Spring Instruction

Looking Ahead

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Planning for Summer and Fall 2021

  • Most summer 2021 courses will continue to be remote, with some in-person courses and activities available. The Schedule of Classes for summer will be available in Course Search & Enroll on Feb. 22, with enrollment for continuing students beginning the week of April 4. Additional considerations are being made for specific programming (e.g. pre-college, early start).
  • The university expects that everyone who wishes to get a COVID-19 vaccine will have been able to do so by the beginning of the fall 2021 semester and that COVID-19 testing will continue into the fall semester (if not longer).
  • The university is planning for a resumption of primarily in-person instruction for the fall semester 2021. The Schedule of Classes for fall will be available in Course Search & Enroll in late March, with enrollment for continuing students beginning in April. (Some courses will not be assigned rooms until later in the summer.)
  • As is evident from the past year, circumstances and situations can change and change quickly. While we are planning and intending for a return to primarily in-person instruction for the fall semester, we must also ready ourselves for the potential of change, however it may look.
  • We will continue to follow guidance from local, state and federal health experts to inform our plans for course delivery and all other campus operations. Details on specific health protocols, such as face coverings and physical distancing, for the fall will be shared as they become available.

Academic Calendar

  • To reduce the potential of outbreaks related to travel, there will be no spring break in 2021. 
  • The spring 2021 semester will end as previously scheduled, with the final day of classes on April 30 and exams ending on May 7. Commencement ceremonies are scheduled for May 7 and 8. See the campus commencement website for more details.

See also the full academic calendar and religious observances.

Health and Safety

The health and safety of everyone in the campus community continues to be a top priority. UW–Madison has been updating its COVID-19 health and safety program for spring 2021. The two main components of this new program are 1) expanded testing with rapid results, and 2) a new app, Safer Badgers, which students, faculty and staff will use to participate in testing and to access campus facilities and services.

By expanding testing and linking campus access to this testing, we will put additional strong curbs on the spread of COVID-19. However, expanded testing, while powerful, can get us only so far. We need everyone in our campus community to continue following other health protocols: wear a face covering, maintain physical distance, avoid gatherings with people you don’t live with, and wash your hands often. Review these Principles of Health and Safety in the Classroom.

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Campus COVID-19 Testing and Safer Badger App

Testing is key to identifying infection and keeping it from spreading. The two main components of campus’ updated COVID-19 health and safety program for spring 2021 are:

  1. Expanded testing with rapid results. (Scroll to see how specific details of this new program vary based on your university affiliation).
  2. A new app, Safer Badgers, which students, faculty and staff will use to participate in testing and to access campus facilities and services. Please read carefully to learn how the app will serve as a virtual access pass for entry into campus workplaces and buildings where in-person classes and other in-person activities are being held.

Testing, while essential, is effective only when combined with four other precautions: face covering, physical distancing, cleaning/hygiene, and symptom monitoring.

Face Coverings, Shields and PPE - Use and Access

All campus employees – including instructors – and students returning to campus are required to wear face coverings. Face coverings must be worn correctly (i.e., covering both your mouth and nose). For additional considerations, variations or questions related to how these protocols should be followed in arts courses, instructors should contact their department chairs.


  • All instructors teaching in-person courses are provided with face coverings, face shields and other materials such as hand sanitizer and shield de-fogging wipes.
  • See guidance for instructors on using face coverings and face shields. As stated in the aforementioned guidance document, a face shield alone is not adequate for minimizing either inhalation or exhalation of respiratory aerosols in an instructional setting. Face coverings should be worn in addition to a shield (with limited exceptions – see document for details).
  • Review this face covering use care guide for more information on when to use and how to care for your face coverings.
  • Face coverings, face shields and other materials for instructors are shipped to school/college pick-up locations for distribution. Pick-up details are sent to instructors directly from their designated school/college representative. See below, under the “Course Design & Delivery” section, for additional details about microphones.
  • Cleaning supplies and wipes will continue to be available in all classrooms.


  • Free safety kits – which included face coverings, hand sanitizer and important health information – were made available to all undergraduate and graduate students returning to campus in fall 2020. Students living in residence halls received their kits at move-in. All others were directed to pick up a kit at the University Book Store.
  • Students with disabilities or medical conditions who are unable to wear a face covering should contact the McBurney Disability Resource Center or their Access Consultant if they are already affiliated. Students who request an accommodation related to wearing a face covering unrelated to disability or medical condition, should contact the Dean of Students Office.
  • If a student is approved for an accommodation in either of the above circumstances, their instructors will receive a notification via email. Students are also encouraged to contact their instructor and notify them of their accommodation(s). Students with an approved accommodation will have some other protective measure in place in order to attend in-person classes.


  • Students who choose not to wear a face covering may not attend in-person classes, unless they are approved for an accommodation or exemption. Students with an approved accommodation will have some other protective measure in place in order to attend in-person classes.
  • Any students not wearing a face covering, without an approved accommodation, will be asked to put one on or leave the classroom by the instructor.
  • Students who refuse to wear face coverings appropriately or adhere to other stated requirements will be reported to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards and will not be allowed to return to the classroom until they agree to comply with the face covering policy. An instructor may cancel or suspend a course in-person meeting if a person is in the classroom without an approved face covering in position over their nose and mouth and refuses to immediately comply.

These guidelines are also provided in the university’s recommended course syllabus template.

See general employee guidance for responding to non-compliance with campus face covering requirements, as well as broader information about PPE for campus.

De-densification and Physical Distancing in Instructional Spaces

  • In general, physical distancing should be maintained wherever possible, both indoors and outdoors on campus. To help allow for physical distancing across campus, the university continues to offer a mix of in-person and remote courses.
  • All classroom capacities have been reduced to allow for physical distancing, and additional campus spaces have been repurposed for added classroom use. Seating in all classrooms is separated by at least six feet, with signage indicating where students are allowed to sit (and where furniture should be placed / left).
  • View layouts for some classrooms in this video.
  • Few rooms on campus are able to accommodate this setup for classes with more than 50 students. As such, courses with 50 or more enrollments are offered remotely, while associated discussion sections and other smaller classes are offered in-person, remote or a mixture to provide options for students.
  • The regular class schedule also has been extended (to 9:45pm, Monday through Thursday evenings, and Saturday mornings) to further reduce the overall density in classrooms and avoid crowding during class changes.

Background on Physical Distancing

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a six-foot separation for most interactions, while the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends three-foot. This six-foot distance recommendation began to evolve after the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 provided indications that respiratory droplet secretions could reach persons six feet or more from their source. Six feet is thought to be the average distance that respiratory droplets from a sneeze or cough travel before they settle and are no longer likely to be inhaled by other people. Travel distance is influenced by many factors such as velocity and mechanism by which respiratory droplets are propelled from the source, the density of respiratory secretions, and environmental factors such as temperature and humidity (CDC 2007).

Droplet transmission appears to be the more common route of transmission for COVID-19 (WHO), but transmission via aerosols should also be considered. Aerosolized transmission is the most difficult to mitigate through individual behaviors or PPE. Therefore, instructors are encouraged to consider ways of further reducing the proximity and duration in which students are together in indoor spaces (e.g., holding class outdoors when possible). The most effective means of reducing aerosolized transmission is to reduce or eliminate the presence of infectious people in the classroom by self-monitoring and staying home when necessary, according to campus and public health guidance.

Cleaning and Disinfection of Campus and Instructional Spaces

In general, cleaning and modifications to campus spaces include:

  • Enhanced cleaning by custodial staff and individuals of personal work spaces (including offices and labs)
  • Interior space modifications (including sample room layouts and guidelines for use of physical barriers)
  • Building systems review and updates, if possible (including HVAC)

See more details on general facilities guidance and protocols.

Instructional Spaces

  • Keeping instructional spaces clean and disinfected requires a collective effort from both custodial services, and the students and instructors who use those spaces. Working together will keep these spaces clean and safe for everyone who uses them.
  • Campus cleaning and disinfection procedures are operating in a proactive approach with a layered defense. The procedures help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 via surfaces and stay ahead of reports of positive cases, regardless of the space or area where the affected person may have been.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting are just two factors in a greater campus-wide approach to mitigating risk to employees, students and campus visitors. Taken together with other safeguards such as decreased density, required face coverings and frequent hand washing, these protocols are aligned with local and CDC guidelines for limiting exposure to the COVID-19 virus. 


Each instructional space, including labs, is stocked with a supply of cleaning supplies so that students and instructors can clean their individual areas upon arrival and before departure. Facilities Planning & Management (FP&M) provides each classroom with Oxivir Tb, an EPA-registered disinfectant, and directions for use. Gloves are not required for use with Oxivir Tb and are generally NOT recommended as a measure to protect against COVID-19. Do not wear lab gloves outside of the laboratory or other required uses. Hand hygiene is important to reduce transmission. More than 500 hand-sanitizer stations have been installed in campus buildings, including outside classrooms. Students and instructors are encouraged to use these supplies and frequently sanitize their hands.

FP&M Responsibilities

FP&M conductes routine cleaning, and focuses custodial cleaning efforts on increased cleaning frequency of high-touch common areas in buildings, including restrooms. See daily cleaning and disinfection information. Out of an abundance of caution, in the event of a reported case or outbreak, space closure and/or additional cleaning may be performed as determined by campus health professionals. 

Instructor and Student Responsibilities

Instructors and students are responsible for cleaning their immediate area (desk, seat, lectern, lab equipment, etc.) when they arrive in a classroom or lab, using the provided cleaning and disinfection supplies. See guidance for cleaning classrooms.

Individual Symptom Monitoring and Personal Hygiene

All campus employees – including instructors – and students returning to campus should:

COVID-19 Training for Campus Employees

Employees working on campus are expected to complete an online COVID-19 training that covers guidelines and expectations for those in the workplace.

General Considerations and Guidance for Common In-person Course Activities

The following are general considerations and guidance for some of the most common activities that occur before, during and after an in-person course. (*This list is not intended to be exhaustive.)

  • Before each face-to-face class period, use provided disinfectant to clean shared equipment or high-touch areas. These locations may include the podium, dry erase markers, and computer mouse and keyboard.
  • Explore teaching methods that support physical distance such as viewing video demonstration or video projection of a demonstration.
  • Consider active learning approaches that can be used in the physically distanced environment.
  • Consider teaching methods that reduce the duration of students remaining together in indoor spaces. Examples could include:
    • Holding some class periods outside on campus
    • Moving some class periods to a remote format
    • Blended courses in which content is delivered online and in-person classes are reserved for discussions or other activities
  • Develop instructional protocols to accommodate students who miss classes due to quarantine or isolation. Campus guidance on this is forthcoming.
  • Develop a contingency plan in the event that you require quarantine or isolation.
  • Quarantine is required when an individual has had close contact (within six feet, for 15 minutes) with an infected person. If class interactions are structured where this definition is not met, if one person tests positive, the other class members will not need to quarantine. This is also true for instructor and TA interaction. Ensure instructors maintain distance to prevent multiple instructors having to quarantine if one tests positive.
  • To avoid congestion indoors, students and instructors should stay to the right as they enter and exit classrooms and avoid close proximity.
  • If instructional materials are to be distributed for class use, place them at each student’s seat prior to them entering the classroom to avoid distribution at full occupancy.
  • Minimize the number of items that need to be handled by multiple persons. If more than one individual needs to manipulate an object in order to communicate the instruction successfully, have all individuals use a hand sanitizer before handling, or disinfect items between individuals.
  • Maintain physical spacing greater than 6-feet for all face-to-face interactions, especially where forceful exhalations will occur, such as during exercise, dancing, singing or playing of musical instruments.
    • Keep in-person breakout sessions small enough to maintain distancing.
  • Consider ending instructional activities a few minutes prior to the end of the scheduled classroom period to allow time for students to put away personal items and exit the classroom in a physically distanced manner.
  • All individuals on campus are expected to self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms each day before reporting to work. Self-monitoring includes assessing coughs, sneezes, breathing difficulty, etc., and should follow the most recent Wisconsin Department of Health Services guidance.
  • Campus is working to update the campus syllabus template to provide instructors with a standard template for student expectations around proper health safety behaviors. This will include guidance on symptom monitoring, what to do if a student is not wearing a face covering, and what to do if a student needs to isolate or quarantine.

Example Scenario and Considerations for Instructors

Prior to the Start of the Semester 

  • Complete the online COVID-19 training for on-site workers
  • Students sign a Badger Pledge indicating that they understand their shared responsibility for keeping our campus community healthy and safe, and controlling the spread of COVID-19. The pledge includes a commitment to wear a face covering, and adhere to physical distancing and other public safety protocols.
  • Students unable to wear a face covering due to disability, medical condition, or other legitimate reason have been directed to contact the McBurney Disability Resource Center or their Access Consultant, if they are already affiliated, prior to the start of classes. Students requesting an accommodation unrelated to disability or medical condition, should contact the Dean of Students Office. Students with an approved accommodation will have some other protective measure in place in order to attend in-person classes.
  • You will be provided face coverings, face shields and information about other supplies such as microphones. Information on how these items will be distributed will be sent directly from their designated school/college representative.
  • Practice speaking in your face covering and face shield. Anti-fog spray is helpful if you experience fogging on your glasses or face shield.
  • “Have a Seat” signs are placed in classrooms to indicate where students should sit, as well as floor decals to indicate where furniture should be placed and remain.

Prior to the Start of an In-person Class

  • Enter the classroom with the safety items described above.
  • Ensure that your face covering / face shield is comfortable and on securely. Reduce gaps between your face and the mask to increase filtration performance.
  • Distribute any required instructional materials or handouts to seating locations before students arrive.
  • Wipe down your work area with supplied classroom cleaning wipes.
  • If in a classroom with an audio-visual system, use the microphone or one that you have been provided by your unit, if appropriate. Students may have difficulty hearing you because of the face coverings and physical distancing, although in some rooms the reduced student density may also mean a microphone is unnecessary.
  • Remind students to use provided cleaning supplies to clean their desk surface and seats, and any equipment or materials they may be touching.
  • Offer a disposable face covering to any students who may have forgotten theirs. (The process by which extra face coverings will be distributed to classrooms is currently in development.)
  • Remind students of expectations around proper health and safety behaviors including symptom monitoring, wearing face coverings and cleaning of desks/seats. Suggested language will be provided in the university’s recommended syllabus template including what to do if a student refuses to wear a face covering or follow other health and safety protocols.

During Class

  • Continue to maintain physical distancing of six feet between yourself and students. The classroom furniture will be set up to maintain this distance, so keep the furniture where it is.
  • If students are expected to work on an instructional activity as a team in the classroom, limit group size based on the available configuration to maintain the necessary six-foot distance.
  • Avoid instructional activities that necessitate sharing of common materials, such as passing around a sheet of paper, a microphone, or other items, or disinfect in between uses.

End of Class

  • Consider ending instructional activities a few minutes prior to the end of the scheduled classroom period to allow time for students to put away personal items and exit the classroom in a physically distanced manner.
  • Ask students to deposit used cleaning wipes in trash receptacles on the way out of the classroom.
  • Take steps to coordinate exiting, such as asking the last row of students to leave first, then the next row, etc.
  • Take all of your materials with you prior to leaving the classroom (e.g. whiteboard markers, chalk, hand sanitizer).
  • Wiping down the immediate instructional area (podium, keyboard, mouse) upon exit is optional, as the next occupant will clean the space prior to beginning their class.

Instructors requesting additional guidance on unusual circumstances can contact the Office of Environmental Health and Safety for a consultation. For additional information on facilities, see the FP&M Facilities Start-up Guide.

Building and Classroom Signage

  • Signage is placed throughout campus buildings including classrooms, entrances, hallways, restrooms, elevators, break rooms etc. See more details about signage.
  • “Sit Here Signs” are used in classrooms to indicated where students should sit, as well as floor decals to indicate where furniture should be placed and remain.

COVID-19 Transmission Information and Hierarchy of Controls

Coronaviruses are common viruses found in humans that can cause respiratory diseases (e.g., the common cold) and gastrointestinal disease (e.g., the stomach flu). Coronavirus disease, COVID-19 is caused by the novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and is related to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)  (Wiersinga 2020). Like other respiratory viruses, COVID-19 is believed to be transmitted over multiple routes, with exposure to droplets being the most likely sources of spread (Morawska and Cao 2020). Droplet transmission occurs when the virus is connected to a larger particle such as mucus or saliva. These infected droplets fall quickly and near the infected person. Aerosol transmission occurs when the virus is connected to smaller particles of mucus or saliva, which can loiter in the air and be carried farther away from the infected person (Jayaweera 2020). Individuals spread droplets and aerosols whenever they talk, breathe, cough or sneeze. A third potential route of transmission for the virus occurs through contact with contaminated surfaces (e.g., touching a surface that has infected droplets on it). There is not yet scientific consensus on the amount of virus on a surface required to cause an individual to become infected or the amount of time a virus can live on various surfaces (Wiersinga 2020).

Transmission requires exposure to the virus from an infected person. Persons infected with COVID-19 can be symptomatic (e.g., fever, cough, short of breath) or asymptomatic. Exposure to the droplets or aerosols from an asymptomatic infected person generally occurs when individuals are at close distances (less than 6 feet) for at least 15 minutes (CDC). Transmission can occur during more brief exposures from symptomatic infected persons (e.g., coughing, sneezing). In other words, brief exposure to asymptomatic individuals does not result in higher rates of transmission, while brief exposure to symptomatic individuals does result in higher rates of transmission (Wiersinga 2020). Once the virus is transmitted and the body becomes infected, it can take several days for the infected person to feel ill, but they can still be transmitting the virus to others. This period prior to the onset of illness represents a time when wearing masks and hand hygiene are particularly important and particularly useful tools to prevent transmission.

The science around COVID-19 is dynamic, so the guidance presented here is current based on July 2020 information. Visit UW-Madison’s Smart Restart website for updates related to exposure risk mitigation for faculty, staff and students. 

Hierarchy of Controls

Given the potential routes of transmission for COVID-19, controlling exposure to this occupational hazard is the fundamental method of protecting workers. Traditionally, a hierarchy of controls has been used as a means of determining how to implement feasible and effective control solutions. The idea behind this hierarchy is that the control methods at the top of graphic are potentially more effective and protective than those at the bottom. Following this hierarchy normally leads to the implementation of inherently safer systems, where the risk of illness or injury has been substantially reduced. Since elimination and substitution are not always possible, we must reduce risk with other control methods.

Diagram of an inverted piramid depicting the hierarchy of controls

Course Design and Delivery

For spring semester 2021, we are focusing on enhancing two key areas related to instruction:

  1. Improved frequency of meaningful student-instructor interaction within courses
  2. New ways of student-to-student interaction within the context of courses and/or academic content

As part of our Instructional Continuity efforts, instructional designers from across campus continue to work with instructors to support and enhance the delivery of courses. Whether your courses are fully remote, blended or in-person in a physically distanced format, there are a wide variety of resources to support your course planning, design and delivery.

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Course Design Resources and Support

Syllabus Template and Communicating Course Expectations

View the university’s recommended course syllabus template for spring 2021, which includes updated expectations for students and guidelines for instructors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Supporting Academic Progress When Students Isolate or Quarantine

See these guidelines and resources for how to help students continue to make academic progress in the event that they need to isolate or quarantine during the semester due to COVID-19. Included is information about how instructors are notified, guidance for how to respond if a student discloses they tested positive for COVID-19 (including a sample email response), planning guidance for prior to the start of the semester, and CDC definitions for isolation vs. quarantine.

Office Hours and Academic Advising Appointments

  • It is recommended that all instructor office hours be conducted remotely regardless of whether the course is delivered remotely or in person. Instructors may make exceptions; however, any in-person meeting must follow current health and safety guidelines including physical distancing.
  • It is also recommended that individual campus advising appointments and group advising sessions be conducted remotely. Advisors may make occasional exceptions; however, any in-person meeting must follow current health and safety guidelines including physical distancing. View more information about advising.


All classrooms that are large enough to normally require a microphone already have a microphone system with a communal clip-on pickup element. If you would like your own microphone pickup element (either clip-on or headset) or your own stand-alone microphone system, campus will provide one for you. Please contact av@fpm.wisc.edu. Microphones will be also be available through your school/college.

View these instructions and short videos to assist with the use of the microphones and the portable systems:

Exam Scheduling


  • In a typical semester, departments and instructors have the option to schedule in-person midterm exams outside regular in-person class meeting times. (Advance notice to students is expected via a class note visible at enroll.wisc.edu.)
  • Due to space constraints, more classes meeting in the evenings and other considerations, scheduling of in-person midterms outside of regular class meeting times is not permitted for fall 2020 (except for documented McBurney accommodations). Instructors need to schedule evaluation of students during regularly scheduled class meeting times or in alternative formats.

Final Exams

All final exams for the fall 2020 semester will be conducted remotely. Review policies and guidance for scheduling exams, including answers to FAQs, as well as broader guidance for administering exams remotely.

Requiring Student Use of Web Cameras During Remote Course Meetings

Instructors can require students to turn on their web cameras for synchronous remote course meetings. This should be communicated to students as early as possible in the semester, such as in the course syllabus. In courses and exams that are delivered remotely, it is important for students to be able to confirm and show their identity. In some circumstances, turning on video can encourage active engagement and participation in the course.

If you are going to have a cameras-on policy, please consider offering flexibility to your students when possible. Some students may experience difficulties such as limited bandwidth, anxiety or screen fatigue.