Teaching Online Effectively During Times of Disruption

Creative Commons License This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. Some parts adapted from Teaching Effectively During Times of Disruption, for SIS and PWR by Jenae Cohn the Academic Technology Specialist for PWR and Beth Seltzer the Academic Technology Specialist for Introductory Studies.


  1. Pedagogy in Times of Disruption
  2. Shifting Your Classes Online
  3. General Tips for Teaching Online
  4. Zoom Tools & Functions
  5. Canvas Tools & Function
  6. Resources for Online Writing Instruction
  7. Help from CGU’s OIT Team
  8. Other Resources

1. Pedagogy in Times of Disruption

We are teaching in unprecedented times. Suddenly, we are having to teach remotely, moving our classes online, doing it fast, and often without sufficient instruction or experience. The good news is that there is a great outpouring of support from around the nation and the world as colleagues who have been teaching online share ideas and strategies to get us up and running quickly. It is heartening to witness this generosity and creativity in education as we work to ensure learning goes on through this crisis. As you look through these resources and follow links to more, keep these guidelines in mind so that we can do this with grace and good humor.

Be generous and kind with yourself. Expect a learning curve, expect frustration, and that not everything will work. Digital tools can let us down. Be flexible and creative. Be a learning community with your students; collaborate with them for ideas and to troubleshoot. And don’t forget to celebrate the triumphs no matter how small (like the connection lasted a whole lesson!). It’s important to recognize all the hopeful goodness in this situation.

Be generous and kind with your students. While some are whizzes on their digital devices, others might not be. Some might be super social media users but not so familiar with an LMS and the discipline of learning remotely. Some might not have good internet connections and technology access. All are trying to adjust to being at home sharing time and space with others, maybe adjusting to illness or loss of income. It is a trying time for all.

Therefore, keep things simple, plan less, and be flexible. You want to keep your sights on your course learning outcomes. However, you also want to allow time to ease into and adjust to learning and teaching very differently in highly charged circumstances. What is essential in teaching the course and ensuring students learn? How must you change the way you teach in order to help students access and work with material before and during class? How can you shift your assignments and assessments to support students in different situations? (See below for specific ideas).

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous? 

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

1. Synchronous: instructors and students gather at the same time and interact in “real time” with a very short or “near-real time” exchange between instructors and students.

2. Asynchronous: instructors 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 instructors, which may create greater feelings of community and lessen feelings of isolation

More responsive exchanges between students and instructors, which may prevent miscommunication or misunderstanding

Disadvantages of Synchronous Teaching

More challenging to schedule shared times for all students and instructors

Some students may face technical challenges or difficulties if they do not have fast or powerful Wi-Fi networks accessible

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 Asynchronous Teaching

Students may feel less personally exchanged and less satisfied without the social interaction between their peers and instructors.

Course material may be misunderstood or have the potential to be misconstrued without the real-time interaction.

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2. Shifting Your Classes Online

You have three options for shifting your classes temporarily online:

Option 1: Run Your Class Live With Zoom

This option works especially well for small discussion-based classes, though it’s also effective for large lectures, especially if you have a moderator.

Pedagogical Recommendations with links for instructions:

  • Use slides and screen sharing within Zoom to make sure discussion questions are visible to students who may have a slow Internet connection or who may struggle to hear the audio for the initial question. (Look for “Share Screen” at the bottom of your Zoom call.)
  • On your first slide, display an agenda or guidelines at the start of the class session so that students know what to expect of the shared time together. The guidelines might ask students to mute themselves and turn on their video feeds.
  • For larger classes, assign a TA or student to watch the chat and make sure important questions and comments are addressed.
  • You might use the chat to troubleshoot technical problems. For example, if a student is having trouble connecting via audio or video, the chat might be a space for you as the instructor or for fellow students to work together to problem-solve. This may, again, be an opportunity to assign a student to a special role, especially if you have students eager to help on the technical aspect of things.
  • Use Zoom Breakout Rooms to help students talk in smaller groups (just as they would do break-out groups in a larger class environment).
  • Have students write and comment together on a shared Google Document.
  • Try using Poll Everywhere or Google Forms to collect student responses, and then share results with both in-person and online students.
  • Consider making discussion questions available in advance in Canvas, etc. so that students can access the questions if screen sharing does not work.

How to schedule a meeting
How to check your audio settings (select the computer you are using)
How to share your screen or use the white board (select the computer you are using)
How to use break out rooms
How to mute participants
Want more tutorials? A list of tutorial videos for Zoom

Option 2: Pre-Record Your Lectures

If you are not comfortable presenting live, another good option is to pre-record any lecture material and upload it to Canvas. We recommend that you pre-record lectures using Zoom, as this will generate automatic closed-captions that are needed for accessibility reasons.

Pedagogical Recommendations with links for instructions:

  • Keep videos short and lively. It is often harder to focus on a video than on a person!
  • Test your microphone to make sure that you have good sound quality. Consider using a headset with an external microphone to capture better audio.
  • Consider ADA compliance. Automatic closed-captioning is not perfect. Speak clearly and not too quickly to make the content as accurate as possible. If using a tool other than Zoom for recording your lecture, consider uploading your videos to YouTube to take advantage of their automatic (though not perfect) closed-captioning. You can also use present slides with captions (via Google Drive).
  • Integrate interaction with the lecture material. You might consider setting up a Canvas discussion board with some specific questions, using a quiz, or setting up a chat session for a text-based live discussion.

How to record to your Zoom cloud online
How to record to your local computer
How to find and view your recordings 
Want more tutorials? A list of tutorial videos for Zoom

Option 3: Skip the Video

Many online courses do not have a video component at all. If you are not sure you have the right equipment and are uncomfortable with the tech setup, this might be a good option, at least for the short-term.

Pedagogical Recommendations with links for instructions:

  • Annotate your slideshow with notes and share this with students using Canvas or email
  • Set up a Canvas discussion for students. Use specific, structured questions, and let students know expectations for their responses. See our recommendations on Written Discussions.
  • Share links to outside resources. Encourage students to watch videos, read articles, etc.
  • Use Canvas chat to have a live, text-based chat session with students.

Other Options

Student Presentations

If students are sharing their presentations asynchronously ask students to record themselves at their screen, using a web camera, the built-in microphone on their computer, and screen sharing software combined to capture both their faces/persons as well as the slides on the screen.

  • If students do not have access to a laptop computer or webcam, they can also use the voice memo feature on a phone to record audio, save audio files, and upload the audio files to Canvas. Invite students to share their slide decks and audio/video files separately if necessary.
  • If using Discussions, students can use an audio-video recording tool built directly into Canvas to record audio-video content. Note that with this tool, only the students’ web camera content will be recorded and saved, not the students’ screen (or their slide deck). Given this constraint, a short reflection or oral presentation without slides or visuals would be most appropriate for recording with Canvas’ recording tool.
  • Voiceover narration in slide deck creation software can also be used via Keynote (Mac), PowerPoint (Mac or PC), or Quicktime (Mac).
  • ZoomTechSmith Capture, and Screencast-o-matic can be used for audio/video recording in this capacity, as can Quicktime (on Mac only).
  • If students are sharing their presentations synchronously ask students to use Zoom to give a live presentation for their peers. See Advice for Using Zoom For Synchronous Class Sessions for suggestions and technical tips for using Zoom to this end.

Written Discussions

To remove technical hurdles and to ensure that students are able to engage with peers and each other in a discussion-based class (even without a strong Internet connection), you might choose to move student discussion to an asynchronous format. Create a Canvas Discussion as a forum to facilitate communication, encourage students to interact, ask questions and respond to discussion prompts. Another place to engage in asynchronous written discussions is Padlet (the free version allows users to create 3 “boards”).


You may not currently use a chat function in your class, but it can be a useful tool, especially for student office hours or for students who may be more comfortable asking questions via chat compared to by phone or video calls.

You can also use Slack, which might be a good tool because you won’t need students to give their numbers. With Slack, you can send direct messages to individual students, but also maintain a group thread stream. On Slack, you can also put students into small group chats, emulating small group discussions.

In Canvas, there is a Chat tool available that functions as an instant messaging platform. The messages in chat are visible to the full class community and can be read in real time.

Scheduling Tools for Student Tutorials & Conferences

If you usually send around a physical sign-in sheet, you might be looking for alternatives that let you schedule appointment slots with students.

  • Calendly. This is a tool option that instructors may want to consider for easily making appointments/meetings in a way that seamlessly syncs up with students’ and instructors’ calendars. Within Calendly, instructors can place their own text into the description and offer students additional context or information about the meeting that they’re scheduling.
  • Embed a Google Document or Sheet into the course Canvas site/a Canvas announcement. Create an openly editable Google Document or Sheet with a table of available appointments for students to sign up for appointments. The link to edit the Doc or Sheet could be shared via an Announcement in Canvas or could be directly embedded into a Page or Module within Canvas.

Peer Review

  • Write out clear and specific instructions about the expectations for peer review. This means specifying the qualities of writing that students may want to look for in each other’s work. Distributing guiding questions or a worksheet that students can fill out as they review their peer’s work can be a valuable supplement to guide students’ virtual reading.
  • If you are introducing peer review synchronously (via Zoom or another teleconferencing platform) and having students work in real time in Google Docs, consider:
    • Engaging the students in a chat-based or video-based conversation about their expectations for peer review
    • Have students use the chat box feature to share ideas about what makes for effective peer review
    • Use a polling tool, like PollEverywhere or Google Forms, to collect ideas about students’ impressions of and expectations for peer review
  • If you are introducing peer review asynchronously, consider:
    • Opening up a discussion forum with a prompt that invites students to share their past experiences with peer review. What worked? What didn’t? What are their goals this time? Aggregate student responses to create a document that outlines the class expectations and understandings of effective peer review experiences.
    • Ask students to include questions for their peer reviewers at the top of their document so that their reviewers can have a sense of what the author would like them to focus on.
  • Include links to technical documentation and support so that students can troubleshoot if they are not able to access peers’ documents. Like:

How to share documents within Google Drive.
How to review documents within the Canvas Peer Review tool.

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3. General Tips for Teaching Online:

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4. Zoom Tools & Functions

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5. Canvas Tools & Functions

If you are new to using Canvas, you may appreciate some orientation to key Canvas tools and functions.

  • Assignments: Instructors can create space for students to upload submissions, from informal reflections to formal written assignments and projects. Instructors can select the grading approach within the assignment. Assignments are best for instructors who wish for the students’ work to only be viewed and assessed by the instructor.
  • Announcements: Instructors can send mass e-mails or messages to the whole class community via the Announcements tool. The benefit to using Announcements over e-mail is that instructors do not need to collect individual student e-mail addresses and that the messages are archived in the course Canvas site.
  • Chat: The whole class, instructors and students alike, can engage in a “real time” text-based, instant messaging conversation. Messages received in Chat remain archived and can be read outside of synchronous time too. This can be a nice way for instructors and students to communicate nimbly without needing to use voice-based chat and without needing to use any outside apps or resources.
  • Discussions: Instructors can create threaded, written discussion forums for instructors to engage in written (or audio/video) dialogue with each other and respond to written prompts.
  • Files: Instructors can post key course documents, like the syllabus, readings, assignment sheets, and activity descriptions in this space.
  • Modules: Instructors can organize course content into several chunks or groups of learning content. The pieces of information that students will access, including the syllabus, assignment sheets, activity descriptions, and outside links and resources, can be grouped together in the order that students might access those resources during a synchronous or asynchronous class session. Modules can give students access to readings, activity descriptions, outside links, and assignment submission links all in one place.
  • Pages: Instructors can create content for students to read or access that is not already created in a separate website or in a Word Document or other kind of document. The settings for Pages can also be changed so that the page can be edited by both instructors and students to create a class Wiki.
  • Organization: For more information about the differences between organizing Canvas course pages in Modules, Pages, or Files (video by Jenae Cohn).
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6. Resources for Online Writing Instruction

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7. Help from CGU’s OIT Team

comprehensive page on the OIT website dedicated to Academic Continuity at CGU with detailed guides on Canvas and Zoom use.

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8. Other Resources

  • Translating to Online Synchronous Teaching: This Google Doc contains a chart that breaks down changes you may need to be aware of or prepare for with online classes that you wouldn’t normally for in-person learning. Such changes include the addition of Zoom break-out rooms, responsibilities as host when students need to give presentations, and the use of media.
  • Canvas Tools and Possible Uses: Here you’ll find a detailed explanation of all the capabilities offered on Canvas, including a guide to the assignment tool, class notes, and page building.
  • Online Lesson Planning Template: This Google Doc helps you ensure that your teaching is not only organized but intentional. An included table explains what evidence of student comprehension and engagement can be expected from different types of instructor input. This table can also assist you with structuring your classwork based on the amount of time any given activity may take.
  • Active Learning Preparation in Online Learning: Here you’ll find a variety of suggestions on how to engage students with active learning assignments and activities that foster a deeper sense of comprehension. This document also includes a list of possible checks you may put in place to ensure student understanding, including shared documents, fact check quizzes, and “muddiest point” lists.
  • Online Exams and Assessments: Suggestions on the ways one might ensure academic honesty where assessment is concerned. Some of these strategies detailed throughout the guide, include self-check quizzes, sharing learning outcomes, and turning in a paper in stages to guarantee progress and timely development.
  • Online Formative Assessment Strategies: This document includes a highly detailed list of assignment designs for online classrooms and checks for understanding while teaching.
  • Principles for Effective Online Discussions: Here you’ll find a list of helpful details concerning fruitful online discussion that effectively creates an engaging learning environment. Some of the topics discussed here include setting discussion protocols and dividing the overall discussion into smaller subjects or areas. This document also contains a list of active links to resources that may help with discussion planning and the sharing of information online
  • Online Discussion Derailers: A breakdown of the ways in which class discussions online might go awry and how this might be avoided.
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