Any number of issues can disrupt the day-to-day schedule of our classes: winter weather, illness, travel to conferences and meetings, and jury duty to name just a few. Some of these we know about in advance, and we have time to either find a substitute to cover our lecture, pre-record our lecture, or assign a project or special assignment for the students in lieu of lecture attendance. Others give us little or no warning. The latter situations may be stressful and may result in a lost learning opportunity. With a little forethought, preparing options for such unforeseen disruptions can benefit both instructor and students.

Anticipating the Disruption

Many of us have courses that we teach with some regularity. Taking the time to build “snow day” projects ahead of time can save time and stress later and is a good investment in a regularly taught course. These may be case studies, videos to watch and comment on, or any number of things that add to the course experience for the students. These activities should be meaningful experiences for the students and can also serve to bring real-world applications into the classroom. For instance, videos of key lectures or videos to key problem solutions can be useful supplements to in-class activity in general. Modules covering an application case study are also useful optional material for students and may fit anywhere throughout the semester. If pre-made resources are available, then a required assignment can be quickly made in response to a course disruption. They also allow us as instructors to give the students meaningful instruction when we find ourselves stranded at an airport when our flight is cancelled or waking up too ill to teach. For those using an LMS such as Canvas or Blackboard, it can be as simple as publishing a page or assignment and sending out an announcement to the students.

Laboratory classes pose an even bigger challenge than a traditional lecture course. These courses usually have a set of activities that the students must complete. Extra days may be built into the schedule so that missed sessions can be rescheduled, but often prove to be too few. Laboratory classes are also “hands on” classes where students benefit most from being in the laboratory and performing the tasks themselves. Development of virtual lab sessions for some of the less intensively “hands on” sessions of a laboratory can provide a sort of safety net for when laboratory classes get behind due to cancelled classes. These can be substituted in place of the in-person lab sessions. Many of these virtual sessions may already be available from when we were online during the pandemic. It is just a matter or determining how to implement them in the context of a class missed due to weather, illness, etc. rather than implementing them as part of a semester-long virtual lab.

Example Flexible Assignments

Figure 1 shows an example assignment for use in an electrical circuits lecture course.  This example provides a link between the technical circuits topics and engineering applications.  It also provides an opportunity for students exercise their technical writing skills.

Figure 2 shows an example assignment for use in an electronics laboratory course.  This example provides circuit simulation opportunity.  It could replace an assignment in which the students would build and test the circuit or it could provide experience which supplements other circuits in the laboratory.  It also incorporates design elements.


This preparation ahead of time can save a significant amount of stress in what is likely an already stressful situation. Implementing a pre-built online activity can give an extra day to return from a conference, allow us breathing room to organize for a lengthier absence from the classroom, or cover required material that could not be covered due to class cancellations such as in a laboratory course.

Approaches to developing “snow day” activities are similar to those needed for online courses and blended classes. The related literature in engineering education can provide insight in developing optional and supplemental resources (see references below).


A. Kaur and T. Swift, “Best 2019 Zone III Paper: Blended Learning: Electrical Circuits for non-EE students,” ASEE Annual Conference, 2020.

L. Tao, L. -C. Chen and C. Lin, “Work in progress — Improving web security education with virtual labs and shared course modules,” 2010 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), Arlington, VA, USA, 2010, pp. F2F-1-F2F-3, doi: 10.1109/FIE.2010.5673184.

M. Savin-Baden, “Understanding how to use problem-based learning effectively in remote and virtual labs,” 2012 9th International Conference on Remote Engineering and Virtual Instrumentation (REV), Bilbao, Spain, 2012, pp. 1-5, doi: 10.1109/REV.2012.6293172.