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Pepperdine School of Public Policy Announces Maximum Flexibility Strategy for the Fall 2020 Semester

June 12, 2020  | 4 min read

Pepperdine School of Public Policy Building

On Friday, May 15, Pepperdine University President James Gash announced the University’s plans for fall 2020 classes. Dubbed the “Pepperdine Restoration Plan,” the outline includes a number of academic and logistical elements, built around the intention of hosting on-ground or in-person classes for the fall semester. For more than a month, the staff and faculty at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy (SPP) have considered a variety of options for teaching this fall. Now that the University-wide “Restoration Plan” has been declared, SPP has integrated its existing game plan with Pepperdine’s.

American president and general Dwight David Eisenhower once said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything,” Pete Peterson, dean and Braun Family Dean's Chair at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy notes here at the start, that while the school's strategy for the fall has been debated and considered, it is still open to revision given the prospect of changing events related to the pandemic. President Gash’s differentiation between “plans and decisions” is an extremely helpful way to frame the school's objectives for the fall. In preparation for what will be a historic semester at the School of Public Policy, Peterson announced a strategy to help students prepare for a transition for an on-ground, hybrid, and on-line semester in Malibu.

Aligning with the Restoration Plan, SPP’s outline for the fall focuses on the safety of its students. SPP's “Maximum Flexibility Strategy” is intended to give students the maximum number of choices as they decide what is best for themselves and their family as the COVID-19 crisis plays out.

The SPP “Maximum Flexibility Strategy”

Over the last several months, SPP has all learned a lot about online education. SPP included a question about the student's experiences in the Spring 2020 teacher evaluations, and considered this feedback. This June SPP was preparing to offer its annual “DC Policy Scholars” class at Pepperdine’s Washington, DC campus, but the decision was made to transition that three-unit class to online. It marks SPP’s first class to be held fully online. This will be followed by the July class, which will also be fully online due to the pandemic.

As SPP deliberated over how the school will offer fall semester classes, SPP asked its faculty and staff to consider several other important questions:

  1. How do we keep our students, faculty, and staff safe?
  2. How do we engage and teach our students who may have medical vulnerabilities?
  3. How do we engage and protect our staff and faculty who may have medical vulnerabilities?
  4. How do we engage and teach our international students who may not be able to make it to campus by the start of classes?
  5. How do we engage and teach in classrooms that may be limited to as few as 12 students because of social distancing?
  6. How do we engage and teach students in the event of a possible “second wave,” which may shift all Pepperdine classes to online later in the semester?
  7. How can we accommodate students who may test positive for the virus during the semester, even if asymptomatic and still able to participate?

The “Maximum Flexibility Strategy” SPP developed for the fall semester is defined by a simple premise: students will be able to access every class offered in the fall online with a number of classes offered in “dual modality” (both online and in-person). A significant number of courses (particularly elective courses for returning students) will be offered online only.

Working closely with the faculty, SPP created a fall semester class schedule in three “modalities” where:

  1. Some classes (including at least one elective in each specialization) will be fully online. These classes will be designed as online courses and taught using online tools, including the Zoom platform and SPP’s learning management system, Courses. Essentially, SPP is creating an “online block” of classes from which a student can select. This will allow us to access outstanding faculty for the fall who might otherwise not be able to teach due to concerns over travel and health circumstances.
  2. Several classes will be taught via “dual modality” in classrooms that have been updated with new video technology—offering all students the chance to participate either in person or online. These courses will be taught in person in Malibu by the professor with simultaneous online sharing of the classroom, which will allow off-site students to participate and SPP to bridge classrooms to accommodate larger classes.
  3. Several classes will be taught in a “hybrid” format with several “on-ground” sessions scheduled throughout the semester and the rest of the coursework offered online.
  4. Because SPP wants to maximize student access to course content and sessions, any classes that are offered in this dual mode will be recorded and archived on the class website. Recorded classes will allow students who are facing exceptional situations to access the information asynchronously as needed and for all students to review the content to enhance learning.

On this second point, and as part of the Restoration Plan, Pepperdine is making a significant investment this summer in a University-wide update of most classrooms with Cleartech camera/microphone systems along with a secure recording/streaming technology platform by Panopto. Beginning in June, Pepperdine will be installing these platforms across the Malibu campus as well as the other campus locations this summer—200 classrooms in all.

While SPP is offering these classes online, most will be taught synchronously (a few will have asynchronous/recorded sessions), which is to say, students participating online will do so during the scheduled class session. The faculty are currently planning their syllabi and lecture plans around this larger strategy.

By the start of fall classes, SPP will have learned even more about how to provide students with the best online learning experience possible while preserving the best aspects of the person-to-person experience that defines its program. SPP views these plans as a short-term response to the current state of the COVID-19 crisis and plans to be fully back together in January, although those decisions will not be made until later in the fall.

Learn more about Pepperdine University's COVID-19 Planning and Preparedness.