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Tips for Supporting Undergraduate Students During Instructional Disruptions

Instructional disruptions will happen from time to time, including but not limited to a UAW strike. This guide is intended to help you think strategically about how to provide sustained support for undergraduate students when teaching and learning resources are underprovisioned. Please reach out to the Teaching Commons for help with specific pedagogical and technological questions if they are not addressed here.


Topics in this Guide include:

  • Guiding Principles
  • Make the Course Accessible to All Students
  • Communicate Frequently
  • Maintain Student Engagement and Collaboration
  • Holding Review Sessions
  • Manage Summative Assessments
  • Help is Available!


Guiding Principles

  • Identify what is most important for students to learn to successfully complete your course and which assessments are key measures of that learning. Organize your teaching around only those things and put all else aside.
  • As much as possible, use communication tools and ways of teaching and assessing students (in person, online, etc.) that you have been using throughout the term and that are familiar to you and your students.
  • Contact the Teaching Commons for pedagogical or learning technologies consultations.


Make the Course Accessible to all Students

  • Foster predictability: communicate your plans for the course each week and try to stick to them.
  • If part of students’ grades depends on meetings that you don’t lead, decide how any remaining portion of the grade tied to those meetings will be earned and communicate that to students.
  • Post lecture notes/recordings so that students can review content independently or use them to complete assignments.
  • If homework grading will be delayed, post sample solutions or annotated examples of exemplary work, along with a short video of “common successes and pitfalls” that you can glean from quickly scanning students’ homework.


Communicate Frequently

Be sure to communicate with students about how you will support their learning. Tell them in-person, by email, AND on your CatCourses/Canvas site. If TAs are not available, let students know how to communicate with you and remind them that you will be the primary point of communication.

  • Use familiar tools to facilitate communication to students and for student-to-student collaboration.
  • Plan ahead so that you can organize communication (especially emails) efficiently. For example, ask students to use standardized subject lines such as:
    • COURSE NAME/NUMBER - QUESTION ABOUT <TOPIC, SOMETHING HAPPENING IN CLASS, ADMINISTRATIVE ISSUE>. If you do this, provide students with categories for the subject lines.
  • For emails or announcements to the entire class, consider:
  • Encourage students to ask you questions or help each other with homework in an online discussion forum. (You may need to redirect students who email with questions to the discussion forum.)
    • To improve efficiency, consider creating discussion forums for different categories of questions (e.g. administrative, concepts from the week, grading questions).
  • Consider Zoom-based group office hours so that multiple students can attend without worrying about space.
    • If you host multiple office hours, consider creating themes for some of the hours (e.g. how to organize a paper, solve difficult problems for exams, review a complex topic).
    • If you expect large groups, consider recording the office hour session and sharing it with all students.
  • Reach out to struggling students by using the criteria-based Message Students Who through CatCourses Gradebook.


Maintain Student Engagement and Collaboration

  • Promote online engagement. Zoom and many other technology tools can help you and your students stay connected and engaged. Review our Teaching Commons guide on Using Technology to Promote Online Engagement for more ideas.
  • Create a self-grading online quiz with multiple attempts for student mastery and provide information about where students can find relevant information.
  • Use Canvas Discussion Forums to engage students by offering multiple prompts that connect your course work to their lives.


Holding Review Sessions

Create a way for students to submit questions about exams and organize questions/responses thematically using tools that are familiar to you and/or your students.

  • Create a survey in Canvas (using an ungraded quiz).
  • Encourage students to use or choose from common categories of questions so that you can sort questions into groups as you put together responses.

Consider different formats for hosting “review sessions” that provide all students with access: create an FAQ, video response, reply to discussion forum questions, live review session on Zoom and record/share.

  • Avoid hosting review sessions that will not be accessible to all students (e.g. review sessions during any time other than the scheduled class times, unless recorded and shared). 


Manage Summative Assessments

  • Identify what is essential for summative assessments and what formats of assessments will be reasonable to grade (multiple-choice or short-answer exams, etc.).
  • If you are changing the format of an exam from short answer to multiple choice, let students know, provide them with sample questions, and let them practice.
  • If you use something like a final paper in a course, consider adapting the assignment so that the grading workload is more manageable, such as having students write the outline of the final paper, indicating what evidence or data from the course they will use and how it is connected to the paper’s thesis or argument. If you choose to do so, provide students with a strong example of this approach, and with the rubric you will use to grade their work. You could also leverage peer review to incorporate student feedback into the evaluation.
  • Give students feedback about their work, whether the feedback is automated in an online quiz, creating a short video to the whole class that highlights common successes and challenges of student work.
  • Rubrics: use them; ask students to self-evaluate their submitted work using the rubrics.
  • Utilize the SpeedGrader function in CatCourses. Not familiar with SpeedGrader? Watch a short introductory Video to see how this might be useful.


Help is Available!

  • For pedagogical or learning technologies help, use this link to Request a Consultation
  • CatCourses support for faculty, instructors, and Teaching Assistants (TAs) is available from Instructure (the vendor) 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, including live chat and phone support. To get help, login to CatCourses and click the “Help” link on the left-hand side of any page.