General Guidance

From medical, weather and building emergencies to a campus-wide evacuation or closure, there are a variety of disruptions that may require faculty and instructors to invoke social distancing or move their course location. One approach is to temporarily transition to alternative modes of course delivery, and this may occur with minimal notice. Here is some general guidance to consider before and during a major disruption.

Prior to a Disruption

We live in a world where disruptions can occur with increasing frequency. To the extent possible, taking time to plan in advance can help.

  • Plan for contingencies. Consider addressing expectations and related procedures for disruptions upfront in your syllabus at the beginning of every semester.
  • Consider how digital tools and alternative approaches to teaching provide ways to manage disruptions. One such tool is Canvas, the university’s centrally supported learning management system (LMS). Canvas is a great way to organize all communications, materials, discussions, assignments and assessments related to your course. The university offers a variety of programs to learn more about Canvas and other digital tools and strategies, and to help you determine what works best for you. 

During a Disruption

In the event of a disruption that results in transitioning to alternative modes of course delivery, here are some general guidelines to focus on:

  • Communicate with your students early and frequently. Communication with students is essential. Even if you don’t have a plan in place at the onset of a disruption, communicate with your students as soon as possible, informing them that changes are coming and more details will be shared soon. Use your syllabus as a primary communication tool, and continue to cultivate a sense of presence with students as times goes on.
  • Update your syllabus and course schedule to convey priorities and expectations. Identify your priorities during the disruption – providing lectures, structuring new opportunities for discussion or group work, collecting assignments, etc. What do you think you can realistically accomplish during this time? What activities are better rescheduled, and what can or must be done remotely? What will you need to temporarily change in your syllabus (policies, participation, communication, due dates, assignments, etc.)? Learn how to update your syllabus for remote teaching.
  • Accessibility and disability-related accommodations must be taken into consideration throughout preparations and planning to ensure that all students can fully participate. Review specific accessibility guidelines. 
  • Focus on learning outcomes even if you need to adjust the specific activities that contribute to those outcomes. Keep students moving toward those outcomes with high-impact activities. Reconsider supplemental materials or resources that may not be essential to learning outcomes and activities.
  • Consider converting synchronous activities to asynchronous activities to avoid potential conflicts or difficulties around assignment due dates. If possible, try to maintain some consistency when scheduling activities and assignments. Also, university teaching technologies, particularly web conferencing technologies like Blackboard Collaborate and Webex, will be under heavy strain in the event of a disruption. You may want to check for the latest status of tools including planned maintenance windows. Planning asynchronous activities will ease the load on campus technologies and lead to better performance. 
  • Replace physical resources with digital resources whenever possible. Students may not have access to campus libraries, and may have limited access to physical course materials. If possible, substitute materials that are available online through campus libraries or from other online sources. Fair use is a flexible limitation on copyright that could enable you to copy and share some of the materials you need students to access. For more information, visit UW Libraries’ navigating copyright in moving courses online page.
  • Use digital tools that are centrally supported by campus. Check out a list of all supported teaching and learning tools at UW–Madison. These tools have been vetted to ensure that content and privacy are protected in line with FERPA. Canvas is the central hub for UW–Madison’s teaching and learning tools, and it will be central to facilitate your remote teaching efforts. The DoIT Help Desk cannot help you or your students if you use a non-supported tool due to lack of resources and expertise in that tool. Calling with a question about a non-supported tool is not an effective use of anyone’s time. 
  • Be flexible and start small. Have a backup plan for how to proceed with a lecture or assignment if things don’t go as planned. For example, if you are giving a synchronous lecture, plan on recording it in case students have difficulty joining the session. Also, when you use a technology in a course for the first time, do it with a low or no stakes activity to give yourself and your students time to acclimate to the new tool and workflow.

We acknowledge that most of these strategies require internet access, which in some circumstances may not be available or may require additional setup steps. Read more about accessing IT resources for working remotely.