Director’s Blog

Expect the Unexpected

by | Aug 30, 2021 | Director's Blog

As we get closer to fall quarter, I get more emails from vendors trying to sell me the latest tech that will make our return to campus even easier. And they almost always start with, “I hope this email finds you well.” I ignore them, but lately I have wanted to reply with, “No, your email did not find me well. I AM VERY NOT WELL!” I am stressing, as I’m sure many of you are, about returning to campus while the Delta variant keeps us guessing about what will happen next. It feels like we need to prepare for the unexpected, but how do we do that without creating a bazillion versions of our classes for every possible scenario? Here’s my very imperfect advice.

Covid dominates our attention right now, but illness is something we will always deal with (just hopefully not on a pandemic level). When students face a serious illness, or have to care for someone with a serious illness, we should be prepared to help them finish the course as much as possible. And for you, the instructor, you should also have a plan for your course to continue should you get sick or have to care for someone who is sick. Something in place will allow you to focus on you and your loved ones versus scrambling to keep your class going. And it isn’t just illness, as we have also seen. Wildfires and other natural disasters, mental health crises, injuries, and family emergencies are other reasons students or yourself may suddenly need accommodations.

So what to do? Can you create an emergency kit for your course? Take some videos, class recordings, assignments, and exams and bundle them somewhere on Canvas where they can be activated in an emergency. You could do this by week, units, or whatever makes sense for your course. This will be especially helpful if you have students who need to be remote while quarantining during the fall quarter. DTEI can help you put one together.

I can feel your grumblings about this through my computer screen, so let me address your concerns (also imperfectly):

This feels like more work and I am exhausted from the past 18 months of pandemic life! Yes, it does require more work, but just up front. Once you have an emergency kit organized, it’s there and ready for the future, which will hopefully save you time when you actually need to use it.

I’ve taken your workshops and made my class very active. How can I maintain active learning when some students are remote? This is indeed tricky so here’s what I recommend. When a student, or yourself, is facing a road block or emergency, the goal shifts to maintaining learning versus maintaining your class structure. How can you still achieve your course goals, even if it means sacrificing group interaction or hands-on strategies? When you or a student is in crisis, we need to look at the core of the course and find the path of least resistance to completing those learning goals. It isn’t ideal, I know, so that’s why I stress that this is for emergencies only.

Having students Zooming in while others are face-to-face feels overwhelming and hard to manage. It certainly takes some juggling, but DTEI can help! Learning assistants, undergraduates working with you in the classroom, can help you facilitate groups, online chats, and breakout rooms in hybrid situations. So can TAs. Email me if you want to explore using learning assistants or other types of student help.

I’m still grumpy about all of this. Right there with you.

I hope this blog post finds you well.

In other news…

What I’m currently reading: I just finished a collection of short stories, which I enjoyed very much – The Office of Historical Corrections. It’s timely, clever, dark, and smart all at the same time.


Andrea Aebersold

Andrea Aebersold

Director, Faculty Instructional Development

Andrea Aebersold is the Director of Faculty Instructional Development at University of California, Irvine. She earned a PhD in English and was an associate professor of teaching before coming to UCI. She specializes in active learning, evidence-based teaching, and reading mountains of books.