Contributors:Megan McFarland

Whether it’s due to severe weather-related closures or individual circumstances, missing one or more instructional days can feel stressful for faculty and students alike. Explore the following responsive and proactive strategies to learn how instructors can limit the impact of unexpected disruptions and keep their courses on track.

Human Needs Come First

Unexpected disruptions, cancellations, and closures often come as a result of significant emergency events. While instruction is important, the human needs of faculty and students come first. These kinds of events–such as severe weather, natural disasters, or illness–impact our functioning in a variety of ways. This means that our ability to think and behave might be different than we are used to.

Learn more about how to implement Trauma-Informed Teaching practices in our latest teaching guide:

Connect students and colleagues with resources to support basic needs, such as food, water, shelter, and healthcare:

Communicate as quickly and clearly as possible with students about class closures. Use email, Canvas Announcements, or even a separate module to share updates to due dates, assignments, and independent work expectations. Consider opening a separate Canvas Discussion to avoid answering the same question multiple times.

Reassess Your Course Plan

Check in with your college/department

    • Contact your department or school for any specific requirements and guidelines around instruction during a disruption.

Streamline course content

    • Identify the most crucial learning outcomes for your course as well as the assignments that assess them.
    • Consider eliminating assignments and activities that don’t directly assess the most essential learning outcomes. Determine if there are any learning outcomes that are assessed by multiple assignments, and reduce duplications.

      Example: Eliminating a weekly in-person reading quiz when students are already submitting a reading reflection to Canvas

    • Collaborate with your department and colleagues for guidance on how to prioritize a course’s learning outcomes.

Adjust course content modality and pacing

    • When possible, offer asynchronous alternatives to missed course content. Consider recording lectures, offering supplemental readings, or even self-paced learning modules.
    • Set aside office hour time to answer questions and review material.

Practices to avoid

Both faculty and students carefully plan their work, courses, and other responsibilities around listed class schedules. This means that it is often an undue burden to require participation outside of typical class meeting times.

Avoid these practices in order to best respect student and faculty time:

    • Holding an additional class session on a day and time the class does not typically meet.
    • Extending class meeting time.
    • Rescheduling finals or adding a class session during finals week.
    • Asking students to do the same amount and kind of work the syllabus initially expected them to do while compressing the work into a shorter time period.

How to Teach in a Condensed or Accelerated Format

For more ideas on how to adjust your course format following a disruption, check out the following resources from our colleagues across the U.S.:

Plan for Instructional Continuity

When you have the option in the future, proactively planning ahead will help ease some of the stressors of having to quickly pivot during the term.

Create and share a communication plan

      • Include information in your syllabus and Canvas about what students can expect in case of an unexpected disruption or inclement weather event.
      • Clearly articulate your communication plan in your syllabus and Canvas, as well as how often students are expected to check those communication channels.

Design with flexibility in mind

      • Offer low- or no-internet alternatives for assignments and course materials at the beginning of the term.
      • Offer asynchronous or make-up alternatives for in-person requirements, such as community partnerships.
      • Examples: Establish a policy that allows students to make up participation points by demonstrating mastery of that week’s learning objectives via a written reflection, slide deck, or short video.
      • Consider inserting a designated buffer week around Week 7 or another strategic point in the term. You can use this week as a catch-up period in case of unforeseen disruptions. If catch-up is not needed, you can use this week to present a special topic based on student interests! (Note: Be sure to communicate the purpose of the buffer week to students in advance.)

More Ideas for Planning Ahead for Course Disruptions

Check out the following resources from our colleagues at the University of Washington:

By utilizing both proactive and responsive strategies, you can enhance your ability to navigate unexpected disruptions while maintaining a supportive and effective learning environment for your students. We recommend regularly revisiting and updating your strategies based on feedback from your teaching experiences and your students to help you arrive at the best balance for you and your classroom.