Austin Cory Bart tweeted this a little while ago.
I don't always consider how much power I have as a faculty. Right now, I'd really like to expend that power to make my students understand that I don't want them focused on my course during a global pandemic. Not right now. Later, but not right now.— Austin Cory Bart (@AustinCorgiBart) March 13, 2020
While Cory's right about this it's also good to remember that as we're all going remote, focusing on our courses can be important for our students not merely due to content but in this time of uncertainty to have something to focus on to remind us of community and remind us of normal.
While all our students are now home or being sent home they're going to be in semi isolation. Most will be with families but many will be isolated from friends and classmates and without our courses, in a limbo state left to obsess and stress over the current state of affairs.
Focusing on our class - through synchronous onlinen classes and mailing lists, working on assignments, and otherwise engaging in this approximation of our students regular weeks we're providing a valuable distraction in addition to whatever actual course material we can cover.
I've seen it before. After 9/11 and to a lesser extent after Sandy. After 9/11 we were closed for about a a week. Based on the email list I was able to put together and the back and forths I had between parents and students stress was high, information and outlets low. We managed to set up one event that got a bunch of students together and it was really needed. We restarted classes at Brooklyn Tech and stayed for close to a month. Classes were half length starting in the afteroon. I was teaching CS without any real computer access, some classes shared rooms and in general it's debatable how much learning happened. What it did do though, is it gave the kids something to focus on other than the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath. It wasn't normal but it was "normaler."
In the years that followed, I'd hear from both parents and students - a number of whom I never taught about how important it was giving them something to do other than obsess about the events of the day.
Same thing after Sandy. Some students weren't all that affected but others suffered tremendous losses. We set up virtual classes for a couple of days while school wasn't in session. Again, it gave them something to focus on that wasn't the superstorm.
Same thing this time around. We all should be aware and alert to everything happening but we also need community and things to focus on. Our classes can be one of those things.