Strategies for Remote Learning and Teaching

As you make plans for remote learning and teaching, focus on what tasks you are trying to accomplish.

Communicating with Students

Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your class(es)—whether a planned absence on your part, or because of a crisis impacting all or part of campus. You'll want to let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations. Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and save you time dealing with individual questions. 

Keep these principles in mind:

Communicate early and often.

Let students know about changes or disruptions as early as possible, even if all the details aren't in place yet, and let them know when they can expect more specific information.

Set expectations: Let students know how you plan to communicate with them, and how often. Tell students both how often you expect them to check their email, Blackboard Announcements, or Teams, and how quickly they can expect your response.

Manage your communications load.

You will likely receive some individual requests for information that could be useful to all your students, so consider keeping track of frequently asked questions and sending those replies out to everyone. This way, students know they might get a group reply in a day versus a personal reply within an hour. Also, consider creating an information page in Blackboard, and then encourage students to check there first for answers before emailing you.

Tools for Communication with Students

Sharing Course Materials

You will likely need to provide additional course materials to support your changing plans, from updated schedules to readings that allow you to shift more instruction online. Possibly providing some new readings and related assignments may be your best bet for keeping the intellectual momentum of the course moving. 

Considerations when posting new course materials:

Make sure students know when new material is posted. 

If you post new materials in Blackboard, be sure to let students know what you posted and where. You might even ask that they change their Blackboard notification preferences to alert them when new materials are posted.

Keep things mobile phone-friendly.

In a crisis, many students may only have a phone available, so make sure you are using mobile-friendly formats, PDFs being the most common. Consider saving other files (for example, PowerPoint presentations) to PDFs, which are easier to read on phones and tablets, and keep the file size small. It is fairly easy to reduce the size of PDF files using Adobe Acrobat, and there are online tools that do the same thing (for example, search Google for "PDF file size"). Videos take lots of bandwidth, so only require them if you are confident students will have access to them during a crisis.

Tools for Sharing Course Materials

Presenting Information

  • Record presentations
  • Enable remote participation in your on-campus classroom session
  • Host virtual and live sessions so you can interact with all of your students remotely

Tools for Presenting Information

Encouraging Interaction and Engagement Amongst Your Students Asynchronously

Fostering communication among students is important because it allows you to reproduce any collaboration you build into your course, and maintains a sense of community that can help keep students motivated to participate and learn. It helps if you already had some sort of student-to-student online activity (for example, Blackboard Discussions) since students will be used to both the process and the tool. 

Consider these suggestions when planning activities:

Use asynchronous tools when possible.

Having students participate in live Zoom conversations can be useful, but scheduling can be a problem, and only a few students will actively participate (just like in your classroom). In such cases, using asynchronous tools like Blackboard Discussions or Chat in Microsoft Teams allows students to participate on their own schedules. In addition, bandwidth requirements for discussion boards are far lower than for live video tools.

Link to clear goals and outcomes.

Make sure there are clear purposes and outcomes for any student-to-student interaction. How does this activity help them meet course outcomes or prepare for other assignments

Build in simple accountability.

Find ways to make sure students are accountable for the work they do in any online discussions or collaborations. Some professors ask for reflective statements where students detail their contributions and reflect on what they learned from the conversation.

Balance newness and need.

As with any changed activities, you will need to balance the needs and benefits of online discussion with the additional effort such engagement will require. Learning new technologies and procedures might be counterproductive, particularly in the short term, unless there is clear benefit.

Tools for Interaction and Engagement

Collecting Assignments

Collecting assignments during a campus closure is fairly straightforward, since many instructors already collect work electronically. The main challenge during a campus disruption is whether students have access to computers, as anyone needing a campus computer lab may be unable to access necessary technologies. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Require only common software.

Students may not have access to specialty software located in on-campus computer labs. Be ready with a backup plan for such students.

Avoid emailed attachments.

It may be easy to collect assignments in small classes via email, but larger classes might swamp your email inbox. Consider using Blackboard or Microsoft Teams instead. Balance what is simplest for students with what is easiest for you to manage.

State expectations, and be ready to allow extensions.

In the case of a campus closure or other crisis, some students will undoubtedly have difficulties meeting deadlines. Make expectations clear, but be ready to provide more flexibility than you normally would in your class.

Require specific filenames.

It may sound trivial, but anyone who collects papers electronically knows the pain of getting 20 files named Essay1.docx. Give your students a simple file naming convention, for example, FirstnameLastname-Essay1.docx.

Assessing Student Learning

With Blackboard, you can create assignments and students can submit them using the Assignments tool. Additionally, you can administer quizzes and exams with timed features and exceptions for students requesting accommodations.

Running Lab Activities

One of the biggest challenges of teaching during a building or campus closure is sustaining the lab components of classes. Since many labs require specific equipment, they are hard to reproduce outside of that physical space. 

Considerations as you plan to address lab activities:

Identify which of your lab activities can be delivered online.

For example, orientation/pre-lectures and demonstrations of techniques can be recorded and then uploaded to Ensemble Video. Students can be asked to familiarize themselves with procedures. Peer learning can be done asynchronously using Blackboard discussions or synchronously via Microsoft Teams.

Provide raw data for analysis.

In cases where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected, and then provide some raw sets of data for students to analyze. This approach is not as comprehensive as having students collect and analyze their own data, but it might keep them engaged with parts of the lab experience during the closure.Explore alternate software access:

Identify which software your students might only have access to on campus-based computers (as opposed to their personal computers), and please provide this info to Academic Technology and Consulting. ATC can work with you on software licensing and possible alternatives. Send an email to:

Increase interaction in other ways.

Sometimes labs are more about having time for direct student interaction, so consider other ways to replicate that level of contact if it is only your lab that is out of commission.

Investigate virtual lab options:

You may be able to accomplish some lab activities via online simulation. Below, are a few options for you to investigate.

Online Labs and Simulations

  • MERLOT Simulation Collection (California State University)
    The MERLOT collection of Open Educational Resources includes thousands of free simulations on a broad range of topics. The database is searchable by keyword, and each item in the collection provides details including material type, authorship, brief description, peer review rating, and user rating.

  • ChemCollective (joint project from NSF, Carnegie Mellon, and NSDL)
    Free, online chem lab simulations for topics including Stoichiometry, Thermochemistry, Equilibrium, Acid-Base Chemistry, Solubility, Oxidation/Reduction and Electrochemistry, Analytical Chemistry/Lab Techniques

  • PhET Interactive Simulations (University of Colorado – Boulder)
    Free online simulations and teaching activities for Physics, Chemistry, Math, Earth Science, and Biology (site has simulations for all grade levels; link takes you to simulations designed for university students)

  • eScienceLabs
    Fee-based service that will work with faculty to create custom online and hands-on lab kits for your course

  • Hands-On Labs
    Fee-based service that will work with faculty to create custom online and hands-on lab kits for your course
Content on this web site was inspired by continuity content from  Indiana UniversityPepperdine University, and Middlebury