This update is provided for archival purposes only.

Public Health guidance and University of Waterloo operations may have changed. For the most up-to-date information, please visit our COVID-19 frequently asked questions.

Environment update: Course grade recommendations

Friday, March 13, 2020

This message was originally sent to instructors in the Faculty of Environment by Bendon Larson, associate dean, undergraduate studies, and Peter Deadman, interim associate dean, graduate studies.

In view of the most recent university update regarding COVID-19 (see, instructors will understandably be considering how students can complete sufficient course work and how final grades will be determined this term. I acknowledge that we are all experiencing increased stress during this time, and the pause over the next week is intended to provide you with an opportunity to determine how to proceed within your course(s). UG Associate Deans have conferred to make some recommendations aimed to assist instructors and those who administer courses and course grades. 

Our recommendations are informed by three priorities:

  1. Safety for members of the university community;
  2. Attainment of learning objectives and academic progression; and
  3. Equitable impacts on students.

We have kept the following considerations in mind:

  • These recommendations assume that instructors understand their local context, have the authority to make decisions in their course, and will seek advice and support from appropriate local administrators and resources (e.g., associate chairs/directors, teaching fellows).
  • This is an extraordinary time that is best served by compassionate, student-centric solutions in what is a challenging time for everyone.
  • Despite our best efforts, we may not be able to ensure learning outcomes as initially conceived or maintain integrity at the level we would otherwise aspire.
  • The instructor’s chosen approach to assessment should be consistently applied to the class.


  • As much as possible, instructors should maintain proactive communication with their students. Office hours should continue, though by skype or telephone.
  • Course element deadlines (e.g., assignments, quizzes, reports) cannot fall between March 14 and March 22, so they must be eliminated or delayed until the final two weeks of the formal lecture period (March 23-April 3). 
  • Where appropriate/practical, we encourage you to provide agency to your students by giving them a few carefully defined options for completing the course (e.g., using LEARN quiz tool).
  • If your course does not have an in-person final exam, you still may not be able to complete all graded course components, in which case you could re-weight course elements to assign a numeric final grade.
  • If your course was scheduled to have a final exam, but you think that the course learning outcomes could be sufficiently met without it, you could re-weight course elements to assign a numeric final grade without the final exam.
  • If instructors conclude that it is essential to administer a final exam during the exam period, it would ideally occur online (e.g., in LEARN) when the in-person exam was originally scheduled (to avoid student conflicts) and instructors are encouraged to lower the exam’s weight to acknowledge that students are stressed and test security cannot be controlled as well as with proctored in-person exams.
  • If instructors do not believe that they can reasonably reflect student learning using existing marks, then they might consider grading the course on a CR/NCR basis –though this option is discouraged because it may have unintended consequences for students.
  • Instructors should not add major online term tests (i.e., >25%) during the final week of the formal lecture period, as per the UG calendar regulations -
  • As much as possible, INC grades should be avoided because this will interrupt student academic progression and create requisite barriers.

Several sources of support are available to you, including CTE (see Scott Anderson’s helpful message this morning), and the Keep Learning site (, which provides resources and suggestions to help you modify your course to teach remotely. Given the timeline, you are encouraged to utilize simple technologies with which you are likely already familiar (e.g., LEARN, PPT, perhaps voice-over), unless you are comfortable with more advanced technologies.Brendon will be away next week, so if you have further UG-related questions, please direct them to Carol, who can either answer or redirect to the appropriate person.