2020-21 Planning FAQ

Winter session

What are the dates for the winter session?

The five-week winter session will begin Monday, Dec. 14, and end Thursday, Jan. 21.

What classes will be offered and will course offerings be released?

A complete list of courses is available on the winter session website and registration is open until Dec. 16. Visit the schedule of classes and use the “Toggle Advanced Search” option. For winter session courses, enter Start Date 12/14/2020 and/or Stop Date 01/21/2021.

What is the cost to take winter session classes? And are winter courses part of spring tuition?

Students taking winter session classes will be assessed the approved, standard per-credit tuition rate. No differential tuition or mandatory fees will be assessed. Tuition for winter session courses will be separate from those charged for the spring semester.

When will registration open?

Registration for winter session courses will be concurrent with spring semester courses, tentatively beginning Monday, October 26 for graduate and professional students, and continuing through Friday, November 13 for returning undergraduates. There will not be separate Registration Access Numbers (RANs) or registration periods for winter and spring. Final dates will be posted on the Office of the Registrar website.

Will any winter session courses be taught face-to-face?

No. All courses selected for the Winter Session will be delivered online. Some courses will have synchronous components completed online. 

What is the credit maximum?

Students may take up to a maximum of four credits during the winter session. Before registering for a Winter Session course, students should carefully consider whether they have the necessary time, dedication, and study habits needed to stay on track to complete the course.

Will new students be allowed to start in the winter session? 

No. Only continuing students are allowed to take classes during the session.

May graduate students register for a winter session course?

The inaugural winter session is limited to continuing undergraduate students.

Will resources from the Parks Library be available during Winter Session?

The university libraries will be open during the majority of Winter Session. Details are available on the library website


Spring 2021

Why are you changing the calendar for spring 2021?

We believe changing our academic calendar to start two weeks later, and eliminating spring break, provides the best opportunity to successfully complete the spring semester on campus. This includes the ability to maximize face-to-face instruction, maintain experiential learning programs, and preserve the integrity of our final exams. Health and safety protocols currently in place for the fall semester will also continue during the spring, including reduced classroom capacities, mandatory use of face coverings, and extending time between class periods to avoid congestion.

Why did you eliminate spring break?

The decision to eliminate spring break was made primarily to reduce out-of-state travel by students, faculty and staff during the spring semester, which can help minimize the spread of COVID-19 on campus, and in the community.

What safety measures will be in place for the spring?

Generally, all of the safety measures in place for the fall semester will continue in the spring. These include reduced classroom capacities, mandatory use of face coverings, and extending time between class periods to avoid congestion in campus buildings, walkways, buses, and other areas.

For students in the School of Education, how will student teaching assignments be impacted?

Student teaching assignments follow the academic calendar and contract times of the school district where the student is placed. As such, placements may start before Iowa State’s spring semester begins, and may extend past May 6, as they have in the past.

What are Iowa State’s plans for spring 2021 commencement?

Iowa State’s Commencement Advisory Committee is exploring options for spring commencement and college convocations, including an analysis of capacity and safety options for in-person events, if warranted. Additional details will be shared as they become available.

When will students know in what modality their courses will be offered?

Iowa State’s academic departments and colleges are currently working to decide how individual courses will be offered for spring 2021, including course delivery mode (face-to-face, online, hybrid, or arranged). These determinations will be based on course size, room and instructor availability, and other factors. Courses offered in a face-to-face format will be held in classrooms that allow suitable spacing between students. We are striving to offer students a number of opportunities for engagement in classrooms, labs, and studios by reducing section sizes.

What are the different ways students will take courses, and how do they work?

Faculty will use four primary delivery modes for spring courses, similar to the fall:

  • Face-to-face
  • Online
  • Hybrid (mix of face-to-face and online components)
  • Arranged (Individual or small group format including research projects, internships, and independent study where students work closely with faculty or industry partners)

What accommodations can be made for students due to COVID-19?

Students at a higher risk to develop severe illness from COVID-19 based on their age or underlying medical condition, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control, are given preference for placement in online courses. Additional information on this process can be found on the Dean of Students website. However, it is important to note, not all classes will be able to be offered with an online option, such as labs where students use special equipment, or courses that feature a unique instructional experience.

How will academic support/learning services be offered?

Academic support and learning services – including academic advising, career advising, learning communities, tutoring, supplemental instruction, and coaching – will continue to be offered during the spring. In most cases, appointments and services will be offered in virtual formats.

What changes will be made to schedules in the residence halls and dining centers?

Iowa State’s residence halls will open, and meal plans will begin, on Thursday, January 7. Meal plans will end on Friday, May 7, and students will need to move out by Saturday, May 8.


Academic quality

How can we be confident that the quality of education and the learning outcomes are the same for the online courses as the face-to-face equivalent?

The Iowa State University academic experience – whether classes are taken face-to-face, online, or via hybrid delivery – is an opportunity to learn from and interact with faculty who are leaders in their fields and to develop a mix of both practical and critical thinking skills that prepare graduates for successful professional careers.

Engagement lies at the heart of this experience. For this reason, Iowa State has launched several initiatives this summer to ensure that the  courses that are moving online to safeguard community health meet the standards that students have come to expect from an Iowa State education. To begin, the university has mandated that professors include opportunities for faculty-student engagement in all online courses. These may include, for example,  virtual small group discussions, more frequent faculty feedback, virtual office hours, discussion boards, and other opportunities for faculty-student interaction. 

Second, our Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching has been working diligently this summer to train hundreds of faculty in online course design. As a benchmark, we are working towards ensuring  that our online courses meet the rigorous standards established by a national organization  Quality Matters. In addition to those online teaching standards, all  of our departments must meet rigorous disciplinary accreditation standards for four-year and graduate programs set by their academic disciplines.

Finally, students at Iowa State have the opportunity to take advantage of many high-impact learning opportunities including our learning communities, our honors college, internships, and undergraduate research. We are in the process of deploying new technology to enable our outstanding network of academic advisers, career advisers, teaching assistants, and other student support professionals to continue to deliver high quality advising services to all of our students.

We are confident that our faculty and staff will be prepared to rise to the challenge facing all of us this fall and that they will deliver the quality education that students and parents have come to expect from Iowa State.

Changes to the Academic Calendar

Why are you having finals during a football game/on the weekend?

As part of change to Iowa State’s fall 2020 academic calendar, final exams will be held Saturday, Nov. 21; and Monday-Wednesday, Nov. 23-25. Holding final exams on Saturday, and on Monday-Wednesday during the week of Thanksgiving, will allow the university to finish the semester before Thanksgiving, and provide additional time over winter break before classes resume for the Spring 2021 semester.

The Iowa State football team has a game at Texas on Saturday, Nov. 21. The time for this game has not yet been determined.

How will student teaching assignments be impacted?

Student teaching assignments follow the academic calendar and contract times of the school district where the student is placed, and must include a minimum of 14 weeks in the classroom to meet state and university requirements. Generally, if student teaching assignments start Aug. 23 or later, student teachers will need to complete the remainder of their experience after the end of Iowa State’s fall semester in November.

What are Iowa State’s plans for fall commencement?

The Fall 2020 commencement ceremonies and college convocations will be presented in a virtual format. ISU's largest indoor facility, Hilton Coliseum, does not provide adequate space to ensure physical distancing without severely limiting the number of attendees. The prerecorded celebrations will be available for viewing beginning at 10 a.m. (central time) on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020.

Course Delivery

What are the different ways students will take courses, and how do they work? 

Faculty will use a variety of course delivery modes. The descriptions below are examples, rather than exclusive definitions, of the types of classes that will be offered. 

Face-to-face: Similar to classes offered in person in other semesters, with the exception that there will be adequate spacing between students and face coverings will be mandatory, consistent with CDC and other public health recommendations. 

Online: Similar to those offered online in other semesters. Students will not be physically present in the room with the instructor. The online content may be delivered asynchronously (students may access it at any time) or synchronously (content will be delivered during a specific scheduled class time to facilitate real-time engagement). Class engagement may occur through discussion boards, group work, online apps, and other activities. 

Hybrid: A combination of face-to-face and online teaching. Learning activities and assessments can occur both online and face-to-face. Online activities may include some synchronous online engagement (with participants meeting at the same time), and/or asynchronous content delivery (with participants accessing the materials independently). The particular mix of delivery modes will depend on an instructor’s teaching strategies and course learning objectives. 

How are decisions regarding online, hybrid, or in-person instruction being made? What are some of the key considerations?

There are a number of factors that contribute to course delivery. These include:

  • Size. Generally, larger classes may be delivered online to ensure guidelines for physical distancing are maintained.
  • Experiential learning. Experiential courses such as labs and studios are prioritized for face-to-face instruction. Others require specialized equipment or clinical activities.
  • Instructor preference. Some faculty, for example, have expressed a preference for online instruction based on their personal or family risks for COVID-19. Others prefer face-to-face instruction.
  • How many faculty typically teach a specific course. Smaller, specialized courses that are offered only once a year are likely to be taught by a single faculty member with expertise in the subject area, while other courses (calculus, for example) may be taught by multiple faculty, and offered in multiple course delivery options.

What accommodations can be made for students due to COVID-19?

Students who may be at a higher risk for COVID-19 can complete and submit a webform to explore potential accommodations. In addition, all students have the ability to select online course options, depending on space availability.

Can I take all of my classes online?

Students who wish to change courses to achieve more online or face-to-face courses, or switch sections of the same course, will have the opportunity to do so in AccessPlus.

Course modality will be determined by the class size, availability of classroom space that will allow adequate distancing, and the instructor’s preference. Some courses, especially some labs and studios, will not be available online because they require in person engagement.

Will there be an additional cost to online courses?

While some online courses typically charge a delivery fee, the university will waive all online delivery fees for the 2020-21 fall, winter and spring sessions. 

What if I registered for face-to-face classes, but they have been switched to online?

Course delivery modes (face-to-face, online, hybrid) have been changed for some classes to accommodate classroom capacity limitations and instructor preference. Many large lecture classes, for example, will be offered online, but will also include smaller, face-to-face discussion sessions where students can interact with instructors.

Students who wish to change courses to achieve more face-to-face or online courses, or switch sections of the same course, will have the opportunity to do so in AccessPlus. Students may also consult their academic adviser to help with this process.

What academic support resources will be available? How will academic support/learning services be offered?

Academic Advising: We continue to encourage academic advising appointments to be offered in virtual formats. Virtual appointments enhance safety and create greater flexibility for both students and advisers, while also eliminating the need for office cleaning between appointments. Scheduling systems allow students to specifically request virtual or phone appointments if they prefer.

Career Advising: We continue to encourage career advising appointments to be offered in virtual formats. Virtual appointments enhance safety and create greater flexibility for both students and advisers, while also eliminating the need for office cleaning between appointments.

Learning Communities: We continue to encourage virtual learning community meetings, whenever possible, to enhance safety for students and instructors. If face-to-face meetings are warranted, steps should be taken to ensure guidelines are followed related to room capacities, physical distancing, and face coverings.

Tutoring: We continue to encourage tutoring appointments to be offered in virtual formats. Virtual appointments enhance safety on campus, both for tutors and those seeking their services.

Supplemental Instruction: SI sessions and small group tutoring will be conducted synchronously online to enhance safety for students and instructors. SI Leaders and Tutors will receive training in online delivery prior to hosting sessions as well as ongoing educational opportunities and support to ensure high-quality, interactive learning experiences for students. This ensures consistent access to and delivery of services regardless of course delivery method, physical location of students taking courses, and health status of participants and peer educators.

Coaching: Academic coaching will be offered virtually through one-on-one video meetings, via phone call, or face-to-face (as necessary and/or as space for distancing allows). Students will continue to schedule appointments on AccessPlus using ISU Appointments.

Outreach Services: Workshops, including an overview of services, the study cycle, time management, and exam preparation, are available both synchronously and asynchronously. In some cases, face-to-face workshops will be available with limits on the number of attendees. Requests for synchronous workshops can be made using the online form. The Academic Success Center website will continue to house a library of interactive support resources for students.

Who should we contact if we have questions about course delivery?

Students who have questions about the various course delivery modes may contact their academic adviser, or the Office of the Registrar.

Residence and Dining

Isn’t it safer to just have one person in a residence hall room?

Iowa State is offering both single and double occupancy in its residence halls for the 2020-2021 academic year. The Department of Residence is implementing a variety of sanitizing measures, as well as standards for residents’ behavior (wearing face coverings in common areas, for example). Additional information can be found at housing.iastate.edu/fallplanning.

What happens if my roommate, or someone on my floor, tests positive for COVID-19?

Isolation housing will be available for students who have symptoms, or who have had a known exposure to COVID-19. Quarantine housing spaces will also be available for students who test positive for COVID-19, in collaboration with Iowa State’s Thielen Student Health Center.

What are my options if I am at higher risk for COVID? Can I get a single room?

The Department of Residence offers single rooms for students to prefer this option. These rooms are subject to availability, and may include an increased cost.

What will change in ISU Dining?

ISU Dining facilities, both in the residence halls and in cafes across campus, will adhere to public health guidelines. Among other measures, they will modify their operations to reduce capacities in their facilities, eliminate self-service options where possible in dining halls, and expand take-out options.

Testing, Contact Tracing and Health Concerns

How are you going to keep me/my student safe?

All of our fall plans are based, fundamentally, on the safety of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors. These measures include:

  • Starting the fall semester a week early, and ending at Thanksgiving
  • Reducing the number of people on campus at any one time, as well as the number of students in a classroom at any one time
  • Adding time between classes on M-W-F to ease congestion in hallways, sidewalks, and buses
  • Expecting all members of the campus community to wear face coverings
  • Plans for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing
  • Launching a campaign to encourage other infection-reducing behaviors, such as physical distancing, hand washing, and staying home when sick

What if my classmates refuse to wear face coverings, or if I am teaching a class/lab and my students refuse to wear face coverings?

All students, faculty and staff are required to wear face coverings on campus, not just for their own safety, but also for the safety of those around them.

As previously communicated to campus, face coverings and/or face shields will be required in classrooms, offices, and other areas where physical distancing is not possible. While positive reinforcement of this requirement is the best method to encourage compliance, enforcement policies are also being developed. 

Where can I find more information?

Campus testing, isolation and quarantine updates are posted every Monday on a public dashboard. Details about testing, case investigation, contact tracing, isolation, quarantine, health monitoring and mental wellbeing is available on the Personal Health page

Student Life

What restrictions will be placed on student organizations?

Participation in student organizations and their activities is an integral part of the Iowa State student experience. While most activities will remain unchanged, the organizations must also follow guidelines related to room capacities, face coverings, and physical distancing, among other items.