Teach Online

You will likely find that teaching online is not the same as teaching in person. However, online teaching can be just as effective in helping your students learn, and possess distinct advantages as well.

Designing Your Online Course

Building a robust online course is not simply a matter of selecting the right tools to replicate a traditional course. To help you design an online experience that will have the greatest impact, please visit our Design Your Online Course page. This Am I Ready? document can help you think about your preparedness for the online environment.

Communicating with students

Frequent communication with students is a key aspect of online teaching under any circumstances. It’s doubly important with students who may not be very familiar with online learning. Clarify to students how the course will be conducted. Where can they find course content? How can they reach out to you? How will you have office hours?   

You can absolutely hold office hours while teaching online, and Zoom is a great tool for this. You can integrate Zoom into your Canvas course, set up a meeting in advance and share the link with students so they can join.

Delivering content / lecturing

With few exceptions, there is little content that you would give students in a face-to-face course that you can’t give them in an online course. 

  • Canvas’s modules feature is the best way to upload and organize course readings, slides, study guides, assignments and other resources for students. Modules help you arrange materials in a logical way for students to easily find. Learn how to upload different kinds of materials to a module.

  • For lecturing online, you’ll need to decide first whether you want to lecture synchronously (live sessions with your students), or asynchronously (pre-recorded lectures that students can watch on their own time). 

  • Be sure to “chunk” your lecture content: present it in shorter, more bite-size pieces that students can grasp  (so, 10-15 minute segments synchronously, and / or 3-6 minute recorded videos), with regular quizzes or short responses just after assess student engagement with material (and then feel free to follow up with more "chunks"!). Students are less likely to sit through an extended recorded lecture and lengthy live lectures can be difficult. Breaking lectures down and following up with low-impact activities can encourage students, whether synchronously or asynchronously, to remain engaged.

How to teach an effective large online class

Teaching a large class online can be done effectively if you plan your semester carefully, with attention paid to how you will engage students, assess their work, and build community.

  • If your online class is synchronous, it is helpful to assign a student (or a TA, if you have one) to manage the chat and the hand raising/polling features during class. In this way, you can focus on the work of teaching while still engaging the class in discussion and questioning. If you do not have someone to assist you, a good way to manage the chat and hand-raising function is to pause periodically to check in with student questions and comments. 

  • Breakout rooms in Zoom are useful for dividing the class into smaller groups for problem-solving, discussion and brainstorming. You can pop into each breakout to check on progress and answer questions. Remember that clarity is important in assigning tasks for the breakout rooms with a defined time limit to get work done. 

  • You can sometimes build community in a large synchronous class more easily than in a large face-to-face class because students’ names show up under their pictures and in the chat when they participate so that you can address them by name.

  • In all online classes, it will be important to learn about the tools in Canvas that can assist you in managing your larger class. For instance, Canvas quizzes will auto-correct certain types of assessments. You can also break students into groups for asynchronous discussion and other kinds of assignments on Canvas.

Discussions and group work

Rich discussions and collaboration among your students are still possible when you move online, regardless of whether students work in groups or discuss synchronously (live and at the same time) or asynchronously (anytime). 

  • For live sessions, Zoom works well. If your class is small enough, you can have large group discussions in a Zoom session just as you would in a physical classroom. Many faculty members, especially those who teach larger classes, benefit from Zoom’s breakout rooms, an easy-to-use feature that allows students to collaborate and have discussions in smaller groups. It’s easy for instructors to assign students to breakout rooms (either in predetermined groups or randomly), and to visit breakout rooms to see how students are doing. 

  • For asynchronous discussions, many instructors use the Canvas discussion feature. Students can respond to you, and to each other, on discussion boards that you create. Here is a good resource for how to conduct effective online discussion board interactions. You might also want to explore VoiceThread, an interactive discussion tool that allows students to annotate and respond to many different kinds of content.

  • To have students work in groups outside of scheduled class time, take advantage of Canvas’s groups feature. You can put students in groups, let them collaborate on projects or assignments, and grade them individually or as a group. Many instructors encourage their students to use Google Drive for collaborative work. 

Share a video with students to help them work together using Google Drive.

Assessing student learning

It’s important for you to have a plan for assessing student learning and to determine if students are meeting your learning goals. You will want to consider the following.

  • If you normally include attendance and/or participation in your grading, think about how that manifests in the online version of your class. What evidence do you need to count a student as a participant in the online environment? Communication of these expectations is important.

  • If you regularly use polling or similar tools for obtaining a snapshot of student learning, you can find virtual tools within both Zoom and Canvas that can serve your needs. Learn about Zoom's polling feature. In Canvas, a great way to poll students is to create an ungraded survey, within quizzes.

  • The Canvas quiz feature allows for the creation and grading of both short quizzes and full-sized exams. For some types of questions, such as multiple choice, you can also automate the grading.

  • Canvas’s Assignments feature provides a one-stop venue for sharing assignment instructions, receiving the assignment from the students, and grading assignments. 

  • Students can use many of the same tools for online presentations that you’ll employ to deliver content online. You’ll want to think about whether to add the students’ ability to work in the online environment to your rubric. On the one hand, it rewards those students who master the technology. On the other hand, it isn’t necessarily one of your course goals that they do so.

  • The SpeedGrader tool allows you to leave written or audio/video feedback, which can speed up turnaround time for drafts of papers. Canvas also allows the creation of easy-to-use rubrics. Grades from any quizzes, exams, and other assignments submitted to Canvas can automatically be fed to the Canvas gradebook, which can be configured to match the final grade breakdown in your syllabus. 

  • Proctoring: The university is providing Proctorio, an auto-proctoring solution to be used if you need to give proctored exams while teaching in an online environment. Here's a handy guide that you can provide to students on how they will use Proctorio.

Library Resources for Online Teaching

Our friends at Temple Libraries have produced a Library Support guide outlining the help they can provide. They've worked with publishers to make a large number of new resources available. Also, don't miss the streaming video options available through the library as well as the new one-page guide to Adding Video to Your Online Course.

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.

Teaching International Students Living Outside the U.S.

In your online course you may have international students who couldn't return to the U.S. during the COVID crisis. For the special challenges posed by this situation and strategies to address them, see this EDvice Exchange article.

We’re here to help

CAT is running a series of workshops on various topics related to online teaching. We also have online drop-in help hours Monday through Friday, 8:30am to 5:00pm with no appointment needed, and consultation times available during the week and some evenings. Additionally, note that you have access to 24/7 Zoom and Canvas support.

See our training schedule and register for a session or watch one of the workshops in our archive.


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

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