Teaching During A Pandemic Flu Season

The number of cases of H1N1 virus in Missouri continue to escalate and MU instructors confirm the importance of planning ahead for the unexpected. Having contingency plans to ensure uninterrupted teaching and learning have already benefited several MU faculty who began noticing student absences within a few weeks after the start of Fall semester. The most successful plans appear to include at least 4 general characteristics.

1. Prepare & Practice.

Prioritizing course requirements, becoming proficient with appropriate technologies, and digitizing course materials helps instructors feel more at ease during these uncertain times. A helpful resource to have at hand while choosing, and working with, new teaching technologies is ET@MO’s Faculty to Guide to Teaching and Learning with Technology. Instructors may also request access to ET@MO’s model Blackboard course site by sending an e-mail to blackboard@missouri.edu. Some instructors go the extra step of preparing by arranging for peer-instruction with a colleague who is willing to substitute teach if needed. Remember that viruses can survive on a surface 2 to 8 hours – use disposable wipes to clean desk tops, computers, keyboards, remote controls, door knobs, light switches, phones, or headsets.

2. Be Flexible.

Instructors who use Blackboard or Sakai course sites as a regular part of their courses have an automatic back-up communication system for students who cannot attend class. Additionally, many MU teachers are flexible in assignment guidelines and deadlines – allowing students choices of assignment formats, requiring digital submissions where possible, and encouraging use of small-group communication tools online for group projects. Likewise, flexibility in exam formats can be beneficial (for example, provide take-home exams or increase the number of exams so that the lowest score may be dropped. And finally, some students’ situations may require even greater flexibility for assignment/exam deadlines if they do not have easy access to a computer or do not have high-speed internet access at their recuperation location.

3. Keep In Touch.

Instructors recommend maintaining a list of important contacts such as the dean/department chair, substitute instructor, and building coordinator in case you become ill. Also know how to access students’ contact information in myZou through the Class Roster. When faced with a significant number of student absences, however, there is more that we can do to facilitate continued communication

  • Encourage peer support (i.e., to share notes and updates)
  • Assess online class participation by monitoring the quality of participation and comments in group discussions
  • Communicate regularly with your online students so they do not feel isolated
  • Remind students of your contingency plan for assignment/exam completion

4. Stay Alert.

During the flu season, MU instructors find themselves carefully monitoring students and student absences. And as the course starts shifting more to online teaching to accommodate absent students, instructors may consider soliciting student feedback. MU’s MoCAT (Missouri Cares About Teaching) survey tool is an excellent resource for checking comfort-levels with the course and identifying areas that need reorganizing or clarification. For courses that incorporate an online site, it is also helpful to alert students to the location of important course documents as well as the differences between face-to-face discussions and online discussions.