May 12, 2022

Preparing educational continuity in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic (opinion)

Educators and administrators on university and college campuses are weighing a wide range of issues as they work to understand and prepare for a possible coronavirus pandemic. This essay asks the question: Is your university/college prepared to deal with the associated disruptions in terms of maintaining educational continuity for students?

The potential consequences of the global coronavirus outbreak for our institution (Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia) became real when students from one of our international programs in Italy told us that their host university had suspended education to prevent the spread of the virus. We have recommended that these students consider returning home, but have considered how to support these students in completing their spring semester classes in light of SJU’s requirement to wait 14 days before return to campus.

Among our questions: Could students reasonably be expected to take more than two eight-week online courses to complete the semester? Have we developed enough suitable courses? Would faculty members be willing to develop independent studies for these students during the upcoming spring break? Would these independent studies be stand-alone courses or would they try to complete courses not completed but started abroad? Could an elective credit be granted for the almost half-semester course already taken abroad? There are no easy solutions to maintaining educational continuity for these students, but planning helps.

Our planning began by building on a variety of pathways to maintain continuity of education for students in the event of short-term disruptions such as weather-related school closures, power outages, instructor illnesses and temporary building closures.

But now instructors are encouraged to prepare for three levels of disruption. A lower level disruption would only affect specific students and instructors. The institution would continue its normal activities. Moderate level disruptions may occur if the university were to close the campus for up to a week and/or during final exam week. A high-level disruption would occur if the campus is closed for more than a week and/or during final exam week.

When only a few students/instructors are impacted by low-level disruptions such as faculty illness, classmate death, etc., most adjustments can be made using existing processes. For example, course assignments could be revised and due dates could be extended. An additional course session could be scheduled. Individual course completion requirements could be determined and exams could be invigilated by substitute instructors.

However, be prepared for the closure of the entire establishment for a week or more and/or a break in the final exam week (as might be the case if, upon returning from spring break, students, instructors, and/or administrators fear the spread of the coronavirus), prompt preparations should be made by both the institution and the faculty.

At the institutional level, appropriate technologies need to be widely disseminated and training resources made accessible, especially for instructors who typically do not rely on a learning management system (LMS) or other computer-based instructional tools. . Instructional Technology Offices may need to hold technology virtual classroom sessions and/or instructor counseling sessions in the event of longer-term disruptions to normal campus operations. A contact person on campus should be identified to channel questions appropriately. Obviously, campus-wide communication strategies should already be in place.

Instructors would likely rely heavily on successful online teaching strategies should a university or college close due to a coronavirus pandemic. These may include virtual office hours and instructor talks, live or recorded lectures made available online, live chat or discussion forums, and online submission of assignments and other materials for course evaluation.

The following table illustrates some of the options that SJU has made available to instructors, starting with options for lower level disruptions that only affect a small group of students and instructors. Note that some of the instructional strategies listed further down the table require some form of planning. before to the disruption of the class/course itself, and that all students must be informed now how faculty plan to maintain communications if classes can no longer be offered on campus.

Pedagogical strategy

learning activity

Proof of student attendance or participation

Invite a guest speaker to speak to the class or ask a colleague to cover the class in your absence.

If necessary, students complete an assignment such as a reflection or a written summary.

Completion of assignment or assessment on material (e.g. guest speaker material will appear on midterm exam, etc.).

Encourage students to attend a lecture or an extracurricular event.

Students complete an assignment such as a reflection or a written summary of the activity. Alternate assignment is available for those unable to participate in the activity.

Completion of an event-related assignment or assessment, or completion of an alternate assignment.

Condense previously assigned material to fit fewer class sessions while still meeting course learning outcomes.

Students may be asked to read more pages for a particular class session or independently review and summarize a skipped reading.

Students achieve course objectives, verified by assessments.

Host a web conferencing session using campus-supported video conferencing software at the assigned class time or at another time if needed.

Read a summary of faculty lecture notes or view a copy of the video recording if a student misses the live lecture.

Attendance and participation are recorded during the web conferencing session.

Video lectures or self-contained topic/chapter narrated slides. Subtitling is required.

Watch the video conference and complete a task such as writing a summary, answering specific questions, and/or posting to a blog or discussion forum related to the video conference.

Completion of the assignment or assessment on the material.

Independent assignment / take away.

Independently perform additional readings or assigned video views. Videos must be captioned.

Completion of the assignment or assessment on the material.

* Much of the content in this table comes from guidance developed and approved by the SJU’s Educational Continuity Planning Committee, which has been working on guidance for short-term, low-level disruptions.

These teaching strategies may vary from course to course or semester to semester, depending on course content and when the break occurs. They could also vary depending on the anticipated duration of the disruption. In addition, dance lessons, music ensemble practices, or private singing/dancing lessons as well as courses such as studio arts, student teaching placements, internships, and co-op programs are not covered. not easily within the scope of these guidelines. Higher education institutions could solicit suggestions for educational continuity from departments and programs that offer such courses.

As in all unforeseen circumstances, faculty, staff and students will all need to be flexible with each other and work together if an educational continuity plan for students is to be effective. With a small number of students involved in our study abroad in Italy, we are currently able to work with them on an individual basis.

But without planning, what if a critical mass of parents call their daughters/sons home to protect them and our classrooms start emptying in the face of the current fear of COVID-19?

This is not an eventuality we were prepared to be unprepared for.