Choose the right tools.

How do I…?

Set up my classroom | Communicate with students | Record my lectures

Hold lectures online | Provide course Materials | Have students submit work

Facilitate discussions | Facilitate group work | Facilitate student presentations

Facilitate peer review | Create quizzes | Do grading | Provide students with feedback

This next part is tricky.  You need to keep the online environment and the tools available to you in mind, while at the same time keeping your goals in mind.  You need to have a blueprint for your course, but you have to design this blueprint so that it works within and takes full advantage of the online environment and its tools.  

The list below will help you think through this. Note that while this list compares elements of face-to-face teaching to elements of online teaching, simply transferring over your content is not what we’re advising.  Simply transferring your face-to-face content and activities over is unlikely to be highly successful—rethinking your pedagogy for the new environment in which you’re teaching is key.

How do I…? 

This list is inspired by a list on Wheaton College’s website.

a) Set up my classroom

The tool we have that most resembles your classroom is your course’s Canvas homepage.  This is the first thing students will see when they log into your course and it’s important to set a good atmosphere right from the beginning.  Super-clear instructions plus a warm welcome are essentials here.  A nice image or two also helps to set the tone of the course. 

Also see the suggested homepage layout in ETM’s Remote Teaching Template. (For instructions on how to import this template into your course, see number eight on the Canvas page of our website.)  We suggest using this layout because having a consistent approach to presenting basic course information will reduce student frustration.  Let students be challenged by your course’s content, not by having to hunt for the syllabus or other information!

ETM Canvas Guide

ETM Course Home Page

b) Communicate with students

In a face-to-face classroom you can talk to students as a class, as a small group, or one-to-one.  You can do similar things using Canvas.  When you post a Canvas announcement, it will appear in “Announcements” and some students will receive it via email (depending how they have their settings set up).  You can also email the whole class, a group of students, or individual students through Canvas. 

Clear communication is key in online learning.  Try to anticipate what your students’ questions will be before you hit send or post.  Clear communication can reduce the number of emails that you get.

Don’t message students either too little or too often.  You need to find a balance.  If they get too many announcements and emails, they might get overwhelmed and stop paying attention, but they do need regular contact to know that you’re present in the course and that you’re paying attention to what is going on.

Let students know when they can expect to hear back from you.  Will you get back to them the same day?  Or within two days?  Let them know so that they don’t sit there clicking refresh and hoping for an email that may not be coming for another 24 hours.

In the online student panel held in March, 2020, a consistent message from all of the panelists was to keep all course communication in Canvas.  Sending instructions, feedback, and announcements using other means creates a lot more confusion and cognitive overhead.  So…keep it all in Canvas!

Also, to keep using our building analogy, include clear signage so students can figure out how to get where they want to go.  It’s not much use to build a beautiful new hospital but forget to put up the signs for the ER!  Similarly, you need to create signs for your students so that they can find their way around your course.  Think about where they enter the course (your homepage) and how they’ll navigate to the different pages you’ve created.  A hint: putting everything (files, assignments, discussions, etc.) into weekly modules really helps. 

Here’s information on contacting students through Canvas.

Another great way to keep in touch with students is to create a discussion forum on the homepage where students can post questions they have and issues that have come up. Here’s our guide on discussions in Canvas.

Finally, remember to set up virtual office hours with your students.  You can hold your office hours using Zoom.

c) Record my lectures (and keep them to seven minutes!)

Digression:  Synchronous and asynchronous learning.  As a quick reminder, synchronous learning is when you and your students meet at the same time.  Asynchronous is when you don’t.  This webpage lays out some of the advantages and disadvantages of the two.   

The key thing to remember when recording lectures is to keep them short, ideally under seven minutes.  If you have a lot to say, then break it up into several seven-minute videos. The reason for this is that, unless you’re extraordinarily talented at delivering and producing video lectures, your students’ minds are very likely to wander after about seven minutes.  If you’re used to lecturing for 50 minutes or more, try to condense what you’re saying and divide it into smaller videos, provide additional input via written material, or create additional activities that provide opportunities for students learn the material more deeply.

The SPU-supported tool for recording video is Panopto.  (It is possible to record video using Canvas’s own video recorder or upload videos directly into Canvas, but each Canvas course has a limited storage capacity. Video recorded in this way is also hard to edit or caption, so Panopto is what we recommend.) Panopto can record just you, just your screen, or both you and your screen. Another benefit of using Panopto is its search function which allows you to search for a specific word spoken in the videos or slides.

If you’re not terribly fond of seeing yourself on video, consider making a screencast.  Hearing your voice will add a personal touch to your course, and you don’t have to worry about what you look like on the screen.  If, however, your course is largely asynchronous, we do recommend occasionally including video of yourself as seeing you on video will help your students feel more connected.  Having a video of yourself in your welcome section is especially encouraged as it helps you to make personal connection with your students at the outset of the course.

When recording videos about concepts, we advise not including information specific to this iteration of your class in videos that you could reuse.  Leave out things like specific due dates and deadlines so that you can use those videos again in the future. If you can separate out videos in the course that might be stable for a few years from videos tied to a particular cohort you can save yourself a lot of work.

As a quick reminder, here’s our guide to using Panopto.

d) Hold lectures online

In the context of remote teaching, many faculty have held their classes over Zoom (usually recording them for students who couldn’t make a particular session). We’re still analyzing the feedback from students and faculty about this, but there are a couple of perspectives that we’re holding in tension as we reflect on this. Lecturing and holding class as normally scheduled but via Zoom has helped faculty and students continue to teach and learn. It has provided a degree of a much-needed sense of community and continuity. It is somewhat familiar for faculty used to teaching face-to-face. However, Zoom fatigue is a real thing for both faculty and students, and without additional structures to support learning, it may be difficult for students to take in a Zoom lecture.

SPU’s experience in the past quarter is also in tension with decades of research in online learning which strongly steers faculty towards the effectiveness of asynchronous methods of lecturing online, with synchronous elements being flexibly scheduled, limited in number, and carefully chosen to develop community or particular learning experiences. However, for most SPU students, learning online has not been their choice, and they may crave the familiarity of synchronous sessions. If I were to include a synchronous element in an existing time-scheduled class, I would do it once a week, have it be required, and prioritize the interactive elements of my teaching for that time – discussion, communal problem solving, student-led activities, or worked examples with Q&A.

Things to think about:

  • What is the best use of synchronous online time?  Lectures? Discussions? Student presentations? Q&A sessions?
  • What might make synchronous sessions difficult for this particular group of students?  Possibilities include fluctuating schedules due to changing work commitments (remember the economy is unsettled and work commitments might reflect this), sharing internet bandwidth with roommates/family members, lack of a room in which to meet (sharing bedrooms, public spaces), technology flops and failures.  How can you help students with these challenges?
  • Encourage students to engage with the class as they normally would.  There’s a Zoom function for raising hands.  Or they can use (actual) thumbs up, thumbs down, thumbs sideways to give you feedback.  Let them interrupt if that’s your style.  Don’t make it overly-formal.
  • Bear in mind that Zoom records private comments, so nothing is completely private.
  • There’s a button in the top right-hand corner of Zoom to change from speaker view to gallery view. This allows you to see lots of people.
  • You can share your screen and use Powerpoint in Zoom.

e) Provide course materials

The course content and materials you provide your students can come from a variety of sources:  textbooks, video, audio, multimedia, and the Canvas pages that you create.  Here are some things to bear in mind:

  • Don’t forget about copyright!  For more information on this, see the library’s guide to Online Teaching and Copyright.
  • In an online environment it’s easy to heap content in there–after all, doing so is often as easy as creating a hyperlink!  While there are many, many resources out there, you don’t want to overwhelm your students, so divide content into need-to-know, good-to-know, and nice-to-know categories.  Relegate material in the nice-to-know category to a “Further Reading” section, make need-to-know material prominent, and decide what to do with good-to-know material based on how much material you have.
  • When linking to articles, bear in mind paywalls.  You might have a New York Times subscription, but this doesn’t mean your students do! If you aren’t sure if students can access something, ask your liaison librarian.
  • You can use the “Files” tool in Canvas to upload files, but we strongly recommend that you keep “Files” hidden in the course navigation and direct the students to the files through content pages contained within weekly modules.  This makes navigation easier for students and allows you to add context or directions to the page and frame the resources you’re providing.
  • Bring in other speakers using the various media available to you (TED talks, YouTube, etc.) This will help to keep your students engaged, can provide a range of voices, and may take some of the pressure off you.
  • Digitized resources:  how to digitize resources (coming soon)
  • Library connections: how to link to library resources (coming soon)
  • Consider using OERs (Open Educational Resources) (more coming soon)

f) Have students submit work

We recommend that you require students to submit all of their work through Canvas if possible.  This makes it much easier for you to track what has been submitted, by whom, and when. It also helps you fulfil your records retention obligations. Having students submit work by email may seem simpler, but, in the long run, is more complicated and time-consuming for the instructor and student. Guide to creating assignments.

g) Facilitate discussions

Please note:  In asynchronous courses students often report that group work that requires them to produce something (a presentation, a document, a video, or a podcast, for example) is more satisfying than simply discussing something.  In fact, online discussions can quickly become overwhelming for students, so think carefully about how many discussions to have (having some is probably good, but relying on them extensively may be problematic) and structure them carefully. There is a fine line between wanting substantive discussion and turning the discussion into a series of formulaic essays.

Consider breaking your class up into smaller discussion groups of 4-5 students and giving the students several weeks with the same people so that they can get to know each other.  It might, however, be best not to leave in students in the same small groups for a whole quarter—no one wants to be stuck long-term in a group that isn’t functioning well!

While breaking into smaller groups is great, having some whole class group discussions will let students get to know their classmates more widely.  An icebreaker discussion or activity in the first week is ideal for this.

If your discussions will take place asynchronously, they can be set up in Canvas.  Here are things to consider:

  • While many students are adept at asynchronous communication, using this form of communication in a learning environment may be new for them.  Set some guidelines.  You may want to post SPU’s netiquette guide at the beginning of the course and refer to it as needed.
  • Deadlines:  instructors often require an initial discussion post a few days into the week and additional posts/responses at a date later in the week.
  • Another alternative to counting original posts and replies is to simply require a few strong contributions per week—this can help to make the conversation flow more naturally.
  • If discussions are graded (and grading is recommended if you want students to participate!), make sure you create a rubric so that students know what your expectations are.  There is a way to create rubrics in Canvas.
  • If your discussions are asynchronous, consider having either a few high-stakes discussions or multiple low-stakes discussions.  Having a large number of high-stakes discussions will take up a lot of student learning time.
  • Here’s some advice from Stanford about question types.
  • Asking students to self-assess their group participation can reduce the amount of grading you need to do.  Grading groups can be very time-consuming.
  • Be present in the discussions.  You won’t have the time to reply to everything, but providing short contributions on a regular basis lets students know that you’re engaged and paying attention to what’s going on in class.
  • Consider posting a weekly summary of good discussions and points made.  This will let students know what you’re looking for and show them that you are involved in group discussions.

Additional resources:

If your discussions will take place synchronously (for example, using Zoom). We have general tips for Zoom. However, from a pedagogical perspective – some things to think about:

  • Connectivity: some students may need to turn off video to have a clear audio connection
  • Video required: video builds community and makes it easier for you to lecture, but there are a whole range of important and valid reasons why students need to leave their video off. We strongly suggest encouraging, but not requiring, students to have video on.
  • Backgrounds: for a host of reasons, participants may want to use a virtual background, consider getting asking your students to create a class policy about suitable backgrounds (or use SPU’s branded options).
  • Small groups: use Zoom’s breakout rooms to facilitate smaller group discussion in your course (Zoom’s guide).
  • Consider how you can scaffold your lecture or discussions through providing readings, prompts, guidelines, or lecture slides in advance of your synchronous session. This can allow students to prepare for the session and give them something to refer to during the session if they lose track.

h) Facilitate group work

Group work has many pedagogical advantages, and doing group work is definitely possible in an online setting.  This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s always easy.  To get an idea of some of the benefits and challenges on online group work, see this article.

There are many tools that students can use to collaborate. One option is OneDrive (an SPU-supported tool).  OneDrive can be used to collaborate on documents. For those with Google accounts, Google docs is probably one of the easiest options out there.  Google docs allows students to collaborate on slideshows, documents, and spreadsheets.  (Please note, however, that Google docs is not supported by ETM/SPU and as an SPU employee you should avoid using it for SPU work when possible.)  Students may know of additional tools they can use to collaborate.

Group meetings can take place using variety of tools, from Zoom meetings to Canvas discussion boards to other video and text-based messaging services. 

A few things to think about when setting up group work:

  • All instructions will have to be given very clearly.
  • Expectations and the grading rubric will likewise need to be very clear.
  • If students have vastly different schedules, holding group meetings at a time other than the scheduled class time could prove difficult.
  • It is reasonable to let students figure out for themselves when and how they will collaborate. If you provide this flexibility, you may need to resolve the occasional conflict, but you may avoid needing to provide support for technology or scheduling.

i) Facilitate student presentations

Online student presentations come in two major types:  live presentations (for which students would use Zoom) and recorded presentations (for which students would share the video with you using Panopto).  Both Zoom and Panopto allow students to display their screens and thus any materials they have prepared.

Student presentations in an online environment can develop the same skills as on campus presentations or they can be an opportunity to develop other skills. Additionally online student presentations, are another way to bring variety into your online space.

When setting up presentation assignments, consider the following:

  • How long will the presentation be?
  • When will they take place (live presentations) or when and how will they be shared and submitted (recorded presentations)?
  • What technology will be used and what do students need to know in order to use it?
  • If using a slideshow, how many slides should be included?
  • Will there be a Q&A session?  (This could be handled live via Zoom or asynchronously in a discussion board via Canvas.)
  • Creating a rubric will help to make your expectations clear.

j) Facilitate peer review

Section forthcoming; our guide to Canvas’ peer review function.

k) Create quizzes

Quizzes can be a valuable part of an online course and provide opportunities for both formative and summative assessment. In particular quizzes for formative assessment can help you and your students assess their understanding as they progress. There are many different quiz question types available in Canvas:  the easiest ones to use are multiple choice, fill in the blank, true/false and essay. Here’s our guide to creating quizzes in Canvas.

If you feel it is necessary that a quiz or test be proctored, SPU uses a tool called Respondus for this. Please be aware that online proctoring is, by nature, invasive and using it can impact your course dynamic. Please use sparingly and consider alternative forms of assessment.

l) Do grading

Canvas’s gradebook is integrated with Canvas assignments, discussions, and quizzes.  This means that when you use these options in Canvas, some of the grading process is automated for you.

We suggest using rubrics when possible.  This makes it clear to students what your expectations are and they’ll know why they got the grade they did. 

There are many intricacies to how Canvas’s grade book works.  To explore these, please see our guide to the gradebook.

As with everything else in online learning, communicate your grading policies very clearly to your students.  The clearer you explain things from the outset, the fewer questions and less confusion you will have later on.

m) Provide students with feedback

Timely and clear feedback is very important in the online setting.  Here are some of the ways you can provide feedback using the tools we have available.

In Canvas you can provide whole class feedback by:

  • posting an announcement
  • sending the class an email via Canvas
  • including feedback on content pages (written, audio, video format available)

In Canvas you can provide feedback to individuals by:

  • using rubrics
  • adding comments to assignments when you grade them (written, audio, video formats available)
  • annotating student submissions using SpeedGrader
  • sending individual students an email using Canvas (you can bulk email groups of students individually)

Using Zoom, you can provide verbal feedback live during class sessions or student appointments.