Identifying Placements that work for Remote Learning

Your “placement” may be a practicum course or may be work-place or community-based learning experiences built into a course.  In either the longer or shorter duration, these opportunities are valued by students as a means to improve skills and refine understanding by practicing and receiving feedback in a professional setting.  Also, students appreciate the chance to build their networks and resumes for their future careers.

Availability of placement partners?

In the remote context, we know that our usual partners may find themselves less able to take students on.  Even if they want a student, they may also need to reduce the number of people in their physical settings.  You may help your partners see possibilities by asking them about opportunities for remote-working for that student, or new projects that are entirely suitable and do not require regular or any physical presence by the student.

Tapping into student networks for placements?

Student situations may vary and affect options in ways you don’t expect.  Many students may not move to Saskatoon this fall.  But, they may be able to identify new opportunities for placements where they are living that actually work well.  This might even expand options significantly. Consider reaching out to the students in the course to ask them about their locations and ideas for placement options that fit the criteria you set out.  You can make use of the Survey Monkey tool, which is supported by USask.

Structures for success?

Ensure you and your partners can support, supervise, and assess students to an appropriate extent.  The nature of the support, supervision, and assessment will likely be different.  Consider how you can keep to the core principles you use during normal times and find technology enhanced approaches that may work adequately, just as well, or even better.

You may find the following resources useful:

Back up plans?

Create contingency plans in case the experience is interrupted for any reason.  If there was an outbreak in the location of your student, or your student or their worksite needed to take quarantine measures, develop a plan for a reasonable response.  Having a plan for this kind of disruption will help you, your students, and your partners proceed more confidently.  And, it will also make you all feel equipped to make a good decision on the side of safety.

For more on student placements for remote learning see Preparing and Supporting Students in Remote-context Placements.

It Helps To Be Transparent About Academic Integrity

You and your students will be out there wondering how fair final assessments can be when everyone is unsupervised.  Thankfully, there are some students, that no matter what, will follow the rules and maintain their academic integrity.   A small number, will seek to cheat no matter what we do.   The group to focus on right now is that large majority that wants the rules to be clear, to be enforced, and for there to be a level playing field for all.  The majority of students want to be honest, but at the same time, they do not want to feel at a disadvantage if they are.

 When students see their instructor making specific efforts to protect against academic misconduct, many become more committed to academic integrity as a result.   Here are example statements that might be helpful:   

 Designing the assessment:

  • “I have designed the final assessment to ask you to apply what you have learned, using more personalized examples, rather than questions that ask you to recall the facts or recognize correct answers.  This makes copying answers less relevant.” 
  •  “I have designed the assessment expecting you will access your course materials.  I have created variation in the questions that each student receives, so that exchanging answers does not work for students who would cheat in this way.”

 Reducing pressure students feel:   

  • “I have reduced the weighting of the final assessment to lower the stakes for you during this anxious time.  I know students under pressure sometimes take shortcuts or make blatant academic misconduct decisions and I do not want that to happen to you.”
  • “The university policy for take home finals has reduced the time pressure compared to traditional exams.  Also, if something goes wrong with your technology or you are feeling unwell,  you can take breaks and come back to the exam.  I know students under pressure sometimes take shortcuts or make blatant academic misconduct decisions and I do not want that to happen to you.”

 Creating more student agency and responsibility:  

  • “I have provided you with information about the questions in advance, so that you know more about how to prepare for the exam.  When there are fewer “mysteries” about the exam, usually students show more academic integrity, and that’s what I want.” 
  • “I have given you some choice in format/topic area for the final assessment.  When students get to choose, I expect you will show me your best work and feel more confident about doing it honestly, and that’s what I want.”  

 Expressing your and students’ commitment:   

  • “I have asked all students to sign and return this document (e.g., see declaration of secrecy, or Sample Open Book Exam Academic Integrity statement) as a further step in acknowledging the importance of individual commitment to academic integrity.  If I find students have engaged in academic misconduct, this form can also be used to question students further about their understanding of the rules”.
  • “I will follow up directly with students who have submitted work that raises suspicions of academic misconduct.  I will follow up, in part, out of respect for all the students who did their work with academic integrity under these unexpected conditions.  If your work concerns me,  you can expect me to require an online or phone meeting to discuss. I will follow my College’s procedures and University of Saskatchewan policy.”

The Benefits of Using OER For Remote Teaching

Open Educational Resources (OER) have experienced a growing popularity at the U of S during the past six years, with more than 6,500 students using open textbooks and other OER instead of commercial textbooks. They’re free to use, easy to access, and allow for adaptation to improve student engagement and learning, as well as instructor academic freedom (no commercial publisher telling you what you should teach).

With the move of all U of S courses to being offered remotely for at least the spring and summer terms, the use of OER makes a lot of sense, especially with the Bookstore being closed. OER materials are easily accessible for instructors and students, without having to order a book online or purchase an access code, and users never lose access.

Below are some quick facts about OER:

  • OER, including open textbooks have had most copyright restrictions removed allowing for free access by anyone on any devise connected to the Internet.
  • OER can be printed. The Bookstore normally offers a print-on-demand service, but materials can also be printed at home if students wish.
  • OER exists for most major first year courses, and a growing number of other courses. If you wish to find OER, start with the BCcampus catalogue or contact Heather Ross at the GMCTL.
  • Most OER can be modified to meet local needs.
  • Instructors and students have created or adapted several open textbooks that can be found in our catalogue.
  • The U of S uses the Pressbooks platform for hosting, creating, and adapting open textbooks.
  • The U of S has funding to support the adaptation of existing OER and the creation of ancillary resources (test banks, slides, etc.)

If you would like more information about using OER or will be using OER in the coming terms, please contact Heather Ross.

Tips From Veterans of Remote / Online Teaching

As you prepare to create and teach courses remotely this spring and summer terms, we asked some U of S instructors experienced with this type of teaching to share some quick words of wisdom based on what they learned from their own experiences. Below are their tips related to design, teaching, and assessment for remote / online. Thank you to Jorden Cummings (Psychology), Allison Fairbairn (Music), Hayley Hesseln (Agriculture and Bio Resources), and Karla Panchuk (Geology) for sharing your experiences teaching remote / online courses.


  • Keep it as simple as possible. Online learning difficult for many students for diverse reasons, and we cannot assume our students have access to all things technology or that they are fully comfortable using technology.
  • Make it as easy as possible for students to find what they need within the course. Karla Panchuk shared this screen shot with us to demonstrate an easy to use sidebar menu in Blackboard.


  • Pre-record what you need to, but there are numerous existing resources you may find useful (e.g. YouTube videos)
  • Provide students with weekly checklists that highlight key items they need to look at
  • Post slides with voice-over. Post the notes page as well.
  • Use discussion groups to facilitate students connecting
  • Ask students to introduce themselves and say something that nobody knows about them
  • Ask students questions during the slide presentation/recording
    • Post those questions in a discussion forum to promote dialogue
    • Ask students to post a comment and reply to comments to encourage participation
    • Use the discussion forum with guided questions for readings
  • If you use outside services, avoid ones that require your students to create an account
  • Limit the number of tools that you and / or students will need to learn to use. Never assume that your students will all be tech-savvy


  • Have clear rubrics and post them so students can see how you will assess their work ahead of time
  • If feasible, provide a peer review component that  allows students to receive additional feedback on their work
  • If students need to print materials off to fill out and then submit, they need to be allowed to take photos of these to submit since a scanner might not be available
  • Setting up the grading centre to do anything, but the basics is time consuming. Just download your grades and calculate offline
  • Hayley Hesseln also makes use of reflections on learning as assessments

Creating Your Syllabus in The Context of COVID-19

As instructors prepare to teach during the spring and summer terms, one consideration is how to prepare their syllabi in the context of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. The U of S considers course syllabi to be contracts between instructors and students. As such, there are normally significant restrictions on what can be changed in a syllabus once it’s been distributed to students, but as you prepare to teach in the upcoming terms some greater flexibility is needed from all of us.

With that in mind, the Office of the University Secretary and Chief Governance Office issued a briefing note stating:

University Council, as approved by the Coordinating Committee: “Grants authority to instructors to alter syllabi for their classes for the duration (timeframe as determined by the President) of the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for alternate modes of course delivery and examinations.”

This will help provide instructors with needed flexibility while teaching through the pandemic. Given this added flexibility, plus the unexpected change in how instructors are teaching and students are learning, there are some considerations to keep in mind while preparing your syllabi and teaching those courses:

  • While your department or college may have its own syllabus template, the U of S has one that can be used either as a template or checklist to make sure you have all elements required under the Academic Courses Policy, as well as those recommended.
  • If you plan to make changes to the syllabus once students have access, give students as much notice as possible about these changes.
  • While syllabi often at least start with a formal tone about rules and regulations, start with a message to your students about the need for flexibility, and recognition that this is likely not the format that the students registered for. Acknowledge that this is a challenging situation for everyone. You may find some ideas in the principles an instructor at UNC – Chapel Hill created for sharing with his students.
  • You final exam / assessment will likely be different than it would have otherwise been. The U of S has new requirements on what you can and cannot do for final exams. Provide as much information for your students about your assessments, including the final exam within the syllabus. See the page on Final Exams and Course Assessments on the Teaching and Learning website.
  • Include times and methods of communication for office hours.
  • Include information of any required resources. Consider the cost and accessibility of materials as students worry even more than usual about their financial situation and can’t simply walk into the campus Bookstore. If you would like to discuss the use of open educational resources for your course, please contact Heather Ross at the GMCTL.
  • If you will be giving any marks for participation, be explicit about what participation will look like in the class (ie. participation on discussion forums)
  • In addition to the information about Access and Equity Services (AES) currently in the syllabus template, add a link to the AES webpage (PDF) specifically related to supports accommodations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you have any additional questions about constructing your course syllabi, please contact Heather Ross at the GMCTL.

How to Support Students Who Have Multiple Final Exams In 24 Hours

Giving students 24 hours to complete a final assessment might make a lot of sense in a time of emergency, but it can also cause anxiety for students if they are unclear on expectations. You can help by clarifying expectations and stating clear limits in advance. To assist all of your students, but particularly students facing this additional challenge, please include the following in your exam information to students:

  • Put all instructions about the exam into the introduction of the exam to ensure that your students have easy and clear access to any instructions, including logistics and what they should do if they have trouble submitting the exam. If you have already provided these instructions elsewhere, repeat them within the introduction to the exam.
  • Provide students with an estimate of how much time the exam will likely take (i.e. I expect it will take you about three hours to write this exam)
  • Provide students with clear requirements related to their answers to short answer and essay questions, such as minimum and/or maximum word counts for answers. This will also help you manage the time needed for marking.

Be aware of and provide students with needed supports and accommodations required from Access and Equity Services (AES). You can find information about meeting these requirements during the COVID-19  pandemic on the AES website.

If you know of specific students in your classes who are scheduled to have two exams within a 24 hour period you could:

  • Email to verify if a conflict exists for a student requesting a change. For more information on this see the FAQ on our Final Exams and Course Assessments page.
  • Discuss with those individual students what specific additional needs they may have, if any.
  • Negotiate an earlier 24 hour period of time for the release of the open book exam
  • Offer those students a bit of extra time, such as a 48 hour window

Using Reflections on Learning As Assessments

As instructors look for alternative ways to assess student learning while teaching remotely, Professor Hayley Hesseln in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources has a method that she’s used for students in her Agricultural Economics course, delivered both online and face-to-face.

Hesseln, a USask Master Teacher, assigns students to write a reflective paper about their learning for the final exam. She’s remarked that it can be quite surprising how such an activity can show evidence of student learning.

She usually has students read an article about what learning means and has used the article “What Did You Learn Today” by Alan Samuel, but notes that there are other articles that may work for this as well.
“I find that by allowing students to tell me what they learned, they realize they learned much more than they initially thought,” explains Hesseln. “Having to put it into words and having them discuss the application and importance also embeds the lessons that much further.”
The questions that Hesseln uses for her final are in general terms and could be easily used in other disciplines:
  1. What did you learn (do not give me a list of topics or repeat lectures.
  2. Why is it important to you?
  3. How will you use it (consider your job, future classes, higher education, life in general).
Hesseln provides learners with a rubric (shown below), written from the perspective of a student to guide their writing and allow her to mark their work.
Reflective Paper Rubric

Online Presentations and Poster Sessions Within Canadian Copyright Guidelines

We’ve had several instructors approach us about how to move their poster sessions and student presentations to a remote (online) environment. After extensive conversations with the Copyright Coordinator, Undergraduate Research Initiative Coordinator, and our Distance Education Unit, we felt it was a good idea to develop some support resources around this topic. An earlier post addressed choosing appropriate technology, while this one will provide guidance on staying within appropriate copyright parameters.

If the work does not contain any copyrighted materials then you have the option of having the students share their posters openly. Give them the option of what license they wish to put on their own work. This could mean that they choose to copyright it or choose to use one of the Creative Commons licenses. Let the students choose.

If, however, their posters or presentations contain copyrighted material, or you are unsure if it does, then please follow these recommendations laid out by the U of S Copyright Coordinator, Kate Langrell.

  • Put a prominent statement on a password protected webpage that says something to the effect of: “PLEASE NOTE: These posters are provided here for educational and research purposes, and for viewing only. Please do not copy, download, or distribute any materials from this page without written permission from the creator(s).” To facilitate this, consider including the instructor’ email unless the students are willing to share their own.
  • To be safe, limit access to the site to instructors and students within the college the course is part of.
  • Having the posters available for a limited time would also mitigate the risk of copyright issues.
  • All images and other copyrighted materials used in the posters or presentations should be cited. If there are any images that could be easily replaced with an openly-licensed or copyright-free alternative (e.g., a Creative Commons licensed image), that would lower the risk of copyright issues.

For more information on copyright, please see the University of Saskatchewan Copyright websiteUniversity of Saskatchewan Copyright website.





Online Homework Systems: How to Protect Student Privacy and Keep Materials Costs Down

Online homework systems (OHS) are online tools that can grade questions asked to students as homework, track formative practice, or assess examinations. Students can receive immediate feedback on the activities they complete using an OHS, providing students with a clear picture of how they are progressing and where they may need to do some additional work.

During the 2018-2019 academic year, approximately 70 courses included the use of online homework systems (OHS) that were registered through the U of S Bookstore. Several additional courses made use of these tools by sending students directly to publisher websites. OHS are used extensively through the STEM disciplines, but are also used in other fields including Psychology and business. While they have benefits for both instructors and students, there are concerns that both should be aware of.


The Cost of OHS for Students

In about half of the courses using OHS purchased through the bookstore, students are required to make that purchase as part of their grade in the course. Often, the OHS is bundled with a textbook making it impossible for students to purchase a used textbook or even use one they purchased a previous year, in the case of needing to repeat a course. Publishers are also moving toward a model where bundled textbooks are only available online and for a limited time.

While instructors at the U of S have saved students almost $2 million in the past five years with a steady increase in the use of open textbooks, the costs associated with homework systems could potential counter that savings, something publishers are aiming for with methods such as bundling textbooks and OHS.

Student Purchases Directly From Publishers

As I noted above, in some courses students are sent directly to publisher websites to purchase access to an OHS. This requires them to have a credit card and opens them up to privacy breaches of their financial information as well as any additional information that publishers require them to submit. This risk can be mitigated by instructors having students purchase required access codes through the Bookstore.

Limitations for Instructors

While OHS can make grading, especially in large classes, easier for instructors and TAs, but there are also limitations. In many cases, instructors have little control over the content being assessed. In addition, some systems, especially if students are going directly through the publisher’s website, won’t integrate with the grade book in Blackboard.

Supports For Instructors

The U of S Bookstore Wants to Help Keep Costs Low for Students

I’m often asked how the Bookstore feels about the growth of open textbooks and the questioner is surprised when I say “they love it, they’re the ones who offer the print-on-demand service for open textbooks.” The U of S Bookstore wants to speak with instructors about how to lower materials costs for students. Most classes use traditional course materials, which are made by publishers, but ordered by instructors. In their role as supplier of these materials, the Bookstore is limited in what it can do and needs instructor help in reducing costs for students. To learn more about how to reduce costs for students, please visit their website here or reach out.

ICT Can Help Protect Student Privacy

In order to protect student privacy, the U of S has established formal terms of use agreements with a number of software and textbook publishers addressing required privacy, legal, security, and business requirements. ICT has a webpage listing the publishers who have signed agreements with the U of S. 

Help and Funding For Alternatives to Commercial OHS

The GMCTL can assist you in finding alternatives to requiring students to purchases access to commercial OHS in three ways:

  • Advise instructors on alternative forms of assessment
  • Discuss with instructors options for non-commercial OHS
  • Provide funding for the development of assessments such as test-banks

For more information about these options, please contact Heather M. Ross at the GMCTL.

Guidelines for the Use of OHS at USask

The U of S is currently developing guidelines for the use of OHS at the university. These guidelines will take into account the needs of both students and instructors.

What’s a Z-Course and How Do I Do That?


As costs for commercial textbooks continue to rise, there has been growing interest at the U of S in open educational resources (OER). OER is not only free to students, but adaptable to make the learning materials appropriate for a particular course. But OER is not the only way to reduce costs and move away from commercial textbooks.

Z-courses, as defined at the U of S, are courses where students have zero or minimal ($35 of less) direct costs for learning materials. This can be achieved through the use of an open textbook or other OER, resources from the Library, instructor notes, or other such materials in place of commercial textbooks, or as a results of no textbook being necessary for the course.

As the number of Z-courses has increased at other institutions, Z-degrees are now a possibility. For example, Tide Water Community College in Norfolk Virginia offers a Z-degree in Business Administration with the use of only OER. Earlier this year, BCcampus put out a call for proposals from universities and colleges across British Columbia for new Z-degree offerings.

The U of S has many Z-courses and students should know about them (as they do about the courses using open textbooks). As well, the GMCTL would like to work with departments and colleges who are interested in offering Z-courses and potentially Z-degrees through the use of OER, Library resources, and other materials.

To begin collecting information on existing Z-courses at the U of S, Vice-Provost Teaching and Learning Patti McDougall sent an email to all department heads in mid-August asking them to complete the included spreadsheet with information on Z-courses within their departments, and return it to me. If you teach a Z-course at the U of S, make sure that your department head is aware of this and reports it to us. If you are interested in converting your course at the U of S to a Z-course, please contact me at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning or your Library liaison for assistance.


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