Anything from conference travel, to extreme weather, to family emergencies can disrupt scheduled courses, and instructors should prepare for these events. A campus might shut down (flu epidemic), or some students might be unable to attend class (flooded roads), or the instructor might not be able to make it to campus (sprained ankle). In any of these scenarios it is essential to have a plan. The official term for such plans is continuity of instruction. We prefer to think of it as “how can I keep teaching and how can students keep learning?” through disruptions.
Planning for some disruptions like conference travel can be done in advance, and instructors can assign supplemental readings, use pre-taped lectures, or invite a colleague to lead a class. One colleague gives students an assignment based on the conference program of the event she is attending and then sends the class updates while she is there. She says this takes some of the mystery away from academic conferences and allows her to share the excitement of learning something new while helping students understand why professors go to conferences in the first place.
But many disruptions are unexpected, and planning can also help you keep teaching. One of the easiest ways to remain in contact with student is to use Zoom. WashU has an enterprise license for Zoom, and instructors can set up a Zoom meeting and students can join from any device at the regular class time. Practicing with Zoom now will allow you to make use of it during an unexpected disruption.
The Canvas Learning Management System is also a valuable resource and it has a vast array of features, but because we are talking about emergency disruptions, it is not practical to become a Canvas expert. So, you should at least be familiar enough with Canvas to post resources, share files, and run a discussion board. You can also use Kaltura to capture lectures or record voice overs on a computer screen and post those videos to Canvas. Think of it like being a car owner: You don’t need to know how to rebuild an engine, but you should know how to change a tire.
The tools and strategies described here can minimize the effects of those unexpected events. In an emergency situation, your ability to continue your class in the manner that you’ve planned may be impacted. The university has a wide range of tools that can help you stay connected with students, share class materials, record and disseminate lectures, and facilitate online discussions. The team at The Center for Teaching and Learning has compiled a guide to teaching through disruptions. This brief guide helps you find alternatives for these situations and allows you keep teaching and enables your students to keep learning.
Communicate with your students right away: Even if you don’t have a plan in place yet, communicate with your students as soon as possible, informing them that changes are coming and what your expectations are for checking email or Canvas so you can get them more details soon.
If there is a university-wide or community-wide emergency point students towards authoritative sources of information like WashU Emergency Management and make sure you are using the WUSTL App for Apple or Android
Preview your course schedule to determine priorities: Identify your priorities during the disruption—providing lectures, structuring new opportunities for discussion or group work, collecting assignments, etc.
Think about what aspects of a course are essential and focus on those elements. Give yourself a little flexibility in that schedule, just in case the situation takes longer to resolve than you think.
If possible, pick tools and approaches familiar to you and your students: Try to rely on tools and workflows that are familiar to you and your students and roll out new tools only when absolutely necessary. Practice using tools (like Zoom) before you use them live.
Clarify expectations for students including participation, communication, and deadlines. As you think through those changes, keep in mind the impact this situation may have on students’ ability to meet those expectations, including illness, lacking power or internet connections, or needing to care for family members. Be ready to handle requests for extensions or accommodations equitably.