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August 17, 2009

Suggestions for Instructional Continuity in Case of An H1N1 Outbreak

Earlier this summer, Provost Elliot Hirshman, in consultation with the Division of Information Technology (DoIT), sent an advisory to all faculty about why and how they might want to consider teaching online in the event of an extended closure of campus due to an H1N1 "Swine Flu" outbreak. The full text of the advisory follows:


In response to the World Health Organization’s recent declaration of an H1N1 level 6 flu pandemic, the University needs to move rapidly to facilitate instructional continuity in the event of a campus closure. Instructional continuity is absolutely essential to ensure the academic progress of our students and the financial stability of the University should the campus be forced to close due to pandemic flu.

The steps proposed here are designed to address the circumstance in which campus is closed, but the information technology infrastructure of the campus remains intact. In this circumstance, remote instruction/distance learning will be necessary to continue courses.

The University recognizes that faculty members may wish to use different approaches to remote instruction and respects the rights of faculty members to pursue any of a range of available approaches. The University also recognizes that some courses (e.g., courses requiring access to specialized equipment or materials) may be difficult to continue remotely. The goal is to continue as many courses as possible to maintain academic progress and financial stability.

Specific Procedures

Some faculty members may teach courses that permit remote instruction, but they may not be familiar with the technology necessary to carry out this instruction. The following steps are designed to assist these faculty members prepare for remote instruction in the most convenient manner possible.

Step 1: If they are not already, all faculty members who are teaching courses in the fall semester should become familiar with the basic functioning of Blackboard. To access tutorial instructions, visit or log in to Blackboard via myUMBC (or directly at and review the “Blackboard Help” tab at the top of the screen. Faculty may want to visit the “Getting Started” link first.

All Blackboard courses have a student manual (under “tools”) and an instructor manual (under “control panel”), but Faculty members should be able to carry out three basic functions:

  1. Turn their UMBC Blackboard course on. |
  2. Post documents (e.g., a syllabus) on blackboard. |
  3. Send an E-mail to all class members. |

Step 2: Faculty members should consider the lecture, document or presentation posting and discussion requirements of their fall courses. The material below indicates how to use Blackboard to accomplish these tasks remotely. Faculty members should conduct a trial or practice usage of the referenced capacities to ensure that they can post materials remotely and students can access these materials, if necessary.

For Audio Lectures:

For Discussions (text-based):

  • For asynchronous (not at the same time, not at the same place) text-based communication, use the Blackboard Discussion Board capacity.

  • For synchronous (same time, but not at the same place) text-based communication (often known as “chat”), use Blackboard’s built in “Virtual Classroom” capacity (under the “Communications” course menu).

Document and Presentation Posting

  • Use Blackboard’s document upload capacity referenced above.

Additional Guidance from DoIT

  • For faculty members who have mastered the above-referenced approaches, OIT STRONGLY RECOMMENDS using “Wimba Classroom” for synchronous text-based chat. In addition to being more stable and full-featured than Bb’s built in “virtual classroom,” Wimba can also allow you and your students to use voice-based email, discussions and real-time synchronous chat. It takes a little time to learn the effective protocols for conducting synchronous text or voice-based discussions or chats without everyone talking at once, but with practice, it can be done.

  • For more information on using Wimba, visit the UMBC Wimba guides and tutorials on the UMBC Blackboard Help tab, or Wimba’s own support site at

  • Through the hybrid learning website, you can learn many other “effective practices” for managing and assessing online discussions or chats: visit

Resources Available to Support Faculty

In addition to the on-line tutorials referenced above, there are two forms of assistance available to faculty members.

  1. Peer assistance from faculty and staff colleagues is available. Deans will be working with Department Chairs and other members of the Council of Deans to identify peers who are available to consult with faculty members as they become more familiar with the referenced instructional technologies. Examples include the following:

  2. DoIT staff are available for additional consultation

    • John Fritz, Asst VP, Instructional Technology & New Media (410.455.6596 or
    • Debra Arnold, IT Training Support Specialst (410.455.3234 or
    • Jim Keys, Help Desk Consultant (410.455.3127 or
    • Joan Costello, Classroom Technology/Wimba (410.455.3685 or


Comments (2)

Illysa Izenberg:

Hi, great list of suggestions, thanks. I very much appreciate all the links to information and solutions.

May I also suggest providing a list of UMBC instructors who are skilled in teaching online and willing to ask as mentors in case of emergency?

Then instructors who have never taught online could have some number of experienced people to call upon for advice should they have to convert quickly an in-class activity to an online activity.


John Fritz:

Good suggestion: I've added relevant links under the "peer assistance" section at the end.