Thursday, February 05, 2015


Snowy Days and Mondays

Thanks to snowstorms, we’ve already lost the first two Monday nights of the semester to closings.  According to the folks on the Weather Channel, it’s entirely possible that we’ll lose the third, too.

That would not be good.

Day classes usually meet at least two or three times per week.  If you have a class that meets every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, then losing the first two Mondays is frustrating, but it amounts to two out of forty-five meetings.  With a bit of adjustment, it can be managed.

But evening classes usually only meet one night per week.  Instead of losing two out of forty-five, they’ve already lost two out of fifteen, and may soon miss three out of fifteen.  That’s a much more significant hit.

Many classes have web-based components, so they can achieve something productive during snow days.  But not all of them do.  (I hope that this year’s weather will prompt more faculty to add online components, but that doesn’t help right now.)  As luck would have it, the lost days were the first days, so the classes haven’t even met yet.  I know that many professors get student contact information on the first day of class, so they could reach out to students that way even if they didn’t have a full-blown online component to the course.  But when the first days are missed, that workaround hasn’t been established yet.

We have makeup days at the end of the semester, and that helps.  But the logistics of attending on a different day of the week can be an issue, especially for evening students and adjunct faculty.  Childcare arrangements and work hours sometimes prevent folks from making it to makeup days, even with the best of intentions.  

Obviously, the best solution would be for the snowstorms to cooperate.  If they would at least pick different days of the week, the scheduling issues would be much easier.  But this year they’ve picked Mondays, and they’re stubbornly resistant to entreaties.  And given that many evening students are already scheduled to within inches of their lives among their various obligations, there are limits to the amount of flexibility we can expect them to have.

Wise and worldly readers, have you seen reasonably elegant workarounds to use when snowstorms stubbornly insist on picking the same day of the week over and over again, even after you’ve politely asked them not to?

" I know that many professors get student contact information on the first day of class, so they could reach out to students that way ...."

You don't have a mailing list for each section, or mass-announcement with e-mail backup in your LMS, or at least student e-mail addresses in your campus enrollment management system? Wow. I can't remember when we couldn't e-mail an entire class, including before the start of the semester. Admin also uses it to fore-warn students if a class has to be canceled.

As for your main question, the only elegant solution is to empower individual faculty members to deal with it as befits the needs of their specific classes and bring to you any cases where they think administrative solutions (rescheduling?) are necessary.

You might have to start thinking about having those classes meet during spring break if you lose 20% of the semester.

I had a similar (but not as serious) situation where we lost the equivalent of a full week by losing two separate days, and that resulted in a major drop in learning even though it was in the middle of the semester. (Actually, the middle of the semester could be worse than just starting late like in your case. Your students don't have anything to forget.)
My CC (also in the snowbelt) much went to a MW and TTH schedule a few years ago, with once a week Friday and Saturday classes rounding out the rest. For science classes, we meet once a week for lecture and once a week for lab. Combined with the holidays, the weather has decimated Mondays, and the snow days have had the same effect on our Monday science lectures as all Monday evening classes. When you cancel one day, you lose the entire week of lecture.

Using lab time for lecture is not an option, since there are lab course objectives which need to be accomplished as well.

My concern is that the students who are in prerequisite courses are not going to master the material they need for the subsequent classes, and we'll be seeing the effects of this snow well beyond this semester. I will be reading along to see what others have done or are planning to do.
Really glad that my labs are all on Fridays this semester.
My advice to Anonymous @4:19AM is "triage". Can a student pass the class after missing a lab due to illness? Can a student pass, and be successful, despite missing exam questions on some particular topic or forgetting it all forever the day after the test? Certainly.

So what really, really matters to that next class? That is where to place your focus, and there is probably a lab you can do without (or blend into a discovery approach "lecture" class) to do what you need to do.

In my experience, continuity of learning (see comment above) matters more than missing or deferring one particular experience. I'd decide that day if lecture needed to be in place of lab that week and the lab shifted or skipped.

Dean Reed appears to have a calendar with 15 weeks of class plus finals every semester, but my college does not. Our semester varies from 14.0 to 15.0 weeks (plus finals), so we already decided what lab or week of material to omit from the shorter ones and how to work around Monday holidays or fractional weeks. That process helped us figure out what else we could trim when an emergency intervenes.
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