In the event of a situation that closes the university or causes widespread absences of either students or instructors, you may need to adjust your course activities or teaching modality quickly. We have outlined a few steps to get you started below.
Some important considerations that may not immediately occur to many instructors are also included on Access to Remote Instruction.
Accurate information will help you make better decisions. Alerts are sent out for campus closures or emergencies; if you haven’t already, consider signing up for emergency alerts. You can also check the ITS Status page for information about the current availability of IT services.
Your department may have more details about the situation or guidelines about their expectations for classes. Administrators may want to have most of the department's classes handled in similar ways, in the event of an emergency or closure, so check with departmental leaders before getting too far into your planning.
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.
One way to communicate with your entire class from within Canvas is to post an Announcement. There will be a copy of the post on the Announcements page of your Canvas course, and students will receive a copy by email as well. This can be a good way to encourage students to start moving into Canvas for course activities.
You can also use the Canvas Inbox to send messages to your whole course, to individual sections, or to individual users. A copy will be emailed to the student(s), and another copy will remain in their Canvas Inbox. This is the quickest and most flexible option for courses with sections or other groups that may need individual messaging.
You can also create Course Groups in MCommunity, to email your whole class. If your class has never used Canvas, this may be a more familiar option for initial communication.
It’s important to realize you probably won’t be able to complete all of the activities and material you initially planned for this period. Everyone’s resources will be lower during a crisis or disruption. If it is late in the term, consider giving final grades based on work-to-date, for any students who are affected or, in severe situations, concluding the course early.
In less severe situations, what do you think you can realistically accomplish during this time period? Do you have exams scheduled for this time that will have to be taken online? Do you want students to simply keep up with the reading, with perhaps some lower-demand assignments to add structure and accountability? Some specific questions to consider are:
Do your assignments require special software not normally available to students on their personal computers? You may need to delay those.
What reasonable alternatives would you accept for some student assignments or exams?
What are alternative sources for media and other resources (e.g. Netflix instead of on campus film screenings)?
Where might UM staff be of assistance (e.g. to digitize resources or help you create alternative assignments)?
Identify the highest priority items that are on your schedule during the disruption. What activities are better rescheduled, or even skipped, and what can be done online? Give yourself a little flexibility in that schedule, just in case the situation takes longer to resolve than you expect.
If the distruption involves student absences, you can stream or record your class for them. Some simple options include:
Lecture Capture video, in rooms with the technology installed. Videos automatically post to Canvas.
Stream to remote students with Zoom on your podium computer or laptop. This captures the presentation screen.
In both these cases, participation by the remote students will be limited. Inevitable network lag will always make two-way discussions in such a situation very challenging. It would be wise to have a follow-up assignment such as an online discussion, where both in-person and remote students can share their understanding of the week’s material, or an online Q&A.
If the distruption involves campus closures, we recommend moving your entire class online. Zoom provides a platform for both lecture and seminar style courses, and even Team-Based Learning with a little practice.
Try to rely on tools and workflows that are familiar to you and your students, and use new tools only when absolutely necessary. If a closure is caused by a local crisis, it may already be taxing everyone's mental and emotional energy; introducing a lot of new tools and approaches may leave even less energy and attention for actual learning. If your course relies on exams, think about how those can be taken online with Canvas Quizzes or Assignments. If your main activity is discussion, consider Canvas Discussions or online meetings by video-conference.
If your class is already accustomed to one of our third-party tools for discussion or testing, continue using that tool.
You will have to reconsider some of your expectations for students, including participation, communication, and deadlines. What is possible and reasonable, during a closure or with mass absences? As you think through those changes, keep in mind things that may affect 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.
Once you have more details about changes in the class, communicate them to students, along with more information about how they can contact you (email, online office hours, etc.). A useful communication plan also lets students know how soon they can expect a reply. They will have many questions, so try to figure out how you want to manage that. Again, a Canvas Announcement that will remain in place as a page in the course site for reference is a good way to communicate information quickly and broadly.
If you have time, you may want to consider planning ahead for such events. Keep copies of the plans and accommodations you decided on at hand. Consider including a regular statement in your syllabus, about how you will deal with interruptions or closures.
For more information and suggestions, contact the Learning and Teaching Technology Consultants.
Significant portions of the Getting Started and Instructional Strategies pages are adapted, with permission, from the Indiana University Knowledge Base article "Keep teaching during prolonged campus or building closures."