Tips for managing pandemic-related absences

Here we are again, uncertain about what this semester will bring and knowing that student absences could increase. To decrease the spread of Omicron, we want students to stay home if they are feeling sick. Yet, we also know from our recent experience, that increased absences can be both stressful for students who are trying to catch up and for you as you try to be flexible without significantly increase your workload.

Lizzy Pope shared how she came to terms with teaching in the pandemic during a recent CTL roundtable discussion. She described that one of her strategies is giving herself grace:

“It’s not about me. It’s not about how much they want to be in my class or don’t want to be in my class. It’s not about how good my class is or how bad my class is. It’s about the global pandemic that we’re all experiencing, that now is perhaps not the time for me to crack down on the attendance, and that I should just really think through how attendance relates to my course objectives and give students other ways to meet those objectives.”

The ideas on this page came from our from faculty roundtable discussions, and we share them in the hope that they’ll expand your “flexibility options” this semester. Since our teaching conditions may change rapidly, clear communication with students is key to successful use of these suggestions.

Facilitate access to content covered during class

  • Options for sharing lecture notes with the class:
    • Ask for a couple of volunteers to post their class notes in a Blackboard discussion forum.
    • If you have a TA, ask them to create notes to share.
    • Share your own lecture notes.
  • If you have PowerPoint slides, consider uploading them to your class team rather than Blackboard (because of file size) for students to download.
  • If you taught the class remotely last year, consider recycling some of that content, such as video or audio, and making it available to students this semester.

If you’d like, allow quarantined students to attend class remotely

  • If there are quarantined students who would like to attend class remotely, invite them to attend as observers rather than active participants.
    • Make a Teams meeting in which you invite just those students. In the classroom, on the same computer that you’re showing your slides (probably the podium computer), log in to that Teams meeting and share your screen as you lecture. Contact Classroom Technology Services if you need help with any of the classroom equipment.
    • Record your Teams meeting so you can share it with students who may have been sick and unable to attend remotely. Let students know where they can find the recording.
  • If the students’ remote status means they can’t participate in class in the same way that your in-person students can, consider giving them some other task after the lecture, such as making a Blackboard journal entry related to what they learned.

Plan for catch-up

  • Modify your syllabus by clearing two or three “flex days” during the semester and plan to use those class periods to review concepts, allow students to catch up, etc.

Handling Extensions

  • Consider a universal policy for all assignments that allows a two-day grace period on the due dates. This is an inclusive and proactive practice, acknowledging the needs of all students rather than being responsive only to the students who have been taught or feel entitled to ask for extensions.
  • It can be hard to keep track of who has an extension—on what, until when. Consider having students track themselves. Ask students to create a document on OneDrive and send you the link after they’ve share viewing permission with you. On this document they can paste the emails from you where you’ve given the extension. At the top, they can keep a list of the assignments they have/haven’t done yet and when they are due. You can periodically ask them during class to open this “assignment log” to make sure they’re on track to hand things in on time. All emails from students about these matters should include a link to said document.
  • Also, fully utilize the Blackboard Grade Center and its weighted running total grade. It can be motivating when, after an assignment due date, you put a zero in the empty assignment cells (instead of leaving it empty) and let students know that once they submit it, you’ll enter their grade.

Handling Absences

  • If you have a large class, getting emails about missing class can be overwhelming. Instead, empower students to manage their attendance and if they have a reason to miss class, you respect that reason. If you have a TA who can manage this, consider giving all students a “time bank.” Every student would get X amount of extra time that they can draw upon when they need to during the semester.