Planning for Instructional Contingencies

Examples of Early Communications With Students (COVID-19 Remote Transition)


The following context statement and initial two message templates were written by members of the UW-Madison Excel Initiative and the Collaborative for Advancing Learning and Teaching and shared with their permission.
In line with what we know about creating inclusive learning environments, students need first and foremost to know that we care about them and their learning. Nuts and bolts (in this case, the logisticdal details of a new course format that is being created on the fly) come second.
  • Consider sending an initial written message via your usual channels expressing or reiterating your care and concern for students (which I know some of you have already done!)
  • We also suggest creating a short, informal video (1-2 minutes) highlighting these sentiments to embed in your Canvas page (here’s introduction to recording videos using Kaltura MediaSpace tool; how to embed a recorded Kaltura video in Canvas).
  • If you – like me – are new to recording video, this informal “I care about you” video can be a good, low-stakes practice run to gauging how/if you would like to use lecture capture video in the remote teaching of your course. The research on video usage in online courses suggests that the optimal length of a video that students will reliably consume is very short (precise numbers vary somewhat – I’ve seen 5-7 minutes as a common recommendation). When it comes to video, less is more.
To close, I’ll offer some adaptable boilerplate language and processes to consider (scroll down below for two boilerplate messages). Please know that in both spirit and letter, these resources are meant to be suggestive of ideas you might consider and not prescriptive of what you should do. Please let me know if I can offer additional resources in this challenging time for all on campus.

For an initial message of care and concern for students:

Dear class,

As our campus shifts to remote teaching and learning in the coming weeks, I want to take a moment to reassure you about my commitment as an instructor to supporting you and your learning. I know that many of you will have a lot on your mind–health concerns, childcare/eldercare arrangements in flux, worries about family, friends, and colleagues globally and across the US–and I want you to know that I will be doing my best to support you in this challenging time.

Please reach out to me (EMAIL) if there are other areas in which I can offer support or if there’s anything you’d like me to know about your situation – again, I am here to help you.

Following Up With Specifics

For an initial nuts-and-bolts communication around the developing new course format, you may wish to use or adapt the following. Again, all details are suggestive and not prescriptive – every instructor’s voice, approach, and course context is distinct:

As for how we will be shifting to remote teaching and learning, here’s what you can expect from me in the coming week(s):

  • I will share a short welcome video
  • I will continue to use [THIS COMMUNICATION TOOL – e.g. Canvas Announcements] to communicate about the eventual changes in course format and other matters of concern as they arise.
  • I’ll send out a survey to determine reasonable expectations for what you as an individual can access remotely (e.g., to see if you have access to a computer and Wifi away from campus) and effective formats to support your learning (e.g. online discussions, short lecture capture videos). I encourage you to take the time to fill out this survey as it will help me bring additional care and specificity to how I adapt the course to our new format.
  • Please know that I will be offering flexibility on [THINGS – e.g. assignment deadlines; presentations; scoring of discussion section attendance and participation], and I will be communicating these details to you.
  • I’ll highlight resources for student wellbeing, mental health, and food security (see this Google Doc for campus resources in all of these areas) in this period of uncertainty.
  • I will set up (or continue to have you use) [VENUE – e.g. Canvas Discussions] as a place for you to ask me questions and support one another during this period. I’ll encourage you all to use this as a space to say hello and check-in on one another!

Please reach out to me (EMAIL) if there are other areas in which I can offer support or if there’s anything you’d like me to know about your situation – again, I am here to help you.

With warmest wishes,


Additional Examples

The following messages are examples of other instructors’ initial communications with students. If you’d like to share your own messages or adaptations here for other fellows to see and adapt, please contact Naomi or Chris.

Example 1: Shared by Mike Caulfield


[Describe situation, link to the school’s announcement, and maybe explain why this is important.] [Talk a bit about your course]

I want to stress that this is an emergency transition to online, and there are likely to be some glitches as we go forward.

I am also fully aware that some of you may not have the ideal space or internet connection at home to participate in a remote class to the extent you might wish. You may have other constraints or issues with accessing or using online materials.

I am committed to working with you all to make sure the online version of this course meets your needs as best as possible in these admittedly difficult circumstances.

More information will follow, but for the moment the most important thing to know is that we will be communicating course updates and requirements through announcements here on the LMS.

If at all possible, plan to check this space over break to learn how we are moving forward. And if you have any specific concerns, reach out to me personally.



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MTLE Resources Copyright © by Christian Castro; Naomi Salmon; and Madison Teaching and Learning Excellence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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