Preparing for possible campus suspension of in-person instruction and examinations

To: UC Santa Cruz faculty

From: Interim Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer

As outlined in a previous campus communication, UCSC is continuing to take precautionary steps to prepare the campus for scenarios where COVID-19 makes large gatherings unsafe. As a result, we are advising instructors to prepare for the possible suspension of Winter quarter in-person instruction and in-person finals. Many instructors have already been using tools such as webcasting, Zoom, and Canvas to deliver instruction, and we ask those instructors who have not been doing so to consider how you might modify instruction in the event that classes can no longer meet in person. Comprehensive information is available listing campus technological solutions and adaptations for instruction.

Final Exams

For Winter 2020, all instructors should prepare now for at least some students to be unable to attend the final exam in person. The health and safety of our community is our top priority, and we need to ensure that a sick student does not feel compelled to come to campus, which could pose a significant public health risk.

In addition, instructors should have a contingency plan in place should Winter quarter in-person final exams be suspended altogether.

Here are some principles to help guide instructors:
  • The recent Senate guidance on changes to a syllabus recommends that “when making adjustments, faculty should make every effort to teach in a way that continues to support students in achieving the learning goals of the course, even as we recognize that some course elements may need to change due to extreme unplanned events such as campus closures.”
  • Focus on learning rather than testing. The priority in an emergency is not to replicate traditional in-person tests but to provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate and solidify their learning.
  • Options to demonstrate learning in lieu of traditional exams might include online exams (administered through Canvas), other forms of take home exams, project based learning, short student-made videos expressing learning (where appropriate), and a range of other alternative assessments.
  • Online proctoring may be available by request. Please email for more details. Due to high demand for this service among institutions around the country, the availability of online proctoring is limited, but UCSC will continue to work to make it available to interested instructors. Arrangements typically need to be made at least a week in advance. Campus resources may be available to cover the per-student costs. This will be discussed when contact is made with
  • If a student is not able to complete the option(s) provided by the instructor, the student may be given an incomplete (I) at the student’s request if their work was of passing quality but incomplete. Instructors should be clear as to what needs to be done within the next quarter.
  • For take-home examinations and papers, rather than trying to eliminate cheating in at home environments, you may want to try the alternative of offering a different style of assessment and messaging about academic integrity. Cheating is extremely difficult to eliminate. In-person exams do not always translate directly into remote environments. Designing assessments that make it difficult for students to cheat may be more practical than trying to stop cheating. For instance, open book exams that are time limited may make it less likely that students will cheat. Timed exams through Canvas or email that are sent out and returned at a specific time make it difficult for students to consult a lot of outside sources. Canvas can allow an instructor to restrict the IP address of the user. Finally, Canvas allows the use of quiz banks, so that questions can be shuffled, making it difficult for students to reliably collaborate, especially in timed environments.
  • Remember that students who have DRC accommodations will still need reasonable accommodations in alternative teaching and assessment environments. Consult directly with the DRC if you have questions about accommodations.
  • Have a plan in place and discuss it with your students in the days prior to the exam if at all possible. “If campus is operating as normal, then X. If you are sick and unable to attend an in-person exam, then Y. If in-person final exams are cancelled, then Z.” Talk to students about how you may have to modify your original grading plan. Be transparent about what that will look like.

The Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning and ITS have posted instructions and suggestions for instructors who need to modify examinations, assessments, and feedback and/or use technology for instruction due to present circumstances. Additional online resources have just been developed for instructional resilience during the COVID 19 outbreak (and other unplanned events). CITL, FITC, and Online Education staff will be available in the coming days to consult individually with instructors both about finishing Winter 2020 courses and planning for possible contingencies in Spring. An email to,, or will connect you with staff, who will route your question to the appropriate person in their own or another unit.

Remember that some students may not have access to a computer or to high-speed internet at home. If in-person classes are suspended, instructors should not require students to come to campus to access the internet or other facilities. Instructors should consider if there are ways to allow students to complete assignments without internet access, such as having students do some forms of work and take a picture with their phones, sending it in on the cellular network. Note: for proctored online examinations, high-speed internet access is essential.

Good communication is key
  • It is important to recognize that many students have significant anxiety around assessment and that all students are likely to be experiencing higher than normal levels of stress associated with the strike/protest and COVID-19. Clear and positive communication with students about the event and how you will handle assessments can help alleviate anxiety.
  • Avoid changing the format of the assessment multiple times if possible. If you need to change the format or date, be transparent about why and what information you are using to make the decision and when you plan to let students know the plan. Acknowledge that the situation may be less than ideal but that you are focused on providing the best learning experience possible under the circumstances.
  • Keep any Teaching Assistants, Readers, or other instructional staff apprised of planned changes. Communicate your expectations and clarify their roles.
  • If able, you might ask students for their feedback about possible alternatives for assessment. Giving students the chance to weigh in on these decisions can help them feel more in control of the situation.
Unplanned events can make assessment of student work challenging. Maintaining a focus on learning outcomes can make decisions about what mode of assessment to use clearer. And finally, good communication with students throughout is essential to help alleviate stress and help students maintain focus on their learning in the face of uncertainty.

Thank you for your assistance in this dynamic environment. We appreciate your diligence as we all work together to ensure our campus is prepared and safe.