Center for Teaching and Learning

Teaching and learning on snow days

from Academic Technologies & the Center for Teaching and Learning

The recent snow storms resulted in missed class time for many instructors and students. Although it is not possible to schedule additional instructional hours, there are a host of technologies and pedagogical best practices that can help you and your students when the weather turns bad.

As you consider the brief list of options below, ask yourself what learning you want to prioritize for class time (using active learning strategies) and what learning can be done asynchronously (using pre-recorded lectures or writing to learn).

Asynchronous Instructional Options

Recording lectures (works for class of any size, esp. large lecture)

Pre-recording lectures is great if students may not be available during the class time (snow days, kids at home).  Colleen Craig (ASA Teaching Fellow, Chemistry faculty) says it’s easy to record lectures by using Panopto. Below are some tutorials she located on the Panopto website:

For more information about Panopto, check out the Academic Technologies FAQ.

Online paired or group work

  1. Ask students to work on problems, projects, or drafts online. They can do so either individually, in pairs, or in groups.
  2. Students submit the work and discuss it together. They are not all working at the same time. But the work must be completed by a specific time and date. (E.g.: Please submit the draft by 1:00 p.m. on February 25. Peer review the drafts written by the students in your group, using the protocol. Then submit your peer reviews by 5:00 p.m. on March 1.)

Best practices for online paired or group work

  • Rather than create an additional graded assignment, it’s best to use part or all of an assignment students are already working on – or an activity you’d planned to have students do in class – rather than create an additional graded assignment.
  • Assign groups of students to do different readings on the syllabus and then facilitate asynchronous, online discussion of the readings together (an online version of the “jigsaw” activity).
  • Use the Canvas peer review feature for students to submit rough drafts, and give each other feedback on drafts, as per a protocol you post on Canvas.

Synchronous Instructional Options

Meet your class live, via Zoom (while best for classes of 50 or fewer students, Zoom can accommodate up to 100 participants easily)

Riki Thompson (Writing Studies faculty, UW Tacoma) met her class via Zoom when campus was closed. If you’ve already got a Zoom Pro account, let your students know via Canvas that you’ll meet with them at the usual time and day via Zoom. Advise them to be at their desktop or laptop ahead of time to try out the link you’ll have sent them. You can include some best Zoom practices in your email to your students:

  1. Use a computer that is in a quiet room, without other computers that are accessing Zoom.
  2. Click on the link sent by the instructor.
  3. Unmute the audio and video at the bottom left-hand side of the screen.
  4. When you are not talking, mute your audio.
  5. Use the chat feature at the right if you have questions.
  6. Your Zoom meeting can also be recorded to your computer and uploaded to Canvas for students who are unable to get online to join the synchronous session.

If you don’t have a Zoom Pro account, use a Zoom Basic (free) session. However, please know that the Basic accounts cut you off after 40 minutes. Your options:

  1. At 35 minutes, take a class break of 5 minutes & then start over or re-launch the meeting immediately.
  2. Get a personal Zoom Pro account. Learn more about pricing for Zoom.

Record a Zoom meeting if you have a small class that requires extensive interaction (be careful to remind students that it is being recorded).

If the Zoom session is recorded, it will help those that didn’t have access to a computer for the live session.

This recorded session can be uploaded to Canvas and embedded within a page.

Have students meet to do team or group work online (via peer review or other Canvas feature) during the time the class meets.

Let them know in advance how long this activity will take and to contact you via Canvas with any questions. If a number of students ask the same question, you can post an answer on a Canvas page to everyone.

Mixed Asynchronous & Synchronous Teaching

Pre-record a lecture using Panopto (or Zoom), and offer a supplemental live meeting via Zoom for follow-up questions. This format would not require recording the follow-up session, and is a useful option for those that are comfortable with it. If you start a Zoom meeting with local recording for just yourself, it can essentially function as a local recording solution, just be sure to test out switching from the video camera and desktop sharing before recording a long session. You could even record multiple, shorter videos to keep within the 40-minute limit on Basic Zoom accounts.

Other Best Practices and “Easy Wins”

  • Communicate fully and explicitly with students. Summarize all of the changes to your course in a dedicated Canvas page. Here are guides for creating a page and uploading media.
  • Utilize Canvas announcements to keep your students up-to-date on any changes or modifications.
  • Send in a request at to set up a phone call or Zoom appointment with someone in Learning Technologies who can help if you need assistance using these tools.
  • Fill out this quick contact form to request a Zoom, phone, or email conversation about these course changes – or your questions – with an instructional consultant at the Center for Teaching and Learning.
  • Take advantage of the ideas of colleagues and departmental practices. Share ideas.

Practices to Avoid

  • Holding class via Zoom at a time and day the class does not meet.
  • Extending class beyond the time the class usually meets.
  • Increasing the amount of work students are expected to do.
  • Asking students to do the same amount and kind of work the syllabus initially expected them to do while (a) compressing the work into a shorter time period and/or (b) reducing their access to instructor, peer, or campus resources (like Odegaard Writing & Research Center (OWRC)) they’d otherwise have access to. If you have more content than time, reflect on the student learning outcomes for your course, and focus on those that are the most important.
  • Teaching via individual consultation & tutorial (unless you were going to do that anyway).
  • Adapting the course in a way that requires your T.A.s to work more than 20 hours a week.
  • Increasing the weight of any graded assignment.
  • Extending the course so that it ends after finals week. Many students have multiple finals and many will have a time conflict during finals week.
  • Reschedule finals.
  • Add a class session during finals week.

Message from Provost Mark Richards

In the end, please keep in mind that we have experienced a truly unprecedented series of weather events at UW. But it is not a true catastrophe by any means, and at some point many instructors will probably do well to just accept the fact that not as much instruction and learning will occur during the Winter 2019 quarter at UW. Although it may be tempting to cram more learning into less time, we should be cognizant that increasing our students’ stress levels even further is simply not the right thing to do at this time.