Mitigating Impacts to Student Instruction Due to COVID-19

Sent March 4, 2020, 6:17 p.m.

Dear Gonzaga University Faculty and Staff:

Gonzaga University has been closely monitoring the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and associated COVID-19 disease since we first learned of the outbreak in northern Italy that compelled us to suspend the academic semester in Florence. More recently, the news of infected persons in western Washington has demonstrated that the coronavirus is indeed being communicated between individuals in our part of the country. Although we have a Gonzaga community member who self-reported being tested, at present we know of no one at Gonzaga who has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information

Gonzaga leadership is working closely with public health officials to keep up to date on recent events regarding the virus and potential impacts to the University, and we are developing plans to mitigate those impacts. Further information about the virus and Gonzaga’s response is available at https://www.gonzaga.edu/coronavirus.

There is justified anxiety about the effects of COVID-19, particularly on the elderly and those who may have pre-existing conditions that weaken their immune systems. For the vast majority of individuals, COVID-19 will manifest with symptoms including fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. While there is no vaccine for COVID-19, the first line of defense is prevention. It is critical that we help our students to educate themselves about the virus and steps they can take to shield themselves from exposure. For this reason, I ask that you please review the information at https://www.gonzaga.edu/coronavirus and point them to this resource as well. The information on this site is being updated daily.

Anticipated Impacts to Instruction

Faculty and students have asked about anticipated impacts to instruction and what steps they should take. At present, the number of people in Washington with confirmed infections is low. Correspondingly, impacts to the current instructional programs are modest, and faculty are encouraged to continue the normal course of instruction. This is an evolving situation, both in Washington and globally, so circumstances could change rapidly.

Public health officials have recommended that people potentially exposed to the virus, or those demonstrating symptoms consistent with COVID-19, self-isolate and stay home from school and work. If a student in your class chooses to self-isolate, please accommodate them while they are away. Treat the student as if they were experiencing a health issue that keeps them from attending class. No doctor’s note is needed. Provide course materials and offer the opportunity for make-up work as you normally would. Making course materials and assignments available through Blackboard is strongly encouraged, as this approach also makes it easy to manage the distribution of materials and assignments to all students in your course.

Once again, we strongly encourage frequent handwashing with soap and water, and using hand sanitizers. While our facilities are being cleaned daily, please be sure to clean your own keyboard(s), telephone(s), and personal work spaces.

Current Planning for Potential Local Impact

 As we continue to monitor the events associated with COVID-19, we are developing a broader plan to account for a variety of scenarios, beginning with conversations and input from the Faculty Senate leadership. In the event of suspended campus operations, we are planning to support instructors in offering their courses online. This will include the use of existing teaching and learning technologies: Blackboard and Zoom. In the recent days, we have worked with the Gonzaga-in-Florence faculty to move their courses online for the remainder of the spring semester. In doing so, we have developed processes and compiled resources to facilitate this transition for the on-campus courses as well, should it become necessary to teach and learn via distance. Our colleagues in Instructional Design and Delivery (IDD) have prepared resources to support faculty in the technical aspects of moving content online. Training sessions on Blackboard and Zoom, both in-person and online, will be offered to anyone interested in learning how to use these technologies. The in-person training sessions are scheduled to be held in Hemmingson 004, still this week, as follows:

  • Thursday, March 5th, from 2 pm to 3 pm, and from 3 pm to 4 pm
  • Friday, March 6th, from 12 noon to 1 pm, and from 1 pm to 2 pm

Additional Blackboard and Zoom training sessions will likely be offered in the future as well, depending on the circumstances. Additional training materials and resources for faculty are being created as you read this, and can be found at https://www.gonzaga.edu/coronavirus. We encourage you to access this site for details on a newly created Blackboard course, which is being made available to all faculty who wish to learn more about posting course materials, building tests and quizzes, using the Blackboard Grade Center, building and managing discussions, creating course announcements and using other Blackboard tools and much more. As well, if you are unfamiliar with these technologies, now might be a very good time to ask your colleagues who do use online methods and learning management systems for their advice and wisdom.

Gonzaga-in-Florence and Future Study Abroad Programs

I want to express thanks to those colleagues from within the Gonzaga community who have been working so hard to develop plans to support our students from the Gonzaga-in-Florence program. As you may have heard today, Italy is taking new steps in an effort to contain the transmission of the virus by closing all schools (including universities). Shortly we will be announcing the academic continuation plan for our Florence students, most of whom have returned to their domestic homes.

Our first priority has necessarily been to focus on current study abroad programs and students. Next week, a team of colleagues will be meeting to focus on Summer 2020 study abroad and to develop a protocol for evaluating the viability of programs offered in Summer. In large part we are following the advice and direction of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the State Department travel advisories in making our determinations; however, the dynamic nature of this situation and the need to monitor developments in real time makes longer-term planning difficult. We are committed to decision-making processes that are transparent and we will communicate regularly as decisions are made.

Please Refer People to the Website

I cannot stress enough how important providing factual information to students about the Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), the disease it causes (COVID-19), and ways of mitigating its impact is.  It is critical that we help our students to educate themselves about the virus and steps they can take to shield themselves from exposure.  For this reason, I again ask that you please review the information at https://www.gonzaga.edu/coronavirus and point our students to this resource as well.

Thank you for your support of our students and thier learning as we work through this time.


Deena J. González, Ph.D.

Provost and Senior Vice President