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I will be teaching a course which is made up of 13 weeks of classes in the Fall of 2016. Unfortunately, I will also be travelling in the middle of the semester to a conference in the US from my home university located in Asia. This means that for one week, I will not physically be in my home university and I will have to cancel classes.

Unfortunately, we cover quite a lot of material in the course. Therefore, I am afraid that if I cancel one week of classes I will not be able to cover all the material. What are my options in such a situation?

I was considering recording a video of my lectures just for that week I am away. Assignments can be submitted electronically so I could assign work for the students which they can complete and submit online.

What have other professors/lecturers done in such a situation?

  • 12
    In my experience this is usually handled with a combination of a) canceling class, b) lectures by the TA, and/or c) guest lectures from other faculty/postdocs/etc. – Roger Fan May 4 '16 at 6:39
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    My advisor usually plans exams/field trips on the classes he is traveling. I'm his TA so I take over on such classes. – The Guy May 4 '16 at 15:38
  • My favorite lectures as an undergrad were ones taught by a (competent) TA. They provide a difference in style, and sometimes explain things better than the professor. – Snakes and Coffee May 5 '16 at 10:48
23

I do it like this:

  1. Try to let a colleague* take over. This almost always works with 'standard' classes (intro to statistics, this kind of stuff)
  2. Plan the classes in such a way that the students are busy with something else in this week (e.g., data collection), so that a plenary meeting is not necessary.
  3. Cancel - but if I would cancel more than one meeting of a course, I would probably get problems with my department.

* we don't really have the concept of a TA here, you are either teaching (then, you are a colleague) or not - so 'colleague' also can include graduate students that might be referred to as TA in other systems

(context: Europe/Netherlands; social sciences)

  • 3
    Yes, my department doesn't allow travels during teaching semesters unless one provides adequate substitutions or alternative plans. Reschedulling classes is generally not possible or very difficult because of the packed schedule. – Massimo Ortolano May 4 '16 at 7:13
16

The first step should be to ask what is usually done at your institution.

Currently I can reschedule lectures when it's really necessary.

At a previous I have written slides for my TA to give. I also covered a lecture for a colleague, from their notes. In this case there was a minimum number of hours of instruction for the course, so missing any would have been a problem (I did cancel one, but in unexpected circumstances).

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    The first step should be to ask what is usually done at your institution. This. – cfr May 5 '16 at 0:44
6

Adding on to @damian' answer, another suggestion prepone your classes of that period by swapping sessions with your colleagues. This would also require cooperation and understanding from your colleagues.

1

Besides to all other solutions presented in other answers, I can add these options too.

  1. If your university/ department regulations allow you, cancel your class at that day, so your students will be able to schedule their day studying or reviewing their courses; or simply enjoy going out and not having to study at that day. (Joking but your students may be so happy with this option!)

  2. Reschedule your course for another day. Of course, this option needs to be checked whether regulations of your university/ department allows you or not. Also, you have to see whether your students can attend at an alternative date or not.

  3. Distribute the time of your class between other sessions. For instance, if your class is 45 minutes, you may add 15 minutes to other three sessions to cover time of that class completely. Some students may not be happy with this option because they may have scheduled class after your class and this extended time may waste their coffee breaks.

  4. Use distance learning methods and if your institute has video conference and high speed internet, teach by video conferencing methods. Some applications such as Skype may allow you to do so. However, you should think about this method and whether your university/ department allows you to do so.

Plan some programs which do not require you to be present with your class at the day you are going to the conference. This may include activities such:

  1. Some professors or lecturers have quizzes or midterm exams during the semester.
    You may schedule your quizzes or class exams to be taken at the day you are going to travel. Of course this needs previous notification to your class.

  2. Some others plan short one day technical visits to projects, laboratories, etc. These types of visits is very often in the courses of Engineering programs such as Civil Engineering in which students visit some construction projects as part of their courses. If your presence is not important in such one day programs, then scheduling your travel during these visits seems to be perfect.

  3. Some courses are presented by two lecturers. If your course is the same, you may ask your partner lecturer to go to the class in that specific day.

  4. Ask a colleague lecturer to go to the class. However, I do not really recommend this option in a student's perspective. When I was a student, I did not really like the change in the method the course delivered to me by an alternative lecturer. Professors have different ways of lecturing, and just one session will not give enough time to lecturer and students to get to know each other and productivity may probably be affected. Of course some lecturers are so professional and can deliver courses and control the class perfectly. I will recommend to put this option as last choice.

  5. Ask your TA to have one of his classes at the time you are not going to your class.

  • Mm... "that day"? The OP said that they will have to go away for one week of a 13 week course. This might mean up to 3-4 days of classes per course (in my university where we have a 14 week semester, a course has an average of 7.5 hours of lectures per week, distributed across 3 days - typically lectures are 1.5 or 3 hours long). – Massimo Ortolano May 4 '16 at 8:42
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    @MassimoOrtolano The OP did not exactly mention how many sessions he has each week. Just pointing to the day on which his class is being canceled, the OP may use a combination of above suggestions if he is going to cancel multiple sessions. – Enthusiastic Engineer May 4 '16 at 9:41
1

My first teaching experience was delivering a lecture, from notes prepared by the instructor, for a course I TA'ed in. Decades later, as an adjunct, I was able to give one of my TAs the same opportunity. Other things I used in other years included:

  • holding the midterm the week I was to be away, and getting my TAs to supervise it. This works if you only have to move the midterm one week in either direction
  • teaching into the "tutorial hour" twice (typically once before and once after the absence) to deliver two extra hours of material, allowing me to skip an entire week (I had a three hour slot once a week, two hours of fast paced lecture followed by an hour of informal chat for those who wanted to stay.)

Checking with your department is key. They will generally approve whatever you suggest if you ask them in advance, but be annoyed if you just do something unusual and then students come and complain. And believe me, students will come and complain. There is always one who would have got 99 on the midterm if it had been held as planned, but because you moved it a week only got 34, and goes to the head to get some justice.

If you don't have a TA, your department may be able to suggest a grad student or fellow prof who likes your topic and can do it. Also, your TA may be terrified and try to decline - be prepared to spend some coaching time. This is part of having a TA, inducting them into academic life. Or they may think it's going to be great, but not actually do very well. Allow some time the week you are back to review what was done with the TA, just in cse.

0

Create a video of your lecture. This works especially well since you have such advanced warning that you won't be present -- you have plenty of time to plan, record and edit the video.

I've done this a half-dozen times or so and find it works very well. The recording/editing tools have become easy to use in the past 3-4 years. I use ScreenFlow to capture my slides, web cam and audio. Other tools would do as well, I'm sure.

I then upload the video to our LM system and warn students with an email.

For one of my sophomore-level classes, I have a TA show up in the classroom at the assigned time to watch the video with any students who want to attend. The TA can then replay part of the video ("hey, what did he say there?") or pause the video to answer questions.

-3

Don’t go to the conference, the customers (students) have paid to get these classes. Therefore they have a right to be put first.

Without students there would be no money to do research…..

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    This is not an accurate representation of the funding model of many universities. – StrongBad May 4 '16 at 16:17
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    This. Teaching is a core responsibility of the job. People who need to go to conferences can do it during the breaks between semesters. Without students there would be no money to do research… Pace StrongBad, this really is pretty accurate. For example, the California state legislature didn't create the Cal State and UC systems so that research could be done. Those systems were created because politicians were responding to their constituents' desire that their kids get an affordable, high-quality education. Research grants wouldn't exist if the school didn't. – Ben Crowell May 4 '16 at 18:06
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    @BenCrowell: This is a nice ideal, but in practice it's not compatible with the expectations of a faculty position at a research university. "People who need to go to conferences can do it during the breaks between semesters." But that's not when the conferences are. – Nate Eldredge May 4 '16 at 18:12
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    @Ian: Until such time as that happens, I'm afraid this answer is more wishful thinking than practical advice. – Nate Eldredge May 4 '16 at 20:33
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    Also, the best quality teaching depends on research. My research informs my teaching. If I stop doing research, my students won't gain. They'll lose. – cfr May 5 '16 at 0:42

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