Make a Plan

Now is the time to prepare should a change in normal campus operations become necessary. All faculty should make plans to teach each of their classes online and seek the training they need to be able to execute that plan. Here’s how.

Plan Ahead (Before any Disruption)

It’s best practice to plan ahead for what you will need to do to teach your course in the event of a disruption or an emergency. We recommend that you create a contingency plan and integrate it into your syllabus and classes going forward. A good place to house the contingency plan is in a Canvas announcements page or module. This way, you’ve communicated with your students about what they can expect if a disruption should occur.

Determine priorities

First, review your plans for the rest of the semester. Identify your priorities during the disruption—providing lectures, structuring opportunities for discussion or group work, responding to students’ assignments in progress, etc. Think about what’s most important to keep in your class, and areas where you can compromise. It’s important to be flexible in your contingency planning.

As you determine your 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. In particularly challenging teaching contexts, you may need to reevaluate your goals for the semester.

Identify points that must change 

When moving your class online, you’ll want to consider modifying your syllabus to reflect your new online framework. This may require you to do the following.

  • Rethink how you usually do things. Do you break up your lectures with active learning strategies? Then 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 Zoom, Canvas and VoiceThread offer. Explore our new Teach Online page for ideas on how to accomplish your teaching tasks in an online environment.
  • Replace a topic or activity. Most classes cannot be taught online in exactly the same way that they would have been in person. If something does not seem possible in the online 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 have very different criteria in an online class.

The more you can think these questions through in advance, the better.

Focus on the tasks you need to accomplish

  • 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 online? Take a look at our Learn the Tools page for tutorials, webinars and information on how to get individualized help.
  • Make a plan for how you will handle teaching from home.

Identify students’ needs

Some of your students might need special considerations during a disruption.

  • Consider your students’ access to computers and the internet. Not everyone has immediate access to a device or the use of high speed internet. If you find a student does not have this access at home, alert your dean’s office. 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.
  • It's important to handle common accommodations in the online space. Make sure you are aware of which students have a disability and exactly what accommodations they’ll need. 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 Wednesday from 10:30 am - 12 pm rather than every other Wednesday through the end of March.
    • Faculty can also utilize current walk-in hours for consultations from 3-5 pm, Monday - Friday at the Rad Dish Cafe in Ritter Annex.
    • 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.
  • Digital Document Services has offered to support faculty and students in the transition to online learning by providing no-cost services that include free printing for classroom materials, scanning to jump drives, and moving instructional materials to a digital format. Their offices can be found in Ritter Hall 234, Wachman 1011, and the Leon Sullivan Building suite 228.

    • If you have questions about your use of copyrighted material and whether it is a violation of copyright, the subject specialist librarians can provide guidance.

  • For students with no access to internet services, Comcast has announced an expansion of Internet Essentials, along with an increase in speeds to enable the use of video.  They’re also offering two months free due to COVID-19.

  • Students will need to develop new habits and behaviors when suddenly shifting to online learning. Forwarding this Reddit thread to them may be useful.

Implement the Plan

Should a change in normal campus operations become necessary, you’ll want to put your plan into place as soon as you can and let students know how class will proceed going forward.

Communicate with students right away

Communicate with your students as soon as possible in class and via Canvas email or announcements to let them know what to expect.

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 during this time. Your module should spell out your plan, in whatever form it’s in.
  • Not all students can afford to buy every textbook for every class, instead sharing a single copy among friends or making use of library copies. Identify in advance what parts of the required textbooks will be needed for the next two weeks and encourage students to acquire copies.

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

  • What does participation online look like, and how do you plan to measure it?
  • What etiquette should they follow in online discussions or live synchronous class sessions in the virtual classroom?
  • What sorts of equipment should they access to ensure full participation?
  • Have any due dates shifted in the process of moving the class online?

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

Get the help you need


Remember you are not alone in this. Resources are available such as individualized help from CAT, your fellow faculty and staff, and departments such as the Office of Disability Resources and Services to assist you in getting your course online and meeting the needs of all of your students.

Get started now

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

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