Tips for Teaching During a Health Crisis

The H1N1 virus (Swine Flu) is expected to make a comeback to the United States this school year and officials say that college campuses could be impacted. It’s prudent for faculty to be proactive by considering how their teaching may be affected by an illness outbreak and exploring steps to continue teaching during such a situation. Here are a few suggestions as well as questions to consider when preparing for teaching during a health crisis recommended by a number of institutions. As these are simply recommendations, implement the suggestions that are applicable for your discipline and course as allowed by your college and department policies.


Preparing to teach a new course for the first time, as with any new experience, is a journey into unchartered waters. It is difficult to know exactly what to expect until actually experiencing the process. Regardless of how prepared one may strive to be, undoubtedly adjustments will be needed along the way. Each successive iteration of the course likely results in a refined and improved learning experience for students, incorporating revisions resulting from previous experiences.

No matter how familiar one may be with the course content, preparing to teach in a new format or environment involves recognizing a number of new variables and then incorporating them into the planning process. The challenge of teaching a class during a health crisis is no different from teaching in any other new instructional context, requiring adapting methods to meet the given context.

The possibility of teaching a class during a health crisis raises a number of additional scenarios and questions for consideration. A few questions that may come to mind when preparing to teach during a health crisis include:

  • What accommodations will you make for ill students?
  • What if ill students attend your classes despite health warnings to remain at home?
  • What if you become ill?
  • How will you continue the teaching and learning process during an extended illness?
  • What if classes are canceled?

These are just a few of the many questions that may likely surface when considering strategies addressing these issues. Preparation is necessary in any instructional environment, but even more so for a crisis scenario.

Tips for Preparing:

  • Plan ahead.  As the proverb states, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.” This may be stating the obvious, but it is always a good idea to plan as far in advance as possible when preparing to teach. Doing so helps alleviate stress caused by last-minute preparations.
  • Have an alternate plan. In addition to planning ahead, include alternate plans for as many potential circumstances as possible. Review your teaching plan and identify possible areas beyond your control that may impact your plan.  Then, develop a contingency plan to keep it on hand in the event that you need to deviate from your original plan.
  • Make your plan realistic. Keep in mind the full scope of your teaching, research, and service obligations as well as family and other personal commitments as you make your plan. Purposefully schedule your weekly class preparation time, office hours, and other teaching duties while balancing your other responsibilities.
  • Make your plan available to your department. Consider sharing your plan with your department chair and/or be prepared to do so with your department if for any reason someone else is needed to step-in and assist with or teach your course in your absence.
  • Keep yourself healthy. Take the recommended precautions to reduce the chance of becoming ill yourself and encourage your students to do the same. For suggestions on keeping healthy, visit
  • Become familiar with available resources. A host of support units, resources, and technologies are available for NIU faculty to utilize. A great place to start is the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, where you can find information and links to all the resources available for NIU faculty.  Perhaps consider attending a workshop on a new pedagogical approach or instructional technology or avail yourself to the wealth of step-by-step resources available at
  • Be aware of NIU’s news, information, and updates concerning H1N1. Visit the online resources available, including the NIU H1N1 flu prevention site at and the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center collection of resources for teaching during a health crisis at

Instructional Alternatives

An important component of the preparation process is identifying instructional alternatives that can be put in place if necessary to supplement and/or replace certain face-to-face interactions that are commonplace in the classroom setting. When contemplating the dynamics of teaching during a health crisis, consider how teaching the class with a diminished number of students will affect your teaching. What activities might need to be adjusted in the event of a health crisis?

  • Instructional presentation. What is the primary method for sharing instructional content with your students? Are in-class lectures crucial for students to grasp the concepts covered and meet instructional objectives? Numerous alternatives exist to traditional in-class instructional presentations, including using an online collaboration tool built in Blackboard called Wimba Classroom for replicating rich collaborative interactions from the classroom online.
  • Class discussion. Once students complete required readings and/or view instructional presentations, how will they process the information and interact with one another in the learning process? Both synchronous and asynchronous tools within Blackboard can be used to facilitate discussions, either class-wide or within smaller groups for students who can’t attend class sessions.
  • Class news and announcements. How will students be informed of class-related news and announcements that they would otherwise receive during class? Consider alternative avenues for communicating class news and announcements. Blackboard includes both email and announcement tools, making it possible to easily post an announcement for the class and simultaneously email the announcement to all students in the course. In addition, if students choose to install the new Blackboard Sync applications, either for their Facebook or iPhone / iPod Touch, they can receive class news and announcements on these platforms as well.
  • Student questions. How will students receive answers to questions that otherwise would be addressed in class? The Blackboard Discussion Board is a great location for addressing student questions. Once the faculty creates a forum for questions and answers, students can post questions and faculty or other students can respond in a centralized location. A subscription feature is available that when enabled, emails any new postings directly to the subscriber. Faculty who choose to subscribe to a forum will receive student questions via email and can respond promptly in the discussion board and even follow-up via email if necessary.
  • Assessment of student learning. How will students demonstrate competence in meeting course objectives? Several online assessment tools are available within Blackboard that can be used to facilitate the assessment process. For example, online quizzes can be conducted via Blackboard in place of in-class paper-based quizzes.

Ideas for continuing the teaching and learning process during an extended illness:

  • Record short instructional presentations to supplement in-class presentations. Using Wimba Classroom or another presentation recording and authoring tool, record short presentations that introduce the materials for the week or perhaps recap important points discussed. Make the recorded presentations available for students to view online and/or as a podcast for viewing offline on their computer or mobile device.
  • Move class discussion online to allow all students to participate in course discussion activities. Create a forum within the Blackboard Discussion Board for the given week or content unit and prepare questions for students to respond to. Inform students of expectations for substantive responses and criteria for evaluating their contributions. By enabling the grading feature for the forum, faculty can easily view the posts from a given student and assign a score for their participation.
  • Conduct online office hours instead of on-campus office hours, allowing students, who perhaps are still ill, the ability to connect with you, ask questions, and remain involved in the teaching and learning process. Consider archiving these sessions for students who are unable to attend to view the recordings later.
  • Post grades and feedback online so affected students can view their individual graded assignments. Access to assignment scores and feedback posted in Blackboard is restricted; students can only view their own individual scores and available feedback from the faculty.
  • Conduct low-stakes online quizzes to assess whether learning is taking place outside class sessions.  Provide an opportunity for affected students to take an alternative form of in-class quizzes that may be drawn from a pool of questions from course readings or class notes.
  • Present lectures online in lieu of selected in-class lecture presentations if you are familiar with online lecture technologies and such alternatives are appropriate. Using the Wimba Classroom tool in Blackboard, give live online lectures in which students can see presentations materials, hear and see the instructor, and interact with the instructor and fellow students in real time. Students who are ill or concerned about being in close proximity with other learners can participate from any computer connected to the Internet. Archive the sessions for students who are unable to attend so they can view the recordings later.


Not only must instructional alternatives be considered, but also accommodations for students who miss class in the event of an extended illness. It certainly may be challenging to maintain academic rigor while also accommodating the physical needs of students. It is important to become aware of university and departmental policies addressing interruptions caused by extended illness. After reviewing existing university recommendations, you may wish to develop your own strategies for accommodating students affected by a health crisis.

Suggestions for accommodating students during a health crisis:

  • Keep students up-to-date when they miss class for an extended period of time. Communicate with students, either via phone, email, or online announcements in Blackboard.
  • Collect assignments electronically instead of in paper form. Provide students who are unable to attend class the opportunity to submit work in electronic form, either via email or using the Assignment Manager in Blackboard.
  • Develop guidelines for make-up work. Identify possible alternatives to assigned in-class work that could be completed outside of class. For example, if students are ill and unable to complete a required lab activity, how will this situation be addressed?  You may ask the student, once healthy, to come to a lab and complete the assignment outside of class time.
  • Provide instructional alternatives. Contemplate how students who are unable to attend class will have access to information covered. Ideas might include recording lectures and posting as podcast, providing class notes electronically, and/or requesting that students share their hand-written notes with affected students. Perhaps discuss with the class what instructional alternatives they would find most helpful.
  • Prepare hard copy packets. For affected students who may not have ready access to the Internet, you may consider preparing hard copies of reference materials, assignments, etc. to distribute to ill students in addition to posting online in Blackboard. These materials could be mailed to students and would be available when they return to campus.

Institutional Resources

Begin your preparation efforts by becoming familiar with the available resources specific to the support services, guidelines, and directives from NIU. To find and the news, information, and resources from NIU regarding teaching during a health crisis, visit Among the notable institutional resources available there, you will find:

Additional Resources

Additionally, a number of local, state, and federal agencies are providing current information online concerning preparation and response to H1N1 flu, including:

If you are in need of further assistance in your teaching or teaching-related activities, contact the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at 815-753-0595 or email

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