Wednesday, March 18, 2020

University Instruction during the COVID-19 Crisis

Adding insult to injury, Salt Laker's were shaken this morning by what is estimated as a 5.7 magnitude earthquake centered near Magna in the northwest Salt Lake Valley.  All is well with me and my family and I hope the same for you and yours.  For information on what to do before, during, and after an earthquake, see  Below is their drop, cover, and hold on reminder.  Note that if you can't get under sturdy furniture like a table or desk, crawl to an interior wall and away from the windows. 

Source: FEMA

I did not receive word from the University of Utah that classes were cancelled today until I was halfway through my morning class, which I was teaching online for the first time.  Although I have never taught it online before, the course is laid out in a way that is quite amenable to transitioning to online instruction.  It is a "flipped" class in which the students complete online instructional modules on their own.  When we meet, I lead them through a forecasting exercise. 

I have taught this class in this way for 25 years, so when I first attended a seminar on the flipped classroom I laughed and realized I've been teaching that way for a long time, although not all of my courses are designed in this way. 

Today's class seemed to go well since the students can forecast on their personal computers (although not necessarily using the software we have in our lab) and we can communicate and share screens and ideas using video conferencing software.  It's not quite as good as being there, but I think the class experience should be a good one considering the circumstances.

That being said, I am already pushing back due dates on assignments and considering some changes to the course.  Our lives are disrupted and stress is high.  Expectations for students and ourselves need to be adjusted.  Spending less time covering material and more time just talking with students about how they feel is critical.  None of us has been through anything like this before, but most undergraduates cannot remember 9/11 and have limited recollection of the 2008 financial crisis.  It is worth remembering that this is probably the first major societal upheaval that they have experienced and even for those of us mid-career types, it could be the worst of our lifetimes.    If you are a faculty member, stay in contact with your students. If you are a student, respond when we check in or just contact us for any reason.  We're here for you. 


  1. what effect do earthquakes have on snow stability? I would think it would be like a giant avi controller.

    1. They are a potential avalanche trigger depending on the snowpack characteristics. Shake maps suggest that earthquake intensity decayed quickly as one moved eastward. Given current snowpack structure, I'm not sure anything would have happened, although I am prepared to be shown wring.