Continuity Planning Tip Sheet for Instructors
Continuity Planning Tip Sheet for Instructors
The University’s Policy on Academic Continuity (January 26, 2012) states that the “University of Toronto is committed to fulfilling its core academic mission of educating students. It recognizes that events such as pandemic health emergencies, natural disasters, prolonged service interruptions, and ongoing labour disputes are potential threats to academic continuity. Good stewardship requires that the University undertake appropriate planning and preparation to promote continuity.”
The Policy emphasizes the extent to which "resilient course and program design and other preparedness" can minimize the potential for disruption of the University’s academic mission. The following best practices are intended to support Teaching Staff in their efforts to ensure the resiliency of their courses.
Course Planning: Below you will find generic strategies and tips for designing resilient courses as part of the standard preparation for course delivery and continuity.
Write a well-planned syllabus
Finalize your course syllabus well in advance of the start of the semester.
The course syllabus has two dimensions: (i) it is essentially your “contract” with your students for the requirements in your course and (ii) it is the best place to put useful course-related information, as the syllabus must be distributed in class and/or posted on your course website.
Some Academic Departments (BIO, CPS, ICCT, MCS, and MGT) have worked with the Office of the Registrar to develop online templates for course syllabi. These include department and UTM specific language that your department wants you to use in your syllabus. If your department does not have a template, the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation has an outline for developing your course syllabus that can be found at
In addition, please see the UTM Academic Handbook, Section 3: Preparing for your course, for full details and description on designing your syllabus
Furthermore, there are various tools and strategies that you can use to support your students (and yourself) through university closure due to winter weather, as outlined on the UTM Library “Winterize your Course” webpage: https://utm.library.utoronto.ca/faculty/canvas/winterize-your-course
- Be aware of relevant sessional dates. You can find the Division’s sessional dates in the UTM Academic Calendar. Ensure that you are aware of the appropriate dates and how they may impact evaluations in your course, such as:
- sufficient material (15% for H courses) MARKED and RETURNED by the last class before the drop deadline,
- no tests worth more than 25% in the last two weeks of class. This includes “take home” tests, and
- the inclusion of multiple points of evaluation in the design of a course will make it possible to drop and re-weight assignments if required by interruptions to course delivery.
- Instructors must be careful to check for conflicts with university closed dates, reading weeks, and study breaks to avoid scheduling tests, assignments, and assessments during those times (http://www.utm.utoronto.ca/registrar/important-dates). It is also recommended to check for religious holidays when the university is open, to estimate possible student requests for make-ups/accommodations (http://www.viceprovoststudents.utoronto.ca/publicationsandpolicies/guidelines/religiousobservances.htm).
- Please note that syllabi MAY NOT BE DISTRIBUTED by any method (including Blackboard) prior to approval by the Chair/Director of your unit. If you have questions about your syllabus related to required information, assessments, etc, please do reach out to your department/program for more direction.
Assignments, assessments, and grading
(A) Collect and maintain a record of all grades
- Ensure that there is a central and accessible record of all grades. In Blackboard, it is highly recommended that you do weekly downloads of your entire gradebook. In addition, when TAs are tasked to input marks into gradebook, provide deadlines by which the grades must be entered to ensure that there is no delay in the curation of marks for assignments and tests in your course. At the end of the course, a copy of the final gradebook, with the full detailed list of all marks, should be given to the designated department/program staff member.
- Ensure that students have ongoing access to critical course documents including course syllabi and assignments through the Portal/Blackboard.
- On your syllabus, clarify acceptable modes of assignment submission (e.g. in person, a department drop box, through Turnitin.com or the Portal/Blackboard’s Assignment Tool) and any additional details or requirements about each mode. Consider specifying acceptable electronic document formats. Use of email for assignment submission and collection is not recommended, especially for larger classes.
- An important element of resiliency in course design is the capacity to administer class activities, assignments, or assessments remotely. You may wish to consider designing your course so that a portion of assignments and activities can be or are delivered through alternative means such as the Portal. Further information on these tools can be found below in Section B. Note that online tools must be approved by UTM, to avoid the tool itself becoming the source of academic disruption if hacked or lost at key points in the class.
- Instructors are often asked to provide copies of their tests and exams to the department/program in advance of their scheduled date; this is a requirement for final exams that are administered by the UTM Office of the Registrar. This will allow departments/programs to administer the tests or exams in the event that an instructor is absent due to any unforeseen circumstance.
(B) Consider incorporating online learning activities
- Consider supplementing courses with on-line activities. Interactive tools available through the Portal/Blackboard and other sources include web conferencing, lecture capture, online discussion, and survey and assessment tools. Further information regarding these suggested instructional strategies is available on the CTSI website http://teaching.utoronto.ca/ed-tech/online-learning/
Instructional technology support staff located at UTM may also be consulted for support in implementing activities to engage students using online activities. Please contact Dianne Ashbourne at the RGASC and Simone Laughton: Coordinator, Library Instructional Technology Services.
- When designing your course, consider the options for incorporating flexible learning approaches for students. If possible, design your course so that it is not dependent on a single delivery mode or platform. Blended or mixed learning approaches use multiple modes of delivery and provide options to flex in the event of an emergency, but require advance preparation of teaching materials.
- If you are designing a new course it is a good opportunity to review alternative learning approaches and incorporate learning continuity as a core component of your pedagogical approach.
- If you have an existing course, or inherit an existing course from another member of staff, consider how you could use learning continuity as part of a course review for an update or refresh of your approach.
- Where possible schedule review lecture sessions which could be used in emergency to shift delivery sessions.
(C) Communication strategies
- Consider how you will communicate with the students in your class if you are ill or in the event of unexpected circumstances. This might be through email or the communication tools on the Portal. The simplest and most secure way to contact students is through the Portal “Send Email” feature, which is automatically synced with course rosters through ROSI and sends communication to a valid and official (i.e. utoronto.ca) email address. Portal announcements can also be copied directly to students’ email addresses.
- During your first class with your students, spend some time communicating course procedures that might be particularly relevant during periods of disruption For example:
- Ensure that students can be reached for regular communications through Blackboard and provide students with clear guidelines about the use of these tools.
- Highlight the “key dates” in your course – assignment deadlines, major in-class activities, test dates, etc.
- Lastly, know who to contact in your department or division and what procedure to follow if you fall ill or in the case of other unforeseen events; this also includes communication to your students of your absence.
(D) Understand the framework for modifying course evaluation methods
Become familiar with the policies governing grading practices
U of T Grading Practices Policy prohibits any changes to approved and published assessment plans without the consent of a simple majority of students attending the class; the vote must be announced no later than in the previous class.
Even if the potential modification of course evaluation methods has not been clearly identified to students at the outset of the course, evaluation methods can still be changed under the Grading Practices Policies with the consent of at least a simple majority of the students enrolled in the course. If a decision is made to change the evaluation methods or their relative weights, then the consent of students may be obtained by a vote taken in class.
For more information on policy as it relates to teaching, please contact:
Sara da Silva
Senior Project Specialist: Academic Policy and Planning
Office of the Dean | University of Toronto Mississauga