Skip Navigation

Preparing for Remote Teaching

Skip Side Navigation

Preparing for Fall 2020

For Fall 2020, if you are instructor teaching face-to-face, fully online, or taking a hybrid approach, you will want to always plan for the possibility of the class moving to fully online. This requires thoughfully and carefully planning out and building a course on Canvas. Below, we've provided 12 guiding principles that instructors can use as a check list as courses are designed. In each summary, we've linked to more resources for deeper learning.

Arrow in bullseye

1. Revisit your learning objectives

Every time we design anything for the online space, we always remind ourselves what outcomes we are trying to achieve. So before you spend any time thinking about content, go back to your learning objectives to make sure they will align.

For your course, you will want to specify 1-2 learning objectives per week.




Image of superheroes

2. Anticipate your students' needs

Understanding who might be in your class is a useful reflection on how things might be different in an online class. It's likely you won't know exactly who is in your class, so consider this assumptions or anticipations. Be able to answer questions such as:

Where are students located?

What is the anticipated age range of your learners?

What kind of challenges (socio-economic, personal, situational) might students in this class be facing outside of the content?

What kind of access to technology do you think students will have?

Why do students take this class? Is it required or an elective?


Image of checklist and pen

3. Plan out your course

Designing and preparing for an online course should take time and thoughtful planning. One way to get started is to use a planning guide to help organize all of your thoughts and goals for the semester. We have a planning guide that can help you build the foundation for your online course by walking you through writing learning objectives, making decisions about content and aligning activities and assessments with your learning objectives.



Image of org chart

4. Organize content and activities into weekly topics

In order for students to organize the structure of the course, organize your content in Modules in Canvas. Rather than thinking of Modules as file folders and giving them labels such as "Powerpoint Slides," "Assignments," and "Notes" You want to label them by the major topic you are discussing, a chapter, or project goal. By intuitively organizing the content, students will understand both your expectations for that week as well as clearly be able to identify in which order they should work through content.

Learn more about organizing content


Image of paper in a suitcase

5. Curate, Transfer, or Transform Content 

Course content can take many forms, from readings to video lectures. Finding the best resources for your class doesn’t mean you have to create them, but sometimes it does.

Content can be readings or book chapters, but also online articles, media and guest speakers. You could consider content-focused activities like case studies too. They may be assessments, but they help you understand the broader picture of what you might need. Organize what you have by week or by module.

Maybe there is a topic where you never found a good reading. Or a week where questions about a specific topic usually required your intervention or explanations. Think about places where you have seen students typically struggle with a topic. Some topics may have a lot of information, others might need more.


Image of a movie clacker

6. Creating Video-Based Content

If you know that you are going to need to create content, we have created resources for how to use different applications such as Zoom and MyMedia to do so. In addition to creation, Remember, keeping students engaged must be approached differently in an online format. Student feedback and research indicates that content should target short, modularized lessons.  How short depends on the subject matter of your course, but generally, video runtimes between 6-20 minutes are optimal.

Learn more about creating video-based content


Image of a video conference

7. Decide if you need and plan synchronous or "live" sessions

You may decide that a necessary component of your course would be to have the instructor and students to occasionally meet together via video, or synchronously. Synchronous sessions are not necessary for office hours, lectures that repeat or recap other instructional materials, or one directional (one-to-many). Rather, plan out activities such as working examples, question and answer periods, presenting projects, assigning partners or teams, group work, or presentations.

In addition, make sure you are recording the sessions and making them available to students and offer make-up activities for students who can't attend in real-time.

Learn more about making the most out of live sessions


Image of a checklist and pen

8. Design activities and assessments to the lesson objectives

In a face-to-face course, instructors often make visual observations to determine whether students are grasping a concept or make take advantage of technologies such as clickers. This is called "formative assessment." Formative assessment is the process of understanding the progress of your students’ learning rather than strictly their performance on a final assessment (like a paper or exam). Formative assessment gives students get a low-stakes opportunity to check their understanding of a topics, allows them to gather feedback on their own knowledge of content, and gives instructors the opportunity adjust teaching strategies.

Instructors may also design action-based assessments in places where they find traditional assessments to be ineffective online. Traditional assessment offers indirect evidence of learning. For example, students are often asked to select a response. By simply selecting a response, it is hard to know for certain whether a student has acquired the knowledge or if they chose the correct answer at random.

Action-Based assessment, on the other hand, is student-focused. You are asking the student to demonstrate knowledge by performing real-world tasks such as video presentations, debates, portfolios, blogs, and role play.

When using action-based assessments, it is important to provide students with a rubric. Additionally, it is also important to design a rubric as part of the assessment development process. Each rubric should include criteria and level of performance.

Learn more about action-based assessments

In designing an online course, we need to think carefully about how we will provide feedback. Instructors can provide feedback on Canvas through Course Announcements, the Canvas SpeedGrader tool, as well as Peer Review.

Learn more about providing feedback to students


Image of an org chart

9. Establish a communication plan

Interaction and communication with students are a critical element for online success. Online courses require regular opportunities for students to have substantive interaction with their instructor. Build out a communication plan and establish a rhythm for you to respond or be available for students.

If you are in a discussion board, this does not mean you have to reply to literally every post from every student. Instead, respond to multiple students at once and weave together the students contributions. In contrast, also be patient. Students will work at various intervals and it is not the instructors role to fill every moment of silence.

Learn more about managing social interactions online


Image of chat bubbles

10. Plan out student interactions

Without social interaction, our students lose both the cognitive benefits of sharing ideas with the peers as well as the socio-emotional benefits of being in a learning community. Online courses can use discussions, collaborative assignments, and public work.

Learn more about fostering student interaction


Image of easel

11. Bring visual appeal to your course

An online course that is visually appealing helps students to engage more frequently and more meaningfully. Instructors can make simple alterations to the look and feel of a course such as adding a course card in Canvas, utilizing headers and images in text-based content, and by designing a homepage.

Learn more about designing a homepage


Image of circle and arrow

12. Review your course from the student's perspective

You’ve finished building your online course. Now is time to review your course, particularly keeping in mind what students will think when they see your course. The most important item to review is whether your course matches your syllabus, especially as you make changes. Your course structure should also appear to be consistent from week to week, which helps students know what to expect as they navigate the course.

Be sure to disable unnecessary course navigation. Unnecessary navigation disrupts course flow and can cause other problems in your course.

  • Disable: Files, Assignments, Discussions, Quizzes, etc.
  • Keep: Home, Announcements, Syllabus, Modules, Grades, People

If you do disable Assignments, please make sure your assignments are added to the Modules page.

Additionally, proactively incorporate accessibility into your course design and development processes.

Learn more about reviewing your course content