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Otterbein Academic Continuity

This guide is designed to give suggestions and support for when there are obstacles for face-to-face instruction. For instance, a snow day, power outage, and other unplanned closures.

Keep Teaching

Plan, Adapt, and Communicate

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 a crisis 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 save you dealing with 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 crisis 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. Let them know, too, if you are using the Canvas Inbox tool, since they may need to update their notification preferences (details in the next section).
  • 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 [Blackboard], and then encourage students to check there first for answers before emailing you.[]

Deliver Lectures

Depending on your course, you may need to deliver some lectures to keep the course moving along. Be aware, though, that a 45-minute live lecture sprinkled with questions and activities can become grueling when delivered online without intellectual breaks. Here are a few suggestions to improve online lectures:

Record in small chunks: Even the best online speakers keep it brief; think of the brevity of TED talks. We learn better with breaks to process and apply new information. To aid student learning, record any lectures in shorter (5-10 minute) chunks, and intersperse them with small activities that give students opportunities to process the new knowledge, make connections to other concepts, apply an idea, or make some notes in response to prompts. Smaller chunks also lead to smaller files, especially when using voiced-over PowerPoint presentations.
Be flexible with live video: Lecturing live with Zoom is certainly possible, and it best approximates a classroom setting, since students can ask questions. However, a crisis might mean some students won't have access to fast internet connections, and others may have their schedules disrupted. So, record any live classroom session, and be flexible about how students can attend and participate.
It's not just about content: If a crisis is disrupting classes, lectures can mean more than just providing course content; they also establish a sense of normalcy and a personal connection. In online courses, we talk about the importance of "instructor presence", and that's just as true during short-term online stints. So, consider ways that you can use lectures to make students feel connected and cared about: acknowledgement of current challenges, praise for good work, and reminders about the class being a community. This affective work can help their learning during a difficult time. []


[Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University]

"Science labs are often either integrated as components of larger lecture courses (lab sections) or comprise the entirety of smaller lab courses.  In both scenarios it is worth defining what the labs are meant to achieve before selecting an online alternative. Below are three possible scenarios based on the focus of the labs.  Since your labs are likely a combination of these scenarios then you could likewise combine these recommendations keeping in mind the appropriate level of time commitment for the combined activities. 

(1) If the focus is on learning techniques and their application to specific experimental situations, consider asking your students to engage in online simulations that may cover at least portions of, if not the entirety of a protocol. 

Harvard’s LabXchange has just released a suite of lab simulations with assessments that focus on basic molecular biology techniques; MERLOT offers a collection of virtual labs in a variety of science disciplines; PHET offers interactive simulations that allow students to vary parameters; and many textbooks also provide interactive lab-based resources.

You might consider having your students watch videos of experiments; you can ask your students to first make predictions and then discuss the results. The Journal of Visualized Experiments offers thousands of videos of experiments, including many designed for students.

(2) If the focus is on interpreting experimental data, consider extracting datasets from the published literature that are aligned with the experiments students would have encountered in lab and develop problem sets that focus on the interpretation of the data.  One could also combine the experimental protocols with interspersed questions that explore the reasons behind specific steps so that students gain deeper intuition into why certain procedures are performed. In place of actually performing the experiment, students can gain a critique-based understanding of the method followed by data interpretation.

One type of question you may want to ask students involves providing them with a random sequence of steps involved in the experimental methodology, and asking them to put them in the correct logical order. This requires students to critically understand why each step has to come before the next in a protocol. You can also provide students with a blank step, which they would need to fill in for themselves once they identify what step is missing. An example of such a question from LabXchange can be found here (click on "Design" on the right-hand side).

(3) If the focus is on project-based lab research, as is often the case in lab courses, your students have already been working on their projects since the start of the term.  Furthermore, there is usually a capstone assignment in the form of a final paper, grant application and/or poster that describes their work, both with context and future directions defined.  Consider asking your students to switch to the capstone assignment now with an emphasis on interpreting the data they have already gathered or if they have not generated their own data yet, focus on having them predict their experimental outcomes and design the next experimental steps in detail.  Divide up the rest of the semester into draft submissions of sections of the capstone that will allow you to provide formative feedback and enable your students to experience experimental design, further hypothesis building, and predictive data analysis. This approach aligns especially well with a written capstone styled like a grant application.

The above recommendations combine what resources are available to support virtual lab exercises with assignments that combine data interpretation with the experience of experimental design, hypothesis building, and self-reflexive critiques of the methods and outcomes that students develop."

ARTS, especially Ceramics [University of Michigan]

One more addition: A crowdsourced document for teaching ceramics online has been started if it's helpful:

And there's a Facebook group for teaching studio art in an era of social distancing:

Academic Continuity-other institutions