COVID-19 FAQs for Instructors

Visit coronavirus.upenn.edu for additional information about the Spring 2021 semester.

This page provides information about academic issues and resources for instructors related to the COVID-19 pandemic for the Spring 2021 semester. General information about the Spring semester was addressed in the December 9, 2020 Town Hall: From Campus Access to Testing and Vaccination: What to Expect for Penn's COVID-Era Spring Semester.

View A Guide for Faculty: Inclusion in the COVID Era.

Faculty may be facing a range of challenges in this current time, as they adjust to academic life online, work to address racism and other forms of bias, and try to manage family and other caregiving responsibilities. This Guide discusses these challenges and their implications for faculty, and offers recommendations for mentoring and supporting junior faculty, assessing productivity in appointments, tenure, and promotion, conducting faculty searches, and conducting staff searches and hiring staff.

Last updated: January 11, 2021

Returning to Campus

Do I have to come to campus?

Faculty should only return to campus with permission from their School Dean, Vice President or Vice Provost. Visit the Penn COVID-19 Response website and the COVID-19 Return to Campus Guide for more information.

Anytime a faculty or staff member comes to campus, they are expected to follow all the guidelines set out by HR for working safely on campus, including enrolling in PennOpen Pass and completing the daily symptom tracker. This includes wearing a proper face covering, maintaining physical distancing, following cleaning product instructions when cleaning work areas, washing hands frequently, and covering nose/mouth when sneezing or coughing. Faculty who meet specified eligibility criteria are also required to enroll in COVID-19 screening testing. Faculty should stay home or go home if sick.

Faculty should discuss concerns about returning to campus with their Dean or Department Chair.

For faculty who wish to return to their research on-campus, Penn is following a phased return to research. Information about resuming research on campus and individual school and center plans are available from the Vice Provost for Research at the Research Resumption: Resource Hub.

Can I come to campus and work in my on-campus office?

Faculty should only return to campus with permission from their School Dean, Vice President or Vice Provost. Visit the Penn COVID-19 Response website and the COVID-19 Return to Campus Guide for more information.

Anytime a faculty or staff member comes to campus, they are expected to follow all the guidelines set out by HR for working safely on campus, including enrolling in PennOpen Pass and completing the daily symptom tracker. This includes wearing a proper face covering, maintaining physical distancing, following cleaning product instructions when cleaning work areas, washing hands frequently, and covering nose/mouth when sneezing or coughing. Faculty who meet specified eligibility criteria are also required to enroll in COVID-19 screening testing. Faculty should stay home or go home if sick.

For faculty who wish to return to their research on-campus, Penn is following a phased return to research. Information about resuming research on campus and individual school and center plans are available from the Vice Provost for Research at the Research Resumption: Resource Hub.

What is the COVID-19 testing approach for faculty?

In the Spring 2021 semester, screening testing is required for faculty and staff who are on campus for four or more hours each week interacting with other community members, or whose activities on campus involve teaching, or who are regularly in an aggregate setting of ten or more people in a single shared space on campus. Review testing details and eligibility criteria for faculty and staff.

Who decides whether a class is taught in-person or online?

All undergraduate courses will be taught online with very few exceptions.

For graduate and professional courses, all classes with 26 or more students must be taught online.

For graduate and professional classes with 25 or less students, decisions about course delivery will be made by faculty members in consultation with their Deans, based on course content, class size, and preferred pedagogical approaches, scheduling priorities and constraints, as well as their personal health, safety, and other concerns.

Format and location information for individual courses is listed in Penn InTouch Course Search (Pennkey login required).

What is the schedule for the Spring semester?

View the Academic Calendar for the most up to date details. 

Classes will begin on Wednesday, January 20, 2021. Spring break has been shortened to Wednesday March 10-Thursday March 11. There are also no classes on: Friday, February 12; Tuesday, March 30; and Monday, April 12. Final exams will conclude on Tuesday, May 11, 2021.

Graduate and professional programs may follow a different schedule. Students will be provided with details directly by their programs.

What restrictions will there be on in-person classes?

All undergraduate courses will be taught online with very few exceptions.

In-person instruction will only be permitted for classes with 25 or fewer students. All classes with 26 or more students must be taught online.

Any in-person course meetings will be held in rooms sufficiently large to accommodate physical distancing. For any classroom used for instruction, facilities will have marked-off, socially distanced seats and signs that address movement in and out of classrooms.

All students, staff, and faculty coming to campus are required to use Penn OpenPass, enroll in screening testing if they meet eligibility criteria, and are instructed to wear proper face coverings in all public and shared spaces, including classrooms, removing only in private offices or during meals.

Can I hold office hours, small group discussions, or other meetings in person?

Virtual meetings and phone calls should be used rather than in-person meetings wherever possible. View the COVID-19 Return to Campus Guide for more information.

The Center for Teaching and Learning’s Resources and Strategies for Teaching Remotely has guidance on Live Online Sessions and Virtual Office Hours and other ways to help students stay engaged and build community in an online context.

Academic Life Online

Where can I get help with teaching online?

The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and the Online Learning Initiative (OLI) have a guide on Resources and Strategies for Teaching Remotely including information on Canvas, recording lectures, online tools for discussion, exams and assignments, teaching lab and SAIL classes remotely, and whiteboarding tools. CTL also offers workshops on teaching remotely

CTL also provides a list of instructional technology support by school.

If I am teaching online, can I hold sessions at any time?

Synchronous online content must be offered on the same day(s) and time(s) as your course is regularly scheduled during the semester (in Eastern Time). If you are offering synchronous content, please keep in mind that students may be participating from different time zones and may need to engage asynchronously.

The Policy on Secular and Religious Holidays is still in effect, which prohibits holding examinations and requiring assigned work on specific holidays.

Will Spring 2021 courses be pass/fail?

The pass/fail policy for undergraduates from the Fall 2020 semester will be extended to the Spring 2021 semester. Undergraduate students will have the option (until the Grade Type Change Deadline on March 19) to take any or all of their courses pass/fail. This option includes courses taken to satisfy major or general education requirements, and the courses will not count against the total number of pass/fail courses allowed in the School. The deadline for changing a grade type will not be extended. Students should  discuss which grading options are best for them with their academic advisor.

For Spring 2021, Penn will return to regular grading options for PhD and Research Master’s students. However, acknowledging that substantial challenges may still present themselves for graduate students, there will be a mechanism for individual graduate students to petition to have unlimited pass/fail options should their personal circumstances present the need. The petition process will be available until March 19, the grade type change deadline, and will be handled by the Graduate Dean in each school. The types of petitions that will be considered for approval based on circumstances presented by the pandemic include:

  • Students with additional family responsibilities due to the pandemic
  • Students who are ill or caring for ill family members
  • Students with limited access to internet or necessary technology for remote participation
  • Students unable to participate in required synchronous sessions (due to time zone differences, etc.)
  • Students experiencing housing insecurity

Professional students should check with their program regarding grading policies.

What is Penn’s policy on remote proctoring?

The use of remote proctoring is not permitted for online delivery of courses that are typically in person. This does not apply to programs that were online prior to Fall 2020 that were already using remote proctoring. Individual faculty may request an exception to this policy, based on academics or another rationale, which must be endorsed by the department chair, undergraduate or graduate chair, and the undergraduate or graduate dean, as well as the Dean. Any investment in the software or service would have to be paid for by the school offering the course (permitting the exception).

Where can Teaching Assistants get support?

The Center for Teaching and Learning has a website on remote teaching that TAs may find useful. For TAs who often use chalkboards in teaching, we have created a page with suggestions for teaching recitations or office hours online using virtual whiteboards, as well as information for those running asynchronous discussion boards.

In addition, Penn Libraries' Virtual Support page provides a range of guides, tutorials, and support services to help with virtual classes.

Schools are responsible for ensuring that TAs have the technology necessary to engage in their instructional responsibilities remotely.

Instructors are responsible for ensuring they have adequate TA support to meet student needs.

How will advising work?

School advising offices offer academic advising online.

For individual advising, virtual meetings and phone calls should be used. View the COVID-19 Return to Campus Guide for more information. The Center for Teaching and Learning has guidance on tools to hold Live Online Sessions and Virtual Office Hours.

Can I have students engage in research?

For Spring 2021, increased in-person research opportunities are available to undergraduates. For independent studies, work study, and volunteer research experiences, undergraduates will be able to participate in in-person research that cannot be completed remotely, in accordance with University and School Research Resumption Plans available at the Research Resumption: Resource HubUnder the guidelines for the Quiet Period, no in-person undergraduate research of any kind is permitted until February 1, even if the students are approved by a school’s research resumption plan.  

For graduate students, information about current research resumption status and individual school and center plans are available from the Vice Provost for Research at the Research Resumption: Resource Hub.

How do I access materials in the library?

Penn libraries' digital resources and services as well as librarians are still available. Visit the Libraries’ Virtual Support and Phased Service Availability pages for a full summary of current services and additional information about forthcoming services.

Do I have to record my class?

In order to best accommodate our students, to the greatest extent possible all online course sessions must be available via recording for students who cannot attend unless instructors have legitimate reasons for not recording a session, such as the sensitivities related to course material, in which case instructors must create other ways for students who cannot attend to engage with the course. Instructors must make sure that all students can engage with course materials, even if they cannot participate synchronously. Students who are located in different time zones may need different accommodations than students who have to miss a single session. The Center for Teaching and Learning provides guidance on engaging students asynchronously, as well as resources and guidance on video recording in classes. View the Guidance on Recording Classes for more information.

Instructors who have concerns about recording their class should contact their program director, department chair or Dean.

Students are not permitted to share, copy, or distribute recordings of live class sessions or any prerecorded class content without the permission of the University and the instructor. Students may also not make their own recording of class sessions. These actions are violations of the Code of Academic Integrity, the Policy on Unauthorized Copying of Copyrighted Media and the Mutual Commitment to Academic Integrity, Equitable Instruction, Trust, and Respect.

What are Penn's policies on rights in materials created for courses?

Under the University’s Copyright Policy, instructors “own the copyright to works resulting from their research, teaching, and writing,” with the noted exceptions. Consistent with that policy, and with the exception of course, program, and school arrangements that specify a different ownership model, the copyrights in course materials an instructor creates for online delivery without substantial use of University resources are owned by the instructor. Such materials may not be copied or redistributed by the University or by students without the written approval of the instructor who created them. Recordings of synchronous class sessions made in Zoom or other applications are owned by the University, but will not be reused or further distributed by the University without consent of the instructor. View the Guidance on Recording Classes for more information.

What are the risks related to accessing content from outside the United States?

View the Guidance on Recording Classes for more information on risks related to accessing certain online content from outside the United States.

How do I use broadcast and recording studios?

The University has designated certain classrooms for use by instructors to record synchronous sessions (“broadcast studios”) or asynchronous sessions (“recording studios”).

These studios are intended for use only by instructors who have an approved need to be on campus or are unable to record their material in another location such as at home, in their office, etc.

Use of these spaces must be pre-arranged and reserved in advance through the Office of the University Registrar through the Academic Event Scheduling form.

Instructors using these rooms must comply with all University and public health guidelines at all times including wearing masks.

Please note that:

  • Only the instructor and any assistant necessary to manage the logistics of the session may be present. At no time may these rooms be used for in-person instruction.
  • Each of these classrooms will be equipped with a static camera aimed at a 12’ x 4’ whiteboard, a lavalier microphone for the instructor, a second monitor to allow for viewing of remote participants, and the ability to use both with either the in-room computer or a laptop for recording/videoconferencing purposes.
  • Anyone using a laptop in these rooms should have the appropriate recording/videoconferencing software (e.g., Zoom, BlueJeans, Panopto) installed on that laptop. These will also be installed on the in-room computer for those instructors who prefer to use that equipment.

What if I get sick and cannot teach?

Faculty should not come to campus if they are ill. Faculty are expected to follow all the guidelines set out by HR for working safely on campus, including enrolling in PennOpen Pass, completing the daily symptom tracker, and enrolling in surveillance testing if eligible. Individuals reporting to campus will be expected to show their Green Pass on entry into buildings, wear a face covering, and practice physical distancing.

Policies and procedures to support faculty who become ill or unable to teach during the semester remain in effect. Faculty should discuss their individual circumstances with their Dean or Department Chair.

How is Penn accommodating students who need academic accommodations?

Student Disability Services has a web portal with extensive resources and information for students and faculty on new accommodation requests and ongoing accommodations in the remote classroom environment.

Information about adding captions to recorded lectures in Panopto is available here

Additional Resources

Where can I get support for childcare?

For the 2020-2021 academic year, Penn is offering a Penn COVID-19 Childcare Grant  that reimburses up to $2,000 per household to eligible faculty, staff, and postdoctoral trainees for childcare expenses. Penn’s Childcare Resources and Support website also offers a wide range of resources to help with such areas as finding caregiversworking from homesetting up home workspacescreating work/life balance, and building professional skills and professional development.

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

Penn has a comprehensive website on wellness and work-life with programs, resources, and information for faculty and staff. For information about COVID-19 related resources, courses, virtual events, and more available to faculty and staff, visit the COVID-19 Well-being Resources webpage. Penn’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides eligible faculty and staff and their families access to free, confidential, 24/7 counseling and referral services for personal and professional life issues from any location.

What other guidance and resources are available to help recognize the many challenges of this current time?

Penn has developed A Guide for Faculty: Inclusion in the COVID Era. Faculty may be facing a range of challenges in this current time, as they adjust to academic life online, work to address racism and other forms of bias, and try to manage family and other caregiving responsibilities. This Guide discusses these challenges and their implications for faculty, and offers recommendations for mentoring and supporting junior faculty, assessing productivity in appointments, tenure, and promotion, conducting faculty searches, and conducting staff searches and hiring staff.