Dear colleagues,

I hope the spring semester wrapped up smoothly. It is certainly a semester that we won’t soon forget. And with some luck, the weather will improve and actually start to align with the calendar.

Over the past two months, we have been operating day to day, week to week, and at the same time, planning for fall. Fall is a busy, exciting and important time for us and we will, as always, be ready to welcome new students to our community and to start a new academic year. There are, however, many uncertainties and lots of things will change over the next few weeks. I thought I would update everyone on our planning based on what we know today.

On May 14, Deans Galea and Lazic communicated about operational planning and practices we are aiming to adopt as we look to resume operations on campus. In this update, I focus on our educational programs for fall 2020. There is much to consider.

On May 7, we communicated our plan to run fall courses in a hybrid-flexible, also called hybrid-concurrent or hybrid-simultaneous, format. This approach involves a faculty member teaching to some students on-campus and others engaging remotely. The goal with this approach, offering in-person education coupled with real time hybrid digital education, is to ensure that all of our students can begin or continue with their programs as planned.

This approach also represents a bold new approach to teaching, one that we anticipate will become the ‘new normal’, to be with us indefinitely in future, representing in some ways an opportunity to innovate, to move us into the next phase of graduate education. We know that flexibility is a key driver of student enrollment, and our students are juggling more activities than ever. Increasingly, students find themselves needing to work while pursuing a graduate degree and having the option to attend class on campus, from home or from the office offers them more flexibility. In addition, increasing numbers of students are choosing to take at least some of their coursework online and we have long discussed the need to offer high quality, engaging online courses. We have done some of this (e.g., the MPH core courses, Essentials of Biostatistics and Essentials of Population Health Research), and our most recent endeavor, the mini-MPH, has over 5,000 registrants. Our online students often comment that the the opportunity to work through engaging content asynchronously made these courses impactful and appealing. This then points us to the potential of hybrid-flexible teaching, and suggests that adopting this approach represents us continuing to evolve our educational agenda, to meet students where they are, and where they want to be.

And now, back to fall 2020. We have approximately 175 SPH courses scheduled for fall 2020. At this time, we are expecting that the campus will be open in September and we will be returning to regular activities. We assume that in-person teaching will be allowed, with restrictions. These include, but are not limited to, physical distancing, sanitizing classrooms and other community spaces, and wearing masks. We also understand that there will be some faculty and staff who, for reasons of medical risk, will not be able to be on campus. The university is developing guidance on that and we will of course respect that and adapt expectations around the particular needs of individual faculty and staff.

We also realize that it is not implausible that we may continue remote teaching in fall. At the moment, all signs point to us being able to do a hybrid flexible approach and working towards this approach is time well spent as we expect it to be part of our educational portfolio in the future. Embracing this approach also gives us flexibility to shift course for fall, should we be directed to do so based on emerging information.

We are, as outlined in Dean Galea and Lazic’s note, in line with plans of the campus, the University, the city and the state, working to implement every conceivable effort to ensure the safety of all our community. In terms of physical distancing, the University is now carefully assessing each classroom to determine its adjusted capacity, i.e., the number of occupants that can be accommodated, ensuring required physical distancing. For example, L- 110 can accommodate 192 students and L-209 can accommodate 32 students. L-110 is a fixed seating auditorium and L-209 has moveable tables and chairs. Given specific physical distancing requirements (which are evolving), L-110 might be able to accommodate 40 students whereas L-209 might be able to accommodate 10. A course of 20 students (our modal enrollment) assigned to L-209 will need to limit the number of occupants in the room at any time to 10 (which includes the instructor, teaching assistant, etc). Some students may be planning to engage remotely because they are not in Boston (e.g., international students unable to secure visas due to in-country work stoppages) or because the remote option fits better with their personal circumstances. If there are more than 8 students wanting to take the course in person, we will need to make plans to rotate students between the in-person and remote options to ensure physical distancing. We will discuss how best to do this as we develop our plans.

The protocols for sanitizing classrooms and other community spaces and wearing masks are under discussion now and will be shared as soon as we have more details.

Delving deeper into this teaching and learning approach, there are best practices to ensure success including teaching support and educational technologies. In terms of teaching support, courses with teaching assistants (TAs) will have the TA in class assigned to manage the remote student cohort. Courses without a TA will have a course moderator, who may not have the disciplinary expertise of a TA, but who can assist the instructor in the same way. BUMC Informational Technology – Educational Media are currently working to outfit each classroom on the medical campus with web cameras on tripods, speakers and microphones to ensure that students in class can effectively engage with students joining remotely. All TAs and course moderators will be trained in proper use of educational technology and also in best practices with this modality of teaching and learning. It is a method that has been very successfully used for years in MBA programs, for example, and we will consult with faculty who have been successful with this approach to learn best practices.

There are still other options that are being considered for fall to de-densify the campus. These include exploring other large teaching venues (e.g., gymnasia, conference spaces) and expanding the teaching schedule to include Friday evening or weekend slots. We are open to all ideas and suggestions as we together navigate this new territory, so please do not hesitate to share your ideas. Dean Galea’s message on May 18, introduces a survey that creates an easy way to give us your ideas. The leadership team is also always available to hear suggestions and feedback.

As we have been repeating for weeks now, the key to our success has and will continue to be flexibility and adaptability. Just as we had to pivot in spring and summer to remote teaching, we will have to be flexible in fall. We are building on a strong foundation of a truly committed faculty and staff.  And, we are excited to be hearing from our incoming students who are excited to begin their programs of study. This moment contains challenges, many of them. It also represents opportunities, though: opportunities to innovate, to be bold, to see beyond the fall, to teach, to the future, as our students deserve. Thank you for joining us on this journey.

As always, we will continue to share updates as we have them. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any issues.

Thank you again for all you are doing.




Lisa Sullivan
Associate Dean for Education

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