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To Merge or Not to Merge

A lot of faculty at Xavier have found, when they are teaching multiple sections of the same class, that it is helpful to merge those sections on Brightspace. Janice recently posted about the process to get your courses merged, so I won't go into those details. Instead, this post is going to consider the rather unique challenge many of our faculty will face this fall: teaching one section online and one in person.

An old black and white photograph of the actor Edwin Booth in costume as Hamlet looking pensive.
American actor Edwin Booth as Hamlet
(J. Gurney & Son, N.Y. / Public domain)

Xavier's plan for returning to campus this fall, XULA-Flex, requires all faculty teaching a full 4/4 course load to teach one of those classes remotely. In many cases, faculty who were scheduled to teach two or more sections of the same course this fall have had one of those sections designated as their remote course. The idea here is that, if we need to go fully remote again this fall, those faculty will be able to quickly transition that in-person section, since they have already developed the model.

The question that has come up already is whether these sections should be merged now, even though as the semester begins, the courses will be delivered in two different environments (online and in-person), if the sections could be merged after the semester has begun, if we need to go fully remote again, or if they should not be merged at all. No option, to be honest, is ideal. Below are some pros and cons of each option.

Pros Cons
Merging before classes begin By having both sections merged into one Brightspace class, you only have one class work on in Brightspace. This is the main goal of merging sections in Brightspace. It cuts down on the redundancy of doing the same thing in multiple classes, which means time is saved and fewer mistakes are made. Having merged sections is difficult even when both are being taught in the same environment, as schedules and deadlines can be different for each section. This could be even more challenging when merging sections in different environments, and could lead to a lot of confusion for the students.
Merging, if necessary, after classes have begun If we have to go fully remote again after the fall semester has begun, merging the sections would simplify a lot of the workload, as the already developed online section could supplant the in-person section. The merging process involves enrolling the students in one section into another section. While this seems simple, any work submitted by or grades submitted for those students will not transfer with them, meaning the faculty member would have to re-input any grades, at the very least.
Keeping sections separate even if campus closes again This is perhaps the safest approach, but also the most work-intensive, as it requires developing two different classes within Brightspace. Again, the duplication of effort becomes a the real burden here. Everything needs to be done twice, which creates a lot of opportunities for mistakes.
The pros & cons of merging sections in multiple environments


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About Jason S. Todd

Jay Todd studied writing with Frederick and Steven Barthelme and Mary Robison at the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. His fiction has appeared in various literary journals. Since 2007, he has been a member of Department of English at Xavier, where he teaches American Literature, Freshman Composition, Modern English Grammars, and The Graphic Novel and Social Justice. From 2007 to 2010, Dr. Todd served as Xavier's Writing Center Director. From 2010 until 2015, he served as QEP Director, managing Xavier's Read Today, Lead Tomorrow initiative. In 2015, he became the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development's first Associate Director for Programming. As Associate Director for Programming, Dr. Todd assists in providing high-quality, relevant, evidence-based programming in support of CAT+FD's mission to serve faculty across all career stages and areas of professional responsibility. You can follow him on Twitter at @jason_s_todd.

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