COVID-19 FAQs for Instructors

Visit Penn's Fall 2020 Planning site for additional information.

This page provides information about academic issues and resources for instructors related to the COVID-19 pandemic for the Fall 2020 semester. Information will continue to be updated frequently. 

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: September 8, 2020

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 Fall Semester Planning 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 should stay home or go home if sick.

Faculty should discuss concerns about returning to work 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. As of July 13, 2020, Penn is in Phase II of Research Resumption. 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 Fall Semester Planning 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 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. As of July 13, 2020, Penn is in Phase II of Research Resumption. 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.

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 25 or more students must be taught online.

For graduate and professional classes with 24 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.

What is the schedule for the Fall semester?

Classes will begin as scheduled on Tuesday, September 1. Fall break remains cancelled. Final exams will conclude as scheduled on Tuesday, December 22.

Monday classes will be held on Thursday, December 10, the last day of classes. View the Academic Calendar for the most up to date details.   

At this time, all registration dates (course selection period, drop period, grade type change deadline, advance registration) remain the same.

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 24 or fewer students. All classes with 25 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 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.

The University has designated certain classrooms for use by instructors to record synchronous or asynchronous sessions.

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.

Are there changes to Final Exams?

For undergraduates, the final exam period remains December 15-22 and final exams will be delivered online. More information about final exams will be provided later in the semester.

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

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).

Will Fall 2020 courses be pass/fail?

All undergraduate, PhD, and research master’s students will be allowed to take an unlimited number of their courses pass/fail during the Fall 2020 semester, including courses taken to satisfy major or general education requirements. Any courses taken on a pass/fail basis during Spring and Fall 2020 will not count against the total number of pass/fail courses allowed by the School or program.  Students must “opt in” to this expanded pass/fail option by Friday, October 30th at 11:59PM Eastern Time using Penn InTouch.

Grading policies for professional programs are set by the school.

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 will offer academic advising online during the Fall.

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?

All undergraduate research, including research conducted as part of a course or for credit, non-credit research, and work study or other paid or volunteer research positions, must be conducted remotely until further notice except under the following circumstances.

Undergraduate students who are involved in for-credit research experiences as part of an independent study or research as part of a scholars program may be allowed in research labs and other in-person research spaces on a limited basis if and only if:

  • The research is required for graduation or as a programmatic requirement
  • The research cannot be conducted remotely
  • The research is conducted in accordance with the University’s Research Resumption Plan

All such exceptions require the approval of the undergraduate student’s Department or Program and their Undergraduate School.

Graduate students are covered under the Research Resumption Plan. As of July 13, 2020, Penn is in Phase II of Research Resumption and during this phase, graduate student participation in research is completely voluntary. 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.

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 Re-Start FAQ 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 and completing the daily symptom tracker. 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 created an enhanced 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?

Penn is offering a new Penn COVID-19 Childcare Grant, starting September 15, that will offer 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 workspacesstarting a new school yearcreating work/life balance, and building professional skills and professional development.

What supports are available to assist with disruptions in research?

The Research Recovery Program is designed to mitigate some impacts of the pandemic on research at Penn.  It will be supported with a combination of funds redirected from current programs, augmented with funds from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research.   The goals of the Research Recovery Program are to mitigate negative pandemic related impacts on research at Penn and prioritize those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

The Research Recovery Program establishes four new mechanisms to mitigate unexpected costs, exploit new research opportunities, and support bridge projects.   This program will emphasize the challenges in populations disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

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.