3/22: Online Teaching and Asynchronous Education During COVID-19


To: USC Faculty

From: Charles F. Zukoski, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

Date: March 22, 2020

Subject: Online Teaching and Asynchronous Education During COVID-19

Tomorrow we launch a new day in USC education. In two weeks we have reimagined how we teach our students and now we are prepared to deliver over 6,000 courses online. This is an astonishing accomplishment. I thank President Folt for her support and I want to thank all of you for the effort that has gone into this. More importantly, your students will thank you.

Going into this situation we have been guided by important principles. The first is that we hold the safety and health of our students, faculty, and staff as our top priority. This led to our attempts in recent days to empty the campus. Our policies and practices are based on the best information and public health recommendations but, as you have seen, these can shift as circumstances change. We will continue to make decisions based on what is best for our community’s safety.

Secondly, we seek continuity of education and to enable students to advance toward their educational goals. Because of improvements in digital technologies over the past few years, we are able to offer continuity of education through online modalities. These are not new to USC where we have a strong and well-earned reputation for delivering high quality online education. What is new is to deliver all our courses, labs, studios, and more at the undergraduate and graduate levels in this format. The speed with which we are undertaking this transition is simply unprecedented, and there will be some challenges along the way. In recognition of this, we need to ensure students are making academic progress, while easing the transition to remote learning. Therefore, we have extended the deadlines to withdraw from classes and to elect to receive a Pass/No Pass in undergraduate courses this semester.

We must also acknowledge that continuity of education is important not only for the intellectual and academic progression of our students, but for the financial health of our institution. This means that we meet our obligations of teaching to our students, advancing them toward degrees, and remaining financially robust. Online teaching through this semester enables us to achieve this.

In a short period of time our students have dispersed around the globe, and our faculty and staff have left for their own homes. Our living circumstances have been disrupted. Many of our students are at home, looking after elderly family members or young siblings. We learned from the test of online classes before Spring Recess that our students’ biggest challenges are finding a strong internet connection, locating a quiet place to be present for classes online, and doing all of this across different time zones. They expect to earn all of their credits this semester. They expect to graduate. Faculty want to provide the same high-quality education experience they would provide if we were on campus. We need to make this possible with flexibility, care, and understanding.

Because having asynchronous access to the material you are delivering is essential to student success, it is necessary that all lectures be recorded and made available to all students. It also allows for flexibility in how and when you teach, as well.

There are many ways to deliver asynchronous education. These can be developed quickly. The Center for Excellence in Teaching will be focusing their trainings this week on strategies to help you to make this happen. We understand the concerns about the need to record lectures and other sessions on Zoom.

Let me be clear: the objective is not the mere recording of lectures, but to use those recordings to deliver USC’s quality education – developed by some of the most able faculty in the world who will guide their students through the second half of the semester during a time of global crisis. I am asking that you continue to keep this in mind as you work to implement new forms of pedagogy.

I understand that there are questions and these will be dealt with in the FAQs that will be updated as new issues arise. Let me deal with those that are top of mind. First, the recordings will not be used as part of teaching evaluations. Second, after the semester is over and grades have been turned in, the recorded lectures can be archived or deleted. Again, we are attempting to provide a service to the students to enable learning in a very disruptive time and environment.

I want to end by recognizing the commitment of the entire senior leadership team, led by President Folt, the USC staff, and all of you to our university. Thank you for your dedication to our students and our community. We simply could not be continuing the academic year without you.

cc: Office of the President
President’s Senior Leadership Team
Academic Deans
Provost’s Leadership Team
Academic Senate
Staff Assembly
GSG President
USG President