If you are meeting classes face-to-face in the classroom, be sure to talk about class cancellation policies on the first day. Students already know that the university will send out VT Alerts in the case of a campus-wide cancellation (e.g., in case of weather problems); but it pays to talk about other times when your class will not meet ahead of time so that students know what to expect.
Discuss Substitute Instructors
The English Department requires you to find a colleague who can cover your class in the case of an emergency. Explain to students that if you cannot make it to class for some reason, this substitute will teach the class in your place. Students are quite used to substitutes from their high school days, so you will not need to provide much more information.
Explain Your Cancellation Notification System
Be sure to include a policy on your syllabus that explains how you will let students know if you will not meet in the classroom. You might be meeting elsewhere on campus (like the library), asking students to work online, or conferencing with students in your office. Tell students how you will let them know to ensure there is no confusion in these cases.
I include notifications on the class calendar and in daily reminders on the class website during the days leading up to the special sessions. In the case of last-minute changes, I send out notifications using the Announcements tool in Scholar. I advise students to always check their email before coming to class to make sure they know of any changes.
What If I’m Teaching Online?
Fortunately online classes don’t have set meeting times, so you will never need to cancel a session. That said, it’s helpful to let students know how you will let them know of any changes to the schedule . An Announcement in Scholar will usually take care of the situation.
Why All This Bother?
Obviously, clear communication helps a class run smoothly. That’s not the only reason however. You never know when someone will disrupt your plans. As I explained in this post, a recent conversation on the Writing Program Administrators Discussion list (WPA-L) dealt with a student who wrote a “Class cancelled” message on the board, and others in the course believed the message and left. Even without jokesters, students can be confused by a note taped to the classroom door or a message on the board from a previous class.
Explaining your policy in advance will ensure that no one is confused by a random sign posted on the classroom door or a note scribbled on the board. While you’re at it, talk about how you will let the class know about changes in your office hours as well. It will save you time and help you avoid problems during the term.