Supporting Learning Through Excused Extended Student Absences


This page provides options and highlights resources for instructors and course and teaching assistants working to support students through an excused extended absence from in-person learning. An extended absence refers to students being absent for more than one week. Columbia offers a number of classroom technology enhancements that make it possible to accommodate students through exceptional circumstances. For courses assigned to hybrid classrooms, the University strongly recommends using the technology available in the classroom to allow students to join class remotely. 

When selecting the option that works best for you and your students, it is important to consider ways to make learning as inclusive and accessible as possible, and to align with University attendance policies and school and department practices. Additionally, articulate your practices and be transparent about how you will support students through an extended absence. This will ease student anxiety about missing in-person classes. Regardless of your approach, it is important to communicate your practices clearly and consistently so that students know what you expect of them and what they can expect of you. 

Options for Synchronous Learning: Students Attend and Participate Remotely

Allow students to join class remotely and to actively participate. If students are well enough to attend class remotely, you can provide the option for them to do so via Zoom. Enhance their remote experience by engaging them in discussions and activities that are part of the session plan. See the CTL’s Five Tips for Hybrid/HyFlex Teaching with All Learners in Mind and Active Learning for Your Online Classroom: Five Strategies Using Zoom for tips on engaging remote students. 

Leverage the classroom technology supported by CUIT. Many Registrar-managed classrooms around the University are equipped by CUIT to allow for hybrid modality. Specific details for each classroom are listed on CUIT’s Hybrid Classroom Locations page. Please review CUIT’s Hybrid Classrooms: Getting Started checklist for tips on facilitating learning in these classrooms. For training and support using the classroom technology available in CUIT-supported Hybrid Classroom, contact and they will meet with you and your teaching and/or course assistants in your assigned classroom. If your classroom is not equipped with the needed technology to allow students to join remotely, CUIT offers carts that can be brought to your classroom and used for hybrid teaching and learning. Please contact CUIT Classroom Support by calling 212-854-3633 or emailing

This video provides an overview of the technology available in Morningside electronic classrooms equipped by CUIT. 

Invite students to meet with you and/or your TAs (if applicable). Office hours provide an opportunity to respond to questions students may have about missed course material, assignments, and how to make those up. Virtual office hours provide flexibility for students to connect while they are unable to attend class in-person (see the CTL’s Virtual Office Hours resource). 

Encourage communication and create space for students to ask questions through CourseWorks Discussion, Ed Discussion, email, or virtual office hours. CourseWorks Announcements can help all students keep up with the course; announcements can include class agendas, information about homework and assignments, upcoming due dates, and other important course activities. 

Options for Asynchronous Learning: Students View Recordings and Engage Asynchronously

Share class recordings, whether they are Zoom recordings from past semesters or audio or Zoom recordings of the current class. The CTL’s Tips for Recording Classes in All Learning Spaces resource can help you think through how to do this in your assigned classroom. For training and support using the classroom technology available in CUIT-supported Hybrid Classroom, contact and they will meet with you and your teaching and/or course assistants in your assigned classroom.

Make course materials available in CourseWorks. Materials can include slide presentations, instructional materials, handouts, etc. This will benefit all students as they will have access to materials to support their learning – whether reviewing for an exam or to help fill in gaps that were missed in class (see the CTL’s Accessibility in Teaching and Learning resource for tips). The CTL offers CourseWorks support through office hours, consultation, and on-demand resources. 

Create opportunities for students to participate in classroom discussion asynchronously. This can be done through CourseWorks Discussions or Ed Discussion (see the CTL’s Learning Through Discussion resource). 

Partnering with Course and Teaching Assistants

Course and teaching assistants can play a critical role in supporting the synchronous and asynchronous options outlined above. This work may include:

  • Supporting faculty with the use of classroom technology (including testing the set-up before class). 
  • Engaging and checking in with students that join class sessions remotely.
  • Assisting with recording class sessions.
  • Contacting CUIT classroom technologies support to alert them to any tech issues.
  • Ensuring Zoom recordings and other course materials are available in CourseWorks.

Explore Columbia Online’s resource Supporting HyFlex/Hybrid Courses: A Resource for Course and Teaching Assistants.

Supports Available to Instructors, Course Assistants, and Teaching Assistants

Columbia University Information Technology (CUIT)

CUIT’s classroom support team is available to provide training and support of Registar-managed classrooms. To schedule a training consultation for you (and your teaching and course assistants, if applicable), contact Classroom Support by calling 212-854-3633 or emailing

Related CUIT resources:

Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL)

The CTL is available to help you think through inclusive and accessible accommodations that support student learning. The CTL can assist you as you think through the options for student participation and engagement, assessment, and how students can achieve course learning objectives while absent from in-person learning. Connect with us through office hours, schedule a consultation, and explore our on-demand resources. 

Related CTL resources:


Columbia University. Attendance Policies and Missed Class. Return to In-person Instruction. COVID-19 Resource Guide for the Columbia Community. 

Schacter, H. L., Brown, S. G., Daugherty, A. M., Brummelle, S., and Grekin, E. (2021). A Road Map for a Compassionate Classroom. Inside Higher Education. December 1, 2021.