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Science update: Strategies for completing winter 2020 courses amidst COVID-19: Addendum 5

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

This message was originally sent to instructors in the Faculty of Science by Marlee Spafford, associate dean, undergraduate studies.


This email addresses two points: 1) scheduling tips for Winter 2020 final exams; and 2) managing INC grades. Later this week, I hope to provide guidance regarding the impacts of students having an option to change their numeric grade to CR/NCR.

Scheduling Winter 2020 final exams:

These are suggestions for managing students writing in different time zones and facing various challenges to writing timed exams (connectivity, family responsibilities):

  • For timed final exams, maintain the originally scheduled exam day but allow the exam duration (e.g., 2.5 hours) to occur within a 24-hour period (it will be important to be specific regarding the exact beginning and ending of 24-hour period)
  • Consider adding extra time (e.g., 30 minutes) to accommodate minor connectivity problems (e.g., give 3 hours for a 2.5-hour exam)
  • Before the exam, encourage students who encounter connectivity problems to collect evidence (screen shots)

It is important for instructors to remember that many students will have other scheduled exams and competing commitments during the instructor-chosen 24-hour period, when they can complete the timed exam. Instructors who are offering take-home exams need to provide an extended deadline (later in the exam period) because of the likelihood of competing student course requirements. These tips are consistent with University messaging that encourages us to create flexibility for students who are facing different but comparable stressors to us.

Managing Incompletes (INCs)

This guidance is based on the goal that, as much as possible, instructors should strive to determine final grades in courses. This particularly important for students scheduled in the final term of their degree. Numeric grades are the preferred choice (for number grade-based courses), unless instructors have insufficient data to differentiate student performance beyond CR/NCR. Some students have INCs from 2019 and some may acquire them in Winter 2020. The following approach should be followed:

  1. Past INCs (Winter 2019, Spring 2019, and Fall 2019)

Some students are scheduled this term (Winter 2020) to complete requirements of past courses in order to replace their INC with a numerical grade. This completion should occur unless our present conditions prevent them from meeting the conditions specified on the original INC form (e.g. unable to sit make-up final exam).

For these students, instructors can:

(a) Assign a CR without further work being completed: If the student and the original instructor agree that a CR grade is warranted and appropriate without further work being submitted, then a CR can be submitted. This is a viable option for graduating students.

In this case, the instructor will provide the Associate Dean, Undergraduate Studies (AD, UG) with the following information (unless an RO web form in created):

  • student number,
  • course number, 
  • the term the course was original held, and
  • a brief rationale for the choice.

The AD,UG will submit the grade to the RO on the instructor's behalf.

(b) Assign a numeric or CR grade after alternative work is completed: If the student and the original instructor agree to modified or alternative means of completing the work for the course, then a final grade can be determined. This grade can be numeric or CR/NCR (numeric is preferred when there is enough date). The grade is to be submitted by the end of this term. This is a viable option for graduating students.

If a CR/NCR grade is to be submitted, the instructor will provide the AD,UG with the following information (unless an RO web form is created):

  • student number,
  • course number
  • the term the course was originally held, and
  • a brief rationale for the choice.

The AD,UG will submit the grade to the RO on the instructor's behalf.

(c) Grant an extension to complete the work specified in the original INC form: If there is no agreement between the student and the original instructor on one of the above two options, an extension can be granted until the end of the next term in which it is realistic to expect that the requirement of the original INC can be fulfilled. The instructor must complete a revised INC form to the RO. This is not a viable option for graduating students.

If this options is taken, the student may be is advantaged because they lack a prerequisite for a course they need or want. Extensions created by COVID-19 changes in operations, should lead to requisite overrides, unless the student would be placed at risk (e.g., they would lack necessary knowledge for safe lab practice).

If the course was taught by an instructor no longer employed at UWaterloo, a CR may be granted by the AD,UG, based on known course grades without further work being completed. With the cooperation of a current instructor of that course, option 1b may be possible.

2. INCs for Winter 2020

INCs may be submitted through the normal process for Winter 2020, although they should be used sparingly, in this unique term when students have the option of taking a CR for any course for which they have a passing grade.

I hope this information is helpful.

Stay well.