A Snow Day Solution: Student-Led Learning


It’s hardly news to anyone in the Philadelphia area that it has been an especially snowy and icy winter. Even though we are now well into March, it is still possible that another snow day could be in our future. When class is suddenly canceled, it can be difficult to figure out how to compensate for the missed session.

In this post, I propose a fairly easy way to quickly adapt a course session for online delivery when travel to class isn’t possible: hand the reins over to the students and let them take ownership of their own learning for that missed session. Students can be given topics or concepts to independently explore using their texts, online resources, or via web searches. With just a little bit of guidance, they can be encouraged to teach themselves and, if desired, their peers. Then, as the instructor, your job is to review their work to help with clarity and accuracy and to assist with their comprehension. By using online tools, all of this can be accomplished outside of class time.

This approach will work best if you:

  1. Spend a little time brainstorming possible topics or cases for students to explore,
  1. Provide students with a format for presenting their explorations, and
  1. Define your expectations – let students know whether their work will be assessed and how you will assess it.

Let’s dive a little deeper into each of these considerations so that you can be ready for another snow day (or any other class cancellation).

1. Identify Topics to Explore

If you want to be prepared for the unexpected, it is helpful to come up with a list of topics that are generally relevant to what is covered in your course. These should be topics that would be well suited for students’ independent exploration, even if the goal is just for them to gain some initial understanding or background. You can post these topics online in Blackboard and show where to find them so that students know where to look when class is canceled. This can be done early in the semester.

Another approach is to ask students to pick a topic that has especially piqued their interest thus far in the course, and to delve a little deeper into it.  If a case-based approach is appropriate for your course, you can ask students to pick from a selection of cases that you have posted online in preparation for a possible class cancellation.

If you think students will need a little more direction, you can share a few guiding questions or checklists to support their independent explorations.

2. Provide Students with a Format for Presenting their Explorations

Students can demonstrate the findings from their independent inquiries in a variety of ways using readily available online tools. Here are just a few ideas.

Students can:

  • Write a blog post summarizing what they have learned.
  • Curate a list of 3-5 quality websites, journal articles, videos, or other resources on the topic. This can be shared using the blog or discussion tools so that students can browse each others’ resources.
  • Search for and post appropriate examples to the discussion board related to a key topic. For example, Susan Adams, a faculty member who teaches Nutrition courses, asked students to post examples of food recalls to the discussion board when class was canceled.
  • Create a short PowerPoint presentation (3-5 slides) of their findings and use the notes section of PowerPoint to create an outline of key points for each slide. This can be submitted to Blackboard using the assignments tool.
  • Reflect on what they have learned during their independent exploration and briefly discuss what they found most compelling, surprising, or applicable to their career or academic goals. This could be posted using the journal or assignment tools.

If you want to practice setting up any of these tools in Blackboard, check out our How Do I page or get in touch with the ID team. You can direct your students to Blackboard Help for Students if you expect that they will need help using Blackboard tools to complete their assignments.

3. Define Your Expectations

If you assign students to do independent exploration to make up a class session, it is a good idea to communicate whether this assignment will be graded, how it will factor into their grades, and how you will assess their work.

You may want to consider:

  • Is this a formal or informal activity? Should students submit a polished final product, or is it okay for them to submit rough ideas and identify areas that need further clarification?
  • What will you be looking for in students’ submissions? Will a rubric or checklist help with your grading?
  • Are there resources that you can share with students to get them started in the right direction, such as LibGuides, other library resources, and/or important websites for your field.

Hopefully this post has provided you with a few ideas about how you can substitute a class session with inquiry-based, student-led assignments that students can do from home. By using online tools, this work can be shared and even assessed in between class sessions. You may also find that these ideas are useful for motivating students to engage with your course content regardless of the weather!Would you like to explore any of these ideas further? What has worked well for you when it comes to student-led learning activities? Leave a comment or contact the ID Team.

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