Prepare for a Continuity Break

August 2020: Your Stearns Center team has created a new set of resource pages to support faculty teaching in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021. All of the relevant information from this page has been relocated to that new resource, along with lots more updated and new material!

Thinking ahead, planning for various scenarios, and being flexible will help support instructional continuity. Prepare ahead of time by checking your teaching and technology skills: Do you have the knowledge and tools to shift instruction to an online setting? Then consider how you will establish communication, prepare alternative instructional materials, and improve your familiarity and skill regarding key online tools.

Review Your Skills

If you have done or know how to do most of the Basic tasks listed below, you can readily adapt your course to an online learning space for a single meeting or two. The Intermediate tasks will allow you to sustain instruction across multiple class sessions. Which ones do you need to learn more about?

(Please note that some tools that are starred* below do not meet FERPA guidelines for keeping Mason students’ educational information secure.)

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Basic Communication
  • Sign up to receive text alerts from Mason Alert
  • Identify what your and your students’ communication-from-home resources are (if students don’t have strong Internet access at home, can they identify a nearby library or other location they could use?)
  • Log into Blackboard, where a course shell exists for every course you teach this semester
  • Make each course’s Blackboard site available to students
  • Use Blackboard’s Announcement function (or Blackboard email) to communicate to your class
  • Create a discussion board on Blackboard (or consider using an alternate discussion option like Piazza)
  • Download and use the Blackboard or Blackboard Instructor app on your phone (in case wireless isn’t functioning)
  • Use a Blackboard Guide—such as Beginning of the Semester Checklist—to learn a new approach or solve a problem

Basic Course ReDesign

Successful redesigners are able to prioritize goals within course learning, since they may face time and resource limits

Successful redesigners are able to identify basic preparational knowledge that students can learn without much intervention or interaction

Successful redesigners are able to identify more complex or difficult knowledge that will benefit from interaction, stepwise learning, collaboration, and/or their instructional encouragement and feedback

  • Know the top priority learning goals for each week/unit of your course: what should students know how to do by the time you reach each checkpoint?
  • Identify which goals are primarily about preparational knowledge: students can identify, recall, and define key concepts
  • Identify which goals are complex or applied knowledge: students can analyze, apply, solve, and evaluate concepts and problems in the field
  • Identify which goals are about knowledge creation: students provide their own interpretation, build their own solutions, create a project to share, or report on new data
  • Identify the concepts or tasks that cause students the most difficulty as learners in your course

Basic Information Sharing: Text

Basic Information Sharing: Video

Research shows that short videos (4-6 minutes each) are much more likely to be watched start-to-finish by students; videos longer than 6-10 minutes may not provide the full information to all students.

  • Find and share (via GMU email or Blackboard) an educational video from YouTube* (or other public website).
  • Create and share (via GMU email or Blackboard) your own video from home using basic tools (smartphone video recording)
  • Design a video preview guide, notetaking assignment, or short quiz to help students focus on key elements of the video

Basic Assessment of Student Learning

Basic Relationship and Time Management
  • Decide on a regular communication protocol and inform your students of your availability and response time
  • Consider options for group feedback and crowdsourcing: create an “Ask for Help” discussion thread, respond to a series or set of discussion posts at once rather than individually, design structured peer-review tasks
  • Prioritize your teaching and response time to match key goals and difficult concepts for learners

Intermediate Communication: Synchronous Group Discussions
  • Confirm whether your home WiFi supports videoconferencing
  • Know how to participate in a voice conference or video conference from home using web applications supported at Mason (WebEx, Collaborate Ultra in Blackboard) and provide your students with guidance (to Collaborate or WebEx)
  • Know how to participate in a voice conference or videoconference from home using public web applications (Skype, Zoom, Bluejean, etc.)
  • Know how to share a screen shot or document while on a videoconference call from home in your chosen videoconferencing application
  • Know how to operate features such as Chat and Record in your chosen videoconferencing application

Intermediate Information Sharing: Video

Intermediate Assessment of Student Learning

Set Your Communication Plan

The first step of planning for possible interruptions of instruction is developing your plan to communicate with your students and with the university, if an emergency occurs. To prepare your communication plan, complete the following steps (listed under COLLECT, SHARE, and PRACTICE) for each of your classes.


  • Identify the primary method of communication with your students to use in case of an Emergency; this will likely be Mason email.
  • Keep copies of student contact information (Mason email lists) for your courses in both electronic and paper formats.
    Keep these copies secure in accordance with FERPA. If you email your entire class, please include student emails in bcc.
  • Prepare templates for messages which may be emailed or posted to Blackboard following, during and after an emergency disruption.


  • Make sure that your syllabus is available in electronic format and provided to your students.
  • Inform students how the course will proceed, if there is a disruption or cancellation.
  • Prepare and distribute a timeline of learning activity expectations for emergencies.
  • Provide students with general information for instructional continuity, and then provide more specific details when the emergency arises.
  • Provide students with your emergency contact Information, including your mason email address, and non-Mason email. If you have a non-Mason email account but you want to keep it private, set up an additional free account just for emergency use. Make sure that you check this “emergency email” regularly throughout the semester, in case students try to contact you even if there are no class disruptions during the semester.
  • Following an emergency situation, have students “sign in” to your emergency email address, so that you know that students are safe and available via email or internet.

Discuss the communications plan with your students now (before an emergency situation) and review regularly throughout the semester.

Prepare Alternate Instructional Materials

Issues to AddressPossible Solutions/Technologies
Establish a mode of communication to use in case of an emergency. Ensure students all have access to and are aware of this communication method.Email
Make your syllabus available digitally.Email
Decide how you will distribute documents and readings during a disruption. 

Become familiar with the process of making PDFs from other documents or paper copies.

 Familiarize yourself with how to use library e-reserves.



GMU’s Library e-Reserves
Designate a centralized place to collect student submissions.Email
(Note: Public online sites such as Dropbox and Google Drive are not considered secure to protect the privacy of student work)
Think about how you would continue class discussion in the event of a disruption.Email
Blackboard Collaborate Ultra
Consider capturing your lecture content for students to watch remotely.Kaltura Capture 
Identify an option for holding class and/or office hours virtually. Blackboard Collaborate Ultra
Think about how your methods for evaluating student learning could be moved to a digital space.Blackboard  (for submitting assignments)
Respondus Lockdown Browser (for use with online exams)
Settle on an option for providing students with grades and feedback on their work in the event of an emergency.Blackboard
Email (use GMU addresses to preserve privacy and security)

Increase Your Familiarity with Online Tools

Explore and practice with any technologies you might use in the event of a closure.

  • Basic Blackboard Tools: Make announcements, send emails, upload files, create a discussion board, create an exam/quiz
  • Intermediate Blackboard Tools: Use Collaborate Ultra for synchronous meetings, use Kaltura to record a lecture and slideshow, use wikis for group projects
  • Additional Blackboard ToolsCreate an exam through Respondus Lockdown

Mason’s ITS website “Emergency Proof Your Course” provides a set of “just in time” videos to support faculty learning. You may also be interested in the following resources:

You can also sign up to complete ITS training and workshops for Blackboard, Kaltura, and other technologies.