Center for Teaching and Learning

Teaching and learning when operations are suspended

Bad weather, natural disasters, and other emergencies may result in missed class time for instructors and students. Because it’s not always possible to schedule additional instructional hours within a quarter, we have posted a number of resources that can help you and your students when university operations are suspended. UW-IT also offers practical advice on using technology when classes can’t meet.

As you consider the suggestions below, ask yourself what learning you want to prioritize for class time and what learning can be done asynchronously.

Asynchronous instructional options

Pre-record your lectures

Pre-recording lectures works for classes of any size and is especially useful for large lectures. It’s an excellent option for students who may not be available during class time (snow days, kids at home). Colleen Craig (ASA Teaching Fellow, Chemistry faculty) says it’s easy to record lectures using Panopto.

Below are some tutorials she located on the Panopto website:

For more information, check out Academic Technologies’ Panopto FAQs page.

Assign online individual, paired or group work

  • Ask students to complete a Canvas quiz after viewing your pre-recorded lecture or completing assigned readings.
  • Ask students to work on problems, projects, or drafts online. They can do so either individually, in pairs, or groups. Then they submit the work and discuss it together.
    Students are not all working at the same time, but they do submit the work 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
  • 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 online via Zoom

While best for classes of 50 or fewer students, Zoom can accommodate up to 300 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.

Include some Zoom best practices in your email to students:

  1. Use a computer that is in a quiet room, without other computers that are accessing Zoom.
  2. Click on the Zoom meeting 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.

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 and 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

Your Zoom meeting can also be recorded to your computer and uploaded to Canvas.

This is helpful for:

  • Students who are unable to get online to join a live session.
  • A small class that requires extensive interaction (be careful to remind students that the meeting is being recorded).

Have students meet online to do team or group work during class time

You can use peer review or other Canvas features during the time your class regularly meets.

Let your students 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 for everyone.

Mixed asynchronous & synchronous teaching

Pre-record your lecture and offer a supplemental live Zoom meeting

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 be uploaded to Canvas later. Local recording allows users to record meeting video and audio to their own computer.

Best practices

Recommended practices and "easy wins"

  • Communicate fully and explicitly with students. Summarize all of the changes to your course on a dedicated Canvas page. See: Canvas guides for creating a page and uploading media.
  • Utilize Canvas announcements to keep your students up-to-date on any changes or modifications.
  • Send a request to to set up a phone or Zoom meeting with someone in Learning Technologies if you need assistance using these tools.
  • Fill out CTL’s contact form to request a Zoom, phone, or email conversation with an instructional consultant if you have questions about your course changes.
  • Take advantage of colleagues’ ideas, departmental practices, and share your 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. 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 and tutorial (unless you were going to do that anyway).
  • Adapting the course in a way that requires your TAs to work more than 20 hours a week.
  • Increasing the weight of any graded assignment.
  • Adding a class session during finals week.
  • Extending the course so that it ends after finals week.
  • Rescheduling finals.


How are UW instructors using these resources?

When the snow began to fall in Winter 2019, instructors across the UW had to think quickly about how to keep their courses on track. Read about their experiences on the Trends and Issues in Higher Education page: Ideas for Teaching when Operations are Suspended.

Scott Spaulding, Ph.D., College of Education

Setting guidelines and expectations

Scott Spaulding, College of Education

Riki Thompson, associate professor of Writing Studies, UW Tacoma

Using Zoom for discussion groups

Riki Thompson
Rhetoric & Writing Studies, UW Tacoma

Haideh Salehi-Esfahani, lecturer, UW Dept. of Economics

Recording and posting lectures

Haideh Salehi-Esfahani, Department of Economics



Related UW resources