Are you ready for H1N1?

We’ve all seen the articles and heard the news.  The H1N1 flu is expected to hit college campuses this fall with expectations of much greater student absenteeism than is typical.  So far this week, the American College Health Association reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education that more than half of the 189 colleges it surveyed have students sick with flu. They reported more than 2,000 cases of flu and three hospitalizations, but no deaths.  Marymount will not escape – so how have you prepared?  What should you expect?

What to expect

Most people following this situation believe that the most likely scenario we face is not closure of the University.  Most likely, larger numbers of students and professors will miss classes, probably for a week or more.  In order to limit the spread of the flu, people are asked NOT to come to work when they are feeling ill, and to remain at home until 24 hours after any fever has abated.  In addition, students and faculty with school-age children may have difficulties if their children become ill or if k-12 schools or child care facilities close.

How to prepare

Obviously, we don’t yet know what will happen.  However, if the prognosticators are correct, and increased and/or more prolonged absences occur, your course planning will be affected.  Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How will you communicate with your students?  If you need to make changes to the syllabus or grading scheme e.g. dropping a quiz or modifying an assignment, you will want to be sure that your students get the message. Let them know how you will get in touch with them. If you use Blackboard for communication purposes, remind students that they need to check their MU account, or that they should check for announcements frequently.  Encouraging students to obtain email addresses from a couple of their peers gives them another way to get information if they are absent.  Some faculty are communicating via Web 2.0 applications such as Facebook (you can set up a page for your course and ask students to become fans of the page) or Twitter (your students could follow your tweeted announcements). Just make sure that everyone has tested whatever system you use and knows how it works.
  • How will you allow students to make up work or submit it late?  How will students submit work if it’s done but they can’t come to class?  Email is a messy way to accept student work.  If you use Blackboard, consider using the Assignments feature, which lets students submit directly to your Blackboard gradebook. (Don’t know how?  Email the CTE!)  If you ordinarily use class attendance data as part of your grading criteria, how will you adjust your expectations during this period?  You will need to come up with a system that maintains the academic integrity of your course and is fair to students who become ill and to those who don’t.
  • What if YOU are the person who becomes ill?  Usually when faculty members are ill, classes are cancelled for the day, but you may need to be out longer than that.  In addition, if there are a lot of student absences, cancelling even a single class can negatively impact course effectiveness. This would be a good time to come up with one or more alternate activities in case you are out.  You could plan in-class activities to be delivered by a colleague or other proctor.  For example, someone could screen a movie with follow-up questions that you created, or they could direct students to work together in small groups on problems or questions that you prepared in advance.  Or, they could be given a writing assignment and peer review each others works with a rubric you have provided (either in person or electronically).   An online alternative such as analyzing a webpage also could replace a planned lecture on the same topic.  Whatever you choose, make sure that any materials (questions, supplemental reading, problems, etc.) and the instructions for your substitute assignment are available and easy to find in your office so that someone else could locate it if needed.
  • Using online communication features may be helpful, but remember that a student who is absent will probably not be able to participate during the worst of their illness (nor will you).  For this reason, the live Chat function won’t help much.  Having an asynchronous discussion on the Blackboard Discussion board and keeping it available for students to review when they do feel better can help them recover some of what they missed.  If you are the person who is out, you can post the questions and review the class discussion when you feel better.  Clearly specify your expectations for participating e.g. minimum number of contributions, characteristics of good contributions, etc. so you can assess the quality of student preparation and participation.

Obviously we all hope that this flu will not drastically impact the semester, but in the face of the unknown, it’s better to take a few extra steps that aren’t needed than to be faced with a mess.  In fact, these steps are actually an excellent practice every semester – between snow days, unexpected illness and life’s overall uncertainties, it never hurts to have a few cards up your sleeve.

What have you done to prepare?  Post your ideas under comments !