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Teaching in times of disruption

Wednesday, March 18, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Brook Pritchett
Across the globe, higher education institutions are making the difficult decisions to either transfer classes to an online learning setting or cancel them altogether. While AIS recognizes each university’s approach is different, we wanted to help members who are faced with rapid changes in the environment in which they teach and do research.
AIS is here to help members make an easy transition to online learning and the many resources becoming available throughout the academic community. Via EduGloPedia,, we have already collected resources you can use in your online classes. Please feel free to also share your own materials via this website in order to help others to keep teaching. In case of any related questions, please don’t hesitate to contact AIS at
Additionally, the AIS Special Interest Group in Education (SIG ED) has gathered some important reminders for those facing disruption in their normal education practices.
General principles to keep in mind as you quickly move your classes to online formats as offered by Keep Teaching, a resource repository maintained by Indiana University:
  • Check with your department: Your department may issue more details about the situation and guidelines about their expectations for classes. Administrators may want to have many of the department's classes handled in similar ways, so check with departmental leaders before doing too much planning. Many education authorities have rules in place about provision of education, particularly moving instruction to an online format. If possible check with your administrators as to what is required but as a minimum you should document what you are doing - when communications with students have taken place and via what medium, what changes you have made to the methods of instruction (replacement of presentations with streaming video, introduction of discussion fora to replace classroom discussion are examples) and any modification of the syllabus and assessment
  • Communicate with your students right away: Even if you don't have a plan in place yet, communicate with your students as soon as possible, informing them that changes are coming and what your expectations are for checking email or your university’s learning management system, so you can get them more details soon. Don't assume that emails to student accounts are always read, introduce some sort of procedure so you can be assured the message has got through to all students in your class.
  • Consider realistic goals for continuing instruction: What do you think you can realistically accomplish during this time period? Do you think you can maintain your original syllabus and schedule? Do you hope students will keep up with the reading with some assignments to add structure and accountability? Do you just want to keep them engaged with the course content somehow?
  • Review your course schedule to determine priorities: Identify your priorities during the disruption—providing lectures, structuring new opportunities for discussion or group work, collecting assignments, etc. What activities are better rescheduled, and what can or must be done online? Give yourself a little flexibility in that schedule, just in case the situation takes longer to resolve than you think.
  • Review your syllabus for points that must change: What will have to temporarily change in your syllabus (policies, due dates, assignments, etc.)? Since students will also be thrown off by the changes, they will appreciate details whenever you can provide them.
  • Pick tools and approaches familiar to you and your students: Try to rely on tools and workflows that are familiar to you and your students, and roll out new tools only when absolutely necessary. If a closure is caused by a local crisis, it may be already taxing everyone's mental and emotional energy; introducing a lot of new tools and approaches may leave even less energy and attention for learning.
  • 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.
  • Create a more detailed communications plan: Once you have more details about changes in the class, communicate them to students, along with more information about how they can contact you (email, online office hours, etc.). A useful communication plan also lets students know how soon they can expect a reply. They will have many questions, so try to figure out how you want to manage that.
  • Be willing to switch tactics if something isn’t working. Times of disruption will always result in hiccups and you must be willing to recognize a teaching tactic that might need to change.
  • Be kind to fellow faculty who might be utilizing course management software for the first time. Help others to reduce their stress and use this disruption as a learning opportunity for all involved.
  • Do not try to recreate a classroom experience. Some students might be using a new program or platform and requiring high-stakes exams and assignments while learning a new system can be overwhelming. Make assignments lower stakes until students are used to the platforms.
  • For those who must report on their year’s activities, be sure to report on the real-time labor being done to create new teaching and learning services with little time and training in the transition.

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