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The Back-Up Teaching Plan

This portal was established to provide faculty members with resources and strategies for planning and executing emergency teaching protocols, or “back-up plans” for when classes can’t meet face-to-face. Whatever the situation may be, it’s important that students experience a sense of communication, support, and continuity with the institution as they (and you) deal with other factors that may arise from emergency situations.

The University and the OFA will provide guidance for the coordination and effective use of resources for teaching and learning in response to an emergency situation at Montclair State University. It is the University’s strong expectation that teaching and learning continue during any emergency situation, so far as reasonable and so long as conditions are judged safe by the University’s Emergency Response Team (ERT). The University intends to support faculty, staff and students to make this possible.

The Office for Faculty Advancement welcomes feedback and commentary on critical teaching practices, particularly the sharing of effective strategies and how we can remain committed to inclusive, accessible teaching practices and instructional continuity to produce better student learning environments. Please send your experiences, strategies, ideas, or questions to

Readiness Quiz

Are you prepared to...

Communication – make sure your students know HOW you will be maintaining contact and where to find instructions.

Campus Emergency Notification Systems – RAVE alerts, Montclair State University homepage.

Set up Canvas announcements or email through the Canvas Inbox. You can send messages to individual students, groups of students, sections of a course, or the entire course roster.

Email groups – Have students fill out a preferred contact sheet on the first day of class with their primary contact email, phone number, or messaging platform for emergencies. Download or print this contact sheet so you can access it during any network disruptions. Email through Canvas or NEST.

Remind (text and messaging service) – a free text messaging service that also has a phone app. Students must opt-in, but this is a fast, confidential, and easy way to stay in contact with your entire class via phone messaging.

  • For University communications and updates about COVID-19, check the University Health Center.
  • TEST your communication platform; talk with students about preferred communication channels from the very beginning of class or semester.

Emergency teaching plan – The steps below will help you plan and create an emergency teaching module for unanticipated closures or when your F2F class cannot meet in person. Montclair State uses Canvas as our LMS for online teaching and learning, so please familiarize yourself with how to effectively move elements of your course to Canvas. 

  1. For ITDS training on use of Canvas, Canvas Conferencing, Panopto, and other teaching technologies;
  2. The IT Service Desk (973-655-7971, Option 3) for one-to-one help on Canvas and other supported technologies.
  3. Pre-record lectures – using the concept of “chunking,” or breaking up your course lectures, readings, or materials into small, bite-size chunks for better cognition, generally between 5-13 minutes in length, with bridging activities that use active learning tasks and and align with learning assessments.
  4. Offline lessons and assignments – Consult your divisional dean and department chairperson about any division-specific or program specific considerations.
    • Focus on fundamentals of course design and learning objectives even if you need to adjust the specific activities that contribute to reaching those objectives. Keep students moving toward your general course goals aligned to specific learning objectives. Avoid “busy work.”
    • Prioritize course activities and focus on delivering the ones with the most significant impact on learning outcomes, and be realistic! What can really be done during school closures that keeps the course moving, meets learning objectives, but also considers the factors behind the closure? That is, if there are a series of pre-determined course activities students can complete to stay current during an emergency, which ones should they do first and are most aligned to the overall course goals and objectives? Make sure your instructions specifies those.
    • Maintain normal course scheduling as much as you can, when possible. Try to hold synchronous activities to promote community and continuity, but please don’t penalize students who cannot participate due to physical or material accessibility issues, poor internet access, or similar factors. But if synchronous activities aren’t possible…
    • Convert synchronous activities into asynchronous activities to ease scheduling challenges and, in case of network disruptions, make sure new asynchronous activity promotes the same learning outcomes and can be downloaded or moved offline ahead of time for later viewing (such as readings or lectures).
    • This content was adapted from Pepperdine University Community “Keep on Teaching” resource page; additional and extensive resources are available on Indiana University’s “Keep Teaching” resource site.
  5. Consider issues of Internet accessibility and data bandwidth. Students may experience outages, or lack of access to the Internet, or have other issues with using data and bandwidth, particularly if they are using their phones to complete assignments.
    • Do a technology needs assessment about technology for the class (a. Which device do they use? What do they use for Internet access?) and use the results to make adjustments accordingly. You may find that everyone in class has what it takes to access your content or participate in class activities. Then none of the below matter nearly as much.
    • When choosing tools, balance synchronous and asynchronous tools as some students may not have Wifi or reliable phone connection to participate in online conferences.
    • Make videos downloadable.
    • Record your virtual meetings so that students can access them at another location (such as the public library) or at another time (for instance, when someone at home is not using the computer).
    • Provide alternative format of access if possible, such as transcript for an audio or video.
    • Avoid using file or media format that can only be opened on certain devices, especially high-end devices. For instance, students with only phones may not be able to display flash-based courseware.
    • Avoid the need for printing and make content mobile-friendly if possible.
  6. Teach students how to use their smartphone apps to complete activities. For instance, using CamScanner to scan homework for submissions.
    • Replace physical resources with digital resources where possible. Students who have left campus may not have access to the online databases through Sprague Library. If you can, substitute materials that are available in Sprague Library’s full-text databases to download ahead of time, or that are freely available online (open education resources).
    • Use technology tools that are familiar to you and the students, to the greatest extent possible.
    • Even for primarily face-to-face classes, it’s advisable to begin the online experience with some kind of very low stakes community-building exercise, deployed as early as possible, to help students feel comfortable with the technology and how to communicate and collaborate online.

Remote learning tools – Padlet, Google Sites, Google Shared Drives, Canvas, Perusall, Youtube, Panopto, Zoom.

TEST your plan!

Update/Revise/Adapt: If your plan is already in place, and you’ve used it, update/revise/adjust your plan as needed based on your experience with the plan – what worked and what didn’t? Can anything be made better? How did students experience your plan?

Syllabus and Course Announcements – Shifting to a new mode of learning may be strange and disorienting to students, so it is essential that the learning climate, expectations of behaviors, and academic content, including learning outcomes and assessments, are clearly communicated by instructors. 

  • Include as transparently (why) and clearly (how) instructions of the way the course will proceed in the event of an emergency. This should be discussed with students on the first day of class and for online courses, should be included in the course orientation.
  • Sample syllabus statement (adapted from Best Practices for Learner-Centered Syllabus, University of West Florida, CUTLA)
    • The following statement may be included on the syllabus to inform students about University closures and how course work will be handled during and following an emergency or natural disaster. Some instructors develop contingency plans for personal emergencies such as onset of a serious health problem during a term.

                      Recommended statement to include in syllabus:

      In the case of severe weather or other emergency, the campus might be closed and classes cancelled. Official closures and delays are announced on the Montclair State University website and through our campus alert system. In addition, local news and broadcasts may provide additional regional information, such as: AM: WCBS – 880, WINS – 1010; FM: WMSC – 90.3, NJ – 101.5.; WCBS – Channel 2, WNBC – Channel 4, FOX – Channel 5, WWOR – Channel 9, News NJ – Channel 12. Montclair State University also provides a weather-related closing hotline number: 973-655-7810.

      It is expected that we will keep moving forward as a class to meet our learning objectives even during emergency closings or disruptions. Please refer to my special set of assignments and communication instructions found on the syllabus <here>, on our course LMS <here>, and/or on our course website/google drive/groupme/remind app <here>. I will review these instructions with you in class and throughout the semester, but I invite and encourage questions, comments, or ideas about how to maintain community support and achieve our course goals  during any potential campus closures.