The Steering Committee of the Faculty Senate, acting in administrative session on behalf of the full senate, on Thursday afternoon approved start and end dates for each quarter in Stanford’s 2020-21 academic year, along with a new daily course meeting schedule to reflect the new realities of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Steering Committee, authorized to act on behalf of the full senate on pandemic-related matters during the summer and over the next several months, approved four 10-week quarters of instruction in 2020-21 and a daily course pattern that establishes start times for both online and in-person classes.

Stanford recently announced the undergraduate class cohorts who will be invited to be on campus each quarter next year, consistent with the university’s plan to have roughly half of the undergraduate student body able to be in residence on campus at any one time, assuming public health conditions allow.

The academic calendar dates and course meeting schedule further fill in the picture to help instructors and students prepare for the coming year. In its actions, the Steering Committee approved proposals brought forward by Sarah Church, vice provost for undergraduate education, and Mary Beth Mudgett, senior associate dean for educational initiatives in the School of Humanities & Sciences, on behalf of the university’s Academic Continuity Group.

2020-21 academic calendar dates

The senate’s administrative session approved key academic calendar dates for general instruction on the Stanford campus in 2020-21. (Some graduate and professional school programs at Stanford have their own calendars, which are not affected by this action.)

The calendar provides for four 10-week quarters, including summer 2021. The calendar was adjusted to allow sufficient time to safely move undergraduates into and out of campus housing and incorporate COVID-19 testing protocols that are now being developed.

The four quarters do not include final exam periods. “Final exams, in classes that use them, should be replaced by continuous assessment spread through the quarter, which could include several spaced take-home exams in place of a single final exam,” Church and Mudgett wrote in a letter outlining the proposal. “This would mirror the structure of the recently completed spring quarter.”

Assessments spread throughout the quarter, in place of a single final exam, would recognize the challenges that students who are not on campus may experience in their remote learning environments, Church and Mudgett said, and also would recognize “the fact that the Stanford Honor Code was not written for a remote learning environment.”

The approved academic calendar dates are:

  • Autumn: The autumn quarter will begin Sept. 14, 2020, and end November 20, 2020. This end date will allow undergraduates living on campus to move out prior to Thanksgiving, rather than traveling back to campus after Thanksgiving and increasing the potential for virus spread.
  • Winter: The winter quarter will begin Jan. 11, 2021, and end March 19, 2021. The start date is one week later than usual to allow time for a new cohort of students to move in after the winter break and to accommodate any changes that may be needed in case of a winter surge in COVID-19 cases.
  • Spring: The spring quarter will begin March 29, 2021, and end June 4, 2021. Commencement will remain scheduled for Sunday, June 13, 2021.
  • Summer: The summer quarter will begin June 21, 2021, and end August 27, 2021, in time to allow a September break before the 2021-22 academic year begins.

Course meeting schedule

The new daily course meeting schedule approved for the 2020-21 year provides course times for both online and in-person courses beginning this autumn (see graphic).

New daily course meeting schedule

The new daily course meeting schedule approved for the 2020-21 year provides course times for both online and in-person courses beginning this autumn. (Click image to enlarge)

The new schedule starts at 8:30 a.m. each day and offers class options extending into the evening to maximize the number of in-person classes that can be accommodated. The schedule also provides 30 minutes of gap time between in-person classes to allow for the safe exit of one class and entry of the next.

For classes offered either in person or online, there are 60-minute class blocks throughout the day on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and 80-minute class blocks on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Online courses also have the option of 80-minute class blocks on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Start times for in-person and online classes are synchronized each day to minimize potential conflicts for students residing on campus who will be taking courses in both modes.

The calendar also provides scheduling options for three- and four-hour in-person laboratory sessions where needed. Two- or three-hour online classes are discouraged due to “Zoom fatigue,” the proposal said, but can be accommodated by using multiple class blocks provided that the start time aligns with a start time on the course meeting pattern.

Church and Mudgett noted that while the schedule extends throughout the day and evening, it simply reflects the options available for classes to be scheduled; it does not mean that instructors will be required to teach in the evening. They also said the schedule may still be adjusted slightly to provide an additional break at meal times.