From medical, weather and building emergencies to a campus-wide evacuation or closure, teaching during a disruption – such as the current COVID-19 pandemic – often requires shifting to, and successfully sustaining, some level of remote instruction or alternative course delivery. Some disruptions may be abrupt and short-lived, others may last longer. These factors, along with others, will contribute to your ability to plan and prepare, and continue teaching.
To the extent possible, take time to develop general contingency plans that can be modified and expanded to address a particular disruption when it occurs. Consider:
- Addressing general expectations and related procedures for disruptions upfront in your syllabus at the beginning of every semester
- The ways digital teaching tools and certain teaching methods may help you more easily respond to, and continue teaching during, a disruption. One such tool is Canvas, the university’s centrally supported learning management system (LMS) that can help you organize course communications, materials, discussions, assignments and assessments related to your course.
Preparing to Go Remote
Recognizing that many disruptions occur abruptly and unexpectedly, your ability to respond and make changes accordingly, let alone plan ahead, may be limited. Here are some initial questions and guidance to focus your efforts and identify priorities when you know you will need to transition to an alternative form of course delivery including fully remote delivery. Start with the basics, build in flexibility and keep your students in mind.
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Communication with Students
Have I connected with students in my course(s) to provide an update, and begun preparing to interact with them remotely? Remember that instructor presence is critical in remote teaching and learning; the more they hear and see you the better.
- Regular communication with students is essential, especially at the onset of a disruption. Even if you don’t have a plan in place right away, communicate with your students as soon as possible, informing them that changes are coming and more details will be shared soon. Here are some elements your initial communications may include:
- Where students should go for updates (e.g., their school email, Canvas Announcements, etc.) and share your expectations for how often they should check it.
- Your availability and how students can best reach you. Because students will understandably have many concerns and questions, especially at the start, state how, where and when (give an approximate turnaround time) you will respond to them.
- A few words of compassion to help students cope.
- Continue to cultivate a sense of presence with students as times goes on through consistent communications. Again, the more they hear and see you the better. See more recommendations for communicating with students.
Syllabus and Course Schedule Updates & Priorities
Do I need to modify my syllabus and course schedule? If so, what priorities and expectations do I need to modify? Do I have a plan for how to share these updates with students?
- Identify priorities and begin to make changes accordingly. In responding to a disruption and transitioning to remote instruction, you may need to limit and prioritize elements of your syllabus and course schedule (e.g., providing lectures, structuring new opportunities for discussion or group work, collecting assignments, etc.) in order to continue instruction. Consider and prioritize what you think you can realistically accomplish. Determine what activities are better rescheduled, and what can or must be done remotely, and how you will need to update your syllabus (policies, participation, communication, due dates, assignments, etc.). Using your syllabus as a primarily communication tool with students is helpful.Learn how to update your syllabus for remote teaching.
- 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.
- Address accessibility and disability-related accommodations throughout preparations and planning to ensure that all students can fully participate.Review specific accessibility guidelines.
Remote Delivery of Course Content
Is at least some of my course content ready to be delivered remotely (either synchronously or asynchronously)? Do I have a backup plan if the technology doesn’t work as anticipated?
- Using digital tools that are centrally supported by campus is important. 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 and secure, in line with FERPA regulations. The tools are also fully supported by The DoIT Help Desk (unlike other tools). Canvas is the central hub for UW–Madison’s teaching and learning tools, and it will be central to facilitate your remote teaching efforts.
- 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 using the new tool.
- 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 can enable you to copy and share certain materials with your students. For more information, visit UW Libraries’ resource on navigating copyright in moving courses online.
- Consider converting synchronous activities to asynchronous activities to reduce technical or scheduling difficulties (e.g, internet connectivity and bandwidth issues, or to accommodate students learning remotely from significantly different time zones) and to better ensure the ability for all students to participate. If possible, try to maintain some consistency when scheduling activities and assignments. University teaching technologies, particularly web conferencing technologies like Zoom, will likely be under heavy strain in the event of a disruption, and asynchronous activities will help to ease the strain and result in better performance. Read more about considerations and strategies for asynchronous and synchronous activities.
Remote Assessments and Grading
Do I need to modify my assessments to be delivered and collected remotely? Do I have a way to evaluate assessments and record grades in a central place accessible by others, if needed on short notice, such as the Canvas Gradebook?
- Shift to more regular, varied assessments. Try to narrow and focus your assessments, and shift to more regular, varied assessments. In particular, regular, ungraded knowledge or well-being checks can be helpful to keep students engaged, ease stress and provide support. Summative assessments may also need to be broken up into smaller pieces. Providing regular and varied opportunities to evaluate student learning throughout the semester can help you and your students gauge the level and quality of their learning at a distance. Academic integrity and student accommodations should continue to be addressed, as well. See more recommendations on remote assessment.
Technology for Working Remotely
Is there other basic technology I need to set up in order to work remotely, in general?
- The transition to working and teaching remotely requires 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.