Winter is Coming…

Are you prepared for another polar vortex?

I don’t mean the state of your wool socks. I mean your classes. (Though you may want to take a peek at your wardrobe all the same.)

Last year, we had three snow days when the campus was closed and classes were cancelled. This loss of instructional time can be stressful for both the instructor and students.


Can technology help us make up for this lost time?


The short answer is that it can, but we have to plan ahead to be ready for these circumstances. We can’t predict when the snow day will happen, but if your Blackboard class and computer are ready, you can use your normal class prep time to shift gears online.


Before Winter Begins

First, we have to make our course available in Blackboard. You can find detailed instructions for doing that here.

Adding some basic content at the beginning of each semester (including syllabus, course calendar, and any reference material they might need) will get your students accustomed to logging into Blackboard, and provide an option if students lose their paper copies.  For more information on posting materials to Blackboard at the most basic level, head to this post.

If you want to use screen-capture software to record your lecture, you’ll want to get up and running with Techsmith Relay (formerly known as Camtasia Relay). To get it installed and give it a try, log into the Relay site. If you’ve never used Relay before, contact our office to get your account set up.


When a Snow Day (or Other Interruption) Happens

Once the course is available and the students know they can access it, you can choose how to present your materials for the “make-up” online class. No matter how you choose to do this, there are some guidelines that apply to all of them.

  1. Be very specific in your instructions. Even when you think you’re being overly specific, remember that many of your students have never done a class online, and they will be very nervous about meeting your expectations. If you want them to respond to a discussion with a post of more than 100 words, say so. If you’d like them to reply to two of their classmates before the next class, tell them. The more specific you are with your instructions, the better they will be able to fulfill the expectations (and the easier it will be able to grade them!).
  2. Make sure to include clear and distinct titles to every item or activity you post online. It helps students locate assignments and readings more easily.
  3. Include a description on each item you create in Blackboard. While you might already have indicated your instructions, including even a line about the assignment or a question to consider (in the case of a reading), can personalize the experience and also help keep students on track. We call this Instructor Presence, and you can read more about that over here.


Beyond these guidelines, here are a few ideas of translating your missed instructional time onto Blackboard.

  • If you have written materials (like a Word document or a PDF) that you were going to pass out in class, you can post those for students to review.
  • If an assignment is due for students on the day of the snow day and you want the papers turned in, you can set up an assignment in Blackboard for students to submit to. This will keep track of how many students have submitted and help prevent the possibility that an email submission will be deleted or get lost in the shuffle.  Information on creating an Assignment in Blackboard can be found here, and if you’d prefer to use the plagiarism detection software SafeAssign, that information is here.
  • If you would normally host an in-class discussion, you can create a discussion board online and ask your discussion questions there. Students can then consider their answers and write responses to the questions and to each other. Some instructors find that online discussions tend to be more thoughtful and considered than in-class discussions, and that you hear from different students. A very comprehensive exploration of using discussion boards can be found here, if you’ve never used them before. Even if you don’t have a snow day, consider giving discussion boards a try — you might be delighted by the results!
  • If you would normally give a brief quiz in class, setting up a short multiple choice or short answer quiz is very straightforward, though a little more time consuming than prepping for an in-class quiz. Our guide for quizzes in Blackboard is here.
  • Another option is to use Techsmith Relay to record your lecture for students to view before the next class. If you’ve never used Techsmith Relay, it’s a very straightforward screen capture program that you can get for free from Saint Rose. It allows you to record your screen (or your webcam) and any audio you’d like to add then upload it to our servers. This particular option does require a certain amount of planning ahead, as the software needs to be installed and your account up and running. Contact Tom or Lily to have your account created, and you can then go ahead and log into the Relay site to download the software and get started!

We can’t predict the weather, but we can prepare for it. With a little planning, we can make up for lost instructional time and help our students get ahead.