Continuity of Instruction

This resource was created to help faculty to continue instruction in the event that their classes need to be canceled for a few days or an extended period of time due to personal illness, university closure, and other absences or emergencies (i.e., pandemics). It does not replace any existing RIT policies and procedures regarding student attendance, grading of late or missing student work, and many other instructional and employment matters.

Step 1: Develop a Continuation of Instruction Plan

The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) recommends that faculty develop a Continuation of Instruction Plan for each course they teach. A helpful plan will include how you and your students can communicate outside of classrooms or beyond the campus, how students will obtain course materials and submit assignments, how you will post feedback/grades and return student work, and how you will be able to develop alternative learning activities for your students. Plans should be shared with your department chair or head before the start of classes. Once confirmed, the plan can be included in your syllabi.

CTL Consultants offer on-campus or Zoom consultations on developing these plans.

Step 2: (Learn to) Use MyCourses and Zoom

When classroom instruction is interrupted, faculty need to use alternative methods and tools to continue instruction at a distance. RIT’s learning management system, myCourses, allows for instructors and students to interact and access course materials online. A variety of mostly asynchronous (different time, different place) communication and assessment tools are bundled into myCourses; these include RIT email, news announcement, a content repository, threaded discussion boards, electronic drop boxes for student work, an electronic grade book, and online quizzing.

Zoom is RIT’s web-conferencing application. You can semi-synchronously (same time, different place) use Zoom to connect with anyone using your device's camera microphone capabilities. Faculty can increase interaction and participation using features such as screen-sharing, polls, breakout rooms, whiteboard, chat, and virtual office hours. Zoom sessions can be recorded and played back via a browser. Recordings are automatically captioned and captions can be edited.
You will likely need to use both myCourses and Zoom to continue instruction in the event of an extended absence or emergency: they will be your delivery methods of choice. If you do not already use or know myCourses or Zoom, CTL provides many options at various levels–from novice to expert–to learn these tools, including:

  • Consultations: Schedule an in-person or online consultation with a CTL instructional technologist. 
  • Tutorials: View the documentation for myCourses and Zoom on the CTL website.
  • Training sessions: Attend webinars on myCourses and Zoom offered by CTL staff.

Step 3: Align Learning Objectives with Instructional Choices

Maintaining continuity of instruction usually involves moving from one delivery mode to another. To bring about that transition, begin by looking at your course's learning objectives and how and in what communication modes they are assessed. Do your objectives clearly and accurately describe what students will learn in your course? Do assignments, materials, and student experiences align in such a way that students are likely to be successful in your course if they earnestly apply themselves? In this section we will discuss some fundamental ideas in instructional design and how a design mindset can help you identify opportunities to continue instruction during an interruption. Additionally, taking another look at your learning objectives can help you redevelop your course(s) with flexible learning in mind (see Step 4 below).

Instructional design (ID) is a systematic and iterative approach to creating learning experiences. The particular focus of instructional design is on learners and the skills, knowledge, and abilities they should gain as the result of participating in instruction. Learning involves change. These desired changes are described as learning objectives. A learning objective should be clear, observable, and measurable.

Learning taxonomies are classification systems that describe different types of learning. The taxonomies employ observable and measurable verbs that instructors can use to write or refine learning objectives. For more information about learning taxonomies and writing good objectives, review the following resources:

Once the learning objectives for a course have been articulated, instructors select assessments. An assessment provides instructors (and students) with evidence of how well students are learning. An assessment can be formative or summative. A formative assessment provides feedback to learners on how well they are progressing, giving them opportunities to improve. A summative assessment provides information to instructors and students about how well students have achieved the learning objective. Summative assessments are often given at the end of a unit or the end of a class. For more information on informal formative assessments, review Eberly Center's resource on Classroom Assessment Techniques.

Designing or refining instruction is a complex task. Happily, instructional design is iterative. Every course is an instructor’s best attempt at a design that supports student achievement of course objectives. Yet once the learning objectives are articulated, assessments identified, and course materials and topics selected and sequenced, you can begin to design a flexible approach to teaching during an instructional interruption–or for that matter to all of your teaching.

Step 4 : Building Flexibility into Your Courses

The complexity of life during the COVID-19  pandemic has underscored the importance of maintaining communication with students and, when appropriate, developing flexible approaches to course policies and assignments. The following are ways that some faculty have responded to complexity with flexibility. Consider meeting with CTL consultants, colleagues, and with your department chair if you have questions about implementing any of the following suggestions:

  • Provide students with some flexibility on assignment due dates.
  • Consider a revise and resubmit policy for some assignments.
  • In a course with frequent, low-stakes quizzes or assignments, allow students to drop one or some number of them from the final grade tally.
  • If a student experiences an unexpected disruption, consider allowing that student to complete group projects as an individual.
  • Consider how you can provide students with options for the format of an assignment. What variety of evidence can you use to determine whether a student has met the desired learning objective? A poster instead of a paper? A video instead of a presentation?

These resources may be helpful to you as you design or refine with flexibility in mind.

  • Universal Design for Learning (UDL) combines what we know about how learning works with a commitment to providing course materials that are engaging and accessible to produce a learning experience that benefits all students. Instructional flexibility is a core value in Universal Design for Learning. What Is Universal Design for Learning? has many links to UDL strategies and resources.
  • The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard has developed a set of resources on learner-centered design.
  • The Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University has developed their web-based resources in line with learning science. Their Solve a Teaching Problem site is particularly useful.