Getting Started with Teaching Remotely in an Emergency
Developed by CRLT and the Center for Academic Innovation
There may be an unexpected time when teaching a face-to-face class is impossible. Weather, illness, travel delays or other unanticipated circumstances may prevent you or your students from the typical participation in a residential, face-to-face class. If there is a situation in which your plans suddenly change, it does not mean that class (or the learning) has to end. These strategies should not replace the careful design process that you may go through to develop an online course. Instead, these strategies can be used to bridge the gap and support teaching continuity even in times of disruption. (Please also see this ITS Remote Resource Guide and Online Now resources from CAI and CRLT.)
- Take care of yourself and remember this is temporary.
- Consider the circumstances for the emergency.
- Make sure you and your students have access to the technology you’ll need.
- Create a communication strategy for the class. Communicate consistently and often.
- Evaluate your overall teaching strategy for remote teaching
- Consider what classroom attendance and participation can look like under emergency circumstances
- Prepare to move what you can online. (Lecture, Discussion, Assignments)
- Academic Innovation Resources: Adjusting your study habits during COVID
- IT Accessibility Resources: Access to Emergency Remote Instruction for Students and Faculty with Disabilities
- U-M School/College Guidance for Teaching Remotely in an Emergency
If you are faced with a scenario that will potentially disrupt the regular meeting of your class:
Take care of yourself and remember this is temporary.
Remember that crisis is not normal. This is a short term solution to a difficult time. Remind students that this is temporary as well and that you will all get through this temporary challenge. If you are ill, rest and take care of yourself. If your students are ill, encourage them to do the same.
Consider the circumstances for the emergency.
The reason for the disruption may affect the class in different ways. If a flu outbreak on campus is disrupting classes, keep in mind that you (and your students) may also be impacted by illness. In contrast, a weather disruption may keep students from the physical class, but they may have mental space for learning. If you are stranded away from campus due to weather, it’s fair to be able to expect that students will still engage reasonably with the course.
Make sure you and your students have access to the technology you’ll need.
Wherever possible, use tools that you and your students are already using and are supported by the University of Michigan. Canvas, G Suite at Michigan, and BlueJeans are all campus supported tools that students may be familiar with. Students can also receive support for these tools by contacting the help desk. There may be situations where you will need to consider new tools to meet course needs. The list of tools identified on the ITS Remote Resource Guide is a good starting point for teaching remotely.
Create a communication strategy for the class. Communicate consistently and often.
If you have to move to a remote classroom swiftly, students will likely feel isolated and confused. More than anything, they may be looking for contact from you as the leader of the class. It is helpful to communicate with students early and consistently. You may want to consider creating different lanes for communication as well, for example for students who are in person vs. those who are connecting remotely. Be prepared for more questions than usual from students.
Let students know how often and how you will be updating them (“I will be sending an email out to our MCommunity group every Monday and Wednesday with an update. I also ask that you turn on your Canvas email notifications for Announcements as I will be posting more timely updates there”) and the best ways to reach you (“Please email me if you have a personal concern about completing coursework due to illness. For all other questions, I have set up a FAQ section of our discussion board so that we can all benefit from your question”).
Other communication possibilities:
- Create an MCommunity Group for the class
- Change your Canvas home page to your syllabus. Update your syllabus to include information about tentative plans, where to look for correspondence.
- Set up an FAQ in your course in Canvas to be able to provide a resource for students (and to ensure you aren’t answering the same question multiple times)
- Consider posting announcements to Canvas and remind students to set their notifications to receive those announcements to email.
- Create a link to any kind of school or university level updates on your Canvas homepage.
Evaluate your overall teaching strategy for remote teaching
Think about your planned instruction to make decisions about what may need to change. Given your course objectives, content and assignments -- what needs to be maintained? What could be removed or postponed depending on the duration of the emergency. In particular, you may need to make adjustments to your grading plan. For example, a time of high stress may not be the best time for a high stakes exam. There are ways to implement different teaching strategies online, but remember that some flexibility may be necessary. You may need to shift due dates or think about alternative assessment strategies depending on the duration of the emergency. Be sure to communicate any and all changes to your students as described above.
Consider what classroom attendance and participation can look like under emergency circumstances
There are many ways to evaluate student participation -- attendance is often a proxy for this. In an emergency, attendance policies may have to be relaxed or altered so that multiple ways of engaging can count. Consider using assignments (reflections, quizzes, etc.) or discussion board participation, with reasonable due dates, as an option to understand if students are active in the course.
Prepare to move what you can online. (Lecture, Discussion, Assignments)
Many of the activities used in a face-to-face class can be translated into an online format. You may even find that this is an opportunity to explore new ways of teaching.
If you lecture
If lectures are a critical piece of your content, your first consideration is whether you want to use a live (or synchronous) lecture. Using video conferencing tools (such as BlueJeans) allow you to share content and have interactions with students and even host small group breakout sessions. A live session may help bring continuity to your course (particularly if you host it during the same time as you would your “regular” class). Some drawbacks to using a live session are that everyone has to be online at the same time. Therefore, if you do decide on a live session, it is recommended that you record that session for students who cannot attend at that time.
Depending on the type of emergency you are dealing with, it may be preferable to record content for people to engage with at a time best suited to their needs and situation (i.e., asynchronous) . You can record a lecture beforehand (through BlueJeans or Kaltura in Canvas) and upload it to the class. These recordings don’t have to show you talking -- many recorded lectures record your audio but show slides for the visual component.
For information various options for lecturing remotely, see the ITS Remote Resource Guide
If you use discussion, peer-to-peer interaction, or group work
There are many ways to hold discussions and small group work online. If you want to hold a live (synchronous) discussion, you can do so through video conferencing (see ITS BlueJeans documentation). Bluejeans also offers an option to move between large group discussions and small breakout groups, so you can structure a series of small and large discussions in the same session.
If you want to do discussion over an extended period of time, online discussion boards are a useful way to do so. In terms of technology, Canvas offers an online discussion tool. Another frequently used tool for class discussion is Piazza.
Group work is also possible to facilitate online. As described above, small groups can meet live via BlueJeans. If groups are meeting on their own outside of a live class meeting, they also have Google Hangouts as an option. In addition, Canvas offers several options to promote group work: an instructor can create groups within a course, which will provide the students in each group with their own Canvas workspace. That can include a discussion board, area for files, etc. Finally, the suite of Google tools (Docs, Sheets, etc.) enable group work around specific assignments or projects.
What about assignments?
You may already be familiar with using Canvas for collecting and grading assignments. You may need to take into account that many students might need to delay completion of specific assignments given their personal circumstances. As a result, you may want to rethink different ways for students to demonstrate knowledge. CRLT has resources on different assessment techniques. If you are accustomed to giving exams, you can do so by leveraging quizzes in Canvas or you may want to think about using a case study or a writing assignment instead.
Academic Innovation Resources: Adjusting your study habits during COVID
IT Accessibility Resources: Access to Emergency Remote Instruction for Students and Faculty with Disabilities
U-M School/College Guidance for Teaching Remotely in an Emergency