Updated Sept. 16, 2015
The “storm of the century” is probably not yet behind us, so in this tip we remind you to set up your emergency cancellation contingency plans now, so that when the unexpected comes, you’re ready. In the Tech Tip last year, we described some tools you have available to set up asynchronous and synchronous activities. Things change with technology all the time, so here’s an updated list of tools, and some suggestions for low-tech alternatives.
Discussion boards: These are a great way to get students discussing a topic in writing. They work best for open-ended discussions rather than for content delivery. The Blackboard discussion board is a versatile tool, and a great choice if you already use Blackboard, since you can integrate a rubric and link directly to your course’s gradebook. If you’re ready to try something new this semester, consider setting up a Google Group instead.
If you have a small class, conduct a discussion by email. Assign a reading and have students discuss via “reply all.” This might be useful on those occasions when Blackboard is offline.
Online collaborative writing: Blogs (like QWriting) and wikis (like Wikispaces) are great ways to get students to write collaboratively about a topic related to your course. You can also unleash your students on the collaborative spaces available through Google Docs or Google Presentations, which permit some of the most sophisticated real-time collaboration tools we have seen.
Prepare backup plans for any type of (not just weather-related) cancellation. Include them in your syllabus as “Contingency plan I, II, and III” etc. They could be as simple as “the research bibliography search gets moved to an earlier date;” a specific questionnaire on an article; or “share your favorite subject-author or theory and contest it or explain it.”
YouTube: Record podcasts directly into YouTube. All you need is a webcam, mic, and your YouTube account. If you’ve claimed your QC Google Apps account, use the same log in for YouTube.
Blackboard Collaborate is a video conferencing tool that you can use to record lectures. See below for its use as a virtual classroom.
Online real-time class sessions can be run with any of the following:
Blackboard Collaborate (within Blackboard, best for classes, no limit on participants, linked to courses). For best results, have practice sessions early in the semester: have students bring their devices to class and test the system during class time.
Google Hangouts through our Google Apps for Education account, will support video meetings for up to 15 people, and broadcasting on YouTube (Hangouts On Air),
What about a low-tech plan?
Maybe you’re not ready to try one of the strategies above. You should still plan ahead, and specify in your syllabus and discuss in class what students should do in the event of a cancellation, planned or unplanned.
Remember that Queens College has a policy regarding missed classes. According to the policy, your department chair must approve planned absences in advance, and you should notify your department chair as soon as possible regarding an unplanned cancellation. You are responsible for arranging a makeup class (which must be different from the date of the final examination), so pick a makeup day in advance and put it on your syllabus as a placeholder. Then consider what a change in the schedule could mean for assignments coming up later in the semester: you will need to adjust due dates.
Also be sure that you tell your students where to look for information about emergencies: encourage them to sign up for CUNY A!ert, and remind them that the QC website will post updates on the front page and on its Emergency Preparedness page, as well as via QC Facebook and QC Twitter.
Where to go for help:
Don’t feel you need to have the most sophisticated plan in place: try something you are familiar with. But if you want to try something new and want some advice, contact us. CTL’s Instructional Technologists have the following expertise:
Blogs and wikis, Google, Blackboard: Rob Garfield (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Lecture capturing and podcasting: Jean Kelly (email@example.com)
ePortfolio, Google: Rachel Stern (firstname.lastname@example.org)