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Instruction FAQ

Updated December 29, 2021

With the recent spread of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 and warnings from public health officials about a winter wave of COVID cases, the Institute will start the winter term with one week of remote instruction. From January 3 through January 7, all courses will be offered via Zoom.

Following that period, the majority of Caltech courses are expected to be conducted 100% in-person. Some will have remote lectures but may include in-person recitations and office hours. A few may be required to be online and confirmation of their status is pending. The most up-to-date assignments are posted to the Schedule of Classes.

The most up-to-date course offering, location, and format information will be posted to the Schedule of Classes. Students should also check their syllabi, Canvas course sites, and regularly read course communications for details such as office hours schedules and whether such meetings will be in person and/or online once the term begins.

Winter term will start with a week of remote instruction, after which in-person classes are expected to resume.

Planning for future terms will take into consideration our experience in previous terms and current public health conditions.

The most up-to-date offering information and location assignments is posted on the Schedule of Classes.

Divisions worked closely with instructors and the Registrar's office to schedule classes in both indoor and outdoor locations. Outdoor spaces are suited to smaller classes and those that do not have intensive technology needs, and those factors are also being taken into consideration. The updated schedule of classes with location assignments will be available on the online Schedule of Classes.

The Institute is requiring that all students participating in in-person classes maintain a minimum of 3-feet physical distancing in classrooms, labs, and instructional spaces. In classrooms with fixed seating for which 3-feet distancing would greatly reduce the usefulness of the space for teaching, classroom occupancy limits will be reduced to 50% capacity with students sitting in every other seat and using all rows in checkerboard fashion.

In addition to physical distancing, the Institute is factoring into its multi-pronged approach requirements the use of NIOSH-approved N95 masks by all students in in-person classes and studied the air ventilation of all instructional spaces. The Institute will require that all instructional spaces accommodate a minimum rate of 4 air changes per hour with clean air obtained from outside, either from a MERV-13 or higher filtration system, from an HEPA air purification system, or from a combination thereof. The complete report is available online.

Following the identification of a positive case of COVID-19, SWS staff will engage in the contact tracing process and will identify any potential classroom exposure, and communicate via email with the instructor, TAs, and class participants to provide public health-related instructions as appropriate. SWS will notify the relevant dean's office, who will communicate with the student's instructors regarding the need for course materials, recordings, or other accommodations to be provided for the duration of the student's isolation period.

SWS will inform the relevant dean's office of a student's isolation or quarantine period, and the deans will reach out to instructors and TAs to facilitate recordings, course materials, and any other elements necessary to enable a student's continued participation in a course, as long as they are well enough to engage in academic work. Instructors should be sure to have the capability to provide recordings on short notice, and provide flexibility to students who may not feel well enough to participate while in isolation.

SWS will inform identified close contacts about exposure to a positive case of COVID-19. Not every individual in a classroom is likely to be considered a close contact, but in the event that a student tests positive and attended class within the time period where they were likely to be infectious, the entire class would receive a courtesy notification by email, with reminders about conducting symptom checks, ensuring participation in the surveillance program, and information about how to report illness if they become symptomatic.

Courses may be shifted to a fully online learning environment if there is evidence of transmission between course participants, if a large number of participants are not able to attend class in person because of isolation or quarantine requirements, or if the instructors need to ensure that students in isolation can participate equitably in discussions and activities. The Institute anticipates and is advising instructors and students to be flexible in adapting to different modalities for teaching and learning as the situation evolves.

Students who do not follow health and hygiene protocols in classrooms or academic buildings should be referred to the appropriate dean's office for possible disciplinary action. Any incident should be written up and submitted via email to either the Undergraduate Associate Dean (kweyman@caltech.edu) or the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies (rdpeters@caltech.edu).

Students who attend a class without a mask or refuse to wear a mask may be asked by the instructor or TA to leave the classroom.

Yes, instructors and TAs may ask noncompliant students to leave the classroom.

Instructors or TAs will be notified of any ADA accommodations required for students enrolled in their courses at the start of the term.

Recording all classes at all times is not a requirement. Instructors have been advised, however, to be prepared to record sessions and/or support students who are unable to attend class due to illness, isolation, or quarantine in other ways, and the Institute is supporting Divisions and instructors in these recording efforts.

If a student is symptomatic, they should not attend class, but immediately report their illness on the COVID-19 Reporting Application. They may reach out to the instructor directly, and inform them of their absence. It is recommended they cc the appropriate dean as well.

Any individual experiencing any signs of illness, should not attend classes until they are no longer symptomatic and have tested negative for COVID-19.

If a student is symptomatic, they should not attend class, but immediately report their illness on the COVID-19 Reporting Application. They may reach out to the instructor directly, and inform them of their absence. It is recommended they cc the appropriate dean as well.

Any student may take a personal leave of absence at any point in the term, up until the last day of classes. A consultation and discussion with the relevant dean is recommended.

The Institute requires that all students participating in in-person classes use NIOSH-approved N95 masks, which the Institute will provide. They will be distributed from the Caltech Store beginning on Monday, January 3. Students with documented disability or medical conditions may request an exemption by contacting Caltech Accessibility Services for Students (CASS) at cass.caltech.edu.

NIOSH-approved N95 masks are strongly recommended for use in in-person learning by instructors and TAs. Masks provided by the Institute will be accompanied by clear instructions about expected use and fit.

Yes. N95 masks are required of all students when engaging with other members of the community in-person in instructional spaces, regardless of whether that is inside or outside. Masks are also required in all indoor spaces on campus as per Institute policies.

Masks for undergraduate and graduate students will be distributed from the Caltech Store. Each Division may have a limited supply of N95 masks for use by students who forget to bring a mask to class.

As discussed in the CRCI report, distancing, masking, and air handling are critical components of a multi-pronged COVID-safety approach. Use of NIOSH-approved N95 masks by class participants ensures that masks are made from high-performance materials and are designed to enable a high-performance fit, which increases their effectiveness.

Working with partners or small groups is possible as long as other requirements for in-person instruction are maintained, namely 3-feet physical distancing, or every other seat in fixed-seat classrooms, and continuously wearing NIOSH-approved N95 masks. In some cases, classroom and lab activities may need to be modified for the current context.

The following practices may be helpful for working in pairs or collaborating during classes and labs, as well as in person outside of class:

  • Use shared online documents for collective notes so that each partner or group member can contribute at a 3-foot distance and without the need to share physical materials. Resources include Google Workspace tools like Google Documents and Jamboard, Microsoft 365 for Instruction tools such as OneNote and Whiteboard (available through http://access.caltech.edu), as well as shared documents in Box, or Overleaf for collaborative LaTeX editing.
  • If using a wall-mounted or portable vertical whiteboard or chalkboard for collaboration, designate one partner or group member to be at the board noting all group members' contributions, while the other partner or group members are at least 3 feet away. Use cleaning supplies to wipe markers and other implements before trading roles or passing them to another student.
  • For lab activities, designate one lab partner to be operating equipment or conducting physical work, and one to be recording data and observing, at any given time. Trade roles at regular intervals.

Caltech's iPad Loaner Program provides iPads and Apple Pencils to students for online collaboration and course work. Contact library@caltech.edu to request an iPad and/or Apple Pencil for loan. Loans are for one term, and priority is given to incoming students. Loans may be renewed based on availability.

Important: Before returning an iPad to the Library please read and follow the iPad Reset Process.

The Institute has purchased AV and recording equipment to support instruction. AV items such as webcams, microphones, headsets, digital tablets, and document cameras are listed at https://teach.caltech.edu/tech-tools/equipment and can be borrowed by instructors subject to availability. Several options are also available to support video and/or audio recording of classes, discussed at https://teach.caltech.edu/tech-tools/video-recording-options. Recording needs for in-person classes are being coordinated by Divisions, with recording kits and training provided by the Institute to the Divisions. The recording options website linked above includes guides and how-to videos for users and contact information for questions and advice on setup in specific teaching spaces.

The instructor is responsible for organizing the course in a manner that meets the Institute commitment to in-person teaching and learning. If there is any doubt about whether that commitment is being met, the instructor must consult with the division chair to devise a satisfactory plan.

If office hours or recitation sessions are conducted in person, students will be expected to attend in person.

Office hours should follow the same protocols as classes in terms of distancing and mask wearing. In some cases, this may mean that fewer students can be accommodated simultaneously in spaces that have been used for office hours in the past, and the divisions may decide to use classroom or outdoor spaces for scheduled office hours.

Instructors should coordinate the use of outdoor teaching spaces with their division offices. Most outdoor teaching spaces have Wi-Fi connectivity, electrical outlets and lighting for night classes.

Depending on the class and how you're asked to engage, students should consider what to bring to class with them:

1) If you'd like to take notes, be sure to bring a fully-charged laptop and/or a notebook with which to take notes (and you might want to bring a hard surface on which to put your notebook as well).

2) California weather is unpredictable, so prepare for a class where you might need extra layers of clothing, water, or sunscreen.

3) Always have an extra mask available.

Outdoor classes provide a different way to engage with your class during the pandemic, but outdoor classrooms understandably introduce new variables and considerations for planning. You should plan to be outdoors for an hour to two hours and bring what will make you comfortable in different conditions.

Weather in California remains generally warm all year round. We will monitor current weather conditions and make adjustments to instructional plans as necessary.

Due to reduced room capacities that are required for social distancing, students should participate in the recitations in which they are enrolled. To change recitation section enrollment, students should use REGIS to make a change; this will ensure that enrollments remain consistent with room capacity limits.

Deadlines and grading policy will continue to be as published in the Catalog. For continuing undergraduate students and all graduate students, not all courses have a pass/fail option. Students will need to make sure that the proper grading scheme is selected in REGIS. Keep in mind that most options require courses to be taken for letter grade unless the course is offered for pass/fail only. Many undergraduate Core requirements also require letter grades.