Spring Town Hall Addresses Return to Campus

Academic Leaders Discuss Remote Advising, Tech Equity, Anti-Racism 

The Undergraduate Education Student Advisory Board hosts quarterly town halls with academic leadership representing UE and each of the four colleges. All students are welcome to join, and we seek submissions of questions about issues impacting the educational experience at UC Davis.

In Spring 2021, questions focused largely on the transition to fall, with themes of instructional flexibilities, increasing demands for basic needs support, and academic equity.

In addition to the recording, we offer a summary of major points. See timestamps in the YouTube description to find specific Q&A. 

These townhalls are intended to be informal conversations and are not statements of policy unless expressly indicated. 
Instructional Flexibilities for Fall Quarter

What are you doing as administrators to support the transition back to in-person instruction?

  • We’re still in transition – for example, classrooms haven’t been assigned yet – so right now we’re hoping everyone will be flexible. 
  • We’re offering an in-person orientation for continuing students who haven’t had that before (last year’s incoming students).  
  • Advisors are trying to figure out the best way to be available to support students as well. 

 What will advising look like? Will you continue to offer remote / online advising? What demand do you anticipate for online advising? 

  • Advising directors are surveying students and advising staff to help plan for that decision, asking students what they want. The students are helping to inform the decision. For some advisors, some faculty and some students it’s worked really well.  The hope is that where that’s working, to allow it to continue and make the best match we can.
  • Some topics will need to be discussed in-person, but we’re getting substantial feedback from students that they will want express / drop-in advising to be online. We’re trying to determine when in-person is appropriate and valuable and important, while for some drop-in advising, remote is acceptable.
  • We are all looking to make the advising experience, its efficiency and quality better overall, so we want to leverage what we’ve learned from the past year and provide advising to students who might not have taken as much advantage of it because of not being able to get to campus or access advising during the day. There will be accommodation, but the overall aim is to make the experience better and do that as effectively as we can. 
Increasing demand for basic needs

How can faculty accommodate the needs of students with limited access to technology?

  • Faculty and leadership are very aware of those needs. It’s not something that can be centrally controlled, so our offices continually work with departments and faculty to encourage them to be thoughtful. Once we know more about the guidelines for fall, we’ll have more precise answers, so it remains a work in progress.
  • Instructors have learned quite a bit about remote teaching, and some faculty will continue to offer those flexibilities and provide resources.
  • Undergraduate Education has excellent resources for instructors to help them understand how to use those techonologies, and that’s a big part of it: increasing awareness for what’s possible.
  • Loaner laptops and hot spots are available for students in need, and will likely continue to be offered depending on how much remote work is needed.
  • For the past year everyone’s been experimenting, and now we’ve got some best practices, for example, with tech compatibility. Some platforms didn’t work with certain types of laptops or tablets, and we have learned from that.
  • There are some centralized solutions we could work toward if we had support or a general sense that this could be a good thing. And there’s a sense that it would be a good thing if faculty could rely on some level of technology / capability. Some colleges have a baseline technology package that gets provided to students according to their financial aid packages. Students can purchase additional items but there are baseline specs.
  • While there is a student technology recommendation posted on the IT site, students have the right to opt out. Variations in tech can lead to problems – for example in one class, the Surface was not compatible with the software being used. As we get better at knowing what types of platforms we need to do certain tasks, we can share that information better. 
  • We need better communication about what’s needed and what works and what doesn’t. 

  What Aspects of the Campus Readiness Plan do You Think Need to be Addressed?

  • Campus has been working on a readiness plan since the smoke closure a few years ago, but each situation is different. To a certain extent the Covid remote situation has better prepared us to continue to hold classes in situations when there’s smoke or the weather is bad; but power outages impact people differentially and unpredictably, so there won’t be a one size fits all response. Return to campus will mitigate disruption from power outages.
Future of Academic Equality

How are you continuing to identify and challenge racism and enforce anti-racism policies in all classes and activities with all UC Davis students and faculty members? 

  • Each college has established committees on diversity, equity, and inclusion comprising faculty, staff, and sometimes students.
  • The colleges have long been invested in addressing DEI but are taking additional steps
  • Undergraduate Education has established classes on anti-racist pedagogy. 

Equitable Access Textbook Plan

Student: I have a concern that “Equitable Access” just redirects students’ funds to textbook publishers, and that’s not equitable. And I have a question, which is, have you thought about funding the development and improvements of open educational resources? Because if we could improve those, that would be a truly equitable thing in my mind. 

  • The Academic Senate is concerned about it and is working on it and watching really closely.. If the great majority of students wanted the program, faculty would respect that, but that’s not the feedback we’re getting. Faculty really are aware of the cost.
  • We’re waiting for data on EA to make decisions, but I hope as that comes out we can talk about other models like the one you proposed, so they’re serving you more effectively.
  • There’s a lot of support for going open source and developing materials. They’re more fine-tuned to the needs of our students, and there’s a campus project out of Chemistry.
  • Some faculty members feel that the EA is forcing them to use textbooks they might not have chosen, particularly in the basic sciences. You don’t always need all the latest bells and whistles. 
  • The program itself is not designed to make money, but we’re waiting for the data. If the program actually makes money, that extra is supposed to roll over into the next year such that the student fee goes down.
  • ASUCD is very active on this issue; contact them. 
COVID-19 Considerations

What will the guidelines be for next year? If vaccines are required will masks still be required? How will immunicompromised students be accommodated?

  • We’re waiting for UC and campus guidelines; it’s very much on the radar. 
  • There’s a group of students who can’t get here that includes both students with visa challenges and those with health-related issues. We are working with Global Affairs and Student Disability Services, and trying to build good fits between remote instruction and services, but that’s a challenge when the target keeps moving. And part of that challenge is making it equitable for everybody.
  • Our provost is an epidemiologist and is thinking about these things from that perspective.

Will there be flexibility for students to choose online classes for next fall?

  • Remote teaching is an exception offered on a quarter-by-quarter basis, because there is a course approval process for hybrid and online. But the Senate is very clear, unless you have a sound pedagogical reason for being online, your course is in-person unless approved for remote instruction.
  • The vast majority of fall classes will be in-person and on campus, and there will be exceptions to that rule. 
  • Students who are interested in more online instruction are encouraged to voice your opinions. There is a process, it takes time to develop hybrid / online courses, and it’s been up to the instructor, but if there is a significant demand there would likely be reception for that. Faculty  often feel that the preference is in-person, but to the extent that there is some preference, let us know.
  • There will likely be more online office hours and some of the other support mechanisms that have worked well will carry through.