Flexible Learning Options in the Event of an Interruption to Normal Operations or Pandemic at Brock University

Flexible Learning Options in the Event of an Interruption to Normal Operations or Pandemic at Brock University

For faculty and instructors, it is always a good idea to have a contingency plan in place in the event that you are unable to attend class due to illness or emergency. It is even a better idea to design programs and courses in such a way that students can continue to learn and be assessed if classes are disrupted due to any number of unforeseen circumstances.

This has become more critical recently given the current discussions taking place around emergency planning in the event of a H1N1 pandemic (please visit www.brocku.ca/pandemicflu). Both students and/or instructors may need to be absent from classes to look after family members, to look after themselves, or as a precautionary measure in the event of an outbreak on campus.  For faculty, instructors and teaching assistants at Brock University, considering and developing alternative delivery and communication options is important in the event of a pandemic: building flexibility into your course and assessment design can mean that teaching and learning can continue with minimal disruption.

The Centre for Pedagogical Innovation (CPI) has compiled a list of “best practices” in teaching and learning that incorporate flexibility and individual accommodation in the delivery and assessment of courses. The following list provides recommendations for course design, the use of technology and contingency planning for course delivery. This is not an exhaustive list and will be updated/revised as other options become available. The CPI is happy to assist Brock University instructors in designing courses with flexible learning options and in developing instructional plans in the event of illness.  
Course and Syllabus Design:
Your course outline provides essential information to students about course expectations, what happens in the event of late assignments, class absences, cancelled exams etc. Posting your course outline on the web can allow students to access it at any time from anywhere so this document becomes an important part of your communication with students about course procedures. Include clear policies on your course outline regarding communication channels (email, Sakai, turn around time for communication between instructor and students), and any policies pertaining to course assessment such as late assignments due to illness. Consider whether your policies build in flexibility in the event of student illness. For example, the requirement for medical documentation in the event of an absence may be problematic if physician offices ask that people stay home if exhibiting mild flu-like symptoms. You might also consider developing alternate forms of assignment submission (such as email, Isaak/Sakai or Turnitin) so that students do not have to physically come to campus (see section on Technology below). In this event it is important to be clear about how you want assignments to be submitted and what wording should appear in the subject line of electronic submissions.
Having multiple forms of assessment can also be helpful in terms of creating flexibility for students who may be ill. The weighting of different assignments can then be shifted or modified according to individual needs. This also helps reduce student anxiety about how they will be assessed if they should miss some course components.
There are a number of options available to Brock instructors to facilitate learning in both the face to face and the online environment. Becoming familiar with these tools and using them in your classes now means that you will be able to more readily move into the online environment should that become necessary.
Putting course resources on a web site or in Brock University’s Learning Management System (Isaak/Sakai) means that students can access course documents, take part in discussions and complete assignments electronically. Familiarize yourself with this resource by visiting CPI, taking a workshop or setting up a consultation to develop a course site. You may opt to use online tools for course discussions, to process student submissions and to return marks. Tools such as wikis and blogs can also be used to carry out course discussions.

Instructors can request a course space in Isaak, Brock University's Sakai-based system, by going to https://lms.brocku.ca/ and selecting "Instructors: Click here to request a site". Requests are normally processed within two business days; in the event of a pandemic the CPI will approve appropriate requests in, on the same day in these exceptional scenarios.

A podcast is free audio or video content which is delivered to its subscribers automatically and can be listened to at the listener’s convenience. Many listeners choose to have these radio-style programs automatically added to their iPod, which is where the name originated, but any MP3 player will work and/or a computer with speakers.  All that is really needed is Apple’s music player and music store, iTunes.
The content of podcasts can either be in an audio-only format or in an audio/video format. Audio files are simpler to produce, faster to download, and easier for the listener to integrate into the rest of their life, but video can convey a lot more information.
Audio podcasts can be recorded by almost anything electronic with a microphone and that create an MP3  or AAC file. Video can be from a screen or can be captured on a camera such as a digital video camera, a web cam or similar device. Screen captures or Screencasts  of an instructor narrating actions on screen or presenting a PowerPoint presentation or Apple Keynote presentation are very well suited to podcasting.
Podcasts can be distributed through the Isaak/Sakai Podcasting tool, or by requesting a Brock University on iTunes U podcast.
Turnitin.com can be used by instructors to accept electronic submissions from students and generate an originality report based on that submission.  Although you may not be planning to use Turnitin, notifying the students on your course outline that they may be required to use it allows you to access this tool later in the semester, if needed. If you use Turnitin, you must also provide an alternate form of assignment submission should a student decide to opt out. Turnitin also provides peer review tools which give students the ability to review and respond to their classmates' work online. For more information about Turnitin, visit http://www.brocku.ca/turnitin/.
Elluminate is a desktop based application that any instructor can sing-up to use with their students and other small learning groups.  Instructors can lead students through a whiteboard based presentation, share audio and video, share their computer screen and allow students to share the same items with the rest of the class.  Elluminate can be a good alternative to small-group learning experiences.
To conduct meetings with small groups of undergraduate/graduate students or to hold office hours, instructors may wish to use Skype, a free program available at: http://www.skype.com/  Skype is limited to five people on a conference call, and fifty people in a text chat.  Additionally you will need to know the “handle” of the participants in order to invite them.
Other tools that provide video and conferencing capabilities are currently being explored at Brock University and should be available in the near future. This document will be reviewed and updated as alternative options become available.
Contingency Planning
Check with your department about policies or procedures that may be in place in the event of instructor or student illness. It is always a good idea to collaborate with another instructor who can take your place should you become ill. Having a back-up plan ( and a detailed lesson plan) that allows you to ask someone to step in can also be helpful. Preparing online discussion questions, course content review and or extra class assignments – and having these readily available in the departmental office - means that someone can assist with the instruction of your class with as little disruption as possible.
The CPI houses a small library of resources that may be helpful to you in reflecting on your course design and delivery. Feel free to drop by TH253B to review these resources or to discuss any of the suggestions listed above. You may also contact the CPI at ext 4392 or by email to jgrose@brocku.ca.
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