New instructor guide combines safety, best practices information

New guide designed to give faculty members a compiled reference of resources as Penn State prepares to resume teaching in-person classes

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As instructors prepare to teach classes this upcoming academic year, a new Instructor Guide to Fall 2020 is now available through Penn State’s website that combines updates and changes the University has made into a single document. 

The 25-page guide distills available information ranging from protocols and policies governing health and safety, to technology and training resources, to best practices for instruction into a “one-stop shop” for instructors, said Yvonne Gaudelius, associate vice president and senior associate dean for Undergraduate Education, who, along with Renata Engel, vice provost for Online Education, and Kathleen Bieschke, vice provost for faculty affairs, asked a team of faculty members to compile the guide. 

“All of this information was out there on websites — they took it and created a chronological narrative,” Gaudelius said. “It tells instructors what they need to do before the start of the semester, what they need to do on day one and what has to be done at the end of the semester. It’s been curated it in a way that makes perfect sense for faculty.” 

The guide, which also will be used as a part of new faculty orientation on Aug. 20, was assembled by Denise Bortree, professor of advertising and public relations, associate dean for academic affairs and director for the Arthur W. Page Center in the Bellisario College of Communications; Frantisek Marko, distinguished professor of mathematics at Penn State Hazleton; and Yvette Richardson, professor of meteorology and associate dean for undergraduate education in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. 

“Our hope is that this will fill in a gap that a lot of instructors feel right now,” Bortree said. “The feedback I’m getting from faculty is that they’re feeling overwhelmed. They’re getting a lot of information from a lot of different sources, and they just want it to be organized and prioritized, and that’s what we’re trying to do with the instructor guide.” 

When considering all of the information available out there, Bortree said the team focused on a core question: “We tried to think, ‘What does an instructor need to know to teach this semester?’” 

In doing so, Richardson said the guide was developed with all faculty in mind, ranging from seasoned professors to new instructors. “They can read the whole thing, or just jump in and get what they need.” 

The team said it did not assume all faculty members have kept up with each and every update and change that Penn State has made over the past few months as a result of the pandemic. “An instructor should be able to read any section and say, ‘If I did all of this, I should be OK,’” Marko said of the guide. “If you want to follow up on any of the aspects discussed in the guide, you can dive in using the links to get more details on the policies and procedures. The document is 25 pages, but four pages are links. It’s an overview of the most important topics that we were thinking instructors should consider.” 

He added, “We are faculty ourselves, so we tried to address them as equals in this guide.” 

Richardson said, “I think it will be useful to people who aren’t instructors too,” adding that academic advisers and students can use the guide to understand how instructors will tackle the upcoming semester.  

Beyond the policies and procedures detailed in the document, the guide also includes a section focused on tensions that may surface during the upcoming semester, including racism, the presidential election, economic hardship and dynamic social situations. 

“It was important to include something on empathy for students and everything they’ve been through as well to help instructors set the tone for the semester,” Richardson said. 

Marko added, “These issues are here at the same time. We felt we needed to address them. It’s not just coronavirus.” 

The guide, which was created in about a week-and-a-half, has been reviewed by more than 250 people across Penn State, including deans, chancellors, department heads and faculty advisory groups. 

Richardson said the guide also includes answers to questions posed by faculty members that were not addressed on any existing websites. “There were a couple of things that we tracked down at the source because people wanted guidance on them.” 

In addition, the guide includes an addendum that will provide specific guidance for instructors in academic colleges and at Commonwealth Campuses. Those units can provide the team with webpage links that can be added to the addendum. 

For example, Bortree said the Bellisario College uses a great deal of photography and video equipment. “How do you pick it up, how do you drop it off? Where can you get it? A link to those resources from the guide is what we envision,” she said. 

Ultimately, Bortree said, “I really like where we got to. The administration didn’t want a document focused only on policy. It includes a focus on empathy, understanding and inclusion. It’s focused on helping a faculty member think through the semester. The administration wants faculty members to be empathetic to students and also show how much it cares about the faculty by providing this information in an organized fashion.”