Contact tracing and seat allocation

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Dear faculty,

We would like to thank you for your considerable efforts this first week of the school year to ensure a safe learning environment for all. Your leadership and resilience has allowed us to restart our classes and activities on campus and we are truly grateful for your commitment to the success of our students.

As we move forward with face-to-face teaching on campus, an important measure to limit the spread of COVID-19 is contact tracing. While we have several measures in place to ensure a safe teaching and learning community, such as masking all students, faculty and staff indoors; vaccination requirements; and regular testing of those who cannot be vaccinated, contact tracing remains an effective measure to track interactions between individuals in your class, identify others who may have been infected, and slow the spread of COVID-19 . We anticipate that with proper mask wearing indoors and a high community vaccination rate, there will be no transmission in the classroom. However, it is possible that a member of your class will test positive for COVID-19 this semester. As we continue to navigate the fluid environment of COVID-19, we are asking for your assistance with contact tracing beginning the week of September 7 as follows.

What can I do to help with contact tracing in my classroom?

If someone in your class tests positive for COVID-19, the UIC Contact Tracing Team will contact the individual student(s) and you, the instructor, with details to assist with tracing efforts. contacts. All contact tracing will be handled by contact tracing teams. Although not a common feature of classroom learning at UIC, assigned seats for classes of more than 30 students, when possible, is a strategy that can help make contact tracing more effective and less disruptive to the learning environment, as it can reduce the number of students and instructors needing to be tested and possibly , quarantined. For small classes (those under 30 students), all students will be contacted by contact tracing teams and therefore there is no need to assign seating. By providing contact tracers with seating information for larger classes, you will enable them to accurately determine if there has been a transmission in class. Specifically, by knowing who was seated closest and who was seated farthest from the individual in a class who tested positive for COVID-19, those who were in close contact can be quickly identified, tested, and put on hold. quarantine if necessary. This information will avoid having to test all students and instructors in a class. Currently, only exposed people, who cannot be vaccinated, must be quarantined, but all people considered exposed must be tested, regardless of their vaccination status.

How can I go about assigning places in my class?

The easiest option to track student seating information is to use a seating plan, with places assigned by you or chosen by students for the duration of the semester. We encourage instructors to use rudimentary methods to assign seats and provide some suggestions here for doing so. With fixed seat assignments, this process only needs to happen once and not every class session:

  • Use a spreadsheet such as Excel or Google Sheets to fill in rows and columns with student names and UINs in the cells corresponding to the positions of chairs or desks in your classroom.
  • Download the Microsoft Office Seating Chart template (https://templates.office.com/en-us/seating-charts-tm01018402), where you arrange the shapes for chairs, desks, and tables in your classrooms, customizing table of furniture according to your preferred classroom configuration. Then, pass around a blank seating chart for students to fill in with their names and UINs.
  • If it is too complicated to keep track of the places assigned to each student, consider assigning students to “groups” corresponding to specific sections of the class. Pass around a blank form, one for each module, for students to add their names and UINs.
  • To help create room plans, for centrally managed classrooms, instructors can download PDF files with the furniture layout for each classroom from the Layouts tab in the rooms database UIC Classroom: http://classrooms.uic.edu/.

Instructors should keep floor plans to facilitate contact tracing. Please remind students of the importance of remaining in their assigned seats or modules throughout the term.

**Please note that UIC does not currently have a technology solution to create seating plans, although several of our systems do take attendance (e.g. Acadly, iClicker, Blackboard Attendance) which is useful for track who attends each class session but is limited in its usefulness to inform contact tracing efforts because they do not record seating information.

What if the seating in my class changes frequently?

The optimal pedagogy for student learning in your classroom may not lend itself to assigned seating. For example, students can travel for group work or demonstrations. We provide some ideas for monitoring student proximity in a classroom with dynamic seating; these strategies rely on student compliance with reports and also require more frequent collection of seating information.

  • If assigned seating is not practical or appropriate for the pedagogy of your class, set aside a few minutes at the start of each class to ask students to identify and record the names of the students who are seated next to them, submitting this information as a blackboard assignment.
  • Similarly, if you ask students to work in groups periodically during class, ask students to identify and record the names of students who are part of their group during those particular lesson sessions.

Are there educational benefits to using assigned seating and/or following the seating arrangement in my classroom?

Using assigned seating in your classroom can become a tool to help you learn student names, which helps cultivate an inclusive learning environment (Tanner 2013). Calling students by name creates class community, helps them feel more comfortable, leads to greater student engagement in class, makes students more accountable to the instructor, encourages students to ask for help when needed and increases student satisfaction with a course (Cooper et al. 2017, Murdoch et al. 2018, O’Brien et al. 2014). Strategies for tracking student proximity to one another that rely on student-to-student interaction and the exchange of information have the added benefit of promoting student-to-student interactions, which can help foster community in your classroom and even improve student learning (Hurst et al. 2013).

Finally, we encourage faculty to take advantage of the resources offered by the Center for Advancing Teaching Excellence (CATE) for assistance in meeting student needs while managing teaching and classroom safety.

Sincerely,

Javier Reyes
Provost and Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs

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