Archive for the ‘Teaching in a time of influenza’ Category

Teaching in a time of influenza – group work

Friday, May 15th, 2009

When the flu is running rampant, students may not be as keen to gather in small spaces and breath on each other – so how do they collaborate?

One way to support remote groups is to set up individual group discussion topics in the Blackboard Discussions area.  First create the groups via the Group Manager in the Teach area.  The sign-up sheet option allows them to create their own group.  


In Build, create a discussion topic for the group, then click Set Release Criteria then click Add Group Criteria, then select the group.  For detailed info go to the MUSO support page –



If they want to have “real time” voice discussions they can use Skype ( .  Skype is free and allows simple web based teleconferencing (it can do one to one video conferencing but that’s not so useful for groups).  A lot of your students will already have accounts.  If they need to know more, this site has a good collection of How tos –

Google Docs 

For collaborative documents you can’t go past Google Docs, again many of your students will already have Gmail accounts so accessing Google Docs shouldn’t be a major problem.
Here is a very simple video explaining how it works.


What if they don’t have a computer/broadband, can’t make it work, their dog ate their keyboard (you know there’ll be some excuse), well there’s always masks.

If they are dead set on masks here’s what they need (according to US CDC recommendations) a N95 Dusk mask.  The Australian equivalent is a P2 mask.  You’re more likely to get them through Bunnings than your chemist.  If they have the flu they shouldn’t get one with an exhalation valve – they will just blow their bugs out through the valve.  Make sure it is tightly fitted particularly around the nose. 

face mask 
(From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales

And tell them not to draw on it – I know whiskers on your mask may look cute but they can bugger up filter material.

Teaching in a time of influenza

Monday, May 11th, 2009

Ok, this time it’s pigs that are out to get us rather than birds, but the basic features are the same – it spreads fast, it’s fairly nasty (although how nasty is a bit unclear) and it’s well (over?) publicized. 

From the Higher Ed perspective the virus doesn’t have to hit us to cause a problem.  A few cases in Melbourne (which will inevitably coincide with the usual rounds of the winter colds) may well be enough.  If people perceive a real possibility of catching it they will change their behaviour.   Two easy strategies people apply are avoiding public transport (if possible) and staying away from potentially crowded public spaces.  Say a temporary goodbye to a slab of our student population.  Universities in the U.S. are already confronting the problem ( but so far none have closed down, unlike the K-12 sector which has seen a number of temporary closures. 

If the flu does hit us in any significant way then we could be looking at a very disrupted semester.

How do we continue to provide a service when the face to face option is of limited use?  We get flexible.  There are a number of fairly easy to use (and free) tools out there to support teaching, the most readily available being Blackboard.

Over the next couple of weeks I plan to look at a few tools and strategies we could use if things go pear shaped.  The bonus is they are even quite useful in normal day to day teaching.   

You know this is serious – there’s already a T-shirt

Swine Flu - Bacon’s Revenge