North Island College Teaching & Learning Supports
Teach Anywhere

Supporting Student Absences

Suggestions for instructors to plan into courses

Being nimbler and more flexible is the best way to support students who may have lengthy or frequent absences. Weather, health, isolation, parental care, and travel are some of the challenges students may experience that prevent them from attending an in-person or virtual class. As educators, we need to plan our courses so we can support all students and help them on the pathway to being successful.

Here are some suggestions to help students keep learning during any absences. Think about which ideas might work for you, your course and your students.

But better yet – ask students what might work for them. Share with them some solutions and inquire about what they might like to help them keep learning.


Learn More about Your STUDENTSΒ 

Give students a quick confidential survey to indicate if they are currently experiencing challenges in attending to class learning experiences or may in the future. Also ask about their technology access should they need to undertake some adjustments that require viewing digital content or gaining access to technology at other times of the day. Just find out a bit more about your students to help you understand their needs and challenges. This will go a long way in better understand the supports they may need to continue learning during or after an absence.



It is inevitable. Students are going to be absent in your classes for a variety of reasons (illness, quarantining, self-isolation, travel, weather, family responsibilities etc.). Being prepared is the best solution so you can approach students on day one and put some plans into place. Students need to feel you are looking out for them, have plans already established and are ready to support their situation should they need to be absent.


SCHEDULE SHORT Class Check-In Times

Conduct short 5-10 minute check-in times with students at beginning of classes to hear how things are going along with any ideas about what they need to help them be successful etc. A check-in ensures there is ‘air time’ for students to share how things are going, ask questions, provide feedback and maybe even share what is working for them to boost positivity and support of all.


CREATE persistent Student Teams

Put students in teams of 3-4 to work as a ‘course support team’ throughout the whole course. Team members can take notes for each other, have short meetings (in person or via breakout rooms) to check in on homework and assignments and help each other out if there is an absence to fill in missing pieces etc. Student teams act like an ‘internal support system’ for students to reach out to, help each other along and provide moral and academic support. It isn’t to be seen as an onerous or additional assignment or ‘group work’ but rather instilling a sense of collective responsibility as a learning community to work together. You can create team-only discussion boards in Brightspace for the students to stay in touch and post/share content. Or you can let each group set up their own communication plans.

  • Instructions: Forming Teams – via Team-Based Learning Methods | Webpage
  • Article: Using Teams Effectively in Your Courses | Duke University |Β Webpage


GEt STUDENTs doing Collaborative Note-taking

Students take turns in small groups (2-3) contributing to a shared document (e.g., Google docs) to take notes on the class. Aids in higher engagement with material as students need to activity to think about what is being said and learned and consolidate thoughts into notes used by all classmates. One student may focus on what the teacher is saying, one student might focus on what students are saying and one student might be ensuring it is cohesive and organized. Some suggestions on how to do it via the articles below:

  • Article: Collaborative Note-taking as an alternative to recording online sessions | Faculty Focus | Webpage
  • Article: Using Collaborative Note-Taking to Promote an Inclusive Learning Environment | University of Guelph | Webpage
  • Article: How Collaborating on Note-Taking Boosts Student Engagement | Edutopia | Webpage
  • Article: Collaborative Learning | Columbia University in New York | Webpage


Develop Short Class Summaries

Instructor or students create short summaries of the key concepts/content from a class. Can also be short summaries of readings, resources to have reviewed etc.

  • Students: This might be an all-class activity for 5 minutes in Google Jamboard or Google Docs sharing the top learning concepts from the class, things they need to study more, key themes or take-aways etc.
  • Students: It could also be a short small-group activity for each group to consider the key learning from that class or readings and share with the class in a 30 second whip around to each group to share or post in a discussion board etc.
  • Instructor: Could be a five-minute summary video of the key points of the class (nothing fancy) done in one take and shared with class. Acts as a nice summary for all and provides additional info for study notes.
  • Instructor: Create a short email summary highlighting the key points, concepts, content, things to remember etc. Nothing too long, just the highlights.


FOr multiple evaluations – consider “BEST OF” and DROP LOwest or Missing

If you have multiple evaluations (e.g., weekly quizzes, a few reflections, number of small tests) consider just taking the best X out of Y (e.g., best 3 out of 5 quizzes) for the final grade. Students who miss these will feel more assured they are not going to lose marks for absences or missing evaluations. It also saves instructors creating a make-up evaluation item.

  • Put this in your course outline or adjust existing evaluation to be the ‘best of’ so students know how many can be dropped.
  • In your gradebook, ensure you have a way “dropping the lowest” one or two or three items for final grade calculation


Send Brief Communications

Ensure you provide timely and helpful communications about the course so students who are away (or if you are away) can stay in touch. Examples:

  • Discussion board in Brightspace: Create a special discussion board to just share updates.
  • Class Summary Emails: Share updates via short email bursts.
  • Ask students what platform or format would work best for them to stay in touch with you outside of course emails and LMS – there may be other ways to help all students stay connected to the class in easier way


Allow for Adjustable Due Dates

Provide opportunities to adjust due dates, give more time to some students to demonstrate their learning and overall engage in a flexible approach to assessment and evaluation such as:

  • Share your planned due dates, but early on in course share how students go about requesting adjustments (so they are clear from the start of class)
  • Share your philosophy of wanting to have everyone be successful and that you’ll work with students 1:1 to create adjusted dates (so they have less stress in worrying about losing marks or doing poorly)


Nurture Class Community Building

Anytime you can enhance your class as one big learning community, you shift the focus from the teacher to the collective of all learners taking on the responsibility to work together.

  • Community Building in the Classroom | Columbia University in City of New York | Webpage


Reuse Online Teaching Materials Previously Created

You may have materials from the previous year(s) that could benefit students who are unable to attend classes or need content in another format. Review what you have developed and see if any of it might be easily adapted or repurposed for students unable to attend classes.

  • Reusing existing course materials in digital formats can help students stay on track with their learning while away.
  • Creating any new or more current materials might not take that long if you are thinking small and nothing fancy – such as building little videos or uploading summary notes etc.


Provide Flexible Access to course and resources

Ensure content, resources, materials are unrestricted so students can access at any time to learn and complete demonstrations of learning such as:

  • Remove any restricted access times to content (or open up some content at beginning of course so students have more time to access materials
  • If you had resources and content hidden from students until they complete a reading or view a video, consider removing so there are more pathways for students to access content


Consider alternate Demonstrations of learning

If students have missed a test or a quiz and you have marked and returned to students, consider alternative evaluations of learning with choice or flexibility in format and content.

  • Don’t recreate a quiz or a test if a student has missed, instead focus on the learning outcomes and work with the student to provide alternatives ways of evaluating their learning (e.g., maybe a concept map of course components, reflective writing about what they have learned the learning outcomes, other formats etc.)
  • Article: Designing Assignments for Learning | Columbia University in the City of New York | Webpage


HIGHLIGHTS WHEN Recording Via BlueJeans

If you are recording your digital synchronous class in BlueJeans, ensure you have a guidelines note posted in your course. Go over these guidelines with your students to ensure they are aware why and how you are recording them and what options they have to protect their privacy. Learner comfort could possibly be jeopardized when you are recording a class. Just make sure all your learners are okay with recording and if not, you will have to refrain from recording.

If recording is supported by your students, inform and practice with students how to use the “Meeting Highlights” feature to add ‘bookmarks’ with key content to help with locating key information and understanding content. Smart meeting highlights makes little stopping points (yellow stars) in the recording that help students navigate through an otherwise long chunk of video. More info on Teach Anywhere.

NOT IDEAL – Recording a Face-to-Face Class: Recording a face-to-face class is not always the best solution for supporting students (and not always the most effective for digital classes too). There are numerous privacy issues, challenges in having students be their most authentic self when a camera is on them, waivers and guidelines that need to be followed, possible discomfort for many that may prohibit good learning, along with the extensive technological set up. Most of all, North Island College doesn’t have classrooms equipped to do recordings adequately by capturing quality sound and images. Even if a recording is made, the ‘viewing statistics’ are often very low as students are really looking for those golden nuggets of information that were said or a demonstration that was done etc – so consider some of the ideas above that give students a better learning experience if they are unable to attend in person.