readings to podcasts) and many different modes of engagement (from solving homework problems to using discussion tools to collaborate on solutions). As people have learned more about the types of materials that students can interact with outside of class, they have begun to think about additional ways for students to interact with class materials outside of class from watching recorded lectures to interacting on Canvas discussion boards. 

That said, be cautious about assigning too much work outside of class.  Consider the amount of work you would assign outside of class before the pandemic and give students roughly the same amount.  Work outside of class should also not be a replacement for time spent in class.




How do you communicate to make sure you and your students are on the same page?

As instructors think about new ways of using classtime and using students’ time outside class, communication about those new ways will be particularly important.  Tools that were useful in the pandemic (like Canvas) may continue to help with communication and organizing materials. Additionally, students may be distracted, excited, or anxious so that they don’t always get instructor’s messages.  You might consider finding more than one channel for communication (such as email and Canvas announcements) and tell students how you intend to communicate. In addition, give students guidelines for how you expect them to communicate with you.

Here are some ideas about promoting effective communication with your students.

Here is what students want from Canvas.


How do you create community in class?

Many students and faculty have not been present together in classrooms for some time.  Returning to the classroom does not automatically mean that everything will return to the "normal" sense of community.  You may need to plan a bit more to help students make connections with each other and to encourage students to connect to you as well.  

CTL has created a guide for building community as we return to in person classes.



How do you encourage students to ask and answer questions?

During class: As we return to in person classes, instructors can continue to encourage students to interact as they have before.  However, those who appreciated using Zoom chat, might consider using a tool like Poll Everywhere to encourage interaction through polls and other types of questions.  In addition, it can allow students to use a chat-like function to ask questions and comment.  This can be a useful way to get students to interact if you make it a regular feature of class.

Be aware that creating this kind of back channel  can be overwhelming (and time ineffcient) for you and your students.  Provide additional access (or a curated list of useful Q&A) outside of class time to any questions generated in these forums for students who can't process these forums in real time.

Visit Using Poll Everywhere to learn about the technology and how to access it.

Outside of Class: Students can participate in online class discussions, exchange ideas in writing, or ask questions about your lectures, using tools such as Canvas Discussion Boards or Piazza.  You can learn more about tools for engagement here.


Exams and Assignments

Concerns about academic integrity duringremote teaching led many faculty to rethink how they used exams and quizzes. In some cases they found different forms of assessment could encourage students to learn more and think critically about what they learned.  In some cases, faculty used lower-stakes and more regular quizzes or take home exams. You might continue to consider alternatives to exams if they worked well for you.  You may also want to consider ways to continue to use exams but design questions that are more focused on helping students to think (but still can be graded at scale efficiently.)

Additionally, using the Canvas quizzes feature for exams and quizzes may still be a useful way to administer tests to students even as we return to in person learning.  Students can use these tools with in-person proctoring and Canvas has accessibility functions that (among other things) allow students to use screen readers.  Using Canvas quizzes also makes it easy to SDS to administer the exam or quiz.

Additionally there are new tools you might want to explore for administering exams:

  • New Quizzes in Canvas: this tool will be the default quiz building tool after December 2022 (it will co-exist with classic quizzes until then).  If you plan on building any quizzes for the future you should use this tool.  (If you want to use New Quizzes this fall, write the Canvas team to have it installed.)
  • Gradescope is a useful tool quiz and exam tool currently being piloted at Penn. It is particularly useful for large classes  in STEM fields where students handwrite answers.  (If you are interested in participating in the Gradescope pilot contact Instructional Support).