Identify plans early:
Consider addressing emergencies and expectations up front in your syllabus, so students know what will happen if classes are cancelled, including procedures you will implement. Consider doing this each semester, so you are ready in case of an emergency.
Check with your department:
Your department may issue more details about the situation and guidelines about their expectations for classes. Administrators may want to have many of the department's classes handled in similar ways, so check with your department chair before doing too much planning.
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 Blackboard or Teams, so you can get them more details soon.
Revisit your learning goals and think flexibly about how students can accomplish these:
What do you think you can realistically accomplish during this time period? Do you think you can maintain your original syllabus and schedule? Do you hope students will keep up with the reading with some assignments to add structure and accountability?
Review 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. What activities are better rescheduled, and what can or must be done online? Give yourself a little flexibility in that schedule, just in case the situation takes longer to resolve than you think.
Review your syllabus for course materials, assignments, policies that must change:
What will have to temporarily change in your syllabus (policies, due dates, assignments, etc.)? Replace physical resources with digital resources where possible. Remember that students who are not on campus will not have access to the library, and some will lack access to their course textbooks. Have realistic expectations about library staff support for scanning articles or book chapters. Convert synchronous activities into asynchronous activities to ease scheduling challenges, as long as the new asynchronous activity promotes the same learning outcomes. Since students will also be thrown off by the changes, they will appreciate details and clarity whenever you can provide them.
Identify your new expectations for students:
You will have to reconsider some of your 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.
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 when possible, and roll out new tools only when absolutely necessary. If a closure is caused by a local crisis, it may be already taxing everyone's mental and emotional energy; introducing a lot of new tools and approaches may leave even less energy and attention for learning.
Try to be as transparent as possible:
Students are likely to feel anxious about not being able to attend class, or about unanticipated changes to course syllabi. Let students know about modifications to assignments and the impact these will have on how students are graded for the semester. Whenever possible, provide students with multiple ways to earn credit for “participation” so that those who are unable to attend class can continue to engage as fully as possible, and with the confidence that they won’t be penalized for their absence.
Create a more detailed communications plan:
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.
For more information and suggestions, contact the Baldwin Center for Learning and Teaching.