Online Asynchronous Teaching Resources

Welcome! The resources on this page are designed to help you make some initial decisions about your online asynchronous course this semester. For more in-depth resources, please see our Teaching Online web resources. Stearns Center also offers ongoing webinars, workshops, and instructional design consultations to support faculty who are designing online classes for extended use. Click here to subscribe to our Online Teaching Coaching newsletter to get tips, news and other information about online teaching.

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Get Help

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  • The team at Stearns Center is available to help you with questions about the design and implementation of your course, with advice about strategies, choices, policies, and interactions that improve your students' learning and your own efficiency and satisfaction -- whether you're teaching in a classroom, via synchronous web-conferencing, in the field, or asynchronously via Blackboard.
    • Check our list of upcoming office hours, webinars, and workshops
    • Get in touch with an Instructional Designer by submitting questions or requesting a 1:1 consultation here
    • Check out our self-paced courses (see below)
  • The team at Instructional Technology Services is available to help you with questions about how to use Blackboard and related tools to support all of your courses.

Ask the Stearns Center TeamAsk the ITS Team
How can I best organize my course week to week and day to day?How can I receive and locate a Blackboard "sandbox" course to practice in?
How much work should I assign, in what patterns and modes?How do I adjust the settings for tools like Blackboard Discussions or Tests?
How can I best blend asynchronous, synchronous web-conferencing, and in-person learning?How can I adjust the formatting or layout of my Blackboard content?
How can I revise this assignment or activity to fit a new modality, level, or course?How can I set up, record with, edit, or embed Kaltura videos?
How can I improve my assignment design or my grading rubric?How do I set up, use, record, and/or share Blackboard Collaborate or Zoom synchronous video sessions?
How can I engage and motivate all my students?How can my students access specific Blackboard resources?
How can I provide feedback to students to help them improve?How do I adjust the settings of Blackboard rubrics or Gradebook?
How can I create effective assessments and exams that support academic integrity?How do I set up Respondus Lockdown Browser for my students' exams?

Stearns Center Templates and Self-Paced Course Resources

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Build Your Course Using the Stearns Center Blackboard Template

  1. View our template-based course. All faculty are invited to view and explore our Sample Basic Blackboard Site.
    1. This site uses a version of our template that models the basic information you would want to provide for your students, in a clear and accessible structure.
    2. Please note that guest access gives you just a preview, but you cannot edit or even view all sections.
  2. View and download advice and resources. On the Sample Basic Blackboard Site (above) you can view our folder of resources and advice for faculty that you may find helpful: see "Facilitation Toolbox" in the left-hand green menu (you may need to click-and-drag this menu over if you're using a mobile device or other small screen). You can also add resources to your course.
  3. OPTION A: Remodel your Blackboard site to match the Sample by uploading our Template.
    To request a copy of the template, please follow the instructions here (link).
  1. Update your course site menuOnce you install the template, all the new sections will appear at the bottom of your left-hand menu. In Edit Mode, you can click to the left of a menu item to drag it up toward the top of the menu; you can click on the gray chevron to the right to rename, hide, or delete any item
      1. NOTE about rubrics: The template also has embedded rubrics that you can keep, or you can delete them by going to Course Management >> Course Tools >> Rubrics.
      2. NOTE about gradebook:  The template has embedded discussion forums, quizzes, and assignments. Each of them has a column in the grade book. You can revise the prompt and keep the activity in your gradebook; you can also delete the activity and create your own. Delete the activity from tool itself (e.g., from the discussion forum page or where it appears in the lesson).
  2. OPTION B: Add a FEW sample resources to your Bb site. If you have already developed a working Blackboard site but would like to have easy access to some basic resources, you can take a look at our Minimalist Site Outline and then follow the directions on this handout to install a set of basic instructor resources (about Collaborate, Discussions, and other basic tools) that are part of the Minimalist Site directly into your Blackboard course.
  3. Need help? For questions about using Blackboard's settings, tools, and layout, contact -- or use their call-in or chat options for consultation.


Self-paced course

Stearns Center is currently offering a self-paced course, open to all faculty and instructors. Once you enroll, you can work through the modules in order, or you can skip to specific sections that will help you with your current course design. The course has an “Ask a Question” discussion forum staffed by Stearns Center and is supported by office hours (see above) and by ITS support through

  • Online Course Development Primer provides the basic guidance for creating an asynchronous online course.
    • To access the course,
      • First log into Blackboard using your Mason ID and password so that your connection is stable
      • Then return to this webpage and click this link
      • Look for the “+Enroll” button bottom left of your screen
      • Enroll yourself
    • The course has seven modules; completing each is estimated to take 5-8 hours
      • Module 1: Conceptualizing Your Online Course (Review the Course Readiness Checklist and Request a Sandbox)
      • Module 2: Organizing and Building Your Course Schedule
      • Module 3: Aligning Goals and Assignments
      • Module 4: Tracking and Measuring Student Learning (tests, quizzes, assignments, rubrics)
      • Module 5: Engaging with Students (discussion boards and lectures)
      • Module 6: Supporting Interaction and Collaboration (including Collaborate and Zoom information)
      • Module 7: Continuous Improvement

Course Design & Organization Basics

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  • Check our checklist! Stearns Center's Online Course Readiness Checklist gives you an overview of best practices, and is a good place to start your course design
  • Consider elements of basic course redesign:
    1. Successful redesigners are able to prioritize goals within course learning, since they may face time and resource limits
    2. Successful redesigners are able to identify basic preparational knowledge that students can learn without much intervention or interaction
    3. Successful redesigners are able to identify more complex or difficult knowledge that will benefit from interaction, stepwise learning, collaboration, and/or their instructional encouragement and feedback
  • Create a communications plan with Blackboard Announcementswhich leaves a good trail, and which more students check than their email! Plan to send new announcements regularly.
    • Consider a beginning-of-the-week announcement: you might preview the coming week, share tips about an upcoming assignment, and/or identify any special preparation or required resources.
    • Consider a midweek or end-of-week announcement: you could summarize key insights for the week, emphasize connections between the week’s topics and current events, and/or highlight especially good student posts or projects.
  • Set due dates for key learning efforts (but see "Build in Flexibility" below): reading and viewing, discussions, responses, assignments, quizzes. Remember that even asynchronous learning happens on a schedule: you are not preparing an old-style correspondence course or a set of independent study situations.
    1. Students benefit from having and keeping a regular schedule
    2. Learning in a social cohort strengthens student performance and increases retention
    3. Inform students of due dates and expectations: In addition to communicating about deadlines, you can help your students with reminders about how to use their study time or preparation time. Online tasks may take them longer than they expect, and the "freedom" of online learning may make it more difficult for them to plan adequate time on task.
    4. Consider the spacing of your deadlines: In order to have students both Post to a discussion and Respond to others' posts, for instance, it helps to have two deadlines for that process.
  • Build in flexibility: This is not a contradiction to "set due dates" but an addendum, especially for learning during a time of interruption and fast-changing environments.
    1. Acknowledge working students: 9:00-5:00 deadlines may not be appropriate for some classes or students, especially classes already scheduled in the evenings. Please use deadlines that make sense for your course.
    2. Allow some leeway without penalty: During an unsettled time, many situations can cause delays even for dedicated and responsible students. Technology glitches, wifi access, family needs or emergencies, or issues of their own health or safety can complicate their work as students. For instance, rather than monitor a plethora of explanations and excuses, consider offering all students one or two "Life Happens" passes as you get started: Students can be up to 24 or 48 hours late without penalty or long explanation needed as long as they contact you to request the extension.
    3. Help students adapt: Be open where possible to how individual students may need to make other arrangements in order to be successful in your class.
      1. Students without reliable high-speed wireless may need to find a location where they can download materials and then return to their home or workspace to complete assignments.
      2. Students with documented disabilities may need additional support; please contact the Disability Services office and/or Assistive Technologies for more information
      3. Students whose own children or other family members require attention may need additional deadline flexibility.
    4. See our advice sheet about designing flexible policies for more ideas about teaching flexibly during a pandemic.
  • Consider alternative approaches to assignments and activities you know well
    • Start by considering the main outcomes for students and working backward: the goal of any activity or assignment is not for students to complete it, but for them to learn and practice particular concepts or skills. Often there are alternate pathways that students can travel to acquire and demonstrate mastery of crucial goals.
    • Sometimes taking out or altering a single step can allow students to achieve  the key learning necessary, even without access to a F2F classroom: students scheduled for a lab might not be able to gather new data or produce a working model, but they can still analyze one or more sets of real data, identify and evaluate design strategies, and/or review case studies or scenarios. For some examples, please check out University of Nebraska’s recommendations for adapting your lab session to online learning, or review James Madison University’s suggestions for labs and fieldwork adaptations
    • Sometimes reorganizing the order of events in a semester can allow you a chance to develop further resources.
  • Adapt to new challenges in time management. Teaching and learning online require different strategies for managing time. For ideas to help you and your students, check our Managing Your Time tip sheet.

Build or Add Content

  • Choose Kaltura for recording a presentation that can feature your voice, your face, and/or your slides or documents
    • What’s a microlecture? Download this guide to preparing a five-minute microlecture that emphasizes key concepts without overwhelming you or your students.
    • Consider videos for different purposes: See our Seven Videos to Engage Your Students handout for ideas.
    • Need captioning? All courses that have students with sensory impairments should already be in touch with Assistive Technologies, and those are priority cases; however, other faculty do also have access to free captioning services for Kaltura videos and other accessibility support provided by GMU’s Assistive Technology group; see their contact data on the information sheet.
    • Need video of your demonstrations? If your students need to see you do something on campus (dance, manipulate a specialized tool, perform an unusual experiment, manipulate a patient’s ankle), that doesn’t have to happen “live,” GMU TV can help: see a description of their resources here.
  • Explore open educational resources: Use Mason Libraries' own OER Metafinder to locate materials that you can use to support your students' learning
  • Consider other content sources: You don't have to invent every wheel! Check these sources for high-quality instructional videos

Building with Basic Tools: Discussions, Assignments and Rubrics

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  1. Set up a Blackboard discussion: Check these resources for setting up a standard Discussion board
    1. Students post firstNote that if you set Discussion boards to "Participants must create a thread in order to view other threads in this forum," students will need to post their own response before they can see others' ideas. This is a way of encouraging students' original thinking at the beginning of a discussion.
    2. Optional toolsSee these resources for exploring slightly different interfaces: Blackboard Blogs (which allow each student to produce a series of individual posts, perhaps on their topic of interest, and receive comments from other students); Blackboard Wikis (which can allow students to easily collaborate on answers); Blackboard Self/Peer Assessment assignment (to allow students to provide feedback to one another's assignments using questions/guides you create); or Blackboard Journals for students to post private reflective writing just to you.
  2. Consider groupsIf your course is large or you are planning to use discussions a lot, consider having (some) discussions occur in small groups
    1. You can create informal groups by creating Threads within your Discussion assignment and asking students to reply only to the Thread that has their name, their identifier ("students with last names starting A-G") or their preferred topic/issue ("What would Dumbledore say?" vs. "What would Hermione say?")
    2. You can create more formal, stable groups using Blackboard's Group tools
  3. What to assign? See a range of ideas in our "Active Learning" section below!
  4. Use assignments for minor or major projects: Blackboard provides an Assignment option to help you collect, provide feedback on, and assign grades to student written projects.
  5. Use rubrics to help provide consistent feedback. Blackboard provides opportunities to create and use rubrics to help you provide feedback to your students.
  6. Consider alternatives to "traditional" exams and essay assignments: See our Alternative Assessments in Remote Teaching handout.

Building Exams and Quizzes

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You and students both benefit when they can check their understanding of course materials regularly. In a F2F class, you may ask individuals some questions, call for a show of hands, or take student questions to gauge understanding in real time. Online, you can use both short assignments (see above) and quizzes/tests to check students' knowledge.

  1. Blackboard's Test tool will let you create quick, low-stakes quizzes (which also promote memory retrieval and prepare for complex learning) that can be automatically assessed and recorded.
  2. Use additional testing tools for major exams: Respondus Lockdown will help you create a more secure testing environment. Also see resources in #8 and #9 below.
  3. See our exam resources, proctoring guide and Honor Code advice. Our Assignment and Exam Proctoring Guide contains links and advice about creating online exams as well as recommendations from the Office of Academic Integrity about statements you can include in your assignments/exams to remind students of their Honor Code responsibilities.
  4. Note that online exams have a different approach to student proctoring from face-to-face exams. These online exams are used widely with good success; however, if the approach doesn't match your course goals, you might consider
    1. Allowing open-resource exams, and asking fewer but more challenging questions that require students to apply knowledge
    2. Shifting some exams to other assignments or projects that require students to apply knowledge in more individualized ways (see Portland State's growing Remote Exam Kit site for ideas about alternate assessment types)
  5. Decide on how to assess assignments. Feedback is essential, but it is also time consuming. Check our overview of tips for Managing Feedback to Students and our Five Tips for Effective Feedback Strategies so that you get the best "return on investment" in student learning for the time you put in.
  6. Help your students: See resources linked from our growing "Keep Learning" web resource, including a short handout you can share, and from ITS' Student Support FAQ links.
  7. Exam Design: You can use a form to request assistance in loading an exam into Blackboard.
  8. Respondus Resources Folder: (Note that you must be logged into your Mason OneDrive Account to view this folder.) We have put together this folder of instructor guides, exam instructions for students, workspace photos, zip files of practice tests to import, and additional resources. Highlights include webcam alternatives, instructions for submitting scanned photos of answer sheets during exams, practice tests, and troubleshooting techniques.
  9. Respondus Resources for Managing Challenges Concerning Student Privacy: Our resource document addresses strategies for providing exams to students who have difficulty using video at home or who need to take an exam wearing a facial mask, among other situations.

Engaging Students / Implementing Active Learning

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Asynchronous online teaching refers to a fully online course designed in Blackboard that includes all course materials, recorded lectures, and assignments. You can incorporate active learning strategies into this course in a way that keeps students engaged. The “Actively Engaging Students in Asynchronous Online Classes” handout provides tips on using web-based tools inside and outside of Blackboard to provide opportunities for students to engage with one another.

Common Active and Interactive Strategies: Even if you are used to lecturing or facilitating small group discussions, you can utilize active learning strategies to make them more engaging.

  • Microlectures (recorded via Kaltura) provide brief but effective explanations of a concept or skill and allow students to focus on key concepts. Download this guide to preparing a five-minute microlecture that emphasizes key concepts without overwhelming you or your students.
  • For additional connection, you might try an interactive lecture approach, splitting your longer lecture into small pieces interspersed with quizzes or discussion activities, which keeps students engaged through activities that can also be collaborative. Take a look at the Interactive Lectures section of this guide on lecturing for tips you can use.
  • Discussions can engage students in higher-order learning by providing an environment for peer-to-peer learning. Start by downloading our Guide to Facilitating Effective Online Discussions.

Feedback: Feedback is essential, but it can also be time consuming. Consider our overall tips for Managing Feedback to Students

Using Synchronous Teaching and Learning

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  1. Synchronous learning (real-time video streaming of your course) allows you to present materials “live" to engage with students one-on-one or in small groups.
    1. Use synchronous elements judiciously in an asynchronous course: for small optional groups or office hours. Synchronous whole-class activities are not recommended for a course that is designated online-asynchronous, since many students will have challenges meeting at specific times.
    2. For synchronous teaching, choose Collaborate Ultra for streamed video broadcast, which is featured in Blackboard, or Zoom, which can now be embedded in Blackboard.
  2. Attend a webinar: Check the ITS Webinars list in Mason Leaps to register for a scheduled webinar for Collaborate Ultra or Zoom
  3. Compare and planTo help you decide on a synchronous tool, consider this comparison of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and Zoom. To help you plan your synchronous activity, take a look at this Synchronous Activity Planning document.
  4. Need captioning? Zoom provides captioning, but Collaborate will not automatically caption videos. All courses that have students with sensory impairments should already be in touch with Assistive Technologies, and those are priority cases; however, other faculty do also have access to free captioning services and other accessibility support provided by GMU’s Assistive Technology group; see their contact data on the information sheet.