Planning For Disruptions

Just In Case: Adjusting Courses and Communicating with Students

Living and working in a hurricane-prone state like Florida, we’re no strangers to campus closures. Over the last three years, we‘ve learned the value of developing contingency plans for our courses, just in case. Right now, COVID-19 is all over the news. Governor DeSantis has said “the overall threat to the public remains low,” but has also issued a state of emergency, so if you don’t already have continuity plans, it would be useful to develop them.

FSU is exploring options for continuing instruction in the event of a campus closure. (Faculty who are parents and grandparents can find updates from Leon County Schools here.) We don’t yet know whether that will be necessary, but we can anticipate a range of scenarios for our courses and students.

The first, and likeliest, is that we’ll be seeing more student absences in the coming weeks. We need to be compassionate and flexible, and avoid assuming that students are cozening us if they miss class. The student health center is already flooded with traffic and cannot provide written documentation for every absence; case management also requests that we not expect written documentation if students need to miss class meetings. The Provost shared additional guidance with Deans:

Due to the marked increase in flu levels and recent concerns regarding COVID-19, please encourage your faculty to afford more flexibility to students who are sick. This includes relaxing standards for documentation from University Health Services (UHS) or other medical providers and Case Management during this time of increased illness. In addition, student access to documentation might be limited in some cases, because UHS recommends that students with flu symptoms who do not require medical attention stay home to recover.  Please note that verification from Case Management Services is never needed if the student has verification of a doctor’s visit from UHS or another medical professional.
Students with flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue and possibly vomiting and diarrhea) should limit their contact with others until their fever is gone. Those with the flu arehighly contagious and can spread it to others. Thank you for doing what you can to keep our campus community well.

With this advice in mind, we should revise our attendance policies, and other aspects of our course design, to allow students to miss more class meetings without sacrificing their learning. We need to communicate policy and any course schedule updates to students both online (through email or a Canvas announcement) and in class, so that even students who are absent are aware of the changes.

Since more students may be out, whether from illness or parental pressure to leave campus and come home in case of an outbreak, we will need to consider how they might make up missed work or achieve the learning goals (when they’re recovered, if they’re seriously ill, or while absent, if they’re self-quarantined). We shared a few ideas on this subject last week.

We hope it’s unlikely that we will have to conduct part of our semester remotely, but that’s the worst-case instructional scenario to plan for. And since this sort of disruption would cause considerable confusion, and also heighten students’ (and our) anxiety, our communication will be as critical as our planning. We will have to communicate early, to prepare students to deal with such disruptions, if indeed they happen. (That’s why we want to go ahead and make our contingency plans now.) We will also have to be far more clear and concrete than we usually think necessary, as we explain our plans to rattled students, and repeat messages in multiple places and times. We will need to do our very best to calm our students and reassure them that they can still have valuable and successful learning experiences even if a face-to-face course has to move online.

If you don’t yet have much experience facilitating learning remotely, FSU’s Office of Distance Learning offers great resources and advice, like this quick-start guide to using Canvas. Soon, they’ll be conducting training sessions to help us learn how to use the web-conferencing tool Zoom, so watch for announcements from them. Canvas contains many tools for interactions like small group work, collaboration, peer feedback, online discussions, sharing documents, etc., so it will still be possible to facilitate meaningful engagement and maintain a sense of classroom community online.

To support you in your ongoing communication with students, we drafted a sample announcement (below) that you can feel free to use or adapt to your needs and context:
Good morning, everyone.

I’m looking forward to seeing you all in class later today. I’m sure you’ve seen FSU announcements and news articles about COVID-19, so I want you to know that there’s a plan in place just in case the university decides it’s wisest to stay at home and conduct part of our semester remotely. I hope that won’t be necessary, but it’s useful for us all to be prepared, so that we can continue smoothly and your learning won’t be disrupted. Your safety and health are the university’s top priorities, and if, in abundance of caution, we are asked to stay home in the interest of public health, we will use alternative means to continue our class.

If we ever need to hold our class remotely, here’s how it will work: I will update the syllabus/course schedule, post it on Canvas, and make an announcement. Your other professors will probably do the same, so be sure to check Canvas and your email. All of our materials will be available on Canvas, and we will use a combination of (discussion boards, groups, Zoom, videos, etc.) to carry on the same kinds of activities we normally do in class.

If we do move our class online, it will be especially important for us to hold on to our sense of community, even when we don’t see each other three times a week. I will be available by (email? Online office hours? Fill in). I encourage you to stay in touch with your classmates and continue to discuss the material we’re studying outside of class time as well. Think about how you and your peers might (have virtual study groups, hold feedback sessions, collaborate on group projects, etc.) online.

For now, we are continuing with class as normal, so let’s make the most of our face-to-face time. You can check here for any additional updates from FSU. And please stay home if you’re sick. Even if it’s just a cold.

All the best,
Prof. X

We’re here to help you work on your plans, so please get in touch at for support.


Providing Feedback on Student Work

Tuesday, March 10th | 10:30 – 12:00 | DIF 432 | Sign up to attend

Feedback is essential for learning, but providing feedback that will help students learn is one of the more challenging aspects of teaching. As Ambrose et al. (2010) explain, “key features of effective feedback are that it (a) communicates to students where they are relative to the stated goals and what they need to do to improve, and (b) provides this information to students when they can make the most use of it.” In this hands-on workshop, we will explore strategies for providing targeted, timely, actionable, motivating feedback on any type of coursework.

Mid-Semester Feedback

We offer the following services from Student Consultants, undergraduates who work at CAT and are trained to collect student feedback on teaching. If you would like to schedule a mid-semester feedback session, please email us at

  • Informal Feedback Session: If you can spare about 20 minutes of class time, you can invite student consultants to conduct a feedback session in your classroom. They’ll talk to your students about how their learning experience is going, using abrief writing exercise followed by small group discussion and a quick class-wide debrief. Then, we’ll analyze the results and meet with you afterwards to discuss the responses and your plans for modifications.
  • Observer/Note-taker: Student consultants visit the classroom and record in writing what happened during class (e.g., chronology of classroom activities; time spent in questioning, board work, small group discussion; and so on). If you wish, they can use the COPUS. The student consultant describes rather than evaluates, and meets with you to present and discuss the report.
  • Primed student: Prior to class, you inform the student consultant what he or she should watch for. Examples: How often do certain students respond? Are the students discussing course material among themselves? What seems difficult for the students? What are the students in the back rows of the class doing? The student consultant writes his or her observations in a report to share with you