A snowy day on campus.

Communicate with students

Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your class(es)—whether a planned absence on your part, or because of an emergency impacting all or part of campus. You'll want to let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations. Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and eliminate individual questions.

Keep these principles in mind:

  • Communicate early and often: Let students know about changes or disruptions as early as possible, even if all the details aren't in place yet, and let them know when they can expect more specific information. Don't swamp them with email, but consider matching the frequency of your messages with that of changes in class activities and/or updates to the broader situation at hand (for example, the campus closure is extended for two more days; what will students need to know related to your course?).
  • Set expectations: Let students know how you plan to communicate with them, and how often. Tell students both how often you expect them to check their email, and how quickly they can expect your response.
  • Manage your communications load: You will likely receive some individual requests for information that could be useful to all your students, so consider keeping track of frequently asked questions and sending those replies out to everyone. This way, students know they might get a group reply in a day versus a personal reply within an hour. Also, consider creating an information page in your learning management system (Compass, Moodle, etc.), and then encourage students to check there first for answers before emailing you.

Distribute course materials and readings

You will likely need to provide additional course materials to support your changing plans, from updated schedules to readings that allow you to shift more instruction online. In a pinch, providing some new readings and related assignments may be your best bet for keeping the intellectual momentum of the course moving.

Considerations when posting new course materials:

  • Make sure students know when new material is posted: If you post new materials in the learning management system, be sure to let students know what you posted and where. You might even ask that they change their notification preferences to alert them when new materials are posted.
  • Keep things phone friendly: In an emergency, many students may only have a phone available, so make sure you are using mobile-friendly formats, PDFs being the most common. Consider saving other files (for example, PowerPoint presentations) to PDFs, which are easier to read on phones and tablets, and keep the file size small. It is fairly easy to reduce the size of PDF files using Adobe Acrobat, and there are online tools that do the same thing (for example,  search Google for "PDF file size").

Deliver lectures

Depending on the nature of your classroom instructional style, there are remote delivery options that might be suitable to deliver your content online. The following table outlines some recommendations for online instructional modalities based on classroom style. Resources to support each of these options may be found in the Resources section of this site.

 Classroom Instructional Style Recommended Online Instructional Modality Options
1 Lecture, few visuals, little interaction Talking head video recordings A. Training to self-record 
B. Full-service classroom/studio filming
2 Lecture, PPT (or similar), little interaction Voice-over PPT video recordings A. Kaltura self-record
B. Screencast-o-matic self-record
C. Drop-in full-service support
3 Lecture, Board work (or similar), little interaction Voice-over tablet or doc-cam video recordings A. Kaltura self-record
B. Screencast-o-matic self-record
C. Drop-in full-service support
4 Interactive discussion or lecture (could include PPT, boardwork or other visuals) Synchronous sessions A. Zoom w/ webcams
B. Zoom w/ PPT
C. Zoom w/ tablet
D. Full-service classroom/studio broadcasting sessions
5 Existing UIUC online version of the course Existing online course content Modify a version of existing online course
6 Commonly taught large, multi-section course with common syllabus Open Educational Resources (OERs) Find existing OER to use for video lectures and other content
7 Course with extensive laboratory, arts, dance, field work or other hands-on activity Discuss individual strategies with online learning consultant Varied


Run lab/performance activities

One of the biggest challenges of teaching during a building or campus closure is sustaining the lab and performance components of classes. Since many labs require specific equipment, they are hard to reproduce outside of that physical space.

Considerations as you plan to address lab activities:

  • Take part of the lab online: Many lab activities require students to become familiar with certain procedures, and only physical practice of those processes will do. In such cases, consider if there are other parts of the lab experience you could take online (for example, video demonstrations of techniques, online simulations, analysis of data, other pre- or post-lab work), and save the physical practice parts of the labs until access is restored. The semester might get disjointed by splitting up lab experiences, but it might get you through a short campus closure.
  • Investigate virtual labs: Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some labs (for example, virtual dissection, night sky apps, video demonstrations of labs, simulations). Those vary widely by discipline, but check with your textbook publisher, or sites such as Merlot for materials that might help replace parts of your lab during an emergency.
  • Provide raw data for analysis: In cases where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected, and then provide some raw sets of data for students to analyze. This approach is not as comprehensive as having students collect and analyze their own data, but it might keep them engaged with parts of the lab experience during the closure.
  • Explore alternate software access: Some labs require access to specialized software that students cannot install on their own computers. Depending on the nature of the closure (for example, a building versus the entire campus), Technical Services may be able to help set up virtual machines to host needed software for students.
  • Increase interaction in other ways: Sometimes labs are more about having time for direct student interaction, so consider other ways to replicate that level of contact if it is only your lab that is out of commission.

Foster communication and collaboration among students

Fostering communication among students is important because it allows you to reproduce any collaboration you build into your course and maintains a sense of community that can help keep students motivated to participate and learn. It helps if you already had some sort of student-to-student online activity in the course so that students will be used to the process and the tool.

Consider these suggestions when planning activities:

  • Use asynchronous tools when possible: Having students participate in live  Zoom conversations can be useful, but scheduling can be a problem, and only a few students will actively participate (just like in your classroom). In such cases, using asynchronous tools like the learning management system's discussion board allows students to participate on their own schedules. In addition, bandwidth requirements for discussion boards are far lower than for live video tools.
  • Link to clear goals and outcomes: Make sure there are clear purposes and outcomes for any student-to-student interaction. How does this activity help them meet course outcomes or prepare for other assignments?
  • Build in simple accountability: Find ways to make sure students are accountable for the work they do in any online discussions or collaborations. Assigning points for online discussion posts can be tedious, so some instructors ask for reflective statements where students detail their contributions and reflect on what they learned from the conversation.
  • Balance newness and need: As with any changed activities, you will need to balance the needs and benefits of online collaboration with the additional effort such collaboration will require on everyone's part. Learning new technologies and procedures might be counterproductive, particularly in the short term, unless there is clear benefit.

Collect assignments

Collecting assignments during a campus closure is fairly straightforward, since many instructors already collect work electronically. The main challenge during a campus disruption is whether students have access to computers, as anyone needing a campus computer lab may be unable to access necessary technologies. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Require only common software: Students may not have access to specialty software located in on-campus computer labs. Be ready with a backup plan for such specialty software.
  • Avoid emailed attachments: It may be easy to collect assignments in small classes via email, but larger classes might swamp your email inbox. Consider using the learning management system to have students upload assignments.
  • State expectations, but be ready to allow extensions: In the case of a campus closure or other emergency, some students will undoubtedly have difficulties meeting deadlines. Make expectations clear, but be ready to provide more flexibility than you normally would in your class.
  • Require specific filenames: It may sound trivial, but anyone who collects papers electronically knows the pain of getting 20 files named Essay1.docx. Give your students a simple file naming convention, for example,  FirstnameLastname-Essay1.docx.

Assess student learning

There are options for assessing students online. See the Resources section of this site for guides on creating online assessments. Note that in the case of an emergency suspension of instruction, faculty are NOT allowed to require additional fees from UIUC students to take proctored exams or use other paid assessment tools. Colleges can individually opt to cover additional emergency course costs at their discretion. Also note that in emergencies with national impact, online proctoring services may be over burdened and not reliably available.