Winter is starting to descend on the Northeastern part of the United States. The days are getting shorter. The nights are getting colder and words like “chance of snow showers” are undoubtedly on the horizon. With the unpredictable nature of weather, it is probably a good time to start thinking about what happens in the event of an inclement weather day. With the prevalence of online tools, a face-to-face instructor has more options than forcing students to navigate icy roads to attend a lecture. While technology creates opportunities for moving a class online, planning ahead is critical. Here are some suggestions that can help make the inclement weather days a little more productive.
1. Schedule a mock online day with your students. With the options available in tools like Blackboard Collaborate, Adobe Connect and Google Hangouts, almost any class can be moved online easily. But these tools take a little practice to master. Have your students bring their laptops to your face-to-face class and have them join a synchronous classroom. Teach a short mini-lesson with them and walk around to show them how to use some of the engagement tools. While this may sound time consuming, it’s important to remember that by troubleshooting the technology issues during a practice lesson, you will save yourself and your students a world of problems down the road.
2. Make your expectations clear. Explain to your students what you plan to do on an inclement weather day and how you plan to communicate any schedule changes. If you’re teaching an early morning or evening class, detail when students should expect you to email them. You want to keep in mind that while some students may live on campus, others may travel from a distance to attend your class. Emailing fifteen before class won’t save anyone a treacherous drive.
3. If you build it, they will come. Another option for an inclement weather day is to schedule an asynchronous emergency module that you can quickly assign when you need it. Some topics can be easily moved throughout a semester without really damaging the flow of the course. In my Instructional Technology class, for instance, I have a self-contained online module that covers copyright laws ready to assign whenever it’s needed. With a few clicks, the module can be up and running and students can still be productive despite a weather interruption.
4. Understand your institution’s inclement weather policies. Before you schedule an online replacement for a canceled face-to-face class, ask around to find out how your school handles cancellations and delays. Some institutions don’t require students to participate in rescheduled classes. Others may leave make-up classes at the instructor’s discretion. Regardless, you need to factor your institution’s policies into your inclement weather plan.
5. Be flexible. With some of the weird weather issues you’re likely to face, it’s important to flexible with students. Last winter, I moved a face-to-face class online because of an impending ice storm. As the storm hit, some students lost power and were unable to participate in the lesson. When the weather cleared, I communicated to the missing students that I understood their absence and directed them to watch the recorded session and complete the online assignment.