Shifting to a new mode of instruction may be strange and disorienting to students, so it is essential that any changes to how students meet with you, how learning content and activities are shared, and how your expectations of students have changed are clearly communicated by instructors. Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your class(es) especially due to a crisis impacting all or part of campus. Students are likely to be especially stressed during a crisis for their own personal safety and concerns for the safety of their families and community, so this guide helps provide reminders about how we can minimize the stress of changes in how the class will continue.
Specifically, you'll want to let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations. Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and save you dealing with individual questions.
The following pointers can help you manage your student communication and minimize any anxiety or confusion.
- Communicate early and often. Let students know about changes or disruptions as early as possible, even if all the details aren't in place yet, and let them know when they can expect more specific information. Try not to swamp them with email, though. Be strategic, timely, following a pattern, and consider matching the frequency of your messages with that of changes to in-class activities and/or updates to the broader crisis at hand. For example, if a campus closure is extended for two more days, what will students need to know related to your course?
- Identify your new expectations for students. You will have to reconsider some of your expectations for students, including participation, communication, and deadlines. As you think through those changes, keep in mind the impact this situation may have on students' ability to meet those expectations, including illness, lacking power or internet connections, or needing to care for family members.
- Be ready to handle requests for extensions or accommodations equitably. For example, you may find you need to extend deadlines for a number of students who are caring for family members who've contracted the Coronavirus. It may be more equitable to extend the deadline for the whole class as some students may be reluctant to ask for an extension and could also be caring for sick family members.
- Share your communication plan. Let students know how you plan to communicate with them, and how often. Tell students both how often you expect them to check their email, and how quickly they can expect your response. Let them know, too, if you are using the Canvas Announcements and Inbox tools, since they may need to update their personal notification preferences in Canvas.
- Manage your communications load. You will likely receive some individual requests for information that could be useful to all your students, so consider creating a General Course Questions discussion thread in Canvas and encouraging students to check there for answers before emailing you. When you get questions more than once, post the replies on the discussion and direct your students to it. If students know that you will check this discussion board daily for questions, they may begin to post questions to the thread instead of emailing them to you.
- Avoid the need for printing. Chances are that students do not own a printer or cannot come to campus to print materials in a lab.
- Not all students have a computer or a webcam. We recommend that you choose to deliver your course asynchronously in Canvas rather than teaching in Zoom only. Many students do not own computers, have the internet at home, or have webcams that might be needed in a Zoom call. Students most likely have smartphones or access to a computer/internet but perhaps not at the time of the scheduled Zoom call. Placing materials such as readings and lectures online and activities (discussions and assignments) in Canvas minimizes the stress on students.
Pro-tip: Sample syllabus statement or announcements
In the case of widespread illness, severe weather or other emergencies, the campus might cancel classes. Official closures and delays are announced on the campus websites, email, and campus alert systems. In addition, local news and broadcasts may provide additional regional information.
Even during emergency closures or disruptions, expect to keep moving forward as a class in order to meet our learning objectives. Please refer to my special set of assignments and communication instructions found on the syllabus and on Canvas. I will review these instructions with you in class and throughout the semester, but I invite and encourage questions, comments, or ideas about how to maintain community support and achieve our course goals during any potential campus closures.