There will likely be times in Fall 2021 when your students can’t attend class. This post aims to combine university policy and Chicago Language Center recommendations to help you consider how to best accommodate these students.

Official University Policy

For official policy please refer to the recent message from the Provost, which includes the following:

When students are required to miss class

Instructors are encouraged to be flexible, within pedagogical and practical limits, with students who are required to miss class because they are in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms prior to obtaining a COVID-19 test, or are quarantining. If a student cannot attend class for these reasons, they should contact their instructors directly to make alternative arrangements to attend the class remotely, request a recording of the class, or make up the work later.

A student who is unable to attend class for more than two weeks will need to use their Dean of Students’ regular process to make arrangements.

Please read the message in full, but you’ll note that the Provost sets out three options: 1) students attend class remotely via blended synchronous learning (BSL), 2) the class is recorded, or 3) students make up work. We in the Language Center understand this to mean that the method of accommodating students is up to the instructor’s discretion.

Factors to consider

Most (but not all) classrooms now have video conferencing equipment, which means Zooming students into class is a possiblity, but the Language Center strongly recommends considering a few things before making that decision.

First, please see Nick Swinehart’s BSL demo from August 24, 2021 if you have not already done so. In that workshop, Nick lays out some of his perspectives on BSL:

  • BSL requires preparation and practice before teaching and brings an extra cognitive load while teaching because it involves juggling three separate entities: in-person students, remote students, and the technology that connects them.
  • Just having a student observe the class synchronously via Zoom (or asynchronously, using the classroom equipment to record class) as a “fly on the wall” is relatively easy, but still requires extra preparation and attention from the instructor. But trying to fully integrate a remote student into the classroom (e.g., pair and group work, being able to read the chalkboard, etc.) is more challenging, requires more preparation, may not be feasible in some of our classrooms.
  • BSL gets better with time and practice, which means it’s a better long-term than short-term solution.
  • Consider how accommodating one or two remote students could adversely affect the entire class if the instructor is not familiar with teaching in a BSL setting or if technical difficulties slow down the class’s progress.

In addition, there are several variables that can affect the feasibility of BSL:

  • How long the student will be absent.
  • The format of the class (e.g., lecture vs discussion vs interactive language class).
  • The instructor’s comfort level with technology and ability to prepare for different modes of instruction (recorded or BSL).
  • The size and layout of the classroom.

What to do when students tell you they can’t attend class due to Covid-19 issues

First, take stock of the situation and weigh your options based on the guidance laid out in this post. If a student tells you on Wednesday that they can’t make it to class on Thursday, we do NOT recommend blindly jumping into BSL on a moment’s notice (unless you have prior experience with it or are very comfortable using classroom technology).

If you decide to have the student make up work in lieu of attending class meetings (i.e., how things were typically done pre-Covid), communicate this with the student.

If you decide to use the conferencing equipment to have the student participate in class, either synchronously or asynchronously, we recommend taking a day or two to become familiar with the classroom equipment and think about how you’ll need to adjust the way you teach. The tutorial videos on UChicago’s Classroom AV Training page are quite good at giving you the basics of how to use the equipment. You can also request training from AV Services at avs@uchicago.edu or from Nick at nswinehart@uchicago.edu.

Ultimately the classroom conferencing equipment is fairly simple and just serves as an external camera, microphone, and speaker to be used in Zoom, which we’re all very familiar with by now. But I wouldn’t underestimate the amount of practice it takes to become comfortable using such equipment during class in front of your students. When using Zoom, remember that you’ll need to share your screen if you want the remote student(s) to see your computer content, including when you are recording. Also make sure students are aware that these accomodations can only be made for “students who are required to miss class because they are in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms prior to obtaining a COVID-19 test, or are quarantining,” per the Provost’s message.

In conclusion: when students can’t attend class because of Covid-19, we urge instructors to consider both the official guidance from the Provost and the recommendations made here by the Language Center to determine the method of accommodation that will work best for the student, the instructor, and the class as a whole.