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Course Information and Classroom Protocols

Posted by on Friday, July 17, 2020 in .

The evolving COVID-19 pandemic requires that widespread and layered mitigation strategies be employed to lessen the probability of COVID-19 transmission. Vanderbilt will be employing a cohesive collection of comprehensive efforts that, combined, offers a best-in-class solution for the creation of a healthy, equitable and safe environment within classrooms.

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These protocols were established based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leading subject matter experts across our campus, and a range of faculty leaders including John McLean, co-chair of the University Continuity Working Group and Stevenson Professor of Chemistry, as well as the co-chairs of the University Working Group educational continuity subcommittee: André Christie-Mizell, dean of undergraduate education in the College of Arts and Science, and Mavis Schorn, senior associate dean for academics in the School of Nursing. Many of the resulting protocols apply to classrooms across the entire university.


Course Information and Classroom Protocols

  • Students must wear appropriate face mask/covering while in public spaces on campus, including during class. One (1) face mask/covering will be provided to students.
  • Faculty must wear appropriate face mask/covering while in public spaces on campus.
  • Beginning in January, face shields alone will no longer be allowed while teaching per the university’s updated campus protocols. Faculty must wear face masks/coverings while teaching and while following other classroom protocols.
  • Students and faculty must be appropriately physically distanced in the classroom consistent with the university requirement of six feet of separation.
  • Students will be supplied with sanitizing wipes to take to their desks/seats to clean before class (similar to what one would do with gym equipment, but before instead of after use). Ideally, these materials will be located in areas that do not congest entry or exit from the classroom.
  • At or near the instructor’s location there will be sanitizing wipes for faculty use. At the exit of each classroom, there will be trash cans for students to dispose of used sanitizing wipes, and these trash cans will be emptied throughout the day.
  • Each classroom door will have signage indicating suggested maximum capacity to achieve physical distancing.
  • Students are not permitted to eat or drink in classrooms while class is in session.
  • For classrooms where there is more than one door, there will be a circulation plan and ingress/egress clearly marked.
  • When required by hazardous material safety requirements, students must wear gloves in teaching labs. Otherwise, gloves are optional.
  • For instructors teaching in classrooms with an existing wireless mic set-up to amplify the speaker’s voice in the classroom, the university will provide a personal lapel microphone attachment to use with the wireless transmitter in order to avoid sharing of the microphone.


  • Clear mobile boards should be available for use in the front of the classroom between faculty and students (i.e., around whiteboards, chalkboards, and podiums).
  • Attempt to create as large a buffer zone as possible, but no less than 6 feet, between the instructor and students. This buffer zone, otherwise marked as the instructor’s position, is intended to be a “no enter” zone for students. This distance may also be reinforced through use of the clear mobile boards.
  • An appropriate number of seats will be made available within classrooms to accommodate six feet of physical distancing (as measured from the center of each seat). Chairs that will be unavailable for use will either be removed or, if remaining within the classroom, will be marked with an appropriate and consistent chair strap applied to them to signify they are not to be used. Chairs should not be moved to reduce six-foot spacing.
  • Instructors may choose to assign seats and/or create specific circulation rules and inform students as clearly as possible, such as the first students to arrive should go to the farthest seat down a row and then would be the last student to depart.
  • Instructors are encouraged to take attendance.
  • Instructors may choose to use an omnidirectional boundary microphone that connects to their laptop for purposes of boosting the audio on the laptop for students connecting remotely.


All positive cases and close contacts are tracked by the Command Center. The Command Center is responsible for contact tracing and determining additional cleanings and protocols to implement.

If someone reports to a faculty or staff member that they are positive or a close contact, the faculty or staff member should tell them to stay in their residence, ask if they are working with Student or Occupational Health and if not, tell them to immediately log their positive result or close contact status with the Command Center on the webform. The Command Center will then launch all next steps, including the contact tracing, quarantine, symptom monitoring and any needed testing. Faculty and staff should not send out notifications to other faculty members, staff or students as the Command Center will handle all notifications.

If a positive case is enrolled in their in-person course, instructors are notified; however, the student will not be identified. Instructors will not need to take any further action unless directed to do so by the Command Center. Only those deemed close contacts through contact tracing will be notified. All students in quarantine (close contacts) or isolation (positive cases) will not attend in-person classes.


Individual colleges/schools have developed (or are developing) their own processes to match the pedagogical demands of their courses to the spaces available for physically distanced teaching.

The provost’s office reaffirms that these are decisions best made on a course-by-course basis at the local level by the department chair and the school/college deans. Making such curricular and pedagogical decisions at the school/college level is a fundamental part of our shared governance system. It is also absolutely necessary due to the diversity of our teaching norms and expectations. Further, because each school/college determines their own standards for academic excellence, the deans are uniquely situated to assess the pedagogical demands within each class and to align those with the available resources to support them, even in this challenging time.

We support these efforts to balance the excellence in teaching and learning for which we are known with the highest standards of protecting against the spread of COVID-19, as outlined in our Return to Campus protocols.

If you are unsure about your own college’s/school’s process for curricular decisions, you should reach out first to your chair or other immediate academic officers, or to your dean.

We are especially grateful to be able to re-emphasize Vanderbilt’s commitment to in-person teaching, when teaching in person is both physically safe and pedagogically sound under the safety protocols for our classrooms and campus for the fall semester. We commend the ongoing efforts of the college-/school-level teams to identify those opportunities to the greatest extent possible.

Class sizes

To promote safety and good public health, most large undergraduate classes will be online. Working closely with VUIT and the Center for Teaching, faculty are exploring ways to engage directly with students even if instruction is online in whole or in part. 

For graduate and professional programs, colleges and schools are taking different approaches to large classes based on available space, the nature of the class, and the faculty’s pedagogical commitments. 


We are extending the amount of time between undergraduate classes to twenty minutes.


Our framework for holding in-person classes on campus is supported by several components, including the continued need for physical distancing, the need to continue pursuing virtual and alternative teaching methods (even in the event of in-person classes) for all classes and the understanding that many curricular decisions will need to be made on a local level, taking into account the unique standards and expectations across our different schools and colleges.

We must continue to plan for a hybrid teaching model that includes a combination of in-person, virtual and alternative learning methods. This approach accommodates members of our community—including both faculty and students—who will not be able to return to campus because of travel and visa restrictions as well as health concerns and other personal concerns.

Decisions and discussions regarding courses that will fully need to be taught using virtual and alternative platforms should be made in your colleges and schools. Adaptive learning could include implementing a variety of techniques from postings of lecture recordings to leveraging on-campus recording spaces for asynchronous instructional videos. To support faculty, we have increased resources including enhancing and expanding classroom IT, CFT resources. More information can be found on our adaptive learning webpage.