If you were in the extensive path of Irma, like I was, then this week has probably changed drastically from what you imagined when you wrote this semester’s syllabus. My campus has been closed for classes since last Thursday, and won’t re-open for students until next Monday. In the great scheme of the impact of a tremendous storm like this one (or Harvey), the loss of instructional time is relatively minor, but it will present challenges for all of us faculty looking ahead to meet the learning outcomes of our courses this semester.
I’ve talked about some of the challenges unexpected cancellations present before in the context of snow days: of course once I moved south, I didn’t take my own advice and eliminated catch-up days from my syllabus. That’s not uncommon, as I’ve talked to many faculty in a similar situations looking at a syllabus with no planned-in room for even a small closing, much less the large-scale closures that this type of hurricane brings. In the future, I’ll definitely be re-integrating a make-up day into my syllabus and using it for additional current topics in the event it isn’t needed. For now, I’m looking at the best options for consolidating assignments and shifting the schedule to fit the remaining time we have this semester.
Here’s what I’m keeping in mind as I work on rescheduling the semester:
- Assume the worst. Personally, I feel fortunate to have gotten my power restored relatively quickly, but I’m not assuming that my students are as fortunate given the widespread outages and warnings from the power company of a week or more of power loss ahead. I’ve extended my online class assignments by enough days to allow students time to return to campus labs and resources. I’d much rather overextend a deadline and reduce student stress than stick to a tight deadline and have students scrambling to find a way to work.
- Communicate early and often. If you have a looming deadline in your class that might be adding stress to students’ lives in the wake of an already stressful and potentially directly damaging event like a hurricane, I believe it is better to extend that deadline early and give students a chance to focus on their families and homes. Even if your campus isn’t in the worst of a storm, students’ families and homes might be in more heavily impacted areas. I’ve sent announcements about changes to class deadlines as soon as possible following each university-wide policy update.
- Know your campus policies and resources. Are there labs that will be open and accessible for students who typically work at home but might not have power or internet? Does your university have a center for helping students who might be displaced in the wake of an event of this kind? Sara Goldrick-Rab’s “Basic Needs” syllabus policy is a great example of how you can communicate to students in advance of the support available in the event of loss of housing or food, and the wake of a disaster is a good time to reinforce that message.
Were you impacted by Irma? How are you handling the hurricane’s aftermath in your class? Share your strategies in the comments!
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