How to Support Undergraduate Students in the Event of Instructional Disruption

This guide is intended to assist instructors in supporting undergraduate students’ learning in the event of instructional disruptions. We offer these suggestions in the hope of sustaining the best level of support possible for undergraduate instruction and making it simple for faculty to identify tools and approaches that could make their work easier during any disruption to normal instruction. 

The suggestions below are not intended as a directive for faculty to increase their own workloads. We are profoundly cognizant of the burdens that have been placed on faculty teaching through the pandemic and of the consequences for faculty research, work/life balance, and well-being. 

Please reach out for help with specific pedagogical and technological questions if they are not addressed here. We also encourage you to review the Guidance on Response to Disruptions to Instruction(PDF file)(link is external) prepared in April 2020 by the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate’s Committee on Courses of Instruction.

You will also find self-support options at UCB Keep TeachingPreparing for Disruptions(link is external), and the Remote Instruction Guide.

November 14 Update: A strike website, accessible with CalNet authentication, contains guidance and associated FAQs that will be updated periodically as the situation evolves and more information becomes available to us. Learn more about the negotiations and contract discussions at the UCOP FAQ page.

Guiding Principles

Teaching during times of potential disruption may require flexible thinking about how instructors can support students in achieving a course’s core learning objectives. Be patient and consider switching tactics if something isn’t working. While you might not be able to teach something exactly as you may have imagined, you can get better results and save time by keeping a few core principles in focus:

1. Identify what is MOST important for students to learn to successfully complete your course. What are the 1-2 core outcomes of your course that you most want students to be able to accomplish by the end of the semester? Which assessments are key measures of those 1-2 outcomes? Organize your teaching around the achievement of those top outcomes, and put all else aside.
2. Foster predictability. Keeping a clear pattern to how you will facilitate course sessions and engagement with students will reduce confusion. Even if specific class sessions need to be reduced in frequency, maintain a pattern of when students can expect to engage with you and with each other.
3. Maintain the same tools and approaches to communicating and convening with students (when possible). Consistency is key. Do not try to introduce teaching approaches or tools that are unfamiliar to you or your students.
4. Explain what support for students will look like (e.g., in office hours, via e-mail). Be very clear with students about what support for their learning will look like in all possible venues where instructional interaction typically takes place (in person and online). Students may feel confused and uncertain about how they can get help, so the clearer your instructions are, the more certainty students will have about how to succeed in the class for the remainder of the term.
5. Find the most up-to-date guidance on resources for supporting instructional continuity on the Keep Teaching webpage. On this page, you’ll find links to a number of valuable resources on getting support quickly and easily. You can always send a message to teaching@berkeley.edu or request bCourses help by emailing bcourseshelp@berkeley.edu.

Communicate Plans Frequently and with Familiar Tools

  • Provide a plan for course communications and communicate with students via official and familiar university channels. When you are making an announcement or need to communicate with the entire class, consider using:
    • Berkeley email (i.e., bMail)
    • bCourses announcements or “Inbox” email
    • Ed Discussions

Remind students that you will be the primary point of communication if GSIs are unavailable.

  • Encourage students to ask you questions using Ed Discussions, email, or bCourses Discussion Forums. Think about which of these tools will work best for you in managing an influx of communications, and publicize that to students as the preferred mode of communication.
  • Consider hosting Zoom-based group office hours so that multiple students can attend without worrying about space.
    • If you host multiple office hours, consider creating themes for some of the hours (e.g., how to organize a paper, solve difficult problems for exams, review a complex topic).
  • Consider asking students to use standardized email subject lines to reach you. If you are teaching high-enrollment classes, request that if students reach out to you with a question that they consider using a template so that you can easily identify their messages and group them together to write a single reply to all who have the same question. An example of a standardized email subject line is:
    • COURSE NAME/NUMBER - QUESTION ABOUT <topic, something="" happening="" in="" class,="" administrative="" issue="">. If you do this, provide students with categories for the subject lines.

Make Course Materials Easily Available

Be Transparent about Grading Expectations

  • If homework grading will be delayed, post sample solutions or annotated examples of exemplary work, along with a short description or short video of “common successes and pitfalls” that you can glean from quickly scanning students’ homework. 
  • Consider alternative approaches to assessing attendance in meetings/sessions. If part of students’ grades depends on meetings, sessions, or labs that you don’t lead, try to establish alternative ways for students to earn that portion of their grade and communicate that plan to students. If you need to make any adjustments in bCourses Assignments or Grades to reflect these changes, check out the guide on Getting Started with bCourses: Assignments & Grading and Best Practices for Adding, Editing, and Grading Assignments.
  • When possible, post grades and grade progress to bCourses. Being transparent about how students are progressing through the course will be a stress relief when possible. When it's ready to submit grades, see Berkeley IT's guide on how to export grades from bCourses to E-Grades in CalCentral. 

Maintain Student Engagement and Collaboration

Hold Review Sessions

  • Create a way for students to submit questions about exams and organize questions/responses thematically using tools that are familiar to you and your students.
  • Encourage students to use or choose from common categories of questions (i.e., the “big ideas” that you have defined from guiding principle #1) so that you can sort questions into groups as you put together responses.
  • Consider different formats for hosting “review sessions” that provide all students with access: create an FAQ, video response, reply to discussion forum questions, live review session on Zoom and record/share. Please avoid hosting review sessions that will not be accessible to all students (e.g., review sessions during any time other than the scheduled class times, unless the session is recorded and shared).

Manage Final Assessments (Tests, Papers, Projects, Etc.)

  • Explore options for final assessments beyond high-stakes exams. The CTL has advice on a variety of approaches to final assessments.
  • Consider any modifications to final assessments in alignment with your course learning outcomes. You may decide to alter the scope of your final assessments. Be sure to make any alterations in alignment with your course outcomes; if students can achieve roughly the same outcomes with a multiple choice exam instead of a short answer exam, that is a reasonable modification. If students can achieve your course outcomes by writing a term paper outline instead of a full term paper, that is another example of a reasonable modification.
  • Communicate any changes to the final exam, project, or term paper format. If you are changing the format of an exam from short answer to multiple choice, let students know and provide them with examples of the modified assessment as soon as possible. For an exam, this could mean providing sample exam questions. For an essay outline, this could mean providing an outline template or example. One-time changes to final assessments can be approved by the department chair (without requiring approval by the Committee on Courses of Instruction (COCI)). The Office of the Registrar should be notified of final exam format changes.
  • Give students a 24-hour-window (or longer) to complete a final exam if possible. Offering exams that can be taken within 24-hour windows will make it easier to support all students. If you are short on support, organizing and proctoring exams across multiple times and locations will be challenging. If you choose to create an extended window for students to complete final exams, consider the following guidelines for students with documented accommodations:
    • Considerations for exams to be completed in 24 hours (or less): If a student has an accommodation providing for extended time on timed exams, quizzes, or assignments, that extra time is required only when the exam, quiz, or assignment is to be completed in 24 hours or less. For example, if an instructor provides 24 hours for students to complete a 2-hour exam, the DSP student with a time and a half accommodation would be allowed to take 3 hours within that 24-hour window to complete the exam, but the instructor does not have to provide 36 hours.
    • Considerations for exams to be completed in over 24 hours. If over 24 hours is provided for an exam, quiz, or assignment, an additional time accommodation does not apply, although an extension could be possible under the “Extension of assignment” accommodation (see DSP Faculty FAQs).
  • Implement scalable strategies for providing students feedback. Try setting up automated feedback in an online quiz, creating a short video that highlights common successes and challenges of student work, or creating a short audio memo that provides students feedback in response to common student questions.
  • Use rubrics to communicate clear grading expectations. A rubric can be used to provide standardized feedback on student work and give students clarity on how they’re being evaluated. See the CTL’s guide on writing an effective rubric.

FAQs: Graduate Student Strike, 2022

Q: What should I do to ensure that students have access to portions of a course to which GSIs contribute, such as discussion sections?
A: The key principle here is that all students should have the same access to course materials. Faculty can, for instance, record materials that might be covered in section and share this recording via bCourses. Faculty can also create focused synchronous online discussions for students focusing on particular questions, problems, or areas of exam preparation.

Q: If some GSIs want to work and others do not, can I reallocate work to the available GSIs?
A: Potentially, within limits. GSI duties are outlined in the work agreements completed and signed by departments/faculty and GSIs at the beginning of the quarter. Duties must fall within the established work agreements. Faculty must also be cognizant of the number of hours of the GSI appointment and cannot assign work that would exceed the appointment hours. Faculty must also honor GSIs’ right to strike and cannot be perceived as exerting pressure on GSIs.

Q: Is there any guidance on managing final exams? 

A: Please see the tab above, "Manage Final Assessments" for advice.

Help is available!

Notes 

The guidance was adopted from UCSB’s guidance(link is external) by CTL Executive Director Jenae Cohn & Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Oliver O’Reilly and edited and amended on behalf of the Senate by Senate Chair Mary Ann Smart on 11/5.