Hurricane icon

Teaching in the Eye of a Hurricane

New & Improved,
with Extra Ideas Shared by Colleagues!

(Scroll down to Addenda.)

As I write this post on the fourth day of fall semester, the campus (and of course the surrounding region) is preparing for the potential arrival of a Category 4 hurricane, and classes have just been cancelled for at least one day. In addition to preparing their homes according to all of the emergency management advice, faculty are now faced with preparing for an interruption in their (carefully crafted) course plans–for both at least one day and the overarching sequence of the semester.

What are some possible Plan Bs for the fairly unique circumstances of hurricanes? Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching comes through again with their guide on “Dealing with the Unexpected: Teaching When You or Your Students Can’t Make It to Class,” written by Stacey Margarita Johnson. Her advice? “Promote communication with and among students,” “Create sites of interaction,” and “Conduct a virtual class meeting.” And I’ll add another: prepare some independent work for students.

Hurricane iconJohnson encourages the use of online discussion tools that are already part of our courses. In our case, we would use Canvas to “1) help keep open the lines communication between you and students, and 2) give students opportunities to exchange ideas with each other.” By staying within Canvas and drawing on its tools, the guide points out that students “are more likely to feel connected and up-to-date even during times of upheaval” as “important course information will come through a single, consistent channel.” But if we lose power and internet, we need to go old-school and work with paper, pen, and books.

Below, I offer a quick and dirty list of options:

  • While many of Rollins students will be sheltering together, consider setting up a buddy system, so they feel directly connected to someone in your class. If you want them to do any interactive work, then, they have at least one person with whom they can work.
  • Use the announcements in Canvas. You can have students set their notifications so they get your announcements as text messages.
  • If power and internet don’t go down, the discussion board in Canvas, Google docs, and blogs provide a forum where students can post their work and interact with each other and you.
  • If we lose power and/or internet, think about the kind of work students can do with book and paper. Johnson also suggests an online learning journal, but there’s no reason why this can’t be hardcopy. Here are “20 Types of Learning Journals That Help Students Think.” At the very least, you’ll find some prompts that you can use to ensure that students are thinking and processing reading assignments in lieu of classtime.
  • Johnson also has a section on conducting class through videoconferencing (Rollins faculty and students have WebEx) and recording videos for students (Kaltura), but these are power- and internet-dependent, so I hesitate to encourage these alternatives during a hurricane.
  • Maximize your assigned readings.
    • Ask students to annotate the readings as a way to ensure they’re at least minimally engaging. You can also look at their annotations to see how they make meaning of your readings.
    • You could devote some attention to what reading looks like in your discipline. Some of you will recall the faculty read-aloud demonstrated at an rFLA meeting last year: you could select a reading and video- or audio-record yourself while reading it aloud and (most importantly) saying out loud what you’re thinking as you read it, to make visible the moves you want students to make while reading in your class. What questions do you ask of texts? What are you thinking as you read? Where does your mind go, if anywhere? What do you think about as you begin or end a reading? What types of things make you pause, and what do you think about as you pause? Do you reread passages? Why? And so on. Suppose you modeled this for students and then had them do the same. They could submit recordings to you or, more simply and hurricane-friendly, you could have them write about how reading in this way is different from their default reading mode, and what they learned by this practice. You could also do this same kind of activity without electricity by focusing on how you (and how they should) annotate readings to be prepared for class discussions, essays, exams, and so on.
  • I’ll also add, thanks to colleague Rachael Lilienthal’s good advice below, that you can also pause, let the students and you deal with the current circumstances, and then find ways to make up for the time once everyone is safe and fully present again.

I wrote this blog very quickly to give faculty something to work with, and I’ll continue to add ideas to it as I hear and think of more. If you have ideas, please post them as comments below!

Addenda from Colleagues

“My team and I created a Strategies for Integrating Online Tools resource for you that includes ideas for asynchronous learning activities with links to directions on how to set these up in Canvas. This may be helpful to you when you start thinking about adjusting your class schedules and activities as needed.”

–Amy Sugar & the Rollins College Instructional Design & Technology Team

Work with a librarian to design an assignment that can be done remotely to help familiarize the students with the course content.”

–Jonathan Harwell via Facebook

“Remember that the assignments don’t need to be completed DURING the storm craziness. Some students will be traveling or will lose power or will have to help family members in ways we cannot anticipate. Be flexible and find ways to make up for lost time once everyone is back on campus. Students will appreciate the option to complete work during the break but not the obligation to do so.”

–Rachael Lilienthal via Facebook

“Having lived in Baton Rouge during Katrina, I would suggest having a Plan B at least 2-3 days prior to predicted landfall and communicating it to students. Whatever the alternative assignment is, it needs to be totally pen and paper based as many will lose electricity. Also, during a natural disaster, cell phone coverage gets overloaded and is spotty and inefficient at best. Finally, you just sometimes have to realize that things happen and you may need to cut out some content or assignments and re-prioritize.”

–Pam Adkinson Terrell via Facebook

“Also remember that everything in your syllabus is not a precious gem – drop something – let it go, let it go… Students are going to struggle with storm stress and with trying to deal with us trying to make sure all of our valuable lessons stay intact. I told my students, ‘don’t stress about this, we will change the syllabus, it’s going to be ok, we’re in this together.’ If we knew all summer that we had one less week in the semester, we would still have great classes for that amount of time.”

–Paul Harris via Facebook

“Consider emotional and cognitive load of students AND faculty. Any new to hurricanes? Be flexible and adjust as needed. Return to your course goals instead of focusing heavily on content.”

–Shannon Sipes via Twitter

How to deal with lost class time? Watch a video of Robert Vander Poppen talking about “clawing time back incrementally rather than in big chunks” through small, virtual presentations throughout the rest of the semester. He also does the math to determine how to “get back all of the time that you lost.”

–Robert Vander Poppen, via Erik Kenyon via Facebook

Think Outside the Classroom: Revisit the main goals for your course: Are there ways of delivering on these other than whatever you were going to do during the class meetings we lost? Here are a few suggestions:
Move a Class Meeting Online: Rollins prides itself on discussion-based courses. The first couple class meetings are key to communicating your expectations for how students should interact with you and with each other. Moving an in-class discussion to the discussion forum on Canvas allows you to highlight those expectations. I’ve attached the revised prompt I sent my own students.
Move a Piece of Class Online: We faced similar troubles in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Here is Robert Vander Poppen (Classics & Art History) on Recovering Time Incrementally and Marianne DiQuattro (Theatre) on Making Creative Use of On-line Discussions.
Engaging The Community: Rollins also prides itself on student-centered research and its engagement with the broader community. In the wake of Irma, Christie Delk (Business) made up for lost time by Having Students Attend Events on Their Own Time, which they then related to course content in writing. See the attached list of concerts, plays, exhibits and talks for this Fall. You may also contact the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement to look for community service projects that might align with the goals of your course.
One-On-One Meetings: Do you have a presentation, essay or some other assignment built into your course that you might discuss with students one-one-one or in groups outside of class time? In addition to making up contact time, how could you use this to get to know students individually?
Extending Class Time: ​You might also think about regaining lost class time simply by adding more time. Keep in mind, the more flexible options you can give, the better. In any event, please consult with your students to find solutions that work for the group.
Add a Special Meeting: Could you add another meeting off the normal grid? Ideally, this could be something more social, e.g. a potluck at your home. (Note there are forms to fill out via Foxlink whenever you meet off campus.)
Extend Meeting Time for the Rest of Term: ​If you just missed a 2.5-hour class, that’s 150 minutes of time together lost. Subtracting 20 minutes of break time leaves us with 130 minutes to recover. We’ve got 13 weeks left. Adding 10 minutes to each week gets us that time back.
Remember that Students have Responsibilities: Holt students –and a growing number of CLA students– have jobs, houses, children, spouses and even parents that they are caring for. Those have to take priority during a crisis. When you convey your new course plans to students, you can win a lot of points by acknowledging students’ responsibilities, being flexible with deadlines for the next couple weeks and offering to do whatever you can to help them keep them caught up with your course while they juggle everything else in their lives.”

Erik Kenyon via email

Image source:
Creator: ayvengo
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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