A snowy road at night

Hurricanes, power outages, instructor illness, technical difficulties, car accidents, snowpocalypse-like conditions — sometimes events out of our control lead to the need to cancel a class session and figure out a way through.

Things to Keep in Mind

It might be tempting to simply speed through previously planned material, expect students to catch up on their own, or even give students some material to read or watch before the next class begins. Before you do this, consider the following:

  • If the power is out, accessing course materials and/or emails will not work out well.
  • Although students may have additional time available due to a canceled class, the reason behind the cancelation may cause them additional work (e.g., cleaning up after a storm, getting home after spending hours on the interstate, etc.).
  • Your goal is for students to learn, but learning takes time. Simply packing material into a shorter timeframe is not a great solution, as it will likely lead to lower levels of learning in the long run.
  • Stay tuned to your email: in the face of multiple campus closures, the Office of the Registrar will enact a plan for catching up on missed classes, applicable to all courses currently in session.
What Can I Do?
  • Incorporate a “catch-up day” in your course schedule, and use it as a buffer for a re-adjusted schedule when cases like these arise.
  • Return to your course learning objectives for a reminder of what your goals are in this course. Evaluate material you can cut from the course, in light of those goals. You should also identify such "priority" content, activities, and assignments before the class starts.
  • Communicate any changes to students as clearly as possible. Create a revised course schedule and post it for them to review.
  • Be explicit about adjusted due dates and expectations. Invite questions from students if something is unclear.
  • Where relevant, offer reasonable extensions on homework assignments to the entire class.
  • Consider creating a shorter assignment for students, if the time available has decreased.
  • If class is canceled for reasons that do not affect students, consider sharing with them a version of your notes, or recording a short video for them to review before the next class. Invite questions and spend time reviewing more difficult concepts when the class meets again.
Power Outages and Malfunctioning Technology

Power outages during class, problems with WIFI access, and malfunctioning equipment, such as projectors, can pose challenges to a lesson plan that incorporates technology. Here's how to anticipate and respond to technical difficulties in the classroom.

Things to Consider Beforehand
It is useful to take some time while planning a class to think about what you will do if you unexpectedly lose access to the technology you hoped to use. For example:

  • Review your lesson plan and identify any portions that are dependent upon technology. Ask yourself how you would teach the same material if you lost power or internet. For example, during class, you could use a blackboard, whiteboard, flipchart to write or draw graphics that will help students grasp the concepts.
  • Return to the learning objectives on the syllabus and identify activities in the lesson plan that are essential to accomplishing those objectives. Think about how you would facilitate these priority activities without technology and plan for low-tech alternatives (such as writing key points on a board).
  • If you lecture using PowerPoint, post the notes or copies of the slides in advance through Canvas, asking students to have a copy in hand for note-taking.
  • If you planned to show a video of someone else discussing a topic, ask yourself if you could explain it (almost) as well. Make some notes to help yourself recreate the explanation in case the video cannot be played.
  • If your students regularly access online handouts, have a limited number of paper copies on hand. In the event of a technology/power outage, ask students to share copies with a partner to follow along.

What to Do in the Moment

  • Contact Georgia Tech's Office of Information Technology Classroom Support unit: Assistance is available M-F from 7am to 8pm. Problems can be reported 24 hours a day by calling 404.894.4669.
  • Engage students with back-up learning activities that are not dependent on technology. For example, integrate thought-provoking questions, free writing in response to a question, think-pair-share discussions, or collaborative problem-solving activities throughout the lecture. Ask students to discuss a topic that might have originally appeared on a slide and explain it to the class.
  • If you planned to use clickers, you can simply ask for a show of hands. Or consider turning the activity into a low-tech game such as jeopardy or trivial pursuit.
  • Gates, Chris (2015). The importance of having a backup plan for your class in case of technology failure. Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved from teaching.pitt.edu May 2018.