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Planning for Unexpected University Closure

This page provides faculty members with resources and strategies for planning and preparing for any type of emergency teaching situation, 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 will support faculty, staff, and students to make this possible.

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.

  • 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 for use of Canvas, Canvas Conferencing, Panopto, and other teaching technologies;
  2. The IT Service Desk (973-655-7971, for one-to-one help on Canvas and other supported technologies.
  3. Pre-record lessons.  Follow best practices in Recording Video Lectures.
  4. 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.”
  5. 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 specify those.
  6. 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…
  7. 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).
  8. This content was adapted from Pepperdine University Community’s “Keep on Teaching” resource page; additional and extensive resources are available on Indiana University’s “Keep Teaching” resource site.
  9. 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.  Encourage students to borrow a laptop from the university if they do not have one.
    • Do a technology needs assessment about technology for the class 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 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 an alternative format of access if possible, such as a transcript for audio or video.
    • Avoid using files or media formats that can only be opened on certain devices, especially high-end devices.
    • Avoid the need for printing and make content mobile-friendly if possible.
  10. Teach students how to use their smartphone apps to complete some 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 how 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.

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 faculty@montclair.edu.

7.22.21