Flu-proof your course: Planning your syllabus and class policies

As we prepare for the new school year, it’s a good time to think about how you might deal with an emergency in your class.  Duke News reported that the Duke TIP had to cancel a summer session due to a flu outbreak and recent news reports indicate that there is still the potential for outbreaks of the H1N1 flu virus this Fall.

Duke University and Duke University Health System officials have been working this summer to prepare for detecting and managing the H1N1 flu virus, pulling together a team that has prepared plans, information and updates on how the university is prepared.  Students will be receiving information about protecting themselves from the flu and what to do in case they become ill.

The CIT will be publishing a series of blog posts with ideas, suggestions and links to resources that you can use to prepare if the flu hits you or students in your classes and offering events and other information to help you prepare.

The most immediate and simplest thing to do is to look over your syllabus and attendance policies.  Students are being advised that if they are diagnosed with or have suspected influenza to not attend class and avoid contact with others for at least 24 hours after their fever resolves – student might be out of classes for a full week.

You can help by reminding students about the Duke flu information website and guidelines and by letting them know at the start of the course the plans you have in place to help them keep up with their coursework.  Be sure to tell them how you will issue updates about changes in your class plans or update them on assignments – the Blackboard announcements feature, email, Facebook or Twitter updates can be used, but your students need to know where to look for new information.

A case of influenza might take a week to resolve, causing a student to miss two or three class sessions.  You may wish to be more flexible with attendance policies in your course, encouraging students, if they feel well enough, to participate in online discussions or forums such as blogs to continue engagement with class activities.

If you have assignments due, students might miss deadlines because of illness.  In your syllabus and grading policy, outline how you will handle late assignments or missed exams – you might want to consider how to fairly assess late work from students and keep them informed so they know what to expect.

You may want to review the Trinity College policies and academic requirements for undergraduates, including documents on Class attendance and Missed Work and the forms for Short-Term Illness Notification.

Also think about what might happen if you have to miss some class sessions due to your own illness.  You might plan alternate activities for your students or discuss possible plans with your teaching assistant.  Be aware of your options for technologies which can help. If illness strikes, planning ahead can make things easier for you and your students.

In other posts in this series, we’ll look at some tools on campus that can help if your class is disrupted by illness including ways to use Blackboard to carry out online assignments and discussions and how to deliver lectures online if a significant number of your students are unable to attend class.

If you would like to discuss your syllabus and planning for contingencies in your course, you can contact the CIT for a consultation.  For more information, see the CIT’s website for a summary of resources to flu-proof your course.

Randy Riddle

Author: Randy Riddle

Randy Riddle is a Senior Consultant in Duke Learning Innovation and consults with faculty in the Social Sciences on pedagogy, learning, student assessment, and integrating technology into teaching practices. His professional interests include active learning, “flipped” classroom methods, inclusive classroom strategies, and integration of e-learning tools, social networking, video and multimedia, and data visualization into the daily work of teaching.