Academic Policies for Fall 2020

Amid the pandemic, a revised set of academic policies for the College and Graduate School are designed to support the active participation of both instructors and students during online and hybrid instruction.

While Brown has offered online and hybrid courses for some time, the expansion of remote teaching and learning has motivated the adjustment of some of our policies. Please rely on this page as the authoritative source of information concerning academic policy during remote instruction.

Resources to support online and hybrid instruction are published on this site.

Course Registration and Virtual Shopping Period

  • Course Time Conflicts: During the Fall 2020 semester, the College and the Graduate School will waive the usual course overlap guidelines to allow students to be registered for predominantly asynchronous, online courses (for example, a course with largely recorded lectures) where both instructors support the student’s request for an exception. Students should note that courses with significant synchronous components such as live discussion sections will not be eligible for this exception. Undergraduate petitions may be submitted via ASK. Graduate students should continue to submit their requests through the time conflict form. Requests should be submitted by the last day to add a class without a fee Tuesday, September 22; requests will be reviewed on a rolling basis until the deadline. This exception will be reviewed in December 2020.
  • Virtual Shopping: Students will be able to access the published Canvas site for any course in their [email protected] (CAB) primary cart until the last day to add a class without a fee, Tuesday, September 22nd. “Prospective students,” as they are referred to in Canvas, will appear in an instructor’s “People” roster in Canvas. Instructors are encouraged to use the Zoom integration in Canvas if they wish to schedule synchronous meetings, because this will allow all students to access the links for these sessions (as well as session recordings if they are made available).

Class Engagement and Participation

Please be mindful of the many different circumstances, including distant locations, of the students participating in your course. Your assessment of participation, in particular, should be adjusted to take into account individual student circumstances so that grading is equitable for all students. Please see the Sheridan Center’s guide on Fostering and Assessing Equitable Classroom Participation as well as the updated, learner-centered suggested syllabus language for communicating course expectations.

  • For hybrid courses with remote and in-person students: Remote students should have the option to participate remotely during synchronous class meeting activities; this could, for example, entail the addition of Zoom web conferencing to classroom activities. However, not all remote students will be able to participate in synchronous class meeting activities. Instructors are encouraged to consider asynchronous online activities, such as Canvas Discussions, as an alternative means of meeting learning objectives. For activities such as in-class discussions, such alternatives would be preferable to distributing recordings; as described below, class recordings may be more appropriate for delivering pre-recorded lecture content than as alternatives to interactive sessions.
  • Class recordings: In most cases, instructors are encouraged to record synchronous lectures and/or use pre-recorded lectures. Recorded lectures can improve access for all students, including remote learners in different time zones. In course feedback from spring 2020, many students reported that recorded lectures allowed them to review class material with greater ease. If instructors do not wish to record because of the nature of class topics, they should consider alternative ways of making class material accessible for students in various time zones and with documented disabilities. (For information on copyright and ownership of instructional materials, please see the Office of the Provost’s FAQ on Course Materials Ownership). If recording will potentially feature students (e.g., in a Q&A session in the middle of lecture), instructors are encouraged to notify students in advance, such as through a syllabus statement or email. (See possible language in the Class Recording and Distribution of Materials statement here.)
  • Labs, studios, performance, and experiential learning: Instructors with research, lab, studio, or other experiential learning components in their courses may find these recommended alternatives useful. These courses may include in-person components if a safe instruction plan is developed and approved. See the memos from the Provost on Laboratory Courses and Performance/Studio Courses.

Students experiencing difficulties: Instructors are encouraged to invite students to bring any difficulties they are experiencing with the format of the class to their attention as early in the term as possible. (For possible language, please see Use of Technology to Support Your Learning, available here).


Consistent with Brown’s educational philosophy and Faculty Rules & Regulations, the University will continue to allow both instructors and students to make choices about course grading options.

  • Instructor Grade Options: Course instructors may determine that a course is mandatory Satisfactory/No credit (S/NC) up until the first day of classes.
    • Instructors should know that in courses offered on a mandatory S/NC basis, the instructor is obligated to write a Course Performance Report for any enrolled student who requests one. A student may request a Course Performance Report if they elect to take the course for a letter grade and the instructor may do so at their discretion.
  • Student Grade Options: For all courses that are not mandatory S/NC, individual students will be able to modify their grade options until the fourth week of the semester. Students are encouraged to reflect on which grade option (ABC/NC or S/NC) would best support their intellectual and personal development. Students should also understand that employers as well as graduate and professional schools will likely review grades during this period within the broader context of the global pandemic.
  • As stated in the Faculty Rules, instructors should award a grade of “S with distinction” to students whose performance would be equivalent to an “A” had the course been taken for a letter grade. While “S with distinction” grades do not appear on the internal record or official transcript, and thus are not visible to the student or external audiences, they are included in the calculation of Latin honors (magna cum laude) as well as requirements for programs that consider the number or proportion of “A” or “S with Distinction” grades.
  • The College Curriculum Council recently approved new guidelines for determining eligibility for Honors in the Concentration. These guidelines affirm Brown’s unique pedagogical approach, including the ability for any student, including those pursuing Honors, to select the S/NC grading option for any course, including courses that satisfy concentration requirements.

Remote Reading and Final Exam Period

  • As with traditional Reading Periods, observance of the remote Reading Period is at the discretion of the instructor. Courses that are not observing the Reading Period should still meet remotely during this week.
  • As always, during the Final Examination period, courses may not meet and instructors may not present new material.

Remote Midterms and Final Examinations

  • For reasons of access and equity as well as academic integrity, instructors are requested to offer asynchronous “take-home” (preferably open book) exams that allow students to choose any timed window within a 24-to-48 hour period, final papers or projects, oral assessments scheduled with individual students, or a series of smaller low-stakes assessments in lieu of a final exam. Instructors who wish to hold a synchronous midterm or final exam (defined as less than a 24-hour window) should petition for an exemption to a joint subcommittee of the College Curriculum Council and Graduate Council.
  • For final exams with scheduled exam groups, instructors are encouraged to offer 24-to-48 hour window periods (centered on the scheduled exam time) for students to take their exams. This will help students coordinate completion of exams, especially those in other time zones with adjacent exams.
  • Where practical for finite duration exams, instructors are encouraged to consider “overtime” exams, where the permitted duration exceeds the expected duration required to complete the assignment. Overtime exams can help to minimize the impact of disruptions and other external factors on exams in ways that can improve assessment and learning.