Planning for and Managing Potential Classroom Interruptions
At UMUC, we are fortunate that our learning management system, WebTycho, has an excellent track record of availability. Typically, it is up and running 100 percent of the time. In recent years, there has been only one unplanned outage (in 2007, due to application changes) spanning a few days of intermittent usability. A situation such as this— rare as it may be—can cause confusion to all involved. In addition, it can shake one’s confidence in relying exclusively on electronic technologies.
Considering downtime possibilities coupled with the general atmosphere of continuity and disaster recovery planning, the Academic Technology Steering Committee commissioned a cross-institutional group to reflect on the issue. The ultimate goal of the group was to prepare a set of guidelines that could serve as a classroom continuity and communication plan for faculty during a similar outage or one that may be caused by external forces. The Center for Support of Instruction—with assistance from IT, the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Registrar’s Office, SUS, and GSMT—collected tips and tricks from directors, faculty, and students and developed basic guidelines for stateside faculty to help foster academic continuity in the face of unplanned incidents. Compiled into the UMUC Classroom Interruption Planning Guide, these guidelines emphasize effective strategies that will allow faculty to continue teaching and communicating with students if online or onsite classes become inaccessible for extended periods of time.
So, if you teach for UMUC, how will you communicate with online students if no one can get into the classroom for more than a day? If you teach a face-to-face class, how will you continue teaching if your classroom site is closed for more than one class meeting?
By following a few simple steps, you do not have to be left scrambling to connect with students. It is easy to ameliorate these circumstances by having student contact information and backups of teaching materials offline—using great care with all privileged and sensitive information—so that learning and teaching activities need not be suspended. Many of the suggestions noted in the Planning Guide are, in fact, commonsense tasks that can be likened to flossing teeth: unexciting but easy activities that we should probably devote more time and thought to than we actually do. While not official policy, the guidelines are useful tools for our 21st century faculty who teach at an institution committed to student success.
Similar to an emergency planning document, the Planning Guide highlights what you can do to prepare in advance of an extended classroom interruption, what to do if the classroom actually does get interrupted for a period of time, and how to get back to normal classroom operations when it has been deemed safe to do so. It also discusses what to do when Library services are unavailable as well as alternative tools and technologies you may want to use, if needed, during an outage.
Based on UMUC's excellent technology availability, we hope that you will never need to use this document beyond the suggested initial planning and preparation tasks. However, it is always better to be safe than sorry—especially when hindsight continues to be 20/20 and, most importantly, we can learn from lessons of the past. At a minimum, please practice the Top 7 items at least for advance preparation, skim the Planning Guide, print it out, keep a copy of it in easily retrievable locations, follow its detailed suggestions when needed, and then sit back and get ready to teach as always—knowing that if our extremely dependable environment is negatively impacted, you now have a backup plan ready and can continue with the business of educating your students.