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Teaching & Learning Center Resources

Teaching & Learning Center: Going Online

How can I transition my lecture classes online?

If your course is traditionally taught face-to-face, we offer several tools and resources you can integrate into your course to make the transition to online.
1. Create a Canvas course shell
To access or create your Canvas course site:

  • Login to the Portal
  • Click the Canvas link on the navigation menu

2. Communicate with your students
Even if you don't have a plan in place yet, communicate with your students as soon as possible to let them know:

  • Inform them that changes are coming
  • Outline your expectations for checking email or Canvas at this time
  • Let them know you will get them more details soon

3. Get prepared

  • Consider updating your syllabus to address emergencies and expectations, so students know what will happen if classes are changed or canceled, including procedures you will implement.
  • Get details about the closure or event. You can find information about university closures on the University website. This ensures that you can accurately provide information to students about how long they can expect the course to be disrupted, or how the expectations for the courses might change.
  • Check with your department for more details about the situation and guidelines about their expectations for classes. Administrators may want to have many of the department's classes handled in similar ways, so check with departmental leaders before doing too much planning.

4. Prepare your content

  • Consider realistic goals for continuing your course. What do you think you can realistically accomplish during this time period? Consider changes to your original syllabus and schedule.
  • Review your course schedule to determine priorities. Identify your priorities during the disruption—providing lectures, structuring new opportunities for discussion or group work, collecting assignments, etc. What activities are better rescheduled, and what can or must be done online? Give yourself a little flexibility in that schedule, just in case the situation takes longer to resolve than you think.
  • Review the Six Keys for Success for transitioning your course online quickly to help you find tools and strategies for moving course work online.
  • Review your syllabus for policies that must change. What will have to temporarily change in your syllabus (policies, due dates, assignments, etc.)? Since students will also be thrown off by the changes, they will appreciate details whenever you can provide them.
  • Pick tools and approaches familiar to you and your students. Try to rely on tools and workflows that are familiar to you and your students, and roll out new tools only when absolutely necessary. If closure is caused by a local crisis, it may be already taxing everyone's mental and emotional energy; introducing a lot of new tools and approaches may leave even less energy and attention for learning.
  • Identify your new expectations for students. You will have to reconsider some of your expectations for students, including participation, communication, and deadlines. As you think through those changes, keep in mind the impact this situation may have on students' ability to meet those expectations, including illness, lacking power or internet connections, or needing to care for family members. Be ready to handle requests for extensions or accommodations equitably.
  • Create a more detailed communications plan. Once you have more details about changes in the class, communicate them to students, along with more information about how they can contact you (email, online office hours, etc.). A useful communication plan also lets students know how soon they can expect a reply. They will have many questions, so try to figure out how you want to manage that.

5. Launch your course

  • For individualized support to launch your course, please attend one of the Drop-in Sessions to speak with us.

Should my class be synchronous or asynchronous?

What is the difference between Synchronous vs. Asynchronous classes?

You will likely use a mix of asynchronous (not in the same place at the same time) and synchronous (same place, same time) types of instruction in your online courses. Live, online sessions are an example of synchronous instruction with everyone joining from the privacy of their own home/office, connecting online. There are several platforms you could use to hold live or recorded sessions. As the university has a university license with Zoom, we will reference this tool.

There are two options for faculty to facilitate class sessions remotely:

  • Synchronous: faculty and students gather at the same time and interact in “real-time” with a very short or “near-real-time” exchange between faculty and students.
  • Asynchronous: faculty prepare course materials for students in advance of students’ access. Students may access the course materials at a time of their choosing and will interact with each over a longer period of time.

Instructors may choose to engage their students synchronously or asynchronously depending on the course content or material that needs to be taught. There are many advantages and disadvantages to asynchronous and synchronous teaching options. 

Advantages of Synchronous Teaching
  • Immediate personal engagement between students and faculty, which may create greater feelings of community and lessen feelings of isolation
  • More responsive exchanges between students and faculty, which may prevent miscommunication or misunderstanding
Advantages of Asynchronous Teaching
  • Higher levels of temporal flexibility, which may simultaneously make the learning experiences more accessible to different students and also make an archive of past materials accessible.  
  • Increased cognitive engagement since students will have more time to engage with and explore the course material. 
Disadvantages of Synchronous Teaching
  • More challenging to schedule shared times for all students and faculty
  • Some students may face technical challenges or difficulties if they do not have fast or powerful WiFi networks accessible 
Disadvantages of Asynchronous Teaching
  • Students may feel less personally engaged and less satisfied without the social interaction between their peers and faculty. 
  • Course material may be misunderstood or have the potential to be misconstrued without real-time interaction.

How should I design my course on Canvas?

This checklist can be used as a tool to help faculty transition to an online course. The first section of this checklist addresses basic design aspects of the course such as learning objectives, assessments, lesson content, etc. In the second section of the checklist, there are tasks you can do to manage your course and questions to help you consider the type of online experience you will provide for your students. 

Designing Your Online Course

1. Develop a Course Outline

2. Create your Learning Objectives

  • List the learning objective(s) for each topic.
  • Use measurable terms from Bloom’s Taxonomy to describe the desired outcomes you want from your students after completing the course.
  • To learn more about how to write measurable learning objectives, visit the Eberly Center website.

3. Format Your Content

  • Think about the various methods you will use to engage students with the material and enable them to meet the objectives.
  • Align your lectures with topic with a learning objective.
  • Possible content format includes:
    • Lecture Pages (Microsoft Word, PDF, HTML)
    • Lecture Recordings (Zoom, Snagit, Echo360, Recorded PowerPoints)
    • Synchronous Lectures (Web Conferencing such as Zoom)
    • Asynchronous No Lectures/Seminar Format (Chat, Discussions, Zoom, Collaborative Activities)

4. Design Your Class Activities

  • Describe the activity.
  • Determine whether the completed product should be submitted individually by each student or a single submission as a group.
  • Identify what criteria you will use to grade it (rubrics provide students with a clear understanding of what is expected of them).

5. Developing Course Assignments

  • Describe the student task, activity, or project.
  • Identify what criteria you will use to grade it.
  • Determine whether the assignment is for individual submission or to be shared with classmates.

6. Create Your Assessments

  • Identify the way(s) you plan to check your students’ learning based on the learning objective(s).
  • Consider the following suggestions for each assessment type:
    • Quizzes, Tests, and Exams
      • In a separate document (unless it already exists online) write the test questions.
      • Provide the correct answer(s).
      • Identify how many points each question is worth.
      • Provide any reference information or feedback for each question/answer choice, if desired.
    • Discussion Questions
      • List the questions on the discussion board.
      • Avoid presenting questions that can be answered Yes/No.
      • Identify what criteria you will use to grade each discussion topic.

6. Provide a Course Wrap-Up

  • For each topic or lesson, provide a comprehensive summary of the content and activities covered.
  • In the summary, bring all the key points together and show the “big picture”. 
  • In the final unit of instruction, explain what can students take away from this course that will be useful for them in the future that helps them see the relevance.

What strategies can I use to teach small groups online?

To facilitate group work online, Zoom's Breakout Rooms feature allows you to split your meeting in up to 50 separate sessions. The meeting host can choose to split the participants of the meeting into these separate sessions automatically or manually and can switch between sessions at any time.

  • Up to 50 breakout rooms can be created
  • Max 200 total participants across all breakout rooms (requires Large Meeting 200 add-on)
  • Breakout room participants have full audio, video and screen share capabilities

If the meeting is being cloud recorded, it will only record the main room, regardless of what room the meeting host is in. If local recording is being used, it will record the room the participant who is recording is in. Multiple participants can record locally.

To manage breakout rooms as the host

  • Zoom account
  • Zoom desktop client

Note: Users joined into the Zoom meeting from the Zoom Desktop Client, Zoom Mobile App, or H.323/SIP devices can participate in breakout rooms. Users joined via the web client and Zoom Rooms are unable to join Breakout Rooms, but the main room can be used as an alternative session for these users.

Click the link below for your needs:

Check out this white paper related to the best practices for teaching Team-Based Learning Online. 

I teach a laboratory class - how do I teach this online?

Lab activities typically require specific equipment, supplies, and hands-on experiences. Such needs are therefore difficult to fully translate into an online space. Here are some suggested options to explore moving your laboratory class online.

  • Consider altering lab activities. For instance, you may shift the focus from data collection to data analysis. Provide students with sample data, perhaps in the form in which it would have been collected, and ask students to complete the analysis as if they had collected the data themselves. For cases where observations are part of the process, consider recording yourself or a TA completing the lab and ask students to take the necessary measurements and observations from the video. Students can then complete the analysis and reflection as usual. Students can collaborate on analysis and reporting using email, the LMS, or other collaborative tools.  
  • Explore alternative forms of instruction. Online simulations, which allow students to interact virtually with the equipment and lab conditions, may offer valuable practice for students. In some circumstances, a virtual lab experience might be suboptimal but adequate. Many online resources are available, including many that are free. A few that may be of interest include (but are not limited to):
    • PhET: Interactive Simulations for Science and Math.  All simulations are free and cover topics including physics, chemistry, math, earth science, and biology.  
    • ACS: Virtual Chemistry and Simulations. A collection of chemistry simulations and virtual labs compiled by the American Chemical Society (ACS).  
    • Virtual Labs Project at Stanford. Online interactive media created and shared by Stanford, largely focused on human biology.  
    • HHMI BioInteractive. Videos and interactive activities provided by HHMI (Howard Hughes Medical Institute) focused on biology.  
    • Phone apps such as "Oscilloscope" or "Speed Gun" that allow students to interact with instruments or lab setups. 
    • LabXchange. Harvard's suite of lab simulations with assessments for molecular biology.

How can I transition clinical classes online?

Clinical, practical, performance-based and experiential learning are essential to some courses and programs. As a result, it might be challenging to fully translate these courses into an online space. Here are some concepts to consider for moving your clinical and practicum class online:

  • Communicate with your site supervisors about potential closures and cancelations.
  • Consult with your department or program to develop a revised schedule to temporarily adjust clinical or practicum hours.
  • Consider that you may need to postpone certain activities completely until later in the term. Be sure to communicate this with students.

You might find some of these alternative formats helpful as you move courses online. You might consider that while not optimal, these alternatives may be adequate.

  • Could some elements be replaced with carefully developed video demonstrations followed by student reflection and discussion?
  • Can any activities be eliminated at this time and replaced with less ideal but effective alternatives?
  • Can demonstrations and live performances be video recorded for an assessment?