Teaching During a Disruption

Teaching during times of disruption requires creative and flexible thinking about how we can support students in achieving core course learning outcomes.

This is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Faculty are encouraged to talk to their program teams and Chairs to see about collaborative solutions. Preparedness to be agile and to contend with steady flux for a while will be important. Some things may not work and may require swift alterations in plans. 

While these circumstances feel unfamiliar and possibly at times frustrating, it might help to remember there are immense numbers of us who are in the same boat and who are very interested in collaborating in numerous ways. 

Getting Started

In a disruptive time, it may be hard to begin to figure out where to even start to plan next steps. Here are some suggestions.

Communicate with your students as soon as you can

Even if you don’t have a plan in place yet, communicate with your students as soon as possible, informing them that changes are coming and what your first order of expectations are for checking email or Blackboard. Encourage students to check the George Brown College website for current information on the evolving circumstances.

Consider realistic goals for continuing instruction

Open up your Course Outline and consider it carefully. What do you think you and your students can realistically accomplish between now and the end of the semester? What elements might have to be changed? For example, do you hope students will keep up with the reading and assignments to sustain structure and continuity? Do you want to keep them engaged with each other and with the course content while you alter the assessments?

Review your course schedule to determine priorities

Identify your priorities during the disruption. This might include providing lectures, structuring new opportunities for discussion or group work, collecting assignments, etc. Are there content elements that simply must be eliminated? What can or must be transformed into online delivery? Give yourself a little flexibility in that schedule, just in case the situation takes less or more time to resolve than you think.

Review your syllabus for points that must change

What will have to temporarily change in your Course Outline (policies, due dates, assignments, etc.)? Since students will also be thrown off by the changes, they will appreciate details whenever you can provide them, even if it's an assurance you are re-thinking things and will return with details.

Pick tools and approaches familiar to you and your students 

Try to rely on tools and workflows that are familiar to you and your students, and roll out new tools only when absolutely necessary. Information about COVID-19 is changing hourly and it may be already taxing everyone’s mental and emotional energy; introducing a lot of new tools and approaches cause frustration and leave even less energy and attention for learning.

Identify your new expectations for students

You will have to reconsider some of your expectations for students, including participation, communication, and deadlines. As you think through those changes, keep in mind the impact this situation may have on students’ ability to meet those expectations, including illness, lacking power or internet connections, or needing to care for family members. Be ready to handle requests for extensions or accommodations equitably.

Create a more detailed communications plan 

Once you have more details about changes in the class, communicate them to students, along with more information about how they can contact you (email, online office hours, etc.). A useful communication plan also lets students know how soon they can expect a reply. They will have many questions, so try to figure out how you want to manage that.

Other quick-start resources for ideas to get started:

Alternative Assessments & Activities

During an on-campus disruption, you may be seeking options for alternative assessments which can be completed off-campus. In some cases, it may be prohibitively challenging for students to carry out an assessment remotely which is normally done in person, and this may require some re-thinking of the assessment or of the tools used to convey students' achievement of learning.

Below are some options to consider. Here the focus is on alternative tools, but keep in mind that it might be a good idea to reconsider the assessment itself -- is there another way that students can demonstrate that they have achieved specific outcomes? 

Note that this list is not comprehensive; you may have other tools or approaches that work better for your context. You can always consider inviting students to make suggestions for tools or approaches that work for them, as long as the submission of the work is something you (the professor) can access.

Note: Where links to Blackboard (Bb) links are provided below, be sure to view the classic (or 'Learn;) instructions; we are not currently on Blackboard Ultra with the exception of Collaborate Ultra for live online meetings.

Off-campus alternatives

In-class Written Assignments

  • Blackboard Assignment Tool
  • Text-based assignments submitted in the body of an email (or as an attachment)

Student Presentations

Tests & Quizzes

  • Blackboard Tests tool
  • Timed open-book short answer test submitted by email 
  • At-home proctored online test (may be coming soon; stay tuned for updates on possible availability)

Group Assignments

  • Blackboard Group tool
  • Allow students to choose tools or approaches that they are comfortable with for off-campus collaboration

Creative Production of Physical Objects

  • Have students create the object and take photos of it to submit along with a description in any of the communication tools above

Student Lab/Demo Assignments

  • Students can use cellphones to record short lab live demos; longer demos can be captured in multiple clips 
  • Students can upload to their own YouTube account ( “unlisted” if preferred)
  • Links can be shared in Blackboard Assignment Tool for individual grading or Blackboard Discussion Boards for peer feedback 
  • Some classes may already be familiar with flipgrd 

Alternative Communication

In typical on-campus classes, you may have 3 contact hours in class per week, during which you communicate directly with students. In times of disruption, alternative communication options can be as simple as email exchanges or employ more advanced technology to mediate exchanges.

To send reminders and updates:

Some options include

If you are already using Microsoft Teams with your class, you might choose to continue doing so.

To have real-time (synchronous) interaction with students:

Some options include 

To have asynchronous interaction with students:

Some options include

Accessible Learning Services

As the College moves courses to off-campus and alternate delivery, students will continue to have unique needs that require accommodation. Please remember to reach out to your Accessibility Consultant by email for individual accommodation questions. 

The College continues to provide accommodation support to students with disabilities. Accommodation plans can be accessed through STU-VIEW.

Accessible Documents: 

Here are some resources to support accessible course content:

Faculty can use A11y (an accessibility checker built into Blackboard) to check documents

Assessment Centre and Testing

The George Brown College Assessment Centre is administering some online tests. Visit the Assessment Centre website or direct any questions to Jeff Reynolds, Manager, Assessment Center.