Planning for Remote Teaching

No matter in what modality you will be teaching in the upcoming semester or term, teaching and interacting with students will look and feel different. You will need to consider clear and regular communication with your students, plans for hearing and responding to students in your modality, and supporting students' learning and mental health. This Inside Higher Ed article lists eight ways to improve your online course; these strategies are valuable for any course modality.

In a November 2, 2020 email, President Robbins announced plans for the start of the Spring 2021 semester. The same four course modalities will be in effect: In-Person, Flex In-Person, Live Online, and iCourses. Spring semester will start in Stage 1, with only essential in-person classes meeting on campus. All other classes will start with remote instruction. 

This guide was created to help you get started on what might feel like a monumental task, by walking you through a series of steps to convert a “normal” face-to-face course, or a hybrid course with face-to-face elements, to a more remote delivery.

The panels below describe an eight-step process, so you can break up the process into manageable chunks, tackling as much as you can in one session. In fact, it probably will be more productive to stop after every couple of steps and come back to the next step another day. This will allow new ideas to emerge that you can incorporate as you work on your course.

Important Note: Because of the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it is advisable to put most of your course materials into a D2L course site. If instruction needs to remain in or pivot to remote delivery again, or if you have students who have to stop attending because they get sick, this will make it easier for you and your students. Links to D2L help topics are included in the steps* below.

*To make navigating the steps below easier, all links will open in new tabs in your browser.

Pull out the syllabus from a previous offering of the course to use as a starting point. If you have any notes about future changes to the course, gather those as well.

If you are designing a new course for an upcoming semester or term, consult the OIA mini-primer, Writing an Effective Course Syllabus.

Re-read the course learning outcomes. Next, review the list of assignments (papers, homework problem sets, projects, quizzes, exams, presentations, etc.). Keep in mind that Spring Break has been replaced by five Reading Days spread throughout the semester; see Reading Days Recommendations for some suggestions on accommodating these days. 

Because your students will be managing either physical-distancing requirements or learning from home, it may not be realistic to retain all of the assignments. Consider which assignments could be eliminated for the upcoming offering and still allow you to evaluate students’ mastery of the course learning outcomes. If some of the assignments aren’t well-aligned with the course learning outcomes, those can go.
When thinking about which assignments to retain, keep in mind that frequent, low-stakes assignments support student learning and help students keep current in the course. So, for example, retain the weekly or bi-weekly quizzes and drop (or reduce point value for) the two or three high-stakes exams. If you want to keep a major, end-of-course project, help your students be successful by dividing that project up into smaller chunks and setting deadlines for them to submit those chunks throughout the semester. This Inside Higher Ed article address the issue of cheating in online courses.

Regarding a final exam, remember that after the Thanksgiving break in Fall 2020, almost all courses will continue in a remote or online mode until the end of the semester. Consider replacing a cumulative final exam with a final project, paper, ePortfolio, or presentation that allows your students to demonstrate their mastery of the course learning outcomes without the need for a proctored exam. These guidelines for Assessment Redesign & Academic Integrity were presented at ASU's Connected Faculty Summit. If you do opt for a cumulative final exam, consider these Guidelines for Open-Book Exams and creating a Culture of Honesty. The Disability Resource center will have limited capacity to proctor exams for students with accommodations during the fall semester.

Now that you have identified your assignments and final assessment, it’s time to work on your D2L course site.

As a first step, request a course site. If you are new to D2L, you can consult Getting Started in D2L.
Once the course site is created, if you have a D2L course site from a previous offering of the course, and are using most of the same content and assignments, you can copy materials into your new course site. Remember to delete assignments you've decided to remove, update due dates, and check the links to resources you used previously.
If you are building a new D2L course site, Creating an Online Module can provide ideas on how to structure your site. You can use the D2L Content tool to add materials to your course site.

Working from your planned changes, modify content and assignments in the D2L site. For your content, consider these Accessibility Tips. Keep in mind that consistency in structure helps to keep students organized; for example, making quizzes always due on Tuesday nights, and reflections on Sunday nights. Don’t forget to adjust due dates for student submissions, and make sure that all deadlines are shown in the D2L calendar so students can easily scan to ensure they are staying on track. Set up your gradebook; remember to link assignments to grade items. To decide if you are going to use the TurnitIn option, you can consult TurnitIn FAQs. Keep in mind that D2L course sites automatically open to students one week before a semester or term starts; if your course site isn't ready by then, you can adjust your navigation bar so that students can only see the course home page and you can continue working on the rest of the course. 

NOTE: Do not make your course site inactive during the week before classes start; that will result in many panicked student phone calls and emails to D2L support!

Next, step back from D2L and consider what needs to happen when you meet with students that will engage them and support their learning.

Note: For web-based meetings, Zoom is the recommended meeting tool, as the UA has a license and you can restrict access to arizona.edu email addresses, reducing the chances of being “Zoom-bombed.” You can also consider some of the other Security and Privacy settings in Zoom. (Starting September 27, Zoom will require all meetings to have a waiting room or require a passcode .) You can use the chat, breakout rooms, and whiteboards in Zoom to engage your students.

If you are using the In-Person or Flex In-Person models, keep in mind that in-person time will likely be reduced to allow for safe distancing when entering and exiting classrooms and to allow for disinfecting surfaces in classrooms. So, it’s important to think carefully about the precious in-person time with your students. Rather than presenting lectures, what can you do to engage students with your content? You could ask them to read or view a video about the day’s topic before meeting with you and use class time for discussions, writing practice, problem solving, or skills practice. This kind of change is consistent with a strategy called the “flipped classroom” model; for more information, you can consult the OIA’s mini-primer, Flipping Your Classes to Enhance Active Learning. The new Teaching Models website has resources for including active learning in a physically distanced classroom. And if you’re wondering how to hold students accountable for pre-class work, consider short D2L quizzes that students complete before the class session meets. Finally, please note that the small whiteboards and markers will not be available in Collaborative Learning Space classrooms, due to sanitation concerns. For small-group activities, you could use breakout rooms and whiteboards in Zoom. While students are working in breakout rooms, you can move through the rooms to monitor the small-group work.
Considerations for the Flex In-Person Synchronous + Zoom model: As you think about how you will spend your in-person time, don’t forget about the students who will join the class session via Zoom. If your classroom can support the load, ask all students to log into the Zoom meeting; this will help the online students be able to hear and see all of their classmates. Be very deliberate about including the online students when you call on students, ask students to share their ideas, and ask for any questions. Invite students joining via Zoom to post questions in the Zoom chat; be sure to ask someone (Teaching Assistant, Learning Assistant, student volunteers) to monitor the chat. These thoughts on managing a Synchronous + Zoom classroom provide additional suggestions.
If you are using the Live Online model, keep in mind that you may also lose some class time as students sign in to the Zoom meeting. Choosing to only present content in this mode will likely result in students “checking out” and doing something else, while remaining in the meeting. Again, consider a flipped model, with pre-class assignments and meeting time devoted to having students engage with the content. You could ask students to engage in discussions in breakout rooms, solve problems using the Zoom whiteboard, or practice language-speaking exercises in breakout rooms.

For any modality, you don’t have to limit yourself to Zoom and breakout rooms to engage your students.

In a survey of UA students in May, 2020, one of the things they identified as a source of frustration during the second half of spring semester was unclear and infrequent communication from instructors. So, your next step is to develop a plan for regular and clear communication with students. This Chronicle of Higher Education article includes suggestions for connecting with online students; some of these are applicable to other modalities.

  • First, update your syllabus to reflect the changes you have made based on the previous steps. Also, consider revising the language to make your syllabus learning-focused, rather than content-focused. You can use the suggested syllabus language for the class formats developed by the Teaching & Learning Re-Entry Taskforce. (Note that this link will download a Word document to your computer. Depending on your browser settings, you may be returned to this webpage.) Please also consult the Provost's memo regarding attendance policies for the fall 2020 semester. When you post the syllabus in D2L, it is good practice to create separate pages for the different sections, rather than uploading a single document. It will be easier for students to refer to a section of the syllabus that has the information they are seeking. Also, if you make changes, it will be easier for you to edit a section in D2L than to edit a document and re-upload it.
  • Next, take the time to compose an email that you will send out to your students a week or so before the semester starts, welcoming them to the class, and giving them some information about what to expect. You can use these Communication Suggestions as a guide.
  • Suggest that your students bookmark the D2L Student Help pages. If your students are new to D2L, suggest that they complete the Student Orientation Course. It is also important that students adjust their User Settings to reflect their notification preferences and current time zones.
  • Craft a welcome announcement to add to D2l Announcements on your course home page. You can also create future Announcements and set release dates for them. Even if you are meeting with students regularly in person or via Zoom, students will appreciate regular Announcements in the D2L course site. 
  • Create a Discussion forum for (non-personal) questions about the course and ask students to first post their questions there. Invite other students to answer questions; you do need to monitor this to make sure that students' answers are accurate.
  • Make plans to reach out to students who don't appear to be engaged in the class; e.g., they aren't attending face-to-face or Zoom sessions, they attend but don't participate, or they aren't regularly signing in to the D2L course site. Note that the D2L Classlist allows you to view students' progress. When you do reach out, ask what is preventing them from engaging in the course and how you can help them re-engage. Reaching out indicates that you care about all of your students and want them to be successful, and is particularly important for students who aren't on campus or need to self-isolate. If you have international students, consult these strategies to Stay Connected with International Students.

Take a deep breath and recognize that conversion of a course to a new modality doesn’t need to be, and likely won’t be, perfect the first time you offer it. Let your students know what you are trying and how that supports their learning. Solicit and listen to their feedback. Invite them to point out “mistakes” (due dates not updated, broken links, typos). Some instructors give small amounts of extra credit to students who report these errors. 

Above all, take care of yourself and show compassion and understanding to your students!

Question Mark GraphicOIA is offering webinars and mini-courses throughout the semester to help instructors with their teaching. Please also feel free to reach out to the OIA Faculty-Development team with your questions and requests for consultations regarding planning your courses.

Additional support is available for D2L and instructional technologies.