Contingency Planning for Undergraduate and Graduate Instruction

As the saying goes, “Life happens.” Emergencies arise, illnesses occur, and severe weather can cause class or campus cancellations. How one should handle such cancellations depends on the nature of the event. What options are available to make up lost class or lab time? What University policies are related to these issues? What technology options are available? The following information provides guidance for handling class meeting disruptions.

Planned Absences and Emergencies

It goes without saying that, except for cases of emergency or illness, instructors should not cancel classes. However, there may be occasions when it is necessary for an instructor to miss an occasional class (e.g., to attend a professional conference, present a seminar, serve on a review panel, or perform scholarly work). In such cases, the instructor is expected to make arrangements for the class to be covered in person or provide an alternative form of instruction.

If there will be an extended period away from teaching due to an anticipated absence, the instructor should work with their unit head to ensure that teaching obligations are met.

Graduate students serving as the instructor-of-record should work with their teaching supervisor to address any absences using the strategies below. Graduate students serving as teaching assistants who assist an instructor with the course (are not instructors-of-record) should work with their assistantship supervisor to discuss how to handle absences on the part of the TA.

Instructors are expected to:

  • Hold class meetings that are consistent with the course schedule,
  • Maintain a predictable number of office hours (which should be posted),
  • Maintain regular, substantive communication with students, and
  • Be available to students, colleagues and others in accordance with the university, college, and departmental policies.

Furthermore, per University Faculty Senate Policy 42-23 (“Credit Requirements by Types of Instruction”), a minimum of forty-five (45) hours of work planned and arranged by the University faculty is required to gain each single course credit.

Strategies for Planned Absences

  • Arrange for a qualified substitute instructor, perhaps by arranging a trade with another instructor in your department
  • Line up guest speakers to address needed course topics, such as:
    • Invite a member of the Library faculty to do a session on research techniques students can use for their final projects
    • Invite a community or industry expert to speak about an area of their expertise pertinent to your course
  • Plan an appropriate instructional activity during the class time. For example:
    • Provide guidelines for small group discussions with a deliverable, or other active learning methods
    • Provide dedicated time for project work (in an undergraduate class, perhaps overseen by a graduate assistant or other proctor)
  • Prepare a recorded lecture and/or online assignments in advance that your students will watch/complete in your absence. (See Do It Yourself Video Recording” and “Recording a Zoom Meeting“)
  • Missing a lab?
    • Consider sharing sample data for your students to analyze (as if students completed the experiment) so they can still have practice working with the data
    • Consider creating a video recording of your lab experiment that students can watch and learn from online (See Do It Yourself Video Recording“)
    • Search the University’s Open Educational Resources (OER) website and also OASIS (Openly Available Sources Integrated Search, from SUNY Geneseo’s Milne Library) for potential online lab simulations that may fit with your curriculum
  • Need to figure out a different way to do an assessment? See Adapting Assessments to a Remote Teaching Environment
  • Contact your local teaching and learning consultant to discuss other options that fit your course

Strategies for Last Minute Personal Emergencies and Illnesses

Too sick to teach or have you encountered a personal emergency that prevents you from meeting with your class on a given day? The following proactive strategies can help you be prepared!

  • At the beginning of the semester, let your students know how you will communicate with them if there is an illness or personal emergency that will impact your regularly scheduled class meeting (and include this information on your syllabus). Will you use Canvas to let them know? Text message? Or some other method(s)?
  • Work out a “Plan B” and make sure you are comfortable with any technologies that plan will utilize, such as Zoom, Kaltura, Canvas online assignments, etc. (See also “Technology Options to Consider,” below)
  • Consider building in ways to teach your class online so you can use those strategies as back-up when needed.
  • Consider ways you can adjust the design of your course to allow for emergency adjustments and flexibility (Need help? Contact your local teaching and learning consultant to discuss other options that fit your course)
  • When the unexpected moment happens:
    • Let your students know immediately what is going on (using the communication strategies you have indicated to them previously) and how they are expected to progress with their work using your course’s regular communication channel you have established.
    • If you aren’t able to post a notice in your Canvas space, ask someone who has a Canvas area admin account (such as an administrative assistant or learning designer) to post a class cancellation announcement in Canvas on your behalf.
    • Contact someone in your department or your learning designer (if applicable) and ask them to put a sign on your classroom door that alerts students to the last-minute cancellation and lets them know where to find more information about how you are handling the event.
    • Plan to catch up with your teaching in the following 1-2 weeks. Consider:
      • Help students with self-directed learning strategies where appropriate
      • Adjust assignment deadlines accordingly after conferring with your students
      • REMEMBER: Students have other courses and responsibilities. Attendance at evening or other make-up sessions outside of scheduled class time cannot be made mandatory.
  • Feeling well enough to teach but cannot travel and/or don’t want to spread your illness?
    • Use a videoconferencing tool like Zoom to teach your course remotely during the regularly scheduled time or to record your lecture for students to watch on their own before your next class meeting. [NOTE: If you want to teach during your regularly scheduled time, you can either arrange to have someone project your session in your classroom (if it is configured for this – for University Park, see Overview of TLT Technology Enhanced Classrooms) or have students join your online class meeting from their own devices and/or a campus or public computer lab or library.]
    • Need help? See “Do It Yourself Video Recording” and “Recording a Zoom Meeting
  • Feeling the illness coming on ahead of time and think you’ll likely have to cancel your upcoming class?

Campus Weather Delays and Closures

What if a class must be missed altogether because of a campus closure or delay due to a weather event? When the university is closed for the day, instructors should not expect students to attend instructional or research activities and should inform students of the plan for making up any work. Attendance at evening or other make-ups outside of scheduled class time cannot be made mandatory nor can students be held responsible for the materials covered in such sessions, as they have other courses and responsibilities that may prevent them from attending “extra” sessions.

Subscribing to PSUAlert

To make sure you are aware of any campus delay or closure, sign up for PSUAlert so you can receive notifications by text, email, and/or phone! When subscribing it is even possible to sign up for alerts for more than one campus. To subscribe for PSUAlerts and manage your campus selections:

  • Go to PSUAlert
  • Click on Manage My Alerts
  • Click on PSUAlert
    • Use the Alert Settings section to add a phone number for Mobile Alerts, additional email address, or phone number for Voice Alerts (just click the yellow plus sign)
    • Use the Campus Selection section to select all the campuses for which you want to receive alerts, then click Save

For more information, see PSUAlert: Frequently Asked Questions

Strategies for Weather Delays and Closures

So, what can you do to make up missed class time?

  • Use Zoom to record your lecture for students to watch on their own.
    [Need help? See “Do It Yourself Video Recording” and “Recording a Zoom Meeting“]
  • Provide readings and/or videos online that address the material you would have covered in class and require students to review those in advance of your next class meeting
  • Create a Kaltura video quiz or a Canvas-based assessment to encourage student accountability for reviewing missed material that you provide online
  • Analyze the remainder of your course and consider removing the “nice-to-knows” in order to make sure you have time to cover the “must-knows”
  • Push back assignment deadlines where feasible
  • Missed labs?
    • Try to schedule labs for a time after 10:00 a.m. if possible – this can help when your campus has a delayed opening due to bad weather
    • See if your department can proactively build “make up” labs into the schedule (much like K-12 schools build in “snow days”)
    • If a lab session is canceled, consider sharing sample data for your students to analyze (as if students completed the experiment) so they can still have practice working with the data
    • Search the University’s Open Educational Resources (OER) website and also OASIS (Openly Available Sources Integrated Search, from SUNY Geneseo’s Milne Library) for potential online lab simulations that may fit with your curriculum

University Park Procedures

When weather delays are announced for University Park, the text or email alert typically states that all classes that begin before the campus’s reopening time are canceled and that those classes or activities beginning at or after the conclusion of the announced delay time will be held as originally scheduled. For example, a two-hour delay until 10 a.m. would mean that all classes that begin before 10 a.m. are canceled and will not be held. Classes beginning at 10 a.m. or later will continue on their regular schedule.

So as not to lose more class time than necessary, instructors who teach classes that run across multiple periods may begin their class at the end of the announced delay time and continue through the end of the scheduled period. For example, if a two-hour delay is announced, an instructor whose class normally runs from 9 a.m. to noon could elect to start class at 10 a.m. and continue through noon. Instructors who wish to do this need to inform their students of their decision in advance of bad weather, as this option will not be included in the delay announcement put out by the University. Information on how the instructor plans to salvage as much of the class time as possible, should the University announce a delay, can be added proactively to the class syllabus or communicated to the students via Canvas.

Instructors are encouraged to take responsibility for their own safety and that of their students, and should review “Handling Weather Day Absences” (Human Resources Guideline 10) for specific information on how time missed for weather situations is handled.

When closures due to impending weather conditions are announced during or in advance of class periods later in the day, students should be dismissed as of the start time of the closure.

Commonwealth Campus Procedures

The approaches taken to address weather delays at the Commonwealth Campuses may vary from those at University Park.  Some campuses utilize a compressed class schedule wherein classes follow a shortened version of their normal daily schedule.  The start and end times for shortened classes that are normally 50 minutes or 75 minutes are provided by the campus, and for longer classes, students should follow the compressed schedule for the class start time closest to their normal class start time.  Instructors should check for procedures that are specific to their campus.

Campus-specific Information:

Policy for Shared Programs and Digital Learning Cooperative Courses

Courses offered through the Digital Learning Cooperative or which are offered through a Shared Program are administratively handled the same way as other courses. Furthermore, courses offered through the Digital Learning Cooperative are offered under the academic authority of the local campus delivering the course. Quality and support of the courses, as well as student complaints or issues, are the responsibility of the offering campus or college.

When the offering campus is closed due to inclement weather, etc., the class will be cancelled.

When a receiving site campus is closed due to inclement weather, etc., the instructor at the offering site should continue the class session with all open sites. Students at the closed receiving site will be responsible for making up work asynchronously prior to the next class.

Instructors and students are responsible for signing up for PSUAlerts ( for their campus in order to receive notifications of delays or closures by text, email, and/or phone. Instructors should additionally subscribe for notifications for all receiving site campuses in order to be aware of any delays or closures impacting their students at receiving sites. To subscribe for PSUAlerts and manage your campus selections, go to PSUAlert, then click on Manage My Alerts, then click on PSUAlert. From there, use the Campus Selection menu to select all the campuses for which you want to receive alerts.


Technology Options to Consider

There are many technologies available to support remote teaching. This chart provides an overview of popular options that are supported by Penn State:

Issues to Address Possible Solutions
Establish a mode of communication you will use with your students in case of an emergency and ensure students all have access to and are aware of this communication method.
Make your syllabus available digitally.
Decide how you will distribute documents and readings during the disruption.
Designate a centralized online location where you can collect student submissions.
Think about how you would facilitate class discussions in the event of a disruption.
Consider capturing your lecture content for students to watch remotely.
Identify an option for holding class and/or office hours virtually in the event that several class meetings have to be canceled.
Think about how you will handle evaluating student learning in an online space.
Settle on an option for providing students with grades and feedback on their work in the event of an emergency.


Want more help?

Contact your local teaching and learning consultant to discuss other options that fit your course!


Page contact: Ann Taylor