Planning for a Blended Approach to Teaching Post-Crisis at MSU

Returning to campus after the events of Feb 13 we find ourselves in a space of continuing to process our own feelings and emotions, caring for others, and providing opportunities and space for all of us to return to our teaching and learning routines. MSU has provided guidance to our community suggesting that we use the coming weeks to be flexible and accommodating, and to plan for the remainder of the semester.

Looking back, last week was a week of shock where the work we were doing was to try to understand what happened and to get ourselves situated. This week has been one of reconnecting with our students, colleagues, and routines.

As we move into next week we need to begin to plan for what our courses will look like for the remainder of the semester once we return from Spring Break. Spring Break will be a time for rest, relaxation, and restorative activities to help us be ready to finish the semester. However, we must remember that there may be tough times or things we simply aren’t able to do that we had intended. This is OK, and we can plan for flexibility to lessen the impact it will have on our classes and work when it does happen.

Generally, as you think about adopting a blended model in your course it’s a process of reimagining when and where the labor of teaching and learning takes place. Take the opportunity to think about what the needs of you and your students are in this moment, and consider what makes the most sense to use your in-person or synchronous class time for, versus what might be best done as homework or asynchronously.

We Are Not “Returning to Normal”

Returning to a routine after an event like this is not “returning to normal,” in fact it is impossible to return to a normal state that existed prior to any event as the disruption itself has fundamentally changed the context and our understanding of it. Instead of looking for, or longing for a return to normal, it can be helpful to lean into the changes the disruption has caused, and to look for opportunities these changes provide for strengthening your teaching and professional work. 

In the context of teaching, this can mean looking at opportunities this offers you to make changes to your courses to accommodate while maintaining the connections and community you have built in your course. There are countless tools and techniques we have to make the best learning environments possible for students while still providing flexibility. Below are a few resources and ideas to help you get started. Note: If you are still working on welcoming students back to the classroom the document titled Dealing with the Aftermath of Tragedy in the Classroom is helpful for giving some ideas and language for addressing your class.

Clear Communication about Returning to Class

Your students are likely in many different places with respect to their comfort in returning to the classroom and this may continue for some time. As you welcome students back to the classroom keep in mind that clearly communicating what you are doing in class that day and why it’s important for students to be there is helpful. Some faculty have found that this extra “nudge” can be the difference between a student attending class and not. Consider how you might build in this communication before each class session in the coming weeks, perhaps even using the scheduled send feature in your email to automatically send these updates to your students.

How Can a Resilient Pedagogy Approach Help You?

Adopting some of the principles of a Resilient Pedagogy, in particular focusing on the following core principles can help your course absorb some of the shock of the change and make it easier to complete the semester for both you and your students.

Learning Objectives

Return to your learning objectives as a first step. Review them and consider what you have covered already during the semester. 

  • What do you still need to cover? 
  • Can you reduce the number of objectives, or reduce the components in a particular one? 
  • This is not an exercise in which objectives are less important than others in general, but rather an opportunity to think about given the current situation what is most important now.


Interaction is the heart of a college classroom. Interaction facilitates engagement, where students connect and become invested in content and move from a passive learner to an active learner. When we talk about interaction we often think about student-student, or student-instructor interaction (e.g. class discussion) but interaction extends to other types of interactions as well, including student-course content interaction, student-technology interaction, and student-world interaction. 

  • How is interaction facilitated in your classroom and what might be impacted?
  • You likely started the semester with certain interaction types in mind (E.g. in-person lectures or online discussions), are there opportunities to “flip” your class model to focus on allowing students opportunities to use in-class time to interact with each other and to watch lectures or do other tasks as homework?
  • If a student does miss a class session what are their options for interacting with other students, you, or the course content?


Maintaining access for students is important. This is both from a digital accessibility perspective (Eg. Captions, etc.) but also access in terms of students being able to get to the course content for review or if they need to miss a class session. 

  • If you are giving lectures in the classroom are you able to record them and provide them to students? Have they been made easy to find in D2L or other learning management system you are using?
  • For group work is there an opportunity for a student to join their group remotely or in non-class session periods? 
  • Consider ways that you can be flexible and accommodating for those who may need additional time with course content, but also be honest with yourself about what you are able to do, it’s OK to put limitations on what you offer.

What Might You Do With Your Syllabus?

The syllabus is often thought of as a contract with your students. Typically the syllabus would only have minor changes during the course, but in times of crisis, there are opportunities and reasons to make changes to benefit the faculty, students, and course in general. As you consider what changes you might make to the syllabus keep in mind:

  • Changes should result in streamlining course requirements, reducing workload, or shifting due dates or times. 
  • Mid-Semester changes to the syllabus should never result in additional work, or confusion about the changes. 
  • Ensure you are clearly communicating any changes to your students, keeping in mind that many of them have several courses that are being modified at the same time.

How Could You Use a Class Survey?

You may also want to survey your students to understand where they are at and to inform your work doing any modifications you need to do. Some ideas for this might be:

  • Present students with course objectives and ask them to assess which ones they feel comfortable saying what they have learned 
  • Give students a couple of possible paths forward and ask for feedback on what they might prefer (then make a decision to do one path for the whole course or allow students opportunities to choose pathways) 
  • Look at the Learning that’s happened and will happen versus the outcomes you had initially set

The Enhanced Digital Learning Initiative team came up with a sample survey template you can copy and modify/use.

Communication is Key

As you make changes to the course please ensure you are clearly communicating with your students about what you are doing and why. Some ideas for this might be to cover

  • Review for students how the course was structured, and how/why you are going to restructure it.
  • If you are dropping activities or course goals, changing due dates, etc. clearly communicate the what and why
  •  Discuss with your class what their needs are, and be clear that you will try to accommodate them as best as possible, but also note that sometimes there aren’t alternatives or accommodations that are possible.
  • Make sure students have access to the most up-to-date grades you have for them so they can make informed decisions about their own academic progress outside of your class. 
  • Let students know how you are going to be communicating with them so they know to look for your messages. Consider starting all emails with your course code and number (EG. “AL883: MESSAGE TITLE”) or some other way for students to easily see your message among all the others.

All of the ideas and suggestions above should be able to be implemented in your course without a shift of modality from in-person to remote or online. However, if you feel that your course or students would be better served please reach out to your Chair or Program Director to discuss options that may be available. If you need further help or ideas there are resources available on campus, please contact your local educational technology staff to discuss.

Note for readers not at Michigan State University. This post was initially intended for educators at MSU as they start our second full week of classes after the Feb 13, 2023 mass shooting. While the context and timing are specific to MSU, there are elements of this approach that may be useful at other institutions and at other times and in different situations.