H1N1 on campus

As you have probably heard, there’s a flu virus going around, and its gearing up to make its second charge in late fall. This  flu strain, originally known as “swine flu”, is now referred to using the moniker H1N1. Epidemiologists are burning the midnight oil trying to predict the course of this virus.  One population likely to be affected is young adults, particularly those living in close proximity to others. The urban poor and college students are right in the line of fire. The current trajectory predicts a second major outbreak in late fall of 2009, impacting as much as 30 to 50% of campus populations.  (If it follows this course, it will match the behavior–more or less–as its predecessors in the pandemics of 1889, 1918 and 1957.)flu3

Since this description fits my student population–and several of you work in educational environments–it will be wise to put a little planning into how you will run your course this year, given the liklihood of a flu pandemic.

Maybe your campus has already sent out information and advice on local resources and policies. Of course, you should peruse that material and prepare your students as best you can, given local conditions.

Let me add a few ideas of my own (via Hugh Lena).

1. Prepare for student absences. Students who are diagnosed with the H1N1 virus are likely to miss at least one full week of class. Inflexible policies mandating student attendance may not be feasible in this environment.  Think about ways to distribute course material (readings, assignments, and lectures) electronically. Consider possibilities for moving class discussion on-line.  Make it possible for students to excel even if they miss a whole week of the course.

2. Prepare for faculty absences. There may be no other choice than to cancel class if the instructor is ill, but other faculty and teaching assistants may be willing to substitute for those who are out sick. If you are willing to help, offer your time to colleagues. If you can, prepare lectures a week in advance and confirm that you have a willing (or two!) substitute. Deans, department chairs and other administrative aides may be resources if you are ill.

3. Use instructional technologies like Blackboard. Most of us already rely on these programs to provide course material, manage gradebooks and promote discussion outside of class hours. This is the ideal time to rely on these technologies, and most campuses offer workshops at the start of term to educate new users.

4. Accept papers digitally. Those who contract this virus are contagious for 24 hours before their first symptoms.  Again: people will be sick with the flu before they know it. This means it is virtually certain that you will have students in your classes who are contagious. Since H1N1 can survive on hard surfaces for more than a day, handling paper assignments is an effective way to contract the disease. Consider going paperless.

I hope this planning is unnecessary, and news of my death premature, but forewarned is forearmed.


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2 responses to “H1N1 on campus

  1. jt

    This topic came up a few times during my new faculty orientation sessions this past week. A few faculty members were really getting their feathers ruffled when the administrators made some of these same recommendations. Be flexible on attendance policies? Outrageous! Of course students will provide documentation of illness, right? Well, no. Because the students with the flu should STAY HOME not go to the student health center to get a NOTE.

    I’ve never required documentation for illness. As a junior faculty member, I mostly keep my mouth shut, but I think it’s really stupid when professors want students to bring notes from doctors. I’ve stayed home with things I didn’t need to see a doctor for. I also go to the doctor for things that don’t involve being too sick to go to school or work. Life is probably not TOO much different for our students.

  2. GN

    Very sage advice…

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