As you make plans for moving your class online during an emergency or disruption, focus on what tasks you are trying to accomplish and remember to consult your students regularly about their own needs and situation.
Regular communication is vital when you can’t be in the same place as your students. Two things that will help you in this are to:
Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your classes—whether a planned absence on your part, or because of a crisis impacting all or part of campus. You'll want to let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations. Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and save you having to deal with individual questions.
Keep these principles in mind:
Communicate early and often: Let students know about changes or disruptions as early as possible, even if all the details aren't in place yet, and let them know when they can expect more specific information. Don't swamp them with email, but consider making an Announcement whenever a significant change in plans happens (for example, the campus closure is extended for two more days; what will students need to know related to your course?).
Set expectations: Let students know how you plan to update them, and how often (once a week? twice a week?). Tell students both how often you expect them to check their email, and how quickly they can expect your response (within one day? two?).
You can hold office hours online by videoconference or chat.
Maintaining a time during which students can come to you for individual assistance is all the more important during a disruption to classes, when students may be uncertain about changed deadlines or requirements. With videoconference office hours, you can preserve the face-to-face element and also share or annotate materials on your screen if you need to discuss course materials or assignments.
Put the link to the meeting you’re using in a central place on your course Canvas site. Make sure they know how to find your virtual office (just as you might offer them directions to your office on-campus).
If you or your students do not have a strong enough network connection for reliable videoconferencing, one alternative you might consider is the Canvas Chat tool, or indeed any other instant messaging tool. This still provides immediate and real-time connection with your students.
In a situation where the instructor can be present in the classroom but students are absent, see if your classroom supports Lecture Capture or streaming, so that you can post a video of the class online. If it does not, you can still stream the lecture out via Zoom from the podium computer or your own laptop. Keep in mind, though, that this option also requires a fairly high speed computer and high bandwidth internet access for your remote participants.
If remote students do not have access to a strong enough network for streaming, you might need to write or record summaries of the lecture material for students who are absent, or solicit such summaries from the students who are present and are willing to share notes.
If you need to hold a virtual class for more than 300 students at a time, you will need to request an upgrade to Zoom Webinars by filling out the request form. To learn more about the differences between Zoom and Zoom Webinar, see Zoom Meetings vs. Webinars.
You may find it most effective to record full or compressed lectures in your home and post the videos along with your materials (slides or notes) in the Canvas course site for study. That way, you can save your live "in person" time on videoconference for Q&A or active learning activities in pairs or groups. If you can come to campus, the Instructional Video team is available to record high-qualitly lectures in their studio space, though it may not be possible to edit this material much during an emergency. If you need to record lectures or other video from your home or office, the best option is screen-capture and video recording software called Kaltura Capture. Once recorded and stored in your My Media area, these videos can be shared in the Course Gallery or embedded in a Discussion for students to post questions and responses to.
Your Canvas course site is the best place to distribute course materials. You can either give students direct access to the Files or organize content files together with associated activities in Modules.
You will likely need to provide additional course materials to support your changing plans, from updated schedules to readings that allow you to shift more instruction online. In a real pinch, providing some new readings and related assignments (asynchronous discussions or response papers) may be your best bet for keeping the intellectual momentum of the course moving.
When posting new course materials:
Make sure students can find things easily: If you post new materials in Canvas, consider using the Modules to organize the material in related chunks. Modules allow you to include and order to your preference any material or activities in the course, including Assignments, Quizzes, Files, and Pages. If you make Modules the course home page, then students will be able to find these things easily.
Note about video files: If you wish to distribute video, such as Lecture Capture video or screencast video you record in your office or home, do not upload those to Files. You will quickly run out of file-space! Lecture Capture videos will be stored in their own area, called “Lecture Recordings” in the course menu. If you record your own screencast lectures or demonstrations, we recommend using Kaltura Capture and uploading the videos to your MiVideo account, called “My Media” in the course menu. From there, you can embed them in a Page or Discussion, or share them to the Media Gallery without taking up your File space allotment.
To collect assignments online, use Canvas, which will keep uploaded files organized and attached to the student who submitted them.
Collecting assignments during a campus closure is fairly straightforward, since many instructors already collect work electronically. The main challenge during a campus disruption is whether students have access to computers, as anyone needing a campus computer lab may be unable to access necessary technologies. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Require only common software: Students may not have access to specialty software located in on-campus computer labs. Be ready with a backup assignment for such students.
Avoid emailed attachments: It may seem easy to collect assignments by email, at least in small classes, but repeated assignments or larger classes will quickly swamp your inbox. Consider using the Canvas Assignment tool instead. Balance what is simplest for students with what is easiest for you to manage.
State expectations, but be ready to allow extensions: In the case of a campus closure or other crisis, some students will undoubtedly have difficulties meeting deadlines. Make expectations clear, but be ready to provide more flexibility than you normally would in your class.
Require specific filenames if you are downloading files for grading: It may sound trivial, but anyone who downloads papers to their computer to grade, rather than using Speedgrader, knows the pain of losing their place among 20 files all named Essay1.docx. Give your students a simple file naming convention, for example, FirstnameLastname-Essay1.docx.
If your course includes high-stakes exams, consider the following decision tree:
High-stakes exams are often difficult to deliver online, without proctoring. It may be easier for both you and your students to offer alternative assignments to students who cannot take in-class exams--for example, an essay assignment or presentations to be given later in the term, or via video.
Another possible approach is to set a time limit for the exam. Be aware of the stress that timed exams can place on students, though, especially when already stressed by a crisis of any kind. You may find it more fruitful to assess the learning of remote students by means of an alternative assignment.
To create such an assignment, identify what learning the students need to demonstrate. If they need to know basic principles, consider having them give a presentation explaining that information. If they need to know how to apply principles, consider giving them data and having them write up their analysis. If they need to demonstrate in-depth area knowledge, consider asking for a research paper.
In all such cases, we strongly recommend creating a grading rubric. This can make grading go faster, if you are the only instructor, and give your assistants a measurable standard to use for grading their sections, if your class is large enough to have GSIs.
Written Responses and Paper Exams
If your exams absolutely require hand written responses (e.g. demonstrating mastery of Chinese script or graphing a solution), students can upload images to either Assignments or essay-type Quiz questions; this may support hand-written responses, if the student has a smartphone to take a picture of their work with. Be aware, however, that not all students will be able to do so, and be prepared to make alternative arrangements for them to demonstrate their work to you.
If you give paper exams and do not have time to copy them into Canvas as a Quiz, then in a short-term emergency you can upload the document file to Canvas and place a download link in an Assignment or Quiz question, allowing students to download the document, fill it out, and upload the completed test to the Assignment or Quiz. We do not recommend directing students to print the document, because remote or isolated students may not have printer access. You can also email the file to your students, rather than link it in the Assignment or Quiz, but linking it in the Assignment or Quiz is the most reliable way to make it available.
If you have more time, we strongly recommend using Gradescope for hand-written exams and copying the questions from paper exams into a Canvas Quiz.
If your course includes hands-on or lab activities, consider whether you can record demonstration videos of technique or provide students with raw data sets to practice with.
One of the biggest challenges of teaching during a building or campus closure is sustaining the lab or hands-on practice components of classes. Since many labs require specific equipment, they are hard to reproduce outside of that physical space.
Some possibilities to consider as you plan to address lab activities:
Move part of the lab online: Many lab activities require students to become familiar with certain procedures, and only physical practice of those processes will do. Consider, however, if there are other parts of the lab experience you could move online. You might add video demonstrations of techniques, online simulations, analysis of data, other pre- or post-lab work, for example, and save the physical practice parts of the labs until campus access is restored. The course might get a bit out of order by splitting up lab experiences, but it could help get you through a short campus closure.
Investigate virtual labs: Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some labs (for example: virtual dissection, night sky apps, video demonstrations of labs, simulations). Those vary widely by discipline, but look on YouTube, check with your textbook publisher, or sites such as Merlot for materials that might help replace parts of your lab during an extended interruption in classes.
Provide raw data for analysis: In cases where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected in a video or videoconference, and then provide some raw sets of data for students to analyze. This approach is not as comprehensive as having students collect and analyze their own data, but it might keep them engaged with parts of the lab experience during the closure.
Explore alternate software access: Some labs require access to specialized software that students cannot install on their own computers. Depending on the nature of the closure (for example, a building versus the entire campus), Technology Services or ITS might be able to help set up the software your students need in other computer lab locations.
Increase interaction in other ways: Sometimes labs or discussion sections are more about having time for direct student interaction, so consider other ways to replicate that level of contact. Would small videoconference discussions with a virtual whiteboard work for this?
Remote learning can be isolating. Try to provide students some opportunity to interact or collaborate, such as discussions, peer review activities, or group work.
Communication among students is important during a disruption. It maintains a sense of community that can help keep students motivated to participate and learn, and reduce isolation during a shutdown. It helps if your class already has some experience with student-to-student online activity (for example, online discussions or Q&A) since students will be used to both the process and the tool, but consider adding them even if students do not. While it’s important not to overload students with new things during a crisis, most discussion tools are fairly intuitive for anyone accustomed to social media.
Consider these suggestions when planning activities:
Use asynchronous tools when possible: Asynchronous tools like Canvas Discussions or a Peer Review Assignment allow students to participate on their own schedules. In addition, network requirements for discussion boards are far lower than for live video tools; it’s easy to participate, even with just a smartphone and a 3G connection.
Link each activity to learning goals: Make sure there are clear purposes and outcomes for any student-to-student interaction. How does this activity help them meet course outcomes or prepare for other assignments? State these things clearly in the assignment or prompt.
Build in simple accountability: Find low-demand ways to make sure students are accountable for the work they do in any online discussions or collaborations. Reading many online discussion posts can be burdensome for large classes, so you might instead ask for separate reflective statements where students detail their contributions and reflect on what they learned from the conversation, and offer points for that. This can also keep the discussion flowing more naturally and flexibly than assigning points per post.
Don’t overload students: As with any changed activities, you will need to balance the needs and benefits of online collaboration with the additional effort such collaboration will require on everyone else's part. Learning new technologies and procedures might be counterproductive, particularly in the short term, unless there is clear benefit. Low-demand activities can still keep students connected.
Significant portions of the Getting Started and Instructional Strategies pages are adapted, with permission, from the Indiana University Knowledge Base article "Keep teaching during prolonged campus or building closures."