Delivering Flexible Academic Options

Group of students wearing mask walking near Larsen Student Union

The plan for undergraduate academic programs fall 2020

Academic calendar

The academic calendar has been updated for Fall 2020, to begin earlier in the fall, eliminate breaks (reducing travel), and conclude face-to-face instruction prior to Thanksgiving.  Final assessments will be conducted on Tu-F of the week after Thanksgiving. A visual of important dates is shown earlier in this document and the current academic calendar for all programs is available on the university web page.  In addition, the time between classes has been increased from 10 minutes, to 15 minutes, to allow for the additional time needed, due to social distancing, to move between classes.

Course delivery

Messiah University is committed to offering residential and face-to-face instruction. We also recognize that accommodations will have to be made to accomplish appropriate distancing measures and to serve those in our community who are not able to attend or do not feel safe attending classes in person.  With adjustments to course locations, many courses will be able to accommodate full attendance in each session.  That said, faculty should anticipate that some students in every course will be engaging remotely due to travel restrictions (e.g. internationally-based students) and/or health and safety considerations.  For other courses, where the full roster will exceed the revised room occupancy, face-to-face attendance will need to be staggered throughout the week, rotating the roster of students who attend face-to-face with the roster of students who engage remotely.  Note that a small percentage of courses may be identified by the institution as needing to be delivered entirely online.  While this will not be the norm, this will a supported modality in that limited number of cases.

Expectations, support and training for adjusted classroom delivery

All teaching faculty will be expected to deliver courses in a way that provides an equitable learning opportunity for students who are participating in each class session whether they are present face-to-face or learning remotely.  While developing courses in this way requires significant preparation, it does not need to entail “teaching each course twice.”  A Canvas support and resource training site for undergraduate face-to-face courses has been developed and all faculty are required to complete the modules on this site prior to the start of classes in August.  While the site was developed with our undergraduate F2F courses in mind, the resources there can be leveraged by faculty across the university.  The site provides a wide range of resources for delivering course content including technology and resources used in classroom spaces, expectations for using Canvas for Enhanced F2F/HyFlex course delivery, and health and safety guidelines for faculty and students.

Pedagogical Expectations and Support

The university will be providing support for three different approaches to delivering what are normally traditional classroom courses this fall, each of which is simultaneously accessible to both face-to-face (F2F) as well as remote learners. To maintain consistency in the student experience (this will be crucial as our students navigate different courses in F2F and remote formats) and enable adequate support for faculty and students alike, faculty will need to choose to employ one of three pre-developed Canvas templates in each of their courses – with each template being aligned with a particular model of simultaneous F2F/remote instruction.  (Note that faculty may make different choices for each of their different courses, but each course must be delivered employing one of the three supported options.)

The three models are listed below.  Full descriptors of each approach, recommendations about the relative strengths and potential detractors, as well as training and support resources, will be communicated later in June as part of a faculty support landing page that is currently under development.

  1. Enhanced face-to-face (F2F); Lecture-based classroom

This version of course delivery looks and feels very much like a traditional lecture classroom, but includes synchronous participation from remote students.Classroom technology makes it possible for remote students to hear and see at least the most critical elements of the classroom presentation/discussion and to interact with the instructor or peers.Course pedagogy is generally the same as it would be for a traditional lecture course delivery.

  1. Enhanced face-to-face (F2F); Activity-based classroom

This version of flexible course delivery makes use of what some call a “flipped classroom” pedagogy.Direct instruction is generally asynchronous and moved in advance of the class hour and delivered via recorded mini-lectures, focused readings, or brief “primer” assignments.The class time is then devoted to activities such as problem solving, discussions, reviewing paper drafts, etc.

  1. HyFlex

The HyFlex strategy effectively blends elements from the two prior course delivery strategies to provide options for the student and for content delivery.Students who can attend class F2F do so, while students who cannot attend the physical classroom time can participate either synchronously or asynchronously using materials available online that are functionally equivalent in content and rigor with what will be done in the classroom. While this option provides flexibility, it also entails significant investment in and changes to course design, preparation, and delivery.

Online courses: A small percentage of courses may be identified by the institution as needing to be delivered entirely online.While this will not be the norm, this will a supported modality in that limited number of cases.For courses or sections that will be delivered entirely online, the university will work with the faculty member to set up the course in a standard online format with a template that is compatible with the templates designed for the three faculty options above.

In addition to the options and associated support structures described above, Teaching and Learning programming in the fall will be focused on supporting the ongoing delivery of this F2F/remote learning mode and instructional designers will continue to be available during the summer and into the fall through appointment and in Zoom. 

It should be noted that the options described above to apply to instruction that falls into the category of traditional classroom instruction.  Classes that don’t easily fit into this model, such as studios, labs, ensembles, and experiential learning opportunities, etc. have been identified and a plan has been developed for approaches to modified delivery of these courses

Readiness to pivot online

All of the models above are amendable to a rapid transition to online, as well as a pivot back to Enhanced F2F/HyFlex, enabling instruction to continue in a fluid way throughout the uncertainties that are inherent due to ongoing adjustments related to public health realities.  The choice to pivot online does not belong to the individual faculty member or student – these are institutional decisions that would be communicated should they need to be made.

Engaging remote students

We will make every effort to make our campus safe for everyone, but at the same time, we understand that there could be circumstances in which a student determines that congregate living/campus life may not be the best choice. Therefore, students who are not comfortable or able to attend Messiah University in person this fall are welcome to enroll in classes and engage through remote participation in regularly scheduled courses.  As such, students who have previously enrolled for on-campus housing are being asked to confirm or update their plans to attend Messiah University in one of the following three ways.

  1. Residential Student: The residential student resides in campus housing and participates in the on-campus and in-person educational experience.  While this residential and academic experience will have necessary modifications for health and safety, in-person attendance in academic courses and campus activities (within safety and health constraints) will be the expectation and the norm.


  1. Commuter Student: The commuter student resides off campus locally (within 50 miles of Messiah University) and must fulfill one of the following criteria: living with a parent(s) or immediate family member(s), is married, is over 23 years old, or is classified as having independent status by the Office of Financial Aid. While there will be necessary modifications to campus life for health and safety reasons, in-person attendance in academic courses and campus activities (within safety and health constraints) will be the expectation and the norm.


  1. Fully Remote Student: The fully remote student resides off campus for the duration of the fall semester and does not travel to campus for academic courses or campus life activities.  The student regularly participates in courses with the expectation of regular remote attendance in synchronous course sessions.  A student who begins the fall as a Residential Student or a Commuter Student may, with approval, make a one-time decision to switch to “Fully Remote Student.” Once a student chooses this option, that status will be maintained for the duration of the Fall 2020 semester.  The student may not switch from Fully Remote to either of the other two categories during the semester.

Remote learning at Messiah University

Remote learning is not the same as “online” learning.  In a remote-learning environment, remote students are participating in courses that are also being taken by students who are learning in-person.  While the institution will identify a small subset of courses that will be offered in an online and asynchronous way, most courses will have a synchronous component in which remote students will participate simultaneously with students who are attending in-person.  While there are inherent challenges in a combined in-person/remote educational format, faculty will be engaged in planning and course development this summer that is specifically designed to accommodate this kind of learning.  This approach (‘Enhanced F2F or HyFlex’) enables face-to-face instruction to resume, while offering an equivalent learning opportunity for students who choose to attend Messiah remotely.  Students considering remote learner status should understand the commitment they are making to engaging in education and should take the following into consideration:

  • Effective remote learning requires a quiet place that allows for focus and attending to work
  • Effective remote learning requires a computer and a stable internet connection
  • To maximize opportunities for interaction, a web cam and headset are strongly encouraged
  • Some courses are inherently more challenging to take (and to deliver) than others, such as courses that include hands-on skills, such as labs or art studios. See more information below. 
  • Courses with synchronous instruction can be challenging for students who live in time zones that are significantly offset from Eastern Standard Time.  See more information below.
  • Students who choose this option will engage with Messiah as a fully remote learner for the duration of the Fall 2020 semester.

Challenges and Options for Remote Learners

Students who choose to learn remotely are typically making that choice due to significant barriers (health and otherwise) that prevent a return to campus.  There are some courses and situations that add to the challenges of remote learning, some of which are already noted above, and these challenges vary from course to course and student to student. 

Courses that require hands-on or experiential components

The university has identified these courses and for each course, and student, the best path for remote delivery of these options will be determined.These experiences are unique enough that the path forward will likely be different for each course or type of course.In some cases, the course can be adapted using technology and virtual learning. In others, materials can be provided to the remote learner to recreate the experience remotely.In other cases, where flexibility in coursework exists, it may be that remote students choose to adjust their course schedules to substitute an alternate course or postpone the experiential course to a later semester.In all situations, the university is committed to working with students to address these challenges and find a path forward for timely completion of their Messiah University education.

Students who Attend Remotely from a Time Zone offset from EST

While synchronous learning will work well for many students, there will be a specific challenge for those residing internationally or domestically in an offset time zone.  The planning teams are currently working through options, but in many cases, the path forward will vary by student and by course.  Examples of ways this challenge can be met include the following. In a limited number of cases, an asynchronous online section of a course may be available. In other cases, and in courses where content is amenable to it, faculty members may employ a specific method of course delivery that is adaptable to synchronous learning for those students learning in-person and asynchronous for those who are remote.  For courses that have required synchronous components, flexibility will be needed from both the student and from the faculty member; students will sometimes be synchronous at less-than-ideal times and the faculty member will look to provide asynchronous options wherever feasible.

Syllabi and LMS (Canvas) Expectations

Syllabi The ongoing expectations for course syllabi, as outlined in the COE Handbook, should continue to be followed.  In addition, faculty have been provided specific statements to include in their syllabi that address the following expectations for students and classroom instruction:

  • Calendar and Schedule
  • Attendance and Participation
  • Health and Safety
  • Procedure for Accommodations
  • Course Modifications


In order to provide a consistent experience for students and support student success, all faculty are required to use one of the provided Canvas templates to deliver courses this fall. This supports delivery of instruction in a situation where we have students who are learning both in-person as well as remotely throughout the semester as well enabling adequate preparation for the possibility of a course or courses needing to be shifted from Enhanced F2F/HyFlex to online (even temporarily).  In addition to the syllabus (which is always required to be on Canvas), faculty are expected to use Canvas in the following ways:

  • Templates

All courses will employ the use of a pre-designed Canvas template.The template does not determine content (that is the role of the faculty member), but the templates do provide consistency for students across the curriculum and regardless of whether the student is learning in-person or remotely.There will be four basic templates, one for each mode of delivery, and the faculty member must choose the one that is best-suited to the content and pedagogy of the course. While each template has some flexibility built in, so that the course can be delivered clearly and effectively within the discipline, the student experience (course communication, assignments, content, etc.) should not vary widely from course to course.

  • Modules

All four of the templates are set up to organize course content using Canvas modules.It is expected that faculty will use this feature as an organizational support for students.The modules may be organized by time (e.g. weekly modules) or by content (e.g. a module for each topic or chapter).

  • Assignments

All assignments, along with due dates and mode of submission (e.g. upload to Canvas, file format, etc.) should be listed on the Canvas page for each course.If there are changes to assignments or due dates, Canvas should be updated accordingly throughout the semester.

  • Communication with Students

Communication relevant to all students in course or to groups of students in a course should be conducted using Canvas, through the Announcements feature, Discussion Board feature, or similar. This is important so that all students in a course are included and receive relevant information in a timely way (Canvas is updated regularly to match the current course roster). Other than communicating with individual students, email should not be used for communicating course-related information.

  • Gradebook

Use of the Canvas gradebook sets students up for success, as it enables them to see their academic progress in a course in an ongoing way – this is an important practice for supporting students.In addition, students who come to Messiah are, by-and-large, used to having up-to-date grade information available through an LMS employed in secondary education.The Canvas gradebook should be used to record and make available to students scores that students earn on assignments.Sometimes, a faculty member does not wish to display the final grade in Canvas, since there are some assignments, such as the final exam or participation points, that are not entered until the end of the term and without these scores, the final grade can appear misleading.Therefore, the final grade feature may be turned off (use “hide totals”) at the faculty member’s discretion.If turned off, assignment scores should still be entered into Canvas throughout the semester, as grading is completed.All faculty should clearly communicate the course grading policies and expectations around the use of Canvas Gradebook to students at the beginning of the semester.

Classroom Modifications Necessary for Social Distancing

The CDC and the PA Department of Education (PDE) have provided guidelines for institutions of higher education that emphasize such things as the importance of hygiene, 6-foot spacing where feasible, and face coverings.  Per PDE guidelines, “COVID-19 requires that postsecondary institutions rethink the ways in which they conduct learning and other activities on campus.” Specific areas that are being addressed are:

  • Building flow has been adjusted in order to limit the spread of illness. Where possible, hallways will be one-way, stairways will be one-way, and building exit and entrances will be separate. Elevators should be occupied by only one person at a time.
  • Proper signage will be important in facilitating new ways of moving around campus. Appropriate signs will be placed throughout the campus to assist with the new flow.
  • ADA compliance will be maintained. Those with accessibility issues will not be required to follow building traffic patterns where prohibitive.
  • All classroom spaces have been evaluated and adapted to allow for social distancing. New room capacities are posted in each space. Furniture should not be moved into, out of, or within rooms.
  • The number of students who will attend class in-person at one time will be limited to accommodate appropriate social distancing of 6 feet between individuals when feasible.
  • In situations where 6-foot spacing is not feasible, such as in laboratories or studios such as film that require closer proximity, increased PPE, such as glasses/goggles, lab coats, and gloves will be used. In addition, some professional organizations in these areas have published recommendations for mitigating risk that can be incorporated as well.
  • Technology solutions are being provided to allow students to engage in group work, while still social distancing, and also continuing to incorporate remote learners into class discussions.

Student Attendance

Students who have not chosen the remote learning option are expected to attend class, under standard attendance expectations.  Acceptable reasons for missing include illness or suspected illness, especially if symptoms are consistent with COVID-19.  The remote learning option is a holistic and one-time choice that applies to all classes for the duration of Fall 2020.  Students may not choose to miss class simply because they have a preference to learn remotely for a given class or given day.

Students who have chosen to learn remotely or who miss class because of an approved reason, such as illness or quarantine, will be able to make up assessments and exams or engage in an equivalent assessment remotely.

Students who are experiencing COVID-related trauma or anxiety are encouraged to speak with the Engle Center as well as the Director for Student Success.

The university is exploring options for proctoring exams remotely, using both software and technology solutions.  These will be communicated to faculty as they become available. Faculty are also encouraged and equipped to use assessments of learning that are less prone to academic integrity violations, such as projects, papers, and interactive assignments.


All academic advisors have a Canvas page for Academic Advising.  Enrollment in the course with current advisees is regularly and automatically updated, enabling advisors to easily communicate with all assigned primary advisees.  In addition, similar to advising in the Spring of 2020, advising appointments can be conducted remotely, and this is the recommended method whenever possible, using Zoom or other similar teleconferencing applications.

There are no changes anticipated to the timeline for fall advising week, as it falls within the updated academic calendar.

Advisors and students should continue to use Self-service and Degree Works in course and schedule planning.  While students remain ultimately responsible for their academic choices, all the standard tools, as well as technology for remote advising, are in place for advisors and students in Fall 2020.

Clinicals, Labs, Student Teaching, & Performing Arts

Technology in the Classroom

Plans for Murray Library, the campus bookstore and research