This page is designed to help you think through several key points should the university need to be closed for an extended period of time. Of course, if you have ANY questions about the content, be sure to contact us. We are here to help!
Last updated: March 17, 2020
Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your class(es)—whether a planned absence on your part, or because of a crisis impacting all or part of campus. You’ll want to let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations. Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and save you dealing with individual questions.
Keep these principles in mind.
Review your syllabus and course schedule. Since students will be thrown off by changes, provide details for changes in course schedule, policies, due dates, assignments, etc.
Communicate early and often. Let students know about changes or disruptions as early as possible, even if all the details aren’t in place yet, and let them know when they can expect more specific information. Don’t swamp them with email, but consider matching the frequency of your messages with that of changes in-class activities and/or updates to the broader crisis at hand (for example, the campus closure is extended for two more days; what will students need to know related to your course?).
Set expectations. Let students know how you plan to communicate with them, and how often. Tell students both how often you expect them to check their email, and how quickly they can expect your response. Let them know, too, if you are using the Canvas Inbox tool, since they may need to update their notification preferences (details in the next section).
Manage your communications load. You will likely receive some individual requests for information that could be useful to all your students, so consider keeping track of frequently asked questions and sending those replies out to everyone. This way, students know they might get a group reply in a day versus a personal reply within an hour. Also, consider creating an information page in Canvas, and then encourage students to check there first for answers before emailing you.
Here are two options:
Pros: Mobile device-friendly.
Cons: Need to manually import student roster.
You will likely need to provide additional course materials to support your changing plans, from updated schedules to readings that allow you to shift more instruction online. In a pinch, providing some new readings and related assignments may be your best bet for keeping the intellectual momentum of the course moving. However, for longer campus closures, you will want to determine what you can realistically accomplish during this time period.
Considerations when posting new course materials.
Pick tools/approaches familiar to your students. Only roll out new tools when absolutely necessary. Introducing new tools and approaches may leave less motivation and attention for learning.
Make sure students know when new material is posted. If you post new materials in Canvas, be sure to let students know what you posted and where. You might even ask that they change their Canvas notification preferences to alert them when new materials are posted. Refer them to How do I set my Canvas notification preferences as a student?
Keep things phone friendly. In a crisis, many students may only have a phone available, so make sure you are using mobile-friendly formats, PDFs being the most common. Consider saving other files (for example, PowerPoint presentations) to PDFs, which are easier to read on phones and tablets, and keep the file size small.
The requirements with regard to how often you meet with students each week (instructional contact hours) still apply when you are teaching online. For the standard three-credit course, this means you need to plan to “meet” with your students for a minimum of 2.5 hours – just as you would in an in-person course.
Two choices for meeting this requirement.
Synchronous meetings (i.e. everyone is online at the same time).
Pros: Most like a face-to-face class with minimal disruptions to the regular schedule.
Cons: Large groups can be difficult to manage.
Asynchronous meetings (i.e. students access content on their own schedule)
Pros: More flexibility in schedule.
Cons: Students may not have the necessary organizational or time-management skills.
If you want to deliver a lecture synchronously, we recommend Zoom or Google Hangouts.
Pros: Better for larger groups, you can record your class meeting.
Cons: Might be introducing a new tool, meeting times may be limited to 40 minutes unless you have a *Pro license.
See Zoom Tips for Online Teaching for useful information to support your transition to online teaching with Zoom.
* Zoom pro licenses also allow for breakout rooms, polling, and simultaneous hosts.
Pros: Easy to schedule quick meetings with small numbers of students, easy to schedule in your Gmail calendar.
Cons: No recording capability.
If you want to deliver a lecture asynchronously, you will need to record it first before sharing it with your students. We recommend Zoom or *Panopto.
*Panopto has a bit of a learning curve so if you haven’t used it yet, we recommend starting with Zoom.
Fostering collaboration is important because it allows you to maintain a sense of community among your students that can help keep them motivated to participate and learn.
Suggestions for planning activities.
Use asynchronous tools when possible. Using an asynchronous tool like Canvas Discussions allows students to participate on their own schedules.
Link to clear goals and outcomes. Make sure there are clear purposes and outcomes for any student-to-student interaction. Something as simple as “professionals in our field meet to discuss topics like this” will suffice.
Build in simple accountability. Find ways to make sure students are accountable for the work they do in any online discussions or collaborations. This discussion board rubric provides an example.
Collecting assignments during a campus closure is fairly straightforward, since many instructors already collect work electronically.
Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Avoid emailed attachments. It may be easy to collect assignments in small classes via email, but larger classes might swamp your email inbox. Balance what is simplest for students with what is easiest for you to manage.
State expectations, but be ready to allow extensions. In the case of a campus closure or other crisis, some students will undoubtedly have difficulties meeting deadlines. Make expectations clear, but be ready to provide more flexibility than you normally would in your class.
It is fairly easy to give small quizzes to hold students accountable or do spot-checks on their learning, and this might be ideal to keep students on track during class disruptions. Providing high-stakes tests online can be challenging, however; they place extra stress on students, and test integrity is difficult to ensure. If you know there is a date for resuming on-campus classes, consider delaying exams until you return.
Tips for assessing student learning during class disruption.
Embrace short quizzes. Short quizzes can be a great way to keep students engaged with course concepts, particularly if they are interspersed with small chunks of video lecture. Consider using very-low-stakes quizzes to give students practice at applying concepts—just enough points to hold them accountable, but not so many that the activity becomes all about points.
Move beyond simple facts. It is good to reinforce concepts through practice on a quiz, but generally it is best to move beyond factual answers that students can quickly look up. Instead, write questions that prompt students to apply concepts to new scenarios, or ask them to identify the best of multiple correct answers.
Check for publishers’ test banks. Look to see if your textbook publisher has question banks that can be loaded into Canvas; see How to Connect Your Canvas Course with Various Publisher Tools. Even if you don’t use these questions for your exams, they can be useful for simple quizzes. Some textbooks also have their own online quizzing tools that can help keep students engaged with the material.
Update expectations for projects. Campus disruptions may limit students’ access to resources they need to complete papers or other projects, and team projects may be harmed by a team’s inability to meet. Be ready to change assignment expectations based on the limitations a crisis may impose. Possible options include allowing individual rather than group projects, having groups record presentations with Zoom, or adjusting the types of resources needed for research papers.
Consider alternate exams. Delivering a secure exam online can be difficult without a good deal of preparation and support, so consider giving open-book exams or other types of exams. They can be harder to grade, but you have fewer worries about test security.
For synchronous classes: It can be done visually (which is why we are recommending that video is on at all times – no black screens allowed!) or through a quick chat message like “I’m here.”
For asynchronous classes: It can be done with a Discussion Board post, completion of a quiz, or submitting an assignment.
To consult with a Distance Education Training-certified colleague: DET Faculty Contact List
To see our calendar of workshops: Instructional Technology Workshops
For help with Canvas: George Hoffman | (540) 665-4774
For help with Zoom, Panopto, and Google Tools: Robin Brugger | (540) 678-4494
For help with instructional design, assignments, and assessment: Karrin Lukacs | (540) 665-4698
If you are not sure where your question belongs, contact Hilary Sortor | (540) 542-6537