Fall 2020 Plans: Q&A with Ahmed Tolba



Under the Academic Mission Committee, created as part of the President’s Operational Excellence Initiative, the Fall 2020 Plans Task Force has been working hard to make a decision about how classes will take place during the Fall 2020 semester. News@AUC spoke to Ahmed Tolba ’97, ‘01, associate provost for strategic enrollment management and head of the task force, to learn more about the plan.

Why was this task force formed, and who are its members?

The task force aims to provide contingency plans for the mode of instruction in the Fall 2020 semester. While we hope to move back to full-face-to-face instruction, there is a probability that we may have to stick to full online instruction. However, there are various models in between that we may consider. The task force aims at analyzing all possible options, determining the triggers to opt for any of the options, and evaluating the implications of each option on our policies, procedures and different stakeholders.

For a list of task force members, click here

When did the task force begin the decision-making process?

The task force started work during the last week of April. The objective is to conduct in-depth analysis internally and externally, involve all stakeholders and come up with recommendations for the provost to discuss with senior leadership and the Board of Trustees. 


Can you explain the different processes and tools you are using to help reach a decision for Fall 2020? 

First, we conducted in-depth external analysis, including what other universities globally are planning to do. We also looked at the health situation and protocols locally and globally. Lastly, we conducted in-depth internal analysis, including looking at our classroom capacities in light of the required precautionary measures, our operational capabilities and our readiness for both face-to-face and online instruction. We plan to hold meetings with the University Senate’s Executive Committee and Student Union leaders. We also plan to conduct five focus groups: two with undergraduate students, one with graduate students and two with faculty members.


What are the criteria for deciding to return to campus in Fall 2020? For continuing online?

In order to return to campus, we need to make sure that we secure health and safety for the entire AUC community. We also need to ensure that we can manage campus operationally. In order to continue online, we need to make sure that the learning outcomes of the courses are achieved effectively. Additionally, we need to make sure that the recommended model is not complex and can be implemented without creating confusions.


Would you please explain what are the different models the committee is focusing on?

We analyzed 15 different scenarios and eliminated many of them. We are currently focusing on a "Targeted Curriculum" model, whereby only courses that require full or partial face-to-face instruction will be held on campus, while the rest will be held remotely. Meanwhile, we are also analyzing other models, such as a "Block Plan,” where the semester may be divided into blocks. We are also analyzing other "Hybrid" models. Please note that we are still in the analysis phase, and we will come up with a detailed recommendation after consulting with all stakeholders on campus.

The “Targeted Curriculum” would mean a low-density campus: Courses that cannot be taught online will be on campus, while some courses will be offered on campus with strict measures that will secure safety and health. Faculty will be training to improve teaching methods from Spring 2020. We have three priorities we are trying to fulfill as well: to ensure that courses that absolutely need face-to-face instruction will deliver learning outcomes, to provide first-year students some experience on campus and to make exams a smoother process.


What has the task force been finding are the best practices from around the world? What are other universities you're looking into doing?

Most universities globally are still figuring out the optimal plan for them. Some small-scale universities in the United States decided to return to campus with precautionary measures. Some large universities decided to go online to minimize health risks. Many universities are planning for something in the middle. In fact, there are 15 scenarios that are on the table, including the two extreme ones (fully face to face and fully online). Our task force started with these 15 and then started eliminating certain options like going back to campus as usual with no restrictions, postponing the fall semester and several options that were more convenient to large universities. We ended up with four or five options that we are digging deeper into. We hope to come up with the optimal plan that suits AUC.


If Fall 2020 continues online, how is the task force ensuring that online instruction will be more interactive and efficient? 

The Center for Learning and Teaching is preparing a program for faculty, creating a Blackboard course to get ready for the semester. Faculty will prepare syllabi based on online instruction changes. The faculty will be more prepared, and we can’t say that it will be optimal but it will be an improvement from Spring 2020. Faculty will be trying this new approach in the summer. Preparedness and communication will be better. 


When will a final decision be made?

We need to make a final decision by the end of June, which is right before Fall 2020 registration begins.


Should people be prepared for a change of mind after the initial decision is made?

Of course, there may be changes afterward, depending on the health conditions in Egypt. Anyway, we are planning to prepare for online instruction to the maximum in order to be ready for any possible mode of instruction.  

In preparing for a second outbreak of COVID-19, we will be prepared by already having a low-density campus. This way, we can move classes remotely more smoothly if need be. We are hopeful that when there are cases on campus, we will have all the measures to protect and support the community and make sure that classes are completed the right way. We will have a contingency plan and flexibilities to support the community.


How can people make suggestions or give feedback to the committee?

As I mentioned, we are holding meetings and focus groups with different stakeholders. We are also liaising with other committees -- such as Operations, Digital Transformation, and Student Life -- to ensure integration of all plans. Once a plan is clear, it will be communicated to the AUC community through different channels. Of course, if anyone has any suggestions, he or she should feel free to contact us