Looking at the academics of the fall semester


There are plenty of activities on and around campus to enjoy in lieu of a spring break this year.

Logan Metzger

As COVID-19 cases steadily rise in Story County, Iowa State has prepared in different ways for students to come back in the fall. 

“One thing is for sure – the fall semester will not be ‘college as usual,’” Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen said in an email July 12. “As you have seen in previous communications, we will be offering a mix of in-person and online instruction, including classes that meet primarily face-to-face, classes that meet completely online, and classes that feature a blend of each. While Iowa State has always taught in those three instructional modes, a greater fraction of our courses this fall will be online or blended.”

Fall classes will begin Aug. 17, a week earlier than planned, and the semester will end Nov. 25.

The revised academic calendar includes:

  • Holding classes on Labor Day (Monday, Sept. 7)
  • Holding final exams Saturday, Nov. 21 through Wednesday, Nov. 25 (excluding Sunday, Nov. 22)

“This schedule provides the university with the best opportunity to complete the fall semester safely and successfully on campus, while maximizing face-to-face instruction, maintaining experiential learning goals, and completing final exams onsite,” according to the Iowa State COVID-19 Response website.

Class Formats

Iowa State will offer a combination of face-to-face classes, online and hybrid classes. 

The face-to-face classes will be similar to the traditional format with the introduction of physical distance between seats in classrooms, enhanced cleaning and required face coverings to improve safety and mitigate risk associated with exposure or spread of coronavirus.

For online classes, this will also be similar to past semesters and students can access classes anytime or during scheduled class time with real-time instruction, questions and engagement. Online instruction may be supplemented with discussion boards, group work, online apps and other activities.

A hybrid model, a blend of online and face-to-face instruction, will also have activities that include student engagement, meeting with instructors or accessing course materials. The activities may be given to students either virtually or in person — hence the term “hybrid” model. 

The particular mix will depend on an instructor’s teaching strategies and the learning objectives of the course.

“In some cases, students may be asked or required to attend an in-person class meeting one day, and participate in the next session online while other students experience the lecture in-person,” Wintersteen said. “This rotation will promote physical distancing, lower occupancy levels in classrooms, and student and instructor safety.”

Based on the availability of the classrooms, some classes are going to switch times and locations. The starting and ending times for classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays have been changed to allow students and instructors more time to move between classes. 

On those days, the instructional day will begin 15 minutes earlier and end 20 minutes later than usual. The teaching schedule and passing times between classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays will not change, but classes on those days will be scheduled for 75 minutes.

“While we are minimizing such cases, one or more of your course sections may be canceled,” Wintersteen said. “If this happens to you, we encourage you to review the course schedule, as additional sections may be offered at other times, and to consult with your academic adviser who will help you to explore other course options appropriate to your degree path.”

High-Risk Students

High-risk students are encouraged to review the updated schedule of courses and consult with their academic adviser to determine how they can keep up with their academic progress, as not all classes — including most laboratories — will have an online option.

Students at a higher risk to develop severe illness from COVID-19 based on their age or underlying medical condition, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will be given preference for placement in online courses. 

More information on this process can be found on the Dean of Students website

“However, it is important to note that we will not be able to offer all scheduled courses with an online option in cases such as labs where students use special equipment or courses that feature a unique instructional experience,” Wintersteen said.

Wintersteen also shared the plan if a student gets sick and needs to quarantine or self-isolate. 

“We want students to stay home when they are sick,” Wintersteen said. “It is likely that some students may need to self-quarantine or self-isolate during the semester. Many classes will have an online option for students to stay current with the course work. For classes that do not, instructors may provide alternative options for classes and assignments that are missed.” 

Missing Classes

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty still set their own policies on class attendance, and excused absences from class are handled between the student and instructor.

“In setting their policies and making decisions, faculty should consider the potential need for students to stay home when they are not feeling well, and to self-isolate if they are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms or have tested positive for the virus,” according to the Iowa State COVID-19 Response website. “Faculty are asked to be as flexible as possible, and likewise, students are asked to be flexible if a faculty member becomes ill and unable to teach.”

The website said in addition to supporting students who are forced to miss class due to the pandemic, faculty should actively encourage students who are not feeling well, or who are self-isolating, to stay home without penalty for their absence. For the fall semester, compliance with public health recommendations will be considered a university excused absence.

“Faculty and chairs/directors should work together to explore alternative arrangements for students having absences related to COVID-19, such as assigning a grade of incomplete and enabling the student to complete their coursework subsequently,” according to the Iowa State COVID-19 Response website. “Again, faculty have authority and responsibility for these decisions, and should be flexible as they navigate the fall semester.”

Academic Support

In-person academic and career advising will be available depending on if the space is available with proper physical distancing. To enhance safety and flexibility for students and advisers, virtual appointments will be available and the scheduling system will be updated to enable students to specifically request virtual or phone appointments. 

Learning communities are encouraged to meet virtually to enhance safety and in-person opportunities will be included when feasible, following appropriate guidelines for room capacities, physical distancing and face coverings.

In most cases, tutoring, supplemental instruction and academic coaching will be offered virtually with some in-person sessions. A catalog of “Coaches’ Corner” sessions will be recorded and made available to students to view online.