Visualizing the data: LSA instructors prepare for a mostly online fall semester

By Iulia Dobrin / The Michigan Daily
Graphics by Naitian Zhou Drishaan Jain Alexander Cotignola Parth Dhyani / Daily Data Team

Each circle is a course, and circle size represents the number of sections. Courses are colored by their subject. Source: LSA Course Guide

As the University of Michigan campus gears up for a “public health-informed in-residence semester” this fall, departments and instructors have had to decide how to hold their classes while aligning with University guidelines.

For LSA, these guidelines means large classes over 45 will be fully online, and smaller classes have the option to be in-person, hybrid or fully online, according to LSA Dean Anne Curzan.

According to University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald, faculty and leadership within their individual departments and schools are best positioned to decide the most effective way to deliver courses.

“Each school or college will make the final decision on classroom capacity based on the needs of the class and the specific configuration of the space,” Fitzgerald said. “All this is being done, of course, to follow public health guidance of providing a minimum of 36 square feet of space per person in the classroom, with more space required for courses that require students to move around or be there for longer periods of time.”

According to recent correspondence from University President Mark Schlissel, the Ann Arbor Registrar’s Office is working to post online information that indicates what mode of instruction individual courses will be taught in. Students will be able to adjust their course selections beginning Aug. 7.

The Daily Web Team compiled data from the LSA Course Guide and found that, as of Aug. 2, nearly 68 percent of classes are listed as online courses, with approximately 18 percent being listed as in-person and 13 percent as hybrid.

68% of courses are online

Breakdown of courses by mode of instruction. Source: LSA Course Guide

In an interview with the Daily last month, Prof. Marcus Ammerlaan, who taught the introductory lab course Biology 173 last winter, expressed the difficulty of teaching a large lab class online.

“The instructor, obviously, is going to be older than most of the students and that in itself is a risk factor,” Ammerlaan said. “So you don’t want to see an instructor getting affected by an asymptomatic student and then pass that infection on through GSIs (Graduate Student Instructors) and to other sections.”

Lecturer Carly Nowicki, who will be teaching Biology 173 in the fall and is currently teaching it during the summer semester, decided to make the class online in the fall. According to Nowicki, there are about 700 students enrolled in the course and 17-18 GSIs each semester. Because of this large class size, she felt she could not wait until the last minute to make decisions.

“It was me having separate conversations with the laboratory support staff,” Nowicki said. “Those are the people that are the frontlines. They’re the ones that are exposed to every lab, and so I had frank conversations with some of those people to get their thoughts on how they feel, outside of what any administration felt.”

With the summer semester being the first time the course is running fully online, Nowicki said the class was rewritten to include a combination of students performing labs at home with simple household items, virtual lab simulations and watching videos.

“Every video demo I’ve done has been in my own home because that’s where students are going to be performing (the experiments),” Nowicki said.

Rackham student Annaliese Keiser will be a GSI in the Math Department for the fall semester. Though she doesn’t know what classes she will be teaching yet, she said she knows she will be teaching remotely, as the Math Department decided that all the courses typically taught by GSIs would be conducted remotely.

“I am very happy that it’s online,” Keiser said. “It’s a challenge to teach online, but I much prefer that to being in person, given the current circumstances.”

Rackham student Dominique Bouavichith, who taught Linguistics 413 in the winter semester, believes that all classes in the fall semester should be conducted online.

“I have a really, really hard time with the current plan,” Bouavichith said. “I really think that we shouldn’t have any classes in person in the fall, and I think that the University administration also knows this.”

Only 9% of engineering classes are in person

Instruction modes by subject area. Hover to see percentages. Source: LSA Course Guide

Many students have told The Daily there has been some confusion about what “hybrid” entails. According to Faith Sparr, lecturer of communications and media at the University, LSA faculty received a planning guide in July that outlined three different scenarios under the “hybrid” label.

One scenario was to have most students in person, but some students remote and synchronous. Another scenario intended for half of the students to be in person, while the other half are remote and synchronous. The groups of students would then be flipped on opposite days, so students attending in person classes would shift to remote, synchronous classes and vice versa. The last option also included shifting between opposite days. One day would be intended for a half in-person, half remote and synchronous population, and the opposite day would have asynchronous activities for the students not in-person or synchronous.

According to Sparr, these were suggested starting points, leaving flexibility for the instructor to decide the best option for their class. In addition, all hybrid formats will have accommodations for students unable to attend in person or synchronously due to illness, quarantining or internet access issues.

Sparr told The Daily she plans to teach her communications seminars in the fall in a hybrid format, which for her class means she expects most students will be in-person, but there will be online accommodations for students who need it, whether this is because they are not on campus, sick or quarantining.

She decided to teach in-person because neither her nor anyone in her household have an underlying condition and her classes have about 25 students.

“We go through a lot of case law (in the class),” Sparr said. “We have a lot of back and forth where it’s not just me one-way lecturing to the students … I felt like it’s a course that really benefits from an in-person component.”

While Sparr said she is not uncomfortable with teaching in-person, she hesitated to say she’s completely comfortable due to a number of unknowns. According to Sparr, she doesn’t know what classroom she’ll be in and the size of the classroom and she doesn’t know what her students’ plans are yet.

“I’m not entirely comfortable yet, but I won’t step into the classroom or make my students step into the classroom until I feel more comfortable with that,” Sparr said. “If any of my students in my class are uncomfortable coming to the classroom, there will be that hybrid online component for them to get the content and to participate.”

While Sparr and Keiser received surveys from their respective departments inquiring about what form of instruction they are comfortable with, Nowicki had participated in discussions with her department to decide the best form of instruction.

“We have meetings where we just kind of talked about the different issues that would come into play,” Nowicki said. “I felt like we’ve been having these conversations for a while. It took us a long time … to hear what the University plan was, so that was kind of frustrating because we didn’t find out until July.”

Search for a Department

Search a department to see how many of its classes are online. Source: LSA Course Guide

About this data: The data was collected on August 2nd from the LSA Course Guide. The data team manually assigned subject areas by department. This dataset consists only of undergraduate courses offered in the Fall 2020 semester.

Daily Staff Reporter Iulia Dobrin can be reached at