Contingency Plans

From E-Learning Faculty Modules

Technology can — and does — fail. Inclement weather, power failure, and down internet service providers can play havoc with a course.

Be prepared! Have contingency plans in place, and share these plans with your students. Then, when the unexpected does happen, everyone will know how to respond.


Learners will...

  • Understand the necessity of building contingency plans for their course.
  • Review some the critical elements for a successful contingency plan.
  • Discover what resources are available for distance learners and instructors.

Main Concepts

Although we may all hope and expect for technology to without difficulties, such is not the case. Nothing can more quickly bring and online learning experience to a halt than technology trouble. Failing internet connections, computer viruses, hardware disasters, new and unreliable technologies, or students simply not understanding what is expected of them, can all lead to a breakdown of communication and general failure of a course to provide a meaningful learning environment for the students.

These difficulties will happen to every instructor in their tenure of teaching online. The only way to survive such things gracefully is to build contingency plans and share them with your students. Each technology used in teaching online has potential problems and it is your responsibility to let students know what to do in each eventuality. Although it is critically important that you provide this information to your students, it is equally important that you do NOT fall into the role of providing tech support yourself. The depth and breadth of possibilities makes it difficult, if not nearly impossible, for instructors to meet the tech needs of their students. Whenever possible, rely on such resources as the IT Help Desk. Ultimately, students must be responsible for their own hardware, software and connectivity.

How to

The IT Help Desk is your first stop in dealing with technology problems. Be absolutely certain to provide the IT Help Desk’s contact information in several obvious places in your course for your students. Explicitly, let your students know that it is their obligation to resolve all technology issues that are within their capacity to resolve, and that the Help Desk is there to assist them. In the case of internet service providers, or K-State Online, being offline there is little that can be done other than to keep you informed. In all other instances, students need to understand that they are responsible for participating with the course. This cannot be stated enough. Students should not expect you to fix their technology problems any more that they should expect you to drive to their home and pick them up for a face-to-face course.

The IT Help Desk is there for you too. If there are questions about gaps in services, current K-State Online conditions, or even if you are having hardware problems, do not hesitate to contact them. Even in the most difficult of situations, the Help Desk should be able to connect you to the appropriate people to assist in resolution of your problems.

Another good practice is to create an alternative email address for yourself using a different email provider. If for some reason email is not going though with your main K-State account, having a different recourse for your students to email can make a big difference. It never hurts to have this alternative email forward to your main K-State email account for convenience.

Sometimes a particular service may not be available. If, for example, you plan a Wimba session with your class, but the Wimba server is down. This is one of those times where having a contingency plan in place for your students is essential. You could simply have an alternative meeting time. But, you could also have an alternative technology in place for those moments, like a chat room in K-State Online, or using Skype in place of Wimba. Whatever choices you make for those inevitable moments of tech failure, try to plan for them in advance and communicate those plans with your students.

Another problem that often occurs in the online environment is requests for extensions on assignments due to technology failure. Be careful! This is one of those situations that can quickly lead to students abusing the situation. Yes, things like power failures, hard drive crashes, etc. do exist. But so do student who take advantage of their instructors. Be sure to create policies in your course covering your expectations for such eventualities.

Finally, online tests, timed tests, and even file share assignments can have issues during delivery. This is a fairly rare occurrence. But in those instances, be sure that your students know to contact the IT Help Desk immediately. You can assist in these situations by turning the “confirmation number” feature for online assignments. This will give back a tracking number for your students to use in the case of problems.