Developing a Backup Plan for Remote Instruction

Developing a Backup Plan for Remote Instruction

If the past year has taught us anything in higher education, it’s that having a backup plan for teaching remotely is a good idea. And maybe a backup to that backup plan, just in case of technology problems. IU is working hard to keep the campus healthy, and we are hopeful that our semester will go smoothly, but making a backup plan for remote teaching will make any disruptions to your class less challenging for everyone.

The Keep Teaching site has lots of information on how you can teach remotely. What we are talking about here is how to find that right level of backup planning to let you (and your students) enter the fall semester with a bit more confidence, knowing you are capable of adapting to changing situations, if needed. (As an aside, the Keep Teaching site predates the pandemic, promoting preparedness and backup planning for years.)

The recommendations below can be instituted in a variety of situations—you being sick or needing to isolate for a week, some of your students needing to be remote for those reasons, or (less likely) the entire campus pivoting to remote instruction.

Talk to your students about your plans.

Various surveys of college students show that they are excited about returning to campus, but stressed about the potential of things going sideways again. Letting them know you have a plan will likely ease their minds, knowing any instructional changes won’t be as haphazard as the spring of 2020. Talk to your students openly about being ready for any needed adaptations. Tell them:

  • If they get sick or need to isolate, here is how you are going to keep them engaged in the class. You’ve got their backs, and here are your expectations for what they need to do, and how you will help them.
  • If you get sick or need to isolate, here is the plan for keeping the class going.
  • If you have to pivot the whole class to being remote, here is what you’ll do.

Try to engage your students as partners in any needed adaptations, pointing out that you’ll get through any challenges together.

Pick the right depth of backup plan.

Planning a class is a big endeavor; planning it out for two separate scenarios can be overwhelming for you and your students. Find that level of backup planning that will let you transition while not being burdensome. For example, coming up with a 17-point policy to govern how a student may work remotely for a week or two is likely overkill; it will not seem very supportive of the student, and it probably won’t address the reality of most situations anyway. General guidelines paired with flexibility will make the best plans.

Build a bit of a buffer into your schedule and some flexibility into your policies.

If you need to pivot to remote instruction—for the whole class or just a few students—things will inevitably move more slowly for at least a few days while everyone settles into new procedures. Do you have a bit of a buffer in your semester schedule, or know where you can trim a few days? And how can you adapt your policies, course schedule, and assignments to give students a break if they need to isolate and lose a few days? You might let everyone drop a low score or two, give them a few no-excuse extensions, or let them resubmit assignments.

Practice with the technologies and approaches early in the semester.

Don’t plan on switching to totally new technologies and instructional approaches if you need to pivot to remote instruction, either fully or for a few students. Instead, be ready to shift more towards tools and activities you already use. For example, use Kaltura a bit in your course now, making classroom recordings or creating short introductory videos for new units. Then if you need to rely on Kaltura more extensively for remote instruction, you and your students already have some experience with it. Or use Zoom for office hours or study sessions. Or use Inscribe for class Q&A. Or use Google Docs for collaborative course notes and activities. Think about how you’d teach remotely or keep a remote student engaged with the course, and then incorporate some mini-versions of those approaches into your class now.

Make sure you establish flexibility clearly in your policies to promote equity.

If you assume students will ask for flexibility if they get sick or need to isolate, you may unintentionally be privileging students who already feel empowered to ask for help, and disadvantaging those who don't have that background. Try to clearly establish that flexibility in your course policies (e.g. free extension tokens or flexible assignment deadlines) and encourage everyone to use it. And be ready to reach out to students who vanish from class or miss assignments, since they may need some extra support keeping up in your class while getting through illness or isolation; Canvas’s Message Students Who tool is useful for this task in large classes.

Creating backup plans for your course doesn’t need to be a painful experience. Don’t try to account for every eventuality, or feel like you have to plan alternative assignments in complete detail. The point is to prepare enough to be nimble if you need to, to give yourself some confidence going into a semester of unknowns, and to let students know you are ready to keep their education going, whatever comes our way. Take a bit of the worry off all our shoulders so that we can concentrate on teaching, learning, building community, and having a rewarding fall semester.

If you want help developing a plan, thinking through course policy changes, or integrating any of the technologies mentioned here, contact us at the CITL for a consultation.