Students, faculty, and staff working closely together in a face-to-face setting is a centerpiece of the teaching and learning environment at Pomona College. Occasionally circumstances arise that prevent faculty members from being on campus at a time when they are scheduled to teach.
The two options that often come to mind for faculty when they cannot make it into campus are either to find a colleague to cover class or to cancel class. However, technology has opened new avenues for thinking about how to structure instruction and ensure course continuity in those rare situations when faculty cannot meet students.
This guide is designed to provide information about resources available to faculty, and how the resources might be used. Some of these resources are more relevant if faculty know in advance that they will be gone (e.g. for a conference or a medical procedure) and can plan alternate activities ahead of time, while others can be employed if there is an unexpected emergency that prevents either faculty or a significant number of students from getting to the classroom (e.g. disruption due to fire or a flu outbreak).
Preparation & available tools
As noted in the introduction, the circumstances surrounding any given absence from the classroom vary. This list provides you some things to think about in order to be prepared—and to prepare your students—for possible interruptions to face-to-face classroom teaching and learning.
- In your course expectations, be clear about how you will communicate with students. Will you use e-mail, Announcements or Messages in Sakai, or a class website?
- Make the course calendar and all relevant resources available digitally (the Syllabus and Resources tools in Sakai are good options for this.)
- Generally, it is a good habit to collect all the resources you wish to share in a single location: Sakai, Box, or a course website.
- Designate a centralized location where you will collect student submissions of assignments or other work. Sakai has several tools that work well for collecting student work. For unrestricted collection of documents from students, use the Sakai Dropbox tool. To set up assignments within Sakai, with set deadlines and/or set submission types, the Assignments and Tests & Quizzes tools both offer robust options.
- If your class is largely discussion based, consider if would you want to arrange for a synchronous discussion using Zoom* (*please see the section, “Planning ahead”) or if you want to organize online asynchronous discussion through Sakai Forums or other tools.
- If your class includes a lecture component, consider using Zoom to record your lecture so students can watch the content remotely. Zoom content can be uploaded to Box, then shared via a public sharing link to the Resources in a Sakai course site using the “Add Web Link” option. Similarly, you could use the voiceover option in PowerPoint)
- If class time usually includes activities to evaluate student learning, consider online quizzing, such as via the Tests & Quizzes tool in Sakai. The tool currently supports thirteen different question types, including short answer/essay and student audio response. Student lecture capture using Zoom might also provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate what they know and identify areas for questions.
Online or hybrid activities & assignments
This list is meant to give you some ideas of how to plan for a class when you cannot meet with your students face-to-face. It is by no means comprehensive. If you have found particular techniques or approaches effective in fostering course continuity when you could not be on campus, please let us know so that we can add to this resource.
- You could meet synchronously with your students via Zoom* (*please see the section, “Planning ahead”) for virtual office hours or a virtual class meeting.
- You could post your lecture notes, handouts, and/or slides to the Resources tool on Sakai, and add questions for reflection to guide students through the material.
- You could use the Forums tool within Sakai to foster an asynchronous discussion. For more guided discussion, you might consider asking students to write one-page response papers on a particular topic, post their response in a Sakai forum, blog or Wiki, and then you could ask each student to respond to at least one other student’s paper.
Trying out new tools or techniques is usually not advisable under emergency circumstances. With all that is likely going on for faculty, staff, and students at such a time, sticking with your tried and true methods is smart. We do, however, encourage you to consider how synchronous communication tools such as Zoom, asynchronous instructional videos (which again can be made via a range of tools including Zoom and the voiceover option in PowerPoint), and student recordings might serve well in an emergency and also offer the bonus of being quite strong for day in and day out pedagogy. Currently at Pomona, you must pre-arrange to use the institutional version of Zoom. While this might suggest that Zoom will be of no use to you in an emergency this is not necessarily the case. Zoom offers a free version that is not as feature-rich but is more than adequate for unplanned sessions. Please consider working with ITS to design the use of some of these tools into your course now–before you need them in an emergency!
Things to keep in mind
Keep in mind that what is keeping you out of the classroom may also keep students from being able to participate in your efforts at continuity and staff from being able to assist you. Electricity and internet access may be uneven and there may be bigger issues that need attention. The design you employ for continuity can be mindful of this and, for example, make sure synchronous sessions are also recorded so that students who were not able to be there live can still benefit from listening later.