Needless to say, snow days can really throw a wrench into the semester. And sure, it can be great to have an unexpected day off. But who really wants the semester to last longer or extend further into exam week? One solution is to weatherproof (or emergency-proof) your course, and Learning Support Services (LSS) has developed a few quick and simple strategies to help Mason faculty prepare for the inevitable.

“One of the rumors running around campus is that you can’t teach if campus is closed. Not true!” says Joseph Balducci, Manager of the Online Learning Resources team in LSS. “Snow is the latest set of challenges, but think of whole realm of reasons to create some flexibility within your course schedule. Converting a few things that you were going to do in class to an online environment is one really easy way to reclaim some of that class time.”

Artful Preparation

For Lynne Scott Constantine, an Assistant Professor in the School of Art, the lessons learned from last February have inspired careful planning and preparation for future snow days. In fact, she now includes her students in a weatherproofing conversation at the start of the semester. Also, through a range of alternate assignments like written responses and podcasts, students can complete coursework asynchronously and stay on track for the semester. With the discussion board in Blackboard, the interactivity of this seminar-style course can continue to flourish online.

“To be honest, I live in fear of anything resembling the challenges of last spring!” she shares. “I think the experience has changed my teaching in two specific ways: first…I now think of classroom management as a joint responsibility, [asking] students to talk through tough issues with me for a shared response; second, I have tried to rethink the thread of the [course] ‘narrative’ not as a taut directional line but as a series of loops and spirals.”

For faculty members who find that snow days cause a major disruption to the course schedule or even to class morale, they might consider Professor Constantine’s strategy from last spring – to ‘reboot’ the course. “We decided to make fools of ourselves,” she explains. “I brought in eight instruments, anything from a bass to a flute to an accordion. Everyone randomly chose a song to play on an instrument that they’d never played before, and it totally changed the feel of the class! Just let the students help you figure out the best solution.”

Resources and Support

In the event of an emergency or weather crisis that prevents students from attending class, Learning Support Services (LSS) has developed an academic preparedness guide to introduce alternative instructional options to Mason faculty. Topics cover communicating with students, delivering lectures and presentations, collecting assignments, and providing feedback, just to name a few. Also, several Just-in-Time videos are available for faculty who would like to become more familiar with Blackboard.

“Through discussion boards, blogs, wikis, even Kaltura, you can convert classroom activities to the online environment. But moving assignments or lectures online doesn’t mean that you have to rely on a tool that’s unfamiliar. It may even be as low-tech as phone conference or an optional study session,” says Balducci. “Just set clear expectations for your students. Put something in your syllabus to prepare them for alternative solutions.”

For more information and tips for weatherproofing your course, visit the Learning Support Services website.

Integrated directly into your course, Blackboard Collaborate is the perfect tool for virtual class meetings or office hours. See the LSS website for other Just-in-Time videos. Video courtesy of LSS.