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Anticipating Student Absences

Short term student absences can occur for many reasons from illness to religious and spiritual observances to familial obligations and countless others. By anticipating short-term student absences, instructors can create flexible pathways to achieve learning outcomes and leverage technologies to facilitate access to course learning. Many of these strategies implement principles from Universal Design for Learning which proactively seek to minimize barriers to learning environments and enhance academic success. Teaching Excellence and Innovation offers the following ideas to help instructors support students with short term absences.

Please note that these suggestions are for short term absences only and are designed to allow students to stay up to date on class content. If students are experiencing longer term absences that may impact their success in your course, please refer students to academic advising, department and academic policies, and share student resources, such as resources from the Dean of Students Office.

In this resource:


How can I design my assessments in anticipation of short-term absences?

By incorporating flexibility in assessment design, instructors can create an evaluative structure that anticipates students' diverse living and learning circumstances, unexpected absences, and offers greater agency over schedules. Flexible assessment strategies implement a range of options from which students choose and can minimize the need for make-up midterms or other assessments due to absence. For example, rather than high stakes sit down midterms, instructors can test students through 3 smaller quizzes with the option to drop the lowest score. Alternatively, instructors can set up graded learning activities (I.e. participation) with students completing 8 out of 10 weeks or 3 of 4 tutorials. Instructors may also give options to redistribute weight of tests or assignments.

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How can I support students who cannot come to class?

Consider posting weekly course materials such as PowerPoint slides and outlines, whiteboard diagrams and notes that were used in class to your course MyLS page so that students who are not able to attend can keep up with the course material covered each week. Recording or streaming in-person lectures can also be used to support students who cannot attend class.

Course materials and recordings can be shared with select students or the whole class. To limit access to students who are absent due to illness, instructors can add individuals to a OneDrive folder with the missed materials and share a link with select students and revoke the link at any time. Lecture recordings can be shared with individual students through Zoom or Panopto’s sharing options on the web.

How can I stream or record my lectures?

Choosing to record or stream in-person lectures can accommodate short term absences and provide students with an opportunity to review the session and interact with the content during or after their absence. Instructors can choose to share lecture recordings and transcripts with individual students or permit the whole class to access and use lecture recordings or transcriptions as study aids.

The aim of these recordings should be to capture the class session focused on the instructor’s content and presence, particularly their voice for transcription. Consider wearing wireless earphones with a microphone to record and capture your voice wherever you are in the classroom.

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What are some strategies to help students to share notes with peers?

Setting up note sharing opportunities for students can help create community and help students who are experiencing absences keep up with course material. Instructors can either create a shared OneDrive folder for students to add their own notes to, or a collaborative word document to which all students in the course can contribute and improve their notetaking skills.

To limit access to course notes, consider appointing two or three student notetakers and create a folder on OneDrive. Share a link with notetakers that allows them to edit and add to the folder, and another link to share with students who request access to notes, so that they can read the notes without editing. When facilitating collaborative notetaking, distribute a link allowing students to edit the notes file or folder so that anyone in the course can contribute.

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How can students earn participation marks if they can’t come to class?

Instructors can pose questions in collaborative online spaces and students can respond using collaborative tools like shared Office 365 documents or MyLS discussion boards. Instructors could also consider an assessment such as a short reading response paper as an alternative way to complete their participation grade.

Please ensure you are taking your personal bandwidth into account when considering alterative opportunities for students to make up missed grading opportunities. If creating alterative opportunities to access missed grades isn’t something that you have space and time for, you could always adjust the students grades to reflect missing days.

Find more about reflection papers in the assessment section of this guide.

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How can students participate in groupwork if they cannot come to class?

Instructors can create opportunities for students to collaborate on groupwork by using the suite of tools in MyLS to create group discussion boards, file sharing, and peer assessment. Instructors can leverage the Microsoft 365 tools to support live document collaboration with and among students.

In online environments, or for extended absences, students could leverage Zoom as a collaborative tool to stay connected with their groups. Groups could create a contract to negotiate roles and responsibilities to continue working effectively during absences. This is also a great place to incorporate peer feedback as part of the group's work, holding students accountable and documenting individual contributions.

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What are some ways students can make up missed tutorials or labs?

We recognize that labs are unique between programs, and that programs and lab coordinators have made adjustments to lab delivery plans, including make-up lab dates to support students who miss labs for a variety of reasons (e.g. illness, weather). Instructors can consider recording or streaming their lab or tutorial session to all students or select students who may have missed the session.

Instructors could record a brief audio or video recap of the week’s lab or tutorial and make that available to students to help scaffold them through short term absences. Instructors can create shared OneDrive folders for students to share notes or collaborate on a notetaking document or students can post their own video or audio summaries. Some common lab experiments may have YouTube demonstrations that students could be encouraged to review to recap.

To simulate some of the laboratory time-constraints in analyzing data and producing reports, remote lab assignments can be conducted as MyLS quizzes with time limits and data sets conditionally released at the start of the remote lab time.


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What are some options if students cannot come to campus for a test?

Always check with your program administrator for any departmental or Faculty policies that may exist around rescheduling tests. If such policies do not exist, consider scheduling alternative dates for writing tests which can accommodate students who are unable to make the scheduled class time. If students are unable to come to campus for an extended period, instructors can also consider testing remotely using eLearning tools or offering an alternative assessment that addresses the same outcomes. If these alternatives are not a good fit, instructors may consider assigning the test weight to another secure assessment (e.g., a final exam or term project) in the course. Finally, instructors should direct students to mechanisms available if completion of tests cannot be facilitated through alternative means and students are unlikely to be able to complete course assessment. Find a non-exhaustive list of alternative assessments in the Build section of this Guide.

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How can I mitigate presentations being impacted by student absences?

For individual or group presentations, consider allowing students to deliver presentations remotely using Zoom or pre-record presentations and submit them to the course drobox in MyLS. Students presenting on Zoom can be shown live in the classroom and in person presenters can manage questions from the class for remote presenters by using the chat or asking questions directly in a web conferencing classroom.


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What if students have missed multiple assessments and are struggling academically?

If students are missing small quizzes, or low-grade assessments, and no alternatives are available, consider reallocating that grade to other summative assessments like tests and exams. Either dropping the lowest score on a test or offering students choice in completing low stakes assessments are other options that can be working into your course to support potential short term absences as well. However, if students are missing multiple secure summative assessments, such as mid-terms, then these become more difficult to reallocate and other grade mechanisms should be considered (see below).

Instructors are the best resource in identifying students who may be academically struggling. The Early Alert Referral Form is used by instructors to submit information to the advising team who will connect the student with an advisor in their Faculty. The academic advising team can support you if there are concerns about a student’s academic success in a course.

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What mechanisms are available to students?

There are Senate-approved procedures available to students to consider in their academic planning. They include, but are not limited to, dropping a course and the petition process. When dropping a course or submitting a petition, there are items students should consider, and academic advising is available to all students.
Students may submit a petition for, but not limited to, the following reasons:
  • Withdrawing from a course(s) after the official deadline: Extenuating circumstances have impacted the ability for a student to fully participate in a course (undergraduate information, graduate information)
  • Extension to course work: Students may request an extension to due dates for course work beyond the last day of term when extenuating circumstances have impacted their ability to fully participate in a course (undergraduate information, graduate information)
  • Deferred Exams: Scheduling conflicts with other exams, serious illness, religious or spiritual observances, extraordinary personal or family circumstances. More information about deferred exams.
  • Not Accountable Term: Extenuating circumstances that have affected a student’s ability to participate, and typically is applied to an entire term (undergraduate information, graduate information)
Students who are planning on submitting an academic petition should seek academic advising. Find out more about the academic petitions and appeals process for undergraduate and graduate students.
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