Contingency Planning

Maintaining Teaching Continuity in the Event of Disruption

The content of this page sent by email on February 19, 2021

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This Spring semester, an unwished-for but necessary consideration is the possibility of another COVID-related disruption. Provost Prelock and College Deans have emphasized the importance of making contingency plans, and for faculty that means considering how you will maintain instruction if you need to quarantine or the campus requires a temporary lockdown. We’ve identified a few strategies that will help to ease you through any later transitions, if they should happen.

For in-person or mixed courses, will you teach synchronously or asynchronously?

Will you decide to transition your class to a synchronous (remote) or an asynchronous (online) modality? Let your students know this now, so everyone can be prepared. Some factors to consider when making your selection include:

  • Technology and internet access for you and your students.
  • Survey your students about challenges they might expect should a sudden shift to online learning be required.
  • If access to technology will be a barrier, refer students to Student Financial Services (, as additional funding through CARES Act Emergency Grants may be available.
  • Faculty with limited access to technology or adequate internet connectivity can sign up to teach in classroom pods by contacting your department administrator.
  • Course design elements (e.g., best way to facilitate of in-class discussion)
  • Whether students are in multiple time zones
  • Your capacity (e.g., K-12 school closures and associated caregiving requirements)
  • Your skill and comfort with the technologies needed for your backup plans

Once you’ve chosen your new modality, what technologies will you need to meet the basic functions of your class such as assigning course work, giving quizzes and tests, and connecting on Teams? Can you use some of that technology now to facilitate a smoother transition?

Establish clear communication patterns

  • Develop communication routines now that can help students stay connected to you and your course should disruption occur.
  • For instance, establish a routine of posting a Blackboard announcement every Monday morning to give students a heads-up about the coming week (and be sure to tick the box to email the announcement to your students, as well.)
  • You might also set up a “Course Updates” link on your Blackboard course menu, where you’ll post information about any possible changes.
  • Clear and consistent Blackboard organization is always helpful, but it becomes especially important in times of disruption and confusion, when students’ cognitive bandwidth may be limited. How you label materials and organize information, as well as how explicit your instructions are can facilitate (or hinder) student success. For more about designing your Blackboard space most effectively, watch this short 8 minute video.

Build in flexibility and compassion

Focus on what’s feasible for your students, and for you, in the midst of disruption. Are there things that you can reduce, cut, or simplify? Even if your class modality doesn’t change, a suspension of in-class sessions will mean that many of your students will have other classes shifting to online and remote modalities, drawing more of their attention as everyone adapts. Here are a couple examples of adjustments you could make to assignments:

  • Have students revise and add to a past assignment rather than starting a new one.
  • Shift to single point rubrics for grading assignments to streamline your workload and provide targeted feedback to students.

Identify sources of support

Trying to plan for the unexpected can be overwhelming. We hope that these suggestions help you think about contingencies in a way that’s helpful. Please remember that we are here and available for consultations if you would like to talk about your contingency planning or implement a new teaching practice.