This week we are excited to have Sharon Mueller, the director of advising and policy in Engineering Student Services, answering some questions about the Fall 2020 semester. We discussed the different modes of instruction, key terminology that will help you understand how the courses will be taught, and where to get the most updated information.
LAURA VOGT: Hello everyone and thank you for tuning into our late release of the (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer. My name is Laura Vogt and I’m the associate director of marketing and communications for the College of Engineering and your podcast host. A couple weeks ago I taped a registration tips podcast with ESS adviser Chaniqua Butscher and I was going to air that on Monday, but I decided to postpone that one week, because we now have a better understanding of what the Fall 2020 semester is going to look like. I thought having a Q and A session with Sharon Mueller, the director of policy and advising for Engineering Student Services would serve us better. So today, we’re going to discuss the different modes of instruction, some key terminology that’s going to help you understand how the courses are being taught, and where to get even more updates and more information. So without further ado, hi Sharon and thank you for joining us today!
SHARON MUELLER: You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure.
LV: So just as a reminder, the important dates that we have coming up. Our new transfer students are going to register on Tuesday, July 14th and the incoming freshmen will register on Thursday, July 16. So it’s right around the corner and we’ve had quite a few changes in the last couple of weeks, or maybe not necessarily changes, but updates to what our modes of instruction are going to be for the fall. So Sharon, can you tell us a little bit more about what the modes of instructions are going to be?
SM: Yeah, it’s actually, it’s been a very fluid situation and the Office of the Registrar has been super busy trying to update all components of courses with these modes of instruction. So there are going to be, and there are currently, five modes of instruction and some of these are new for fall and some of them have always existed. There will be a mode of instruction that’s called in-person. And generally when you see a mode of instruction in-person that means that component of that class is going to be in-person. So anyone who’s enrolled in an in-person component of a class will need to be obviously in the Berkeley area. Attendance on campus is required for in-person.
Then there’s a new mode of instruction called hybrid and what hybrid means is that sometimes the class is going to meet in person and sometimes they’re going to meet online. Hybrid also requires attendance on campus because it just means some of the time that class is actually going to meet in person.
Then we have three more modes of instruction and the remaining three do not require attendance in-person at all. And so the first one is flexible and flexible means that students will have the option of either meeting in-person or meeting online. The class will be sort of in a dual mode and students will get to choose whether they want to participate in-person or they want to participate online. And then the next one is remote. And that means the class will be fully remote. There will be no in-person attendance at all. And lastly is web based. And we’ve actually had a web based mode of instruction for many years now and web based just means that the course has always been online. And so that’s not a new mode of instruction for this term but there are still some courses listed that are web based and were going to be offered as web based anyway for Fall 2020.
LV: There’s a couple of key terms that I think are going to be important this time around. So starting off with the components of a class, what are the components of what classes could have?
SM: Yes, I think I’ve already used that word, so I really should explain it. When we talk about the components of a class, most classes have multiple components. Meaning that there’s a lecture. So that’s the main component of the class is the lecture, that’s going to be the biggest part. That’s where you’re going to have, maybe you know you can have, anywhere from 30 students to several hundred students in the lecture, so that is a component. The class probably also has different discussion sections, and those are also components of the class. And some classes have labs. So that’s another component of the class. It’s really important for students to know that every component is going to have its own mode of instruction. It’s very possible that the lectures, most lectures, are going to be remote, because they’re just too big. And so most lectures are going to be remote. However, there might be some discussion sections that are in-person or there might be some discussion sections that are hybrid, meaning some students will come in-person, some days, and some students will be online that day. So it’s really important when students are looking at classes to enroll in, that they’re looking at every component of the course that they want to take.
For instance, you’re going to be nowhere near Berkeley and you’re going to stay home for the fall semester, you want to make sure that you’re not enrolling in any components that are in-person or hybrid. If you are going to be in Berkeley, then really any mode of instruction is open to you, but you might prefer to look for components that are in-person or hybrid since you have the opportunity to actually come to class. So yeah, the most important piece here is understanding what those modes of instruction are and also understanding that every component of a course is going to have its own mode of instruction.
LV: And the other two words that I’m hearing a lot when we talk about these web based and remote courses are synchronous and asynchronous. What is the difference between those?
SM: Right, you will see when you look at the details of a course, say in classes.berkeley.edu or in the class search function in Cal Central, you will see these words. Synchronous means that you will be expected to participate in that course during the posted time that the course is being offered. That’s what synchronous means. A lot of courses are going to be asynchronous, which means that they might still have a posted time but basically the lecture is going to be recorded and students in most cases will not be expected to participate during that particular time and will be able to listen to the lecture later.
Now I have been hearing that there are some courses where it’s going to be a little bit of a combo. So for the most part of course it’s going to be asynchronous and students can listen whenever they want. Then there might be times when the instructor says – you know for the next lecture, I’d like as many of you as possible to be able to attend during the time because it’s going to be more interactive. We’re going to have a Q and A. They might do this, say before a midterm, or when they’re talking about an important project coming up. So even though it says asynchronous, it’s up to the instructor. There might be a few times during the semester when the instructor is going to ask if possible that students try to participate during the actual posted time.
LV: One of the tips that Chaniqua and I will be discussing next week is trying to not schedule classes at the same time because then you might have overlapping finals. Is that still something that you should look into or be aware of as you’re making your schedule?
SM: Yes, definitely. And that’s why the courses that are primarily asynchronous are still going to have a timed posted, because that’s how students can see what final exam time they’re going to have. So the lecture has to have a time associated with it in order for students to understand when their final exam is going to be. So even though a course may be asynchronous, it will be really important for students not to just choose lectures that have the exact same times because that is most likely going to mean they’re going to have two final exams at the exact same time. Instructors do not need to make accommodations for that. The only cases in which maybe that could be a possibility is if their particular class doesn’t have a so-called sit down final exam, that maybe it’s a final project instead of a final exam. But even with that it would be really important to know, sometimes even with final projects, there is an expectation that students be available during the final exam time to present on their project. So we really, really highly recommend that students avoid having courses where the posted time is the same for that reason.
LV: So that definitely hasn’t changed this time around.
SM: That’s correct, yes.
LV: And how are students going to be able to determine…what’s the best way for them to find out how the course is being taught?
SM: So you know this is an ongoing project so I know the office of the Registrar is kind of frantically working to get all the courses updated. In classes.berkeley.edu students can search by mode of instruction. What’s really important to know about the search on classes.berkeley.edu is that it’s only going to return back the mode of instruction for the lecture. So if you search, for example, for remote, you’re going to find a whole bunch of courses that are listed as remote. Then what you need to do is click on the course and drill into the details of the course and there’s a section in there called associated sections. Those are otherwise known as the additional component of the course. So then, when students look at the associated sections, each of those is going to have their own mode of instruction. So then if a student is fully remote they want to make sure that they have some options in the associated sections that are also fully remote or flexible or web based. It is also the same with the class search in Cal Central. What I’ve been told is that the class search in Cal Central, if students search by mode of instruction and they search remote, it will return all components that are remote for the class. I haven’t actually tested that out to verify but that’s what I’ve been told. And also, I just saw that these modes of instruction are also in Schedule Planner to help students plan. Where they are not yet is once a student enrolls, if they go into their Cal central and they look at their “My Academics” tab, and they look at everything they’re enrolled in, they’re actually not going to see the mode of instruction there yet. I think the hope is to get that surfaced for students but it may not happen until late August. So for now it’s going to be mostly just making sure in classes.berkeley.edu that you’re in the right modes of instruction. I might add Laura to that you know things are changing quite a bit still and I realize you know that the new students are enrolling next week and I think the Office of the Registrar is really trying to get things as finalized as possible by then. We really want to encourage students to continue to check. So even though they’re in something that maybe is hybrid or maybe it’s flexible now, it’s possible that that could change. I think every department recognizes that that wouldn’t be ideal but just because of the nature of the pandemic and you know we’re kind of always at the mercy of what the recommendation is from the Health Department. So it’s just really important because it’s such a fluid situation, for students just to continue to check the Schedule of Classes to make sure that nothing has changed.
LV: And I know on the Schedule of Classes, our classes.berkeley.edu that there’s a note section and we’ve been asking faculty to go in and put as much detail into that notes section. So I think that’s going to continue to be updated over the summer too, right?
SM: Yes, definitely we’ve been asking departments to try to even more drill down into what the expectations of the course are. You know how I mentioned how a course might be listed as asynchronous but maybe the faculty member is going to want students to participate once a month or something like that. Those are the kinds of details we were really hoping that faculty will put into the notes section and students can see the notes of a class when they click on the class. And that’s true in class search and in classes.berkeley.edu. So when students click on that they’re going to see that notes section and that’s where we’re hoping to get even more details about a class. So just so students are understanding of what the expectation is.
LV: And you were saying that there’s still updates happening, we just switched all of this over. If you’re looking at one of those sections and say it says the mode of instruction is in person but the location is internet or online. How do you figure out which one that actually is?
SM: Yeah, really good question. We’ve been noticing there are definitely some anomalies still in the class search. And so that’s super confusing because if it’s in-person it should actually have a room on the campus. So if that’s the case, if you’re looking at a course and it says in-person but it says internet/online or even if it says hybrid and it says internet/online, at that point I would contact the department that’s teaching that course. So let’s say a bioengineering course, if you go on our website and look at the bioengineering department, the person you normally want to contact would be the staff member who is listed as the scheduler, or the enrollment manager, or the adviser. So any of those folks within the department would be able to clarify.
I think there has been an effort to try to clean up some of those inconsistencies in the schedule but I know there is still some in there. So your ESS adviser may or may not know. If we’ve found them in ESS we’ve been trying to bring them to the attention of the department and trying to get some clarity ourselves. It might be that we don’t know that that even is an issue yet. So students, I would just encourage them to go straight to the source, go straight to the department. They could also try emailing the instructor too to see if they can get some clarity. I know that the Office of the Registrar is working really hard to kind of clean those up. It may be that there might still be some remaining next week but hopefully fewer.
LV: Excellent. I know there’s only like 6,000 classes to change over.
SM: Right. And it’s been a lot of…you know all of this was kind of determined in the last two weeks and it had to go through the academic senate and so, yeah, I know it’s been a lot of hard work. And I know they’re working night and day honestly to try to get it cleaned up.
LV: And one of the other things that I keep hearing about is the ““Semester in the Cloud””. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
SM: Yeah, so “Semester in the Cloud”, that’s a new thing for Fall ‘20. And these are special, a lot of them are called sort of gateway courses, or critical path courses and they’re going to be taught 100% online. And the thing that makes “Semester in the Cloud” courses a little different than say our remote courses is that the faculty teaching these courses have been working with a team of pedagogical consultants and instructional designers and media specialists, and they’ve been working on all sorts of design and strategies and preparing content and infrastructure, to really make these courses super dynamic. And so it’s a whole new initiative and the faculty teaching these courses have been going through all of this training all summer long to build online courses that are really engaging and dynamic. And so there’s actually a website if students are interested in seeing which courses are considered “Semester in the Cloud” courses and it’s rtl.berkeley.edu/semester-cloud. And I don’t know, Laura, will you be able to put that website on the (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer?
LV: Yes we will have that as part of the podcast.
SM: OK. Perfect. So there are a lot of courses actually that our engineering students are going to be enrolling in, there’s Chem 1A, Data 8, Math 1B, Math 54 and they’re actually quite a few humanities and social sciences courses as well. So I would really encourage students to take a look at those if they’re interested in those courses. I might add Laura, that even though “Semester in the Cloud” courses, those faculty have been going through pretty intensive training, all of our faculty have been working all summer long to make sure that they are still providing a really enriched pedagogical experience for our students with their remote courses. So it’s been a really different summer I think for our faculty. They haven’t really been able to be in their labs so much because of the pandemic and they’ve really been focusing on changing the formats of their courses and preparing their courses for a super engaging online format. So I just want students to know that they’re still getting a phenomenal Berkeley education and the faculty are taking this really seriously and very committed to student success and student engagement.
LV: And we talked a little bit about ESS advisers, so tell us a little bit more about how ESS advisers are here to support our students.
SM: Even though we are all working remotely and Engineering Student Services, the physical office is closed, nothing has changed as far as our level of service for students. We are still meeting with students. We’re just meeting with them through Zoom or through Google Hangouts, rather than in person. ESS also has free tutoring for dozens and dozens of classes. That’s still happening. We still have our programs that are going to be running online and workshops that we’ll be running online. We haven’t slowed down at all. We’ve just converted all of our services online. New students once they’ve completed GBA, which we know now it’s like 97% of our new students have completed GBA, yay for them! Good job. They can make an appointment with their ESS adviser and it’s really easy to do. They can just go to engineering.berkeley.edu/ess and on the ESS advising page there’s a button they can click that says “Make an appointment with my adviser”, it’s really easy.
I know a lot of the advisers have already been meeting with these students. We anticipate they’re going to be students who are going to want to meet some more because we certainly recognize that all these modes of instruction are confusing, and synchronous versus asynchronous. We’re kind of learning it along with the students. So you know, I’ve been working on campus 30 years and it took me a little minute to wrap my brain around how all these modes of instruction are going to work and that each component has a different mode of instruction. So we definitely will be very patient with the students and trying to figure this out because we’ve had to be really patient with ourselves in trying to understand how this is all going to work. I think we kind of have it down now, so we’re happy to meet with students and help them figure this out and create their schedules. We know it’s going to be a different kind of enrollment experience this time around.
LV: I know a great resource for the campus is they created a FAQ.
SM: Yeah, the Office of the Registrar created a really extensive FAQ that includes all of this information that I’ve talked about and more. That’s on their enrollment site on the Office of the Registrar website. And maybe Laura we could put that in our (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer website as well.
SM: I also wanted to point out that the enrollment bCourses for new students actually went live today. So all 9,000+ students who are new to campus now have access to that bCourse. I’m going to be sending an announcement to all students letting them know that it’s there. I want them to know also that that was created sort of with our traditional enrollment in mind. So at the very beginning of that enrollment we have linked out to the FAQ and there is also a class search guide that was created, actually just earlier this week, to help students figure out how to search for these different modes of instruction, for different components of the class. So those are both linked at the very beginning of that bCourse as well. They should get an announcement from me today, letting them know that that’s gone live. But if they go bcourses.berkeley.edu it’s already in there for them if they wanted to take a look at it now. It goes through the whole enrollment process.
LV: Oh that’s awesome. Yeah I’m going to edit us this afternoon and send out this podcast today. We’re two days late from what I normally want to be.
SM: We’re going to need a lot of editing.
LV: How dare we not have stuff done on time. Well thank you so much for talking with us today and giving us a little bit more of this detail into how the changes are. It’s just this changing thing, this pandemic has made it so that we can’t necessarily say – this is how it’s going to be forever and always.
SM: Exactly, I mean even after students register, it’s going to be important for them to continue to check because things could change at any moment. It could be that the pandemic gets even worse and we’re given different instructions from the City of Berkeley. So yeah, it’s a really fluid situation and I think we’re all kind of realizing this is our new normal. I want to encourage students that most services on campus are just continuing as normal, it’s just a different format. We’re all there to support them. We really want to encourage them to get excited about all of this. And is this a good time for me to talk about sort of what’s next Laura?
SM: OK. So as you mentioned earlier the transfer students are going to enroll next Tuesday, on the 14th and the freshmen are going to enroll next Thursday, on the 16th and hopefully that goes well. And during that period the new students will be able to enroll in up to 17.5 units. So just to keep that in mind. Really for new students, we really wouldn’t want them taking more than that anyway, but if they are wanting to do…like you know we call it shop and drop, where maybe you enroll in a couple of courses and you attend the first week or so and decide which one you want to keep. That might be a reason to enroll in more than 17.5 but they really can’t do that until the adjustment period begins. And that’s on August 17. So until August 17, the new students are going to have enrollment limited to 17.5 units.
LV: Even with the adjustment period there is still a limit to the number of units, right? You don’t get to register for all the classes.
SM: Right. You can’t go too crazy. The maximum for College of Engineering students is 20.5 units. It really might equate to adding one more course. As I mentioned, we really would like students to stick to kind of the 12 to 15 unit range, just because it’s a transition for all students. And if your first semester goes great, then you can go a little more crazy the following semester. It’s just good to give yourself some grace and allow yourself to have a little bit of downtime, hopefully, in the fall semester.
LV: We’ve got a couple of things happening closer to the end of August…Our GBO starts on the 21st.
SM: Golden Bear Orientation is going to be 100% online this year and the Colleges are engaged in it for part of the time. The College of Engineering will be having a big welcome on Friday the 21st. I think it’s going to be from 2 to 3 p.m. Pacific time. That’s going to be where our deans are going to speak and kind of get students excited about being a part of the great community of the College of Engineering. And then on Monday, August 24th students are going to have an opportunity to do some engagement with each other. We really want to get students introduced to each other and connected with each other. And so they’ll be connecting, as freshmen will be connecting; transfer students will be connecting with each other; and then they’ll also be connecting with students in their own major. So a big part of what’s going to happen on August 24th is that they’re going to be broken out into groups by major and they’ll hopefully have some Q and A’s with current students, they’ll have some other opportunities to meet each other. We’re really excited. We’re working diligently to prepare for that.
And then on Tuesday, August 25th, we’re going to have some additional drop-in activities for engineering student events. We’re going to connect with some of our campus partners to talk about campus and college resources. So for instance, we’re hoping to get to have a session with our education abroad and the career center and so forth and really tailor those for engineering students. Sometimes engineering students are wondering – Gee, do I have time to go abroad as an engineering student? And you absolutely do. We really want to make sure that our students are engaged with all of those campus opportunities as well. So that’s going to be on Tuesday the 25th. So we will be getting our program together and getting it published and everything and we’ll be sending that out as soon as we’ve got everything finalized.
SM: Well of course the 26th is the first day of classes.
LV: Of course, we can’t forget that. That’s the whole reason we’re here.
LV: Well, thank you so much for stopping by and talking to us about all of this today. We are going to have Chaniqua here on Monday with the podcast that we did for registration tips and tricks, to just give you a little bit of an overview of things to keep in mind as you’re setting up your schedule. Even though many of your courses will not be in-person, there are a few things to keep in mind when building your schedule, what to do in regards to waitlisting and swapping courses and more. And thank you Sharon!
SM: You’re welcome, my pleasure.
LV: And thank you everyone else for tuning into this week’s (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer and we’ll podcast with you later, bye.