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Cartoon of two dogs in front of laptop with text "And then I just hit delete. I haven't actually eaten any homework for years".

How to Prevent Dogs (and Computers) from Eating Student Work

Mon Jun 19, 2023 at 07:30 AM

As a former online student, I cannot oversell the importance of an “indestructible” online syllabus. Does such a thing exist? We can certainly try. Luckily for our esteemed colleagues at Oakland University, CETL offers a pretty high brow approach to attaining a very effective syllabus (see their Syllabus Resources). It doesn’t matter if you’re teaching on-campus courses, blended/hybrid, HyFlex, or fully online... the staples of quality syllabus design rollover into all college course formats.

With an awareness that technology is used in all course formats, one of my favorite sections to recommend adding to a syllabus is the “technology backup policy.” What this means is that if (or when) a student has issues with their internet connection, or their computer crashes, etc. they still have a responsibility to turn their work in on-time. 

In other words, “my dog ate my homework” as an excuse has evolved over the years into other, more technological excuses. If you state up front that students need to plan for tech issues, weather, and acts of God--you will be closing that excuse loophole and, more importantly, helping students plan for the unexpected. The sample below outlines some important points to help circumvent foreseeable technology issues. 

Sample “Backup Plan” Syllabus Language

Required Technology and “Backup Plan”

In order to fully participate in this course you will need:

  • A dependable internet connected device with the most updated versions of your favorite web browser installed. While smartphones and tablets can sometimes support e-learning, consistent access to a laptop or desktop is recommended.
  • In the event that your computer crashes or internet goes down, it is essential to have a “backup plan” in place where you are able to use a different computer or travel another location that has working internet.

Any files you intend to use for your course should be saved to a cloud solution (Google Drive, OneDrive with free access of Office 365, etc.) and not only to a local hard drive, USB stick or external disk. Saving files this way guarantees your files are not dependent on one device that could fail.

So give it a try! Having a tech backup plan section in your syllabus helps eliminate tech issues as a barrier to completing work on time. And since you have Moodle at your disposal, I highly recommend following up with a syllabus quiz that asks specifically about this policy to really drive the point home with your students. You may find some students will thank you when they don’t lose their paper because they knew to save it in the cloud. Keep in mind, you will still have the occasional natural disaster that knocks out power for a 20-mile radius... this IS Michigan afterall! Sometimes issues cannot be avoided, and those student accommodations are always to your discretion.

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

About the Author

Dr. Nic Bongers is the Senior Instructional Designer in e-Learning and Instructional support at Oakland University. Nic invites OU faculty to meet with his Instructional Design Team to discuss new ways they can assist you with your online course. Outside of Instructional Design work, Nic is a guitar connoisseur and will be teaching an Honors College course titled: Guitar Anatomy & Aesthetics in January 2024. See e-LIS’ Faculty and Staff Resources page to learn more about support the instructional design team offers.

Cartoon by T. Russels Harris. Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC

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