Explain What to Do in an Emergency

Red push button on the wall labeled, Emergency Stop for ComputersProviding students with instructions on what to do in an emergency is always a good idea. It’s even more important now as all classes are moving online and many students are relying on technology resources more than they are used to.

You may be thinking, “Oh, I will wait and deal with trouble if it comes up.” It’s nice to be optimistic, but trust me, eventually something will come up. You may not think of it as an actual emergency, but a panicked student may. Add the complication of the sudden reliance on resources students don’t have experience with, and the panicky emails are sure to start filling your inbox.

How to Address Emergencies Before They Happen

  • Brainstorm a list of the basic hurdles students are likely to encounter. Consider the issues that have occurred in previous courses you have taught, and reflect on challenges you and those you know have had as they work online. Combine any challenges that will have similar responses (see the example below).
  • Outline what students should do in each situation. Include specific details that will walk students through their response. Students coming to this list are anxious. They not catch the nuances of what you say, so be sure that everything is clear and concrete.
  • Emphasize trust and calm in your explanations. Let students know that you take their situation seriously. Maintaining a sense of calm will do much to solve the challenge. Panic can make everything worse. If you persuade students to remain calm and trust that you will help them, reasonable solutions to the problems will become easier to accept.

An Example Policy

Here’s a version of the emergency policy that I use with my courses. The policy (like all content on this site) is content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial Share-Alike 4.0 International License; thus, you can copy and customize the policy to use with your course.

Emergency Policy for Technical Writing

Slogan Keep Calm and Carry On shown on Red British War Poster with white letteringProblems with vt.edu websites, LinkedIn Learning, or Canvas
If something goes wrong with one of the websites we are using, don’t panic. Send me an email message, since I may not know there is a problem. I will fix it if I can, and if necessary, I’ll adjust any due dates or expectations. If appropriate, contact 4-Help and explain the situation as well. Once you have contacted me, keep working as you can until the situation is resolved.

Problems with something in your world
If something goes wrong for you personally, send me an email message explaining the issue and relax. We can come up with a solution. Things such as a broken computer or a change at work that messes up your schedule fall in this category. Getting sick or having an accident (such as a broken bone) also fall into this category. Your situation may feel horrible, but we can work it out. Don’t worry if I don’t respond immediately. It just means I’m not at my computer.

Emergencies and the 911 policy
If you have an emergency, first take care of any immediate danger. Make sure everything and everyone is safe before you worry about this course. When you can, email me and begin the subject with 911. For example, a subject line might be “911 Struck by Storm.” Give me the details in the message (e.g., The storm knocked out your power. Your work is going to be delayed until things are fixed). Save these 911 messages for emergencies please. I give 911 messages priority and answer them ASAP. Again, don’t worry if I don’t respond immediately. It just means I’m not at my computer. When I get back online, I will do whatever I can to help.

Photo: Emergency Stop by Daniel Nisbet on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license. Keep Calm and Carry On Poster, from the UK Ministry of Information, used under a CC0 Public Domain license.


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This post originally published on the Teaching Online 911 blog.

Turn Your Handout into a Video

You can make a simple video that pairs key information from a short handout with images using the free web-based tool Lumen5. You can edit the video components (the text on screen, how it appears, and the image shown). As you are moving course materials online, Lumen5 can be a quick way to add a visual element to your course materials.

An Example Handout and Video

The video below was created with the text from a webpage that explains my labor-based grading system and a tip-filled infographic on how to do well in the course. The result is the following video:


Video Transcript

The video took me about three hours, though most of that time was spent searching for appropriate, diverse images and for the background music. The result is far more interesting than a Zoom video allowing students to watch me read the information to them.

How to Create Your Own Video

The process is straightforward:

  1. Create a free login on the Lumen5 site.
  2. Use the Create Video button at the top of the dashboard page, which you reach after logging in.
  3. Choose one of the available options (start with a blog post, paste in text script, use a media file, or begin with a template), as shown in the image below:
    Video Options in Lumen5 (start with a blog post, paste in text script, use a media file, or begin with a template)
  4. Provide the text for your video, following the on-screen prompts.
  5. Wait while Lumen5 uploads and processes your text, adding images and key phrases to the video slides.
  6. Edit the slides as you wish, changing the placement of the text, editing the text, choosing new images, and changing the options for the images, all shown in the screenshot below:
    Lumen5 edit screen, showing different layout available and other options.
    Notice on the upper left that you can also choose different media, templates, and music for your video when you are editing.
  7. Click Publish when you are happy with everything, and the video will process and then prompt you to download.
  8. Share the completed video as you like—in your CMS, on YouTube, or elsewhere.

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This post was inspired by a piece written for Bedford Bits: Convert Handouts to Videos with Lumen5 and originally published on the Teaching Online 911 blog.

Ten Tips for Moving Your Class Online Quickly

You’re probably working away at moving your class online. Even with the extra week to prepare that some of us have been given, there are weeks of work ahead of us. We’ll all have to rethink activities, change things that aren’t working, and give up on some things that are beyond the possible right now.

Your work will be easier and more successful if you keep these ten tips in mind:

  1. Choose online tools you know. This is not the time to innovate. It is hard enough to migrate all your course materials online. Don’t add to your workload by choosing a new tool to do it. Whatever you’re using is good enough.
  2. Remember time zones matter—as do personal schedules. Students are no longer in the same place and time. They are spread all over the globe. Their time zones are different and their personal obligations are different. Asynchronous work (work that doesn’t require everyone to be online at the same moment) allows everyone in the course a fair opportunity.
  3. Keep it as simple as possible. The activities and expectations should be clear and straightforward. Break things out into smaller steps, rather than creating one larger activity. You’ll help students keep track of what they need to do when they can complete an activity in one sitting.
  4. Let students track their own work when they can. Ask students to keep track of how they are doing in the course. They can keep a log of what they have posted easily, for instance. All you have to do is review their logs. That’s much easier than you having to keep track of every thing that every student has done.
  5. Allow reasonable accommodations and exceptions for everyone. With the many additional demands and challenges we are facing, we can all use a little extra help right now. Give students who ask for more time an extra day. Allow students whatever they need, as long as it’s reasonable.
  6. Share accessible resources. There are students in your class who will not have the resources that they need. It may be their textbooks, class notes, or library books. If you can share PDFs or offer alternatives, do so. Students may have no other option if you cannot provide them an alternative.
  7. Be clear about your availability. When classes meet on campus, students know when they can find you. If all else fails, you’re about just before and after class meets. With classes online, students have no idea. Will a response to that urgent email message take a few hours or a few days? Be specific about when you are online and working so they don’t worry needlessly. For example, tell students something like “I am usually online and answering messages weekday afternoons, from 1 PM to 3 PM, Eastern.”
  8. Explain yourself. Tell students the reasons behind your choices and decisions for how the course proceeds. Don’t expect students to guess what you’re thinking or expecting. With all course interactions online, you can help things run much more smoothly by explaining logistics and other class decisions.
  9. Encourage students to help one another. Create a space in your course resources where they can ask one another for help. Whether the questions are about the course, Internet connectivity, or which grocery stores are open, students can help one another—and their effort will reduce your workload while building community.
  10. Give up on perfection and absolutes. Set reasonable expectations for yourself and your students. It would be nice to imagine there will be no Internet or software issues and that students have access to all the resources that they need. It’s not likely to happen that way however. Scale back your plans, allow for changes as needed, and have alternatives and back-up plans ready. You’ll thank yourself later.

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This post originally published on the Teaching Online 911 blog.

Set a Consistent Schedule

Every aspect of a college student’s life is in flux right now. All the familiar routines they are used to are changing because of COVID-19. One of the best things you can do is provide these students with a consistent schedule that they can rely on.

Why do these routines matter so much? There’s no way for a student to know when you will post something online. In the campus classroom, you probably hand out or share assignments, pass back or post graded work, and so forth. When classes move online, students no longer know when to expect these things to happen. Either students leave it to chance, hoping that they will notice when you post something or when work is due, or they spend every moment online refreshing class resources in an attempt to catch updates the moment they are posted. Neither of these options is ideal—and both can lead to a great deal of anxiety and stress.

If you establish a regular schedule however, students know exactly what is supposed to happen when. I established a weekly schedule for the classes I teach entirely online, which I share using an inforgraphic similar to the one below:

Weekly Course Schedule, explained in the accompanying text

Because the schedule is an image, I provide a transcript as well, publishing the details from the image beside it. As you move to migrate your course online quickly, a table with the details will work just fine. Students will care about having the details more than how pretty the schedule is.

For your schedule, include as many days and as much information as necessary. For instance, if your course was meeting every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, just include those days on your schedule. If your course runs on two-week units, go ahead and include two weeks in your schedule.

Keep in mind that this schedule is not a substitute for the class calendar. Its job is simply to outline the repeating structures that students can rely on each week. It’s a simple piece to add to the resources you share, but establishing consistency in this way can help students stay on try, especially at a time when COVID-19 seems to be disrupting everyone’s schedule.


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This post originally published on the Teaching Online 911 blog.

Preparing Students for Online Classes

Teaching completely online writing courses quickly taught me that students needed additional preparation and support in most cases. While students at my university are online often, they are not frequently online for academic purposes. Now, thanks to COVID-19, they are online for every course—and they are unlikely to be prepared for it.

I made the infographic below to give students some quick things that they can do to make sure they are ready. I use it at the beginning of every term, along with other activities and resources.

How to Succeed in this Online Class

You can use the infographic as is, if it fits the needs of your course. Note that it does make reference to Canvas (our LMS at Virginia Tech). Download a copy from Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/DWAs78. It’s shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial Share-Alike 4.0 International License.

If you need to tweak the infographic to work for your course, visit the template on Canva (a drag-and-drop web-based design tool). You will need to create a free Canva login to customize the image.

If you do use the infographic, remember to also provide a transcript for students who cannot view the image. I handle this transcript by repeating the text beside the image itself, as you can see on this page from my current Technical Writing course.

This text version of the infographic gives you another option for sharing these ideas with the students you teach. You can also skip the infographic altogether, copy and customize the text from the transcript (linked above), and publish the resulting version with your other class resources.


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This post originally published on the Teaching Online 911 blog.

Teaching Online 911 Collection on Evernote

Sinking BoatAs everyone scrambles to support students in online classes, colleagues are sharing links to teaching tips, free online resources, and classroom activities.

I have found links in my Twitter Timeline, my Facebook Newsfeed, and my email inbox. Lots of links. Soooo many links.

Every time a new link shows up on my screen, I make a guilty mental note to go back and read it later, when I will surely have more time. But that miraculous blessing of “more time” still hasn’t appeared.

The links keep coming. When I click through, frequently I find even more links. There is an entire ocean of resources out there, and I’m over here bailing out a sinking dinghy. I just can’t keep up.

Not only am I overwhelmed with all these great resources, I’m anxious about missing or losing one of them. That one link I forget to return to will surely be the resource that solves the challenge I’m working on. I’m not sure how to remember all these great ideas, but one thing is clear: I need a way I can find these links later, before any more scroll off my screen.

Evernote to the Rescue!

I have set up a Teaching Online 911 Evernote notebook, filled with all these wonderful links. So far, it’s a great solution. The notebook has just over 40 links at this point, to webpages created recently to address the pandemic-driven need to move online and to established resources that offer good teaching advice for any situation when classes are taught online.

Whenever someone forwards a new resource, I use the Evernote Web Clipper (a browser plugin) to add it to my notebook. The clipper saves the title, a copy of the document, and its link. I published the notebook on the web, so I can share it with everyone.

Visitors to the Teaching Online 911 notebook can either Join Notebook, to connect to their own Evernote login, or View Notebook, to see the notebook without loggin into Evernote. Both options are shows in the screenshot below:

Evernote Public Notebook screenshot, showing the Join or View options

Because I have the clipper save a copy of the resources, anyone visiting the notebook can easily find resources that include relevant information. A search in Evernote checks for the search term in the saved copies and returns a list of found sources with the search term(s) highlighted. The screenshot below shows what such a search looks like.

Evernote Public Notebook screenshot, showing a search term and highlighted results

If you too are looking for solutions and inspiration, give the Teaching Online 911 notebook a try. I hope you’ll find something you can use as you move your courses online.

Photo credit: Sinking Boat by Rodrigo Amorim on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.


Last Updated on
This post originally published on the Teaching Online 911 blog.