What should be included in a college or university’s plan for academic continuity in the event of disruption?
This is an increasingly urgent question as institutions are buffeted by a growing range of climate events and other unanticipated emergencies that make in-person learning impossible for days or months. As a new report on academic continuity and disruption shows, hundreds of schools were not prepared for the academic disruption caused by lockdowns early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, other institutions experiencing wildfires, floods, or extreme heat events have chosen to cancel classes rather than rely on distance learning.
Planning for Academic Continuity: A Guide for Academic Leaders, published by Every Learner Everywhere, reviews the academic continuity plans of over 100 colleges and universities to discover patterns in structure, policies, and recommendations in continuity planning. The analysis outlines a set of best practices for developing or adapting an academic continuity plan to rely on during a facilities, personnel, or public health emergency of extended duration.
The report also includes a resource list, case studies, a discussion of findings and effective strategies, a tool for assessing plans, a digital tools audit worksheet, and a planning template. The analysis covered institutions that were private and public, large and small, and four- and two-year.
At the heart of the report is a summary of 15 topics common in academic continuity plans that emerged in the analysis. Those elements, excerpted below, constitute a baseline of what plans should include. Out of the 100 existing continuity plans analyzed, 67 included all 15 of these topics.
Topics common in academic continuity plans
1. Additional resources
The plan provides faculty with a list of resources to share with students, such as an institutional student emergency fund, institutional and/or local food banks, counseling services, and an electronic device loan program.
2. Adjust calendar
The plan mentions the need to adjust the calendar or assignment due dates to finish the term. The plan outlines scenarios to help faculty satisfy contact-hour minimums in their courses.
3. Alternative faculty
The plan provides guidance in maintaining faculty oversight of courses when the faculty on record cannot complete teaching the term.
The plan encourages faculty to consider alternate ways of testing and assessing student grades outside of in-class exams. The plan provides examples of ways of assessing student mastery of course objectives as well as ways to design assessments to minimize violations of academic integrity.
Faculty are encouraged to have care and empathy for students in crisis.
The plan encourages faculty to develop a communication plan with their students. The plan provides resources for developing a communication plan with students.
7. Course content
The plan tells faculty what to do with course content, such as uploading it to the LMS (learning management system) or some other place students can access it. The plan instructs faculty on how to upload course content to the LMS.
8. Digital learning tools
Links to digital learning tools and instructions on how to use them are provided in the plan. Digital tools include the LMS, email, texting, online resources, virtual meeting tools, virtual exam tools, adaptive courseware, digital textbooks, Open Educational Resources (OER), etc.
Equity concerns such as access to hardware, software, and broadband are addressed in the plan. There is language and guidance on how a crisis or disruption affects various populations differently, generating the need for an equitable distribution of resources as opposed to an equal distribution of resources.
Faculty are encouraged to be flexible with students in terms of due dates and the format of assignments (audio files versus print papers, for example).
11. Hybrid classes
Switching face-to-face courses to a hybrid modality is part of a solution offered by the plan.
12. Move classes to other sites
The plan provides guidance for a scenario in which one or more classroom buildings are permanently or temporarily closed, requiring classes to be relocated.
13. Online classes
Moving courses online and expanding existing online course offerings are part of a solution offered by the plan.
14. Partnerships with other institutions
Personnel, facilities, or other resource partnerships are part of a solution offered by the plan. This is particularly important when campus facilities are damaged.
15. Various scenarios
The plan covers various emergency situations such as bad weather, a natural disaster, a pandemic, the campus is closed, faculty cannot teach, students cannot access campus, the disruption is short-term or long-term, etc.
The importance of planning for academic disruption
During the analysis conducted for Planning for Academic Continuity, the authors encountered many institutions that had no publicly available continuity plans or where the plans were dormant. There is an understandable eagerness in higher education to move on from the COVID-19 pandemic and return to normal operations.
But, as the report argues, no campus is immune to a loss of facilities, utilities, or personnel because of weather, violence, viruses, or other unanticipated crises. For example, just during the period this analysis was conducted, U.S. institutions have relied on remote learning because of disruptions caused by flooding, wildfires, on- and off-campus violence, labor strikes, bomb threats, and a region-wide disruption to access to drinking water.
Institutions that are developing or updating their academic continuity plans should consider the elements above, which were frequently included in the work of their peers.Download Planning for Academic Continuity: A Guide for Academic Leaders