When Plans Change: Teaching Strategies for Emergencies and Disruptions

Ideally, planning a course takes place over a substantial period, with time for preparation, organization, and reflection. However, if the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that sometimes plans have to change – fast!

Disruptions of many kinds, whether a global pandemic, weather, travel delays, personal emergency, or other unexpected circumstances, can require instructors to suddenly revise their teaching strategies for a day, weeks, or even months. In these cases, it may not be possible or reasonable to teach face-to-face. In such cases, there are many other teaching strategies you can turn to. For example, depending on instructor or student needs, this may include strategies such as switching from in-person to recorded or live online lectures, providing students with a reading list and independent study for a specific period of time, or giving students a hands-on assignment to complete at home and video-record. In other cases, after a period of remote teaching, you may have to suddenly return to in-person teaching and re-adapt remote strategies to face-to-face.

The following list of resources provides more examples and strategies that instructors can adapt to their particular situation.

Emergency Teaching Tips

  1. Consider your students’ needs during this disruption. How can the burden of this change be reduced for them as much as possible?
  2. Communicate! Communicating a clear plan to your students as soon as possible, and continuing to communicate frequently will help reduce student confusion.
  3. Consider strategies that reduce pressure during periods of disruption: shift due dates, change participation requirements, or reweight assessments to reduce workload and stress for students at critical times – in consultation with your head of Department.
  4. Ensure that the strategies you choose are accessible for all students. For example, providing multiple assessment or participation options for students can help make your course less stressful and more accessible and enjoyable.
  5. Take care of yourself. Any disruption or emergency situation creates stress, and by considering your own needs and limits first, you can better support your students. In an emergency more than ever, it’s okay to choose a flexible teaching strategy that best reduces the burden on you.

Flexible Teaching Strategies

There are some simple ways that you can set up your course to be more adaptable to various modes of teaching. These strategies can help give you the flexibility to more easily respond to disruptions should the case arise. For more strategies please see: Flexible Instruction.

  1. Course Materials: Consider choosing course materials that can be accessed virtually: for example, digital instead of paper textbooks; journal articles or videos that can be accessed online.
  2. Course Content: Even in an entirely in-person course, make use of your Brightspace course site to share course content. In addition to making the course more adaptable to a switch in teaching modes, this improves accessibility for students who are ill or who may occasionally or regularly face barriers to coming to campus.
  3. Assessments: When choosing assessments, consider choosing methods that can be easily adapted to either an in-person or online environment. For example, group slideshow presentations could be adapted to video-recorded presentations; in-person essay exams could be adapted to handwritten take-home essays that students scan and submit by e-mail; in-person multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank quizzes could be entered in the Brightspace Quiz tool.
  4. Community: In an in-person course, encourage students to interact with one another virtually outside of class, such as by setting up a Brightspace Discussion forum where they can introduce themselves and post questions. In a larger class, you can divide students into smaller discussion groups.
  5. Communication: In your syllabus, set out a simple disruption plan to describe how the course would change in the case of a disruption: how would students communicate with you, how could they access course content, and how course content and assessments could change.
  6. Health and Well-Being: In any course, share resources with your students related to health and well-being, such as programs offered by the Student Health and Wellness Centre as well as mental health services in the broader community.

CITL Resources

CITL developed a number of resources to support the pivot to remote teaching, and these may be useful to you for other sudden transitions in teaching.

  • Tips on alternate assessment strategies
  • Strategies for recording lectures (self-recording, Online Rooms, and Lecture Capture rooms), and remote lecturing (through Online Rooms or Webex) and presenting other content.
  • Resources specific to remote instruction including course design, instruction, assessment, and informal accommodations for students.
  • Ways to keep students engaged and create community in a remote environment
  • Suggestions for instructors to help manage workload and communication in remote instruction.
  • Ways to be prepared for potential disruption in the Learning Management System(video)
  • Strategies to make sure your remote course is accessible using UDL (video)
  • Consultation Services are available to help you work through the alternatives that fit your specific circumstances

Examples: What strategies have other instructors tried?

Interested in seeing practical examples of teaching strategies other instructors have used in times of disruption? The following videos may be helpful:

External Resources

Many centres for teaching and learning at other universities have collected fantastic resources to support instructors in a transition to remote learning:

McMaster University

University of Calgary

University of Michigan:

University of Toronto:

University of Waterloo:

Resource created by Julie T.