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Class Disruption Tips

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As we approach the last week of classes and finals week, the Teaching Times would like to offer faculty and graduate instructors some information to help students successfully complete the semester in spite of the recent disruptions on campus.  Missed class meetings, anxious and frustrated students, and the threat of future disruptions have all made directing a course an especially challenging undertaking.  Under normal circumstances, it is imperative that students have both instruction (i.e., lectures, readings, classroom activities) and the opportunity to practice skills before being evaluated; students still have those needs for instruction, practice, and evaluation under the current trying circumstances.  Ultimately, the way in which you will conclude your semester will be your decision, in consultation with your department, the school, and University directives.  Here, however, we provide you with some basic tips which may help you through the process.

If your class has been regularly interrupted by evacuations:

  • Provide online makeup sessions, if face-to-face sessions are unfeasible:
    • If the session was lecture-based, provide a sound recording or written version of your lecture with accompanying visual aids, along with a study-guide that students must fill in while attending the lecture online.  (You may wish to contact CIDDE’s Educational Technology Center for support.)
    • If the session is discussion-based, consider holding a group chat session online using the blogs, discussions, or wikis features of Blackboard.
    • If the session is focused on problem-solving, post the problems as a Wiki in CourseWeb, and require students who are attending the online session to work on the problems by editing the Wiki together during a specified time period when you can monitor changes and provide feedback.
  • Make interactive reading guides for course readings that would be discussed in class or recitation, and accept their completion in lieu of your regular attendance or participation grade.
    • Include a mix of objective and short-answer questions.  Use objective questions to test basic reading comprehension (and mitigate your grading-time), and short-answer questions to evaluate skills like application and analysis.
    • Make questions sequential to the order in which they appear in the reading to avoid confusion, but do not make them overly-specific to discourage skimming.  (i.e., avoid questions that begin “On pg. 67, the author defines the term X as _______.”).
    • Require students to complete and submit the reading guides by a specified date and time.
    • PROVIDE FEEDBACK on the assignments. Individualized feedback would be best, but an answer key posted AFTER the assignment is due with instruction to seek you out if they have questions is adequate. It is imperative that students have a chance to practice using newly-acquired skills and demonstrating their knowledge prior to being evaluated.

If you are concerned about your final exam being interrupted by security concerns, or if you try to give a regular final and it is interrupted:

  • Consider administering your final exam or collecting final assignments through CourseWeb, which already has tools in place to allow you to do so.  You can find information on these tools online: http://www.cidde.pitt.edu/news/quick-links-end-term-activities.
  • Please note that in order to mitigate the potential for cheating in an online exam, you will need to put a time limit on the exam, which students dislike because it means they cannot go back and check their answers. Make sure your students have been informed of this necessary inconvenience prior to beginning the exam.
  • Cheating can be also be mitigated by composing higher-order exam questions for students that involve application, analysis and evaluation.  Such questions can take longer to develop and grade, making your own time management during finals week more challenging.  If you change your final exam to include more higher-order questions due to the online format, be sure that students have had some opportunity during coursework to practice such skills with the relevant information. Inform students of any changes to exam format as early as possible. Provide sample questions so that they know what to expect.
  • If you choose to hold your final exam in person, as scheduled, notify students of possible wait times, due to increased security restrictions in University buildings.

If your students are anxious about attending a class session because of the bomb threats:

  • Be sympathetic and assure students you will work with them to complete the semester.  This may include making arrangements to complete coursework according to agreed-upon procedures in your school or department. (For a number of reasons, the Provost has informed the Deans that “G” grades are to be used sparingly.)
  • Do not attempt to “counsel” particularly anxious students yourself. Refer them to the Counseling Center: http://www.studentaffairs.pitt.edu/ccabout or 412-648-7930.
  • Offer an online or reading-guide-focused make-up session for the class session.  In order to keep your records straight, ask students to choose whether to attend regular class sessions or to engage in the online sessions in advance.

Additional Resources

  • Information about strategies for using technology to support classes, including CourseWeb Tools, WebEx and online exams can be found on our web site at http://www.cidde.pitt.edu/news/quick-tips-end-term-activities.
  • Faculty may wish to talk to a Teaching & Learning Consultant for ideas about how to modify end-of-term activities.  To make an appointment, send an email to teaching@pitt.edu  and a consultant will be in contact with you.
  • Educational Technology Consultants are also available to provide faculty with one-on-one assistance with technology, either in our Alumni Hall offices or in a faculty member’s office, and can assist with the use of CourseWeb. Please visit our online request form  (http://www.cidde.pitt.edu/ETC%20Appointment%20Request%20Form) to schedule an appointment.
  • Faculty may choose to video record lectures and post them to CIDDE’s streaming server to enable students to view the lectures on-demand.  Contact Classrooms Services at mediareq@pitt.edu to arrange for recording support in classrooms or offices.
  • Windows and Mac OS laptops are also available for loan to faculty to use for classroom activities.  Contact mediareq@pitt.edu.

APRIL 2012

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Class Disruption Tips

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