Planning for COVID-related absences

Planning for COVID-related absences

Supporting students who cannot come to class

In the event that a student must quarantine or isolate during the semester, Student Support Services (S3) (undergrad students) or GradSupport (graduate students) will contact you to discuss ways to best support the student. Information for students (and all MIT residents) who are in isolation or quarantine can be found on DSL’s Wellbeing and Support page.


To save time and reduce stress during the semester, make a plan before the semester begins for how you will support students in the event of absences and communicate these plans to your students on your course syllabus.

Making class content more readily available

MIT instructors are not encouraged to teach in a dual-delivery mode (i.e., simultaneously teaching students in a physical classroom and students accessing the class remotely). Although it is not required, you may want to consider recording your teaching sessions given that some students could experience significantly long absences. The purpose of ‘recording’ is not, unless by design, to simultaneously provide both in-person and remote instruction, rather to support students who are absent for health- or quarantine-related reasons. If you are concerned that providing recordings of your class will decrease attendance in your in-person classes, consider:

If you do decide to record your class, make sure that students are aware that the class is being recorded, especially if they might be captured in the recording.

Regardless of the method of video capture and distribution you choose, make sure to clearly articulate your decision with your students. You’ll want to specify:

  • Whether the video will be available only to students who are unable to attend class in-person or to the entire class;
  • Whether the video/class session will be streamed (with short delay) or available asynchronously after class
  • How students can obtain access to the recording and/or the stream;
  • If you plan to stream the video – whether or not you will interact with students who are viewing the stream;

N.b., Unless you have significant previous experience with hybrid teaching & learning, and access to specific hardware & software, it is not recommended that you attempt simultaneous in-person and remote instruction.

If remote students have questions during class, you can recommend that they email them to you or a TA,  or that they post them to Piazza, Slack, or another platform. Let students know that they will receive responses after class.

In addition, please follow these guidelines for Notifying & Informing Students abut Classroom Recordings (also available at MIT Now).

1. Recording your class

There are a number of recording options (video and/or audio) that might be available to you:

  • Self-recording
  • Recording done by the  instructional staff in your course
  • Recording done by a student in your course with your permission (tripods for iPads will be available to all classrooms before classes begin)
  • Automated recording (only available in certain classrooms)
  • Recording by MIT AV (includes a fee)

When creating recordings, please consider:

  • wearing a lapel/lavalier microphone to adequately capture your voice. We recommend using a lavalier mic attached to your collar, lapel, or a lanyard around your neck. Lavalier mics should not be close to your mouth. It will function best if you position the mic near your collarbone about a hand-span distance (20-30cm) from the mouth.
  • MIT’s Digital Accessibility guidelines

While planning to record your class, consider how the following can affect your decisions.

Existing course resources
  • Have you recorded lectures in the past that cover the same or similar enough material? 
  • Can similar lectures be found in previous iterations of the course on OpenCourseWare?
Modes of instruction & course structure
  • Does your class format lend itself to recording?
    • classes that focus on content delivery are generally well suited for recording
    • classes with a large amount of student-student interaction, with physical, hands-on activities, performance, etc, may be less suited given that more sophisticated AV arrangements are necessary to capture discussions and conversations effectively
  • What modes of instruction do you need to record?
    • boardwork
    • slide presentations
    • group work and discussions
  • What components and sections of your class are essential to capture?
  • Will it be necessary to capture video or will audio and links to material suffice?
Support from your Teaching Assistants
  • Are there TAs or other instructional staff that are available to manage recordings?
  • Could a TA hold a tutoring session over Zoom to go over the lecture material and answer any questions that would have been asked in recitation?

Recording resources

For technical recording considerations, strategies and suggestions, see these resources from MIT Open Learning and MIT AV:

Classroom capture
self-service or fee-based
automated in equipped rooms

Considerations for Reusing Materials/Videos

MIT AV

IS&T Loaner Request Program for Faculty & Staff

2. Providing class notes

Consider making class notes accessible to students who cannot attend class. Here are some considerations:

  • Are your teaching notes and/or slides comprehensive enough to be distributed as class notes for your students?  
  • If you have TAs, can you ask them to take comprehensive notes of each class?
  • Is collaborative note-taking a viable option? 
    • If you incorporate collaborative note taking, consider also capturing audio-only recordings (which may be easier to capture than video + audio).  Providing this combination of materials may be a comprehensive and effective way to support students who cannot attend in-person class.
      • it is recommended that you use a lapel/lavalier mic when making an audio recording – to obtain a wireless mic for teaching, please submit an IS&T loaner request form.
        • Microphones available through MIT can connect to both personal devices (laptop, table, phone) and speakers in classrooms
    • Classes that involve drawing images or complex formulae may be less practical for collaborative note-taking (although students could capture images by phone to add to notes)

You’ll want to consult with Disability and Access Services to make sure your notes meet accessibility standards for documents and images

Making special accommodations for group work & assessments

Depending on the time of the semester and the number of days a student might be absent from your class, you should consider: 1) how their absence will affect their ability to participate in and successfully complete assessments and assignments and 2) which assignments or assessments could be effectively completed remotely. The determination of whether a student is able to take or participate in a remote assessment should be made in consultation with the student and S3 or GradSupport.

Collaborative work

Students in quarantine will not be able to gather in-person to work on collaborative assignments together. If your subject includes collaborative assignments, you should consider:

  • If there are tasks that can be done asynchronously, structuring the assignments and leveraging technology to accommodate asynchronous interactions. 
    • For collaborative work that requires synchronous interactions, consider whether Zoom or other platforms can be used.
    • For collaborative work that can be done asynchronously, consider:
      • how to structure the collaborative work effectively so that students can contribute in their own time. 
      • being explicit with your instructions for what is expected of each student
  • Revising the goals, structure or deliverables of a collaborative assignment to ensure that remote students and in-person students have equitable experiences.

Written & timed exams

With respect to written, timed exams – last year’s concerns around academic integrity in remote exams will be less of an issue – since students will be isolated in their dorm rooms, and can be asked to take the exam synchronously with students in the classroom if they are healthy enough to do so. However, students will still have access to the internet and other resources, so design your questions to minimize opportunities for academic dishonesty.

Presentations & performances

  • Are recorded video presentations an acceptable substitute for classroom presentations?
  • Can the presentation be facilitated remotely through Zoom or other video platforms?

For assessments that are offered frequently

  • If you don’t already offer some flexibility within your grading scheme, consider allowing students to drop the lowest grade for assignments that are offered more than once (ex: problem sets, quizzes, or exams). 
  • Communicate this decision in class and within your syllabus.

Assessment resources

For alternate assessment strategies and examples:
• Video & resources from the TLL & Open Learning Instructor Panel event in Fall 2020: Assessments & Assignments for Remote Learning

For facilitating group work remotely:
Facilitating Small Group Activities using Shared Digital Whiteboards
Promoting Visual Collaboration using Mural and Miro

For strategies to minimize academic dishonesty:
4 Strategies to Minimize Opportunities for Academic Dishonesty on Remote Exams

Supporting students if you are unable to teach in-person

Due to Covid-related isolation or quarantine requirements, it may be necessary for you to teach from home for portions of the semester or enlist a colleague to teach in person during your absence. In the event that you must remain at home, please discuss teaching options with your department head. Please see MITNow for responses to FAQs regarding teaching policies this semester.

For guidance on remote teaching, please see Resources for remote instruction below.

Pivoting to fully-remote teaching 

Although it is unlikely that faculty and instructors will need to completely pivot to remote instruction, it may be necessary to pause in-person classes for a few weeks. As with planning for individual student absences, it may be helpful to plan now for this possibility.

It is likely that this plan will be based on strategies and methods of instruction you used during the  2020-2021 academic year.  Even so, you may want to reflect on ways you can leverage what you and your colleagues have learned from teaching remotely to support remote instruction this semester.  Consider:

  • How to best support community and student well-being during these stressful times
  • How to best engage students during and outside of class
  • What software & hardware can best help you teach remotely:
    • What software & hardware you found most effective and do you still have access to these tools?
    • Are there any tools you wished you had? If so, do you have them now or can you acquire them?
  • What will you do if the “pause” coincides with a planned assessment
  • How might you adapt/evolve/change your course learning objectives 

You may want to create a checklist of items you will need to have access to from your home/remote location.  This can help you (or a colleague) gather items more efficiently.