Make A Plan

How do I get started preparing for teaching?

It is important, as in any teaching situation, to prepare ahead for a successful semester. By considering how you will be teaching your course, you can identify any gaps in training you might have and any technologies or other resources you may need. Some useful questions to ask yourself are:

  • What is the modality of the course (asynchronous online, synchronous online, face-to-face, hybrid), keeping in mind that you might want or need to change to a different modality after beginning the semester. This Am I Ready? document can help you think about your preparedness for the modality in which you will teach
  • What resources/tools do I have access to in preparing to teach this class?
  • Will I use materials from a previous semester? What will I have to create anew?
  • Do I need further faculty development to help me think about how to tackle the teaching challenges I may need to solve? 

The questions above can get you started. The guide below offers a more comprehensive approach to help you make a plan for a successfully executed course. 

Plan Ahead

Think proactively about the modality in which you will teach and any adjustments you’ll need to make to your normal teaching plan: this will ensure your course is as disruption-proof as possible. In addition, ensure your syllabus communicates your course structure and ways for students to navigate your course. The syllabus language shared by the Provost can assist with this.  

There are a number of considerations as you imagine your course mode:

What are the essential goals for the course and how will you help students to achieve these goals?

First, identify your priorities for the semester. In determining those priorities, it’s best to let your learning goals lead you. What do you want students to know, or to be able to do, by the end of the semester and beyond? Whether or not they reach those goals is far more important than how you help them get there. If you begin by asking yourself, “How do I help my students reach these learning goals?” instead of “How do I do (X activity/assessment) in this teaching modality?”, you will find that you are better able to stay focused on what’s most important in your class and remain flexible in achieving those goals, no matter the challenge.

Identify activities or assessments that must change to fit the modality.

When teaching your class online, in a hybrid modality, or in person with physical distancing, you’ll want to consider modifying your syllabus to reflect your new teaching situation. The more you can think these questions through in advance, the better. This may require you to do the following:

  • Rethink how you usually do things. Do you typically break up your lectures with active learning strategies? If so, in a synchronous online environment you might want to use Zoom’s breakout rooms and nonverbal feedback icons. Likewise, you will want to redesign any discussion or collaboration components of your course to take advantage of the collaboration features offered in ZoomCanvas and VoiceThread, no matter the modality.  
  • Will you simulcast your class to students at home while other students are in person in your classroom? Learn how to do this effectively so that everyone has a rich learning experience. 
  • Will you teach in a hybrid modality? Think about different models for delivering a hybrid class and how you might make them work seamlessly for effective learning.
  • Will you teach in person and just aren’t sure how to accomplish your teaching tasks in a physically distanced environment? See our tips on how to accomplish active learning despite the distance.
  • Replace a topic or activity. Your class may not be able to be taught in exactly the same way that it would have been before. If something does not seem possible in the online, hybrid or physically distanced setting, consider dropping it or replacing it with another activity that works toward the same learning goal.
  • Assess students in different ways. Your interactions with students online will take a different form than in a physical classroom. Any assignments, quizzes, or exams previously administered in class and/or collected on paper can be administered and collected online via Canvas. A participation grade might also have very different criteria in an online class.
  • Consider revisiting your participation policy in a way that acknowledges the fact that some students may find themselves in position where traditional classroom participation is difficult or impossible.
Get assistance for any technological or pedagogical support you may need.
  • Determine which tasks are essential and which are not. For example, do you need a set class time when everyone is online at the same time (synchronous sessions), or can students access course materials and work at any time (asynchronous)? Pick tools and approaches that best accomplish these tasks. Don’t overload yourself with too many tools.
  • Get the help you need. Do you need to learn how to use a new piece of software? Or better understand a feature within Canvas? Do you need help in re-thinking how you can teach effectively in new modalities? Take a look at our Learn the Tools page for tutorials, webinars, and information on how to get individualized help.
  • If you are still teaching remotely, make a plan for how you will handle teaching from home.
Identify students’ needs and develop proactive measures to address them.

Some of your students might need special considerations:

  • Consider your students’ access to computers and the internet. Not everyone has immediate access to a device or the use of high speed internet. Use tools that allow all students to participate equally. Be flexible with due dates and granting extensions. Work with them ahead of time to find solutions. Note that limited resources are available for students who do not have the technology they need for class. Students with educational technology needs, including no computer or camera or insufficient wifi-access, should submit a request outlining their needs using the Student Emergency Aid Fund form. Requests may be satisfied with a long-term loan of a laptop or mifi device, a refurbished computer, or subsidized internet access.
  • It's important to handle common accommodations in the online or hybrid space. Make sure you are aware of which students have a disability and exactly what accommodations they’ll need. Note that some students may need to request an accommodation during this pandemic who did not need one before. Book an appointment with a Disability Resources and Services consultant for assistance:
    • DRS has added additional consultation hours by sending a DRS staff member to CAT every Monday 3:00 - 5:00 and every Thursday 1:00 - 3:00 for half-hour time slots over Zoom.
    • For distance consultations with DRS, you can call 215-204-1280 from 9:00 am - 3:00 pm Monday - Friday
    • You may find it useful to read this article: Accessible Teaching in the Time of Covid-19.
  • During normal campus operations, you may have students who cannot come to campus due to self-monitoring, illness or a compromised immune system. Please communicate clearly with the students about how they can stay on track and complete the course work. Flexibility and kindness are our greatest tools in these circumstances.
  • Students will need to develop new habits and behaviors when suddenly shifting to online learning. Forwarding this Reddit thread to them may be useful.
Communicate with students early and often.

Communicate your teaching choices and approaches with your students. This will help ensure they understand and engage with your careful preparations. For instance, we recommend that you communicate clearly how the class will be conducted to your students. You might send an announcement before the semester with instructions or information. You can also create a module in your Canvas course to house this information.

Your first communication should include the following:

  • Ask students to download the Canvas Student app on their smartphones and to make sure that notifications are enabled.
  • Direct them to your Canvas announcements page or module you created that gives them guidance on what to expect for the course.
  • Not all students can afford to buy every textbook for every class, especially because of financial hardship due to the pandemic. Where possible, provide ways for students to access course materials at no or lower cost, such as through the Library’s electronic reserve, EZBorrow/ILLiad, etc. Clarify if older editions are available and appropriate, or whether the textbook is available to rent.

Clearly communicate to your students the expectations you have for them in the learning environment.

  • What does participation look like, and how do you plan to measure it?
  • What etiquette should they follow in discussions, whether online or in person?
  • What sorts of equipment should they access to ensure full participation?

Spelling out the answers to these questions will help your students navigate the course smoothly and ensure that everyone is on the same page going forward.

How do I handle incompletes because of reasons related to COVID-19?

The incomplete policy has not changed; therefore, you should treat these incompletes as you would any others. As always, you must complete the Incomplete Grade Contract form and have it approved by your dean’s designee. Here are some considerations for determining how to lay out parameters for the incomplete:

  • Would the student be better served by other policies such as Withdrawal, Excused Withdrawal, other?
  • If an incomplete is the best path forward, has the student completed work that demonstrates their ability to do the remaining assignments independently?
  • Can the work be completed remotely? Is there a need for special equipment or software and will the student have access to those resources?
  • Are you willing/able to work with the student through the end of your contract period? If the incomplete extends beyond your contract period, is there someone else in the department who would continue working in your place?
  • Is this course a prerequisite for other courses that this student needs?  Will they be able to complete the course prior to the next term?

Get the help you need

Remember you are not alone in this. Resources are available such as individualized consultations from the CAT for both pedagogical and educational technology needs. The Office of Disability Resources and Services can assist you in getting your course ready to meet the needs of all of your students. Book an appointment with a DRS specialist at

In short:

  • Determine what you know.
  • Determine what you need to learn.
  • Focus on your course goals and objectives.
  • Identify ways to achieve those goals and objectives in the modality in which you are teaching.
  • Sign up for the appropriate CAT workshops or consultations to assist you.
  • Get started with one of the Canvas templates, or check with your college for college-specific templates.
  • Don’t wait to start planning!



Portions of this guidance have been adapted, with permission, from Indiana University’s Keep Teaching site.