Office Hours, Remotely

When we move to remote teaching, we need to consider how we will continue to provide students with student-instructor interaction. One way of offering this is through office hours. While we used to offer office hours outside of lecture or class time, now we might be able to leverage our scheduled class time to engage with students to discuss problems, specific questions, or examples.  Transmission of content (powerpoints, videos, readings, etc.)  can then be reallocated to asynchronous hours.

Determine if it best suits your course to offer:

  • group discussions,
  • individual consultations
  • drop-in sessions

Be consistent with whichever options you choose. Remind students often via email and course notifications.

Use the flow chart below to help you determine which options work best for your course.

PDF Version Office Hours, Remotely

Click on the image below to enlarge.

Remote Lab Experiences

Download: Planning for Modules with Labs

Lab experiences are often rich, hands-on elements of courses that build on learning outcomes from lectures or achieve a different set of outcomes. There are typically three key buildings blocks to any lab experience.

  1. A problem or task
  2. Active completion of a procedure or process
  3. Documenting the process and results

As we plan to offer our labs remotely, there are a number of important questions to consider.

What do you already have?

  • Are there existing online or blended versions of this course that you can draw upon? 
  • Are there individuals experienced with online instruction in your department or unit who could help smooth this transition?
  • What are the important laboratory skills that learners must have in your discipline when they finish this course before they progress to the next level or stage of learning? 
  • What other things are students expected to know and value in this course (overall)?
  • How do students traditionally collaborate and communicate regarding their lab experiences? 

Moving Forward

  • Where and how could students get ‘caught up’ in the future (as the university returns to face-to-face)? 
  • What advice have you received from accrediting bodies and industry regarding remote labs?
  • Where are the small shifts required to do this remotely?

What/how do I want students to be able to articulate or interpret?Knowledge/Values

  • Can students watch videos of the lab experiences being performed and interpret or collect data that way?
  • Should students ‘skip’ the procedure of the lab experience and simply manipulate the data (from a previous year)?
  • Is there alignment (e.g., timing, outcomes) between the lectures, assignments, and the lab experiences?
  • Do students need to be able to create or design the methods or procedures? Is it possible to do this outside a laboratory setting?

What/how do I want students to be able to do or perform? Skills/Abilities

  • Can students be provided with a problem that they can explore and experiment with at home? Could it be done using household materials?
  • Can students be provided with a procedure to follow at home?
  • Are there materials or equipment that could be provided to students at home?
  • If there are experiments they can do at home, what do you want them to submit? Data? Analysis? Conclusions? Photos? Videos?
  • Are there other ways that students can show you that they can ‘do’ or ‘perform’
  • Are there online simulations that students could participate in in place of the real procedure? 
    • PhET is a common resource for physics, chemistry, math, earth science, and biology simulations
    • has a collection of virtual labs
    • Need more options? Here is a crowdsourced list of over 200 different online lab ideas sorted by subject area

Other considerations

Another large consideration is whether or students have to do this lab in the course to meet the course learning outcomes. If the outcomes are able to be met without the lab component, then perhaps the lab can be reduced or suspended during remote delivery. If the lab is crucial to the learning outcomes, then what is the plan to get them to meet these skills? Below is a series of prompts to consider.

How will students do/develop…

  • …Outline problem clearly and Hypothesis development → remote:
  • …Experimental design (methodology) → remote:
  • …Application of theory (observing) → remote:
  • …Data collection → remote:
  • …Data analysis → remote:
  • …Uncertainties of measurements and conclusions → remote:
  • …Laboratory skills (glassware, synthesis, instrumentation) → remote:
  • …Laboratory Safety skills → remote:
  • …Team skills → remote:
  • …Reading disciplinary literature, record-keeping → remote: 
  • …Writing/communicating results and ethics→ remote:

Thank you to Dr. Alexandra Bartole-Scott for her help in developing this list.

Template for lab and course alignment Download: Planning for Modules with Labs

Why You Should Use Modules When Planning Your Course

DOWNLOAD: Planning for Modules Excel Template

LINK: Module Checklist

Take a look at your course syllabus.

What do you want learners to be able to do by the end of the course?

Review your learning outcomes and consider these questions:

  1. What type of learning activities are needed?
  2. What type of assessment activities are needed?
  3. How will students practice?
  4. How will they receive feedback?
  5. How will they demonstrate their abilities (to get a grade)?

In standard 13-week term, you would likely have one module every 1-2 weeks. Modules replace thinking about a course in units of time, but instead, as units of content or objectives. Modules can be thought of as topics, chapters, units, etc.

An online learning module should aim to include:

  1. Module title
  2. Purpose, outcomes, and to-do list
  3. Activation of prior knowledge and pre-assessment
  4. Learning materials
  5. Active & social learning with practice and feedback
  6. Major assessment
  7. Summary

20-minute video describing these 7 steps in detail

Here is an example of how to plan for weekly modules. Please note that the components of learning materials and active & social learning are not limited to the three subcategories in this template. Feel free to adapt to your disciplinary needs. If your course has a lab, please refer to the second sheet in the Excel template. 

DOWNLOAD: Planning for Modules Excel Template

Building Community, Remotely

In an online remote context, virtual learning communities (VLCs) allow us to plan for:

  • Interaction
  • Communication
  • Collaboration

This video highlights some of the reasons we might want to develop rich VLCs in remote teaching. Below are some strategies framed from instructor competencies.

Some strategies for developing interaction:

Model participation and practice good nettiquette

  • Use Discussion Forums and participate actively
  • Steer conversations in the right direction
  • Motivate and encourage

Create a safe and supportive environment/network 

  • Moderate Discussion forum 
  • Temper the dominant voices in the forum
  • Set the tone by being positive
  • Encourage and motivate students
  • Use introductions, online office hours and e-mail to promote interaction

Incorporate collaborative learning and increased opportunities for students to participate and contribute

  • Post short 10 min lectures
  • Modify course content to to include Active Learning in between lectures
  • When will students contribute and share?

Facilitate meaningful and inclusive interactions 

  • Organize small group sessions or small group study groups.
  • Be willing to put in extra effort to contact students
  • Allow anonymous discussion posts

Some strategies for developing communication:

Build a foundation for participants to introduce themselves

  • Icebreaker
  • Discussion thread

Model prompt, effective and responsive communication

  • Answer emails within a certain timeframe 
  • Set up collaborative FAQs or virtual café where students can share questions and answer them. 
  • Communicate deadlines and expectations clearly (syllabus)
  • Provide prompt feedback on assignments

Evaluate role and monitor amount of instructor contribution to discussions

  • Checklists to make sure students are contributing to conversations.
  • Check-in with ‘under-performers’ to see if there are accessibility concerns. 

Model netiquette

  • Demonstrate respect, patience and responsiveness
  • Don’t ignore questions.
  • Steer conversations in the right direction
  • Keep a positive tone

Some strategies for developing collaboration:

Foster Learner-centeredness

  • Included Group work
  • Incorporate enquiry based and problem based learning
  • Promote reflection and self directedness
    • journalling
    •  blogging

Promote and support peer learning

  • Peer reviews
  • Peer feedback

Encourage, acknowledge, or reinforce student contributions

  • Provide opportunities and choice for students to contribute and share
    • Posters
    • Video, etc.

Empower students to work independently

  • Help groups set norms
  • How to use breakout rooms or their own webex rooms
  • Promote reflective practice 
    • Provide rubrics
    • Encourage journaling


Transforming Your Online Teaching From Crisis to Community

Five Qualities of Transformative VLCs

How to Prepare and Moderate Online Discussions for Online Learning


Farmer, H. M., & Ramsdale, J. (2016). Teaching competencies for the online environment. Canadian Journal of Learning & Technology, 42(3), 1–17.

Smith, T. C. (2005). Fifty-one competencies for online instruction. The Journal of Educators Online 2(2). Retrieved from 

Schwier, R.A. (2001). Catalysts, emphases and elements of virtual learning communities: Implications for research and practice.

Thank you to Nazreen Beaulieu for your support in preparing these resources.

Start Here…Pick Two

Let’s boil this down. What’s most important for us to rethink as we use our precious hours to redesign our courses for remote learning? Work with a colleague, friend, or student to talk through your answers after you fill this out. Still stumped? Contact

PDF Version: Start Here – Break it Down – Pick Two

First, let’s take a breath and focus on the big picture.

What are two GUIDING PRINCIPLES that you want to keep in mind as you redesign and teach during this time?



Next, let’s settle on some technologies or processes that feel comfortable to us.

What are two TOOLS that you might use to support your teaching during this time?



Let’s think about what course content is most important for students to cover.

What are two CONTENT CHUNKS that you want students to know and understand by the end of this course?



Let’s look beyond content and think about skills our course hopes to develop in students.

What are two SKILLS OR DISPOSITIONS that you want students to have or demonstrate by the end of this course?



We are not in this alone. Let’s include our students as partners in this challenge.

What are two ways that STUDENTS CAN PARTICIPATE in helping you to redesign elements of this course?



Let’s find the teaching moments, and help students understand how our field is affected by and contributes to discourse around this global pandemic.

What are two ways that you can link your coursework to current events related to COVID19?



Because panic and misinformation are common and because we all need to help to flatten the curve around COVID19, let’s talk about public health in all of our courses.

What are two things you want to stress to your students about keeping themselves and others HEALTHY during this pandemic?




This work was adapted from which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


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

Ways To Limit Concerns About Non-permitted Collaboration

Are you worried about non-permitted collaboration?

It’s true, students can seek each other out for help, examples, interpretations, translations, feedback, and peer teaching when unsupervised. In fact, we often encourage students to do so as part of the learning process.  Blatant “copying” is a real problem because then the submitted work does not represent what that individual student knows or can do “without the support of resources or colleagues.”  Most students want assessment to be fair and are likely to appreciate your effort to have everyone play by the same rules.

Below are two options you may want to consider for addressing concerns about students collaborating.

Option 1:   Limit collusion by design.

  • Make collusion more difficult.  Develop more than one version of the exam recognizing you will need to deal with some administrative implications.  The variation of exams will make it more cumbersome for students to work together.
  • Make collusion less applicable.  Design the questions on the exam to require unique answers relevant to the student.  Ask questions that cannot be answered the same way by several students.
  • Articulate a process to verify students’ answers. For an example approach see, Learn how to use an oral exam (5-10 minutes per student).
  • Request students submit a signed document attesting to their honesty.  A recent post includes a sample (at bottom of post) that may cause students to think more carefully about their actions.
  • For more information on design, Download an explanation of how to transform your current exam questions into open-book questions

Option 2:  Permit collaboration and build it into your assessments.

  • Have students describe their process for consulting resources or people.
  • Provide a rubric that shows the criteria for levels of use of resources and feedback.
  • See this example of a worksheet (bottom of the post) or student pairs who provided each other with feedback as part of an individual paper assignment, this could be adapted for finalizing an open book exam.


First, Take Inventory

You might feel like the first thing to do for creating an online course is to understand the technology.  Before, you dive into that first assess what you’ve currently got going for you in your course as you have been teaching it.  Remember, the expectation is not for a fully developed on line experience, our circumstances really don’t allow for that.  And, our higher tech solutions may not stay reliable.  Some of the advice given when we first shifted to remote teaching is helpful:

3 steps for an inventory:

  1. What is the course catalogue description of this course?  The course should reflect this description.
  2. What is essential for students to learn given this catalogue description? In addition to the catalogue description, if the course is a prerequisite for other courses, what do students need to learn to prepare them for those courses. You may already have a statement in the form of learning outcomes in your syllabus.  But if you haven’t framed the essential things that students come to know or be able to do as a result of your course, listing them as “learning outcomes” now is a great opportunity and will make this process a lot more straightforward.  See our website, if you want some  guidance on writing learning outcomes.
  3. Which of your current assessments link to these learning outcomes?  You might make a table for yourself that shows these links.  It would be common for a single assessment to address more than one learning outcome, or for an assessment only to address one.   Just make it apparent to yourself how these connect.  Here is a sample of such a table.

Outcomes and assessments table

If you lay these 3 items out for yourself first, then you next start to analyze the fit considering  the opportunities and constraints of going online.

It’s Okay to Keep it Simple

As we all rapidly transition to remote instruction this week due to COVID-19, it is actually better to keep it simple.  When a friend sent me a blog post called Please do a bad job of putting your course online, I was initially offended.  As I read the post, I realized it offered some really good advice.  We aren’t trying to make awesome online courses (that takes too much effort at this stage), and faculty and students are dealing with lots of complications in their lives.  We are trying to protect ourselves and others with social distancing while ensuring students don’t lose the credits they are working for. With that in mind, here are some quick tips for rapid remote teaching:

  1. Choose to cut things that aren’t absolutely essential for students to meet learning outcome or objectives.
  2. Everyone already has a Blackboard shell for their course. Your students are already enrolled.  Use that as the home base for everything that you can.
  3. Keep the technology simple. Posting of simple text documents in Blackboard, like your notes, will be best for everyone.  
  4. If you have to use video, keep it very short.  Use small clips of 5 minutes or less if you can, and don’t worry about umms or editing for professionalism.
  5. Recycle what you already have.  Captured a lecture last year with Panopto – re-use it. 
  6. Avoid your class needing to meet at the same time (synchronous).  It will cause potential problems for students with low bandwidth and people dealing with sickness. 
  7. If you need to give a final, make the test open book if you can.  Technical solutions to proctor at distance are often ineffective or invade personal privacy.

Remember, everyone is working and learning in less than ideal conditions.  Simplify everywhere that you can. 

Other great links:


All aligned – Instruction

In higher education, we have our students do all the hardest learning by themselves.  As academics, our greatest strength is expertise, but we routinely select passive instructional strategies that have our students mostly listening to lectures in our classes and doing their learning later.  Choosing passive listening robs us of the opportunity to provide the nuance and clarification that learners need while they learn. This post focuses on selecting the right type of instructional approaches to have our students actively learning the most important and challenging things they will need.

Relationship to our Learning Charter:There are two learning charter educator commitments related our instructional approaches to learning tasks:

  • Be aware of the range of instructional methods and assessment strategies, and select and utilize teaching methods that are effective in helping students achieve the learning outcome of a course or learning activity
  • Ensure that content is current, accurate, relevant to learning outcomes/objectives, representative of the knowledge and skills being taught and appropriate to the position of the learning experience within a program of study

Aligning the type of learning and your outcome: The type of learning you want your students to do dictates your instructional approach.  If the task is to recall factual information, but not be able to use it is any way, lecture is actually a very effective way to communicate that information.  Student will still need to rehearse it (memorize) by studying in order to learn, and sadly, will often forget much of it six months out.  In addition, the most useful things taught by an expert are rarely basic facts. They are skills, concepts, and refined understandings, which novice students learn most effectively while actively engaging in learning facilitated by an expert. When we intersperse passive teaching with the right type of active learning given our outcomes, students are much more likely to learn the most challenging things we have to teach.

Choosing the right strategy:

  1. Determine the type of learning you want students to do (not just the content you want to cover) by writing or using a good learning outcome.
  2. Select an appropriate active approach, and intermix it with your passive approaches to increase the amount of student learning.
Type of learning Instructional approach
Knowledge: factual information like terms, classifications, and theorists · Passive: Tell student about the knowledge (lecture, video, reading)

· Active: Have student use the facts in meaningful ways to learn them (mind-mapping, listing, drill and practice, sorting/drag and drop)

Conceptual: ideas understood well enough to apply it in new situations to assess or evaluate, like the concept of a successful argument or the concept of balanced · Passive: Read a complex explanation, hear someone describe the concept

·  Active: Classify or sort parts of the concept using criteria, refine an example of the concept, find errors, render judgement, construct an example of the concept, compare personal understanding to an example or rubric, reflect on growth of conceptual understanding over time

Process (cognitive): use a series of mental steps to accomplish a task, like solving for X

Process (psycho-motor or physical): use a series of physical steps with the right degree of acuity, like a neat set of the correct stitches

·Passive: observe someone do the steps

·Active: Try to do the steps, put the steps in order, find errors in someone else doing the steps, predict what will happen if the steps are done wrong, reflect on personal success in completing the steps

Skill: Combing multiple types of learning to accomplish a goal, for example identify the critical parts of a complex problem, choose the order to do it in, and solve the problem correctly · Passive: Hear about or see someone else using the skill

· Active: Try the skill in context (experiential learning) and reflect on success, complete a simulation, generate a decision-making tree or matrix, construct an argument on the implications of the application of the skill by someone else, provide feedback to another person by comparing their use of the skill to criteria

Learn more:

Read the other blogs in this sequence about constructive alignment:

Read the other chats related to Our Learning Charter to learn about other educator commitments.