March 4, 2020

Keep Teaching-Instructional Continuity Main Page

Summer 2020: This page focuses on resources supporting the Spring 2020 transition to remote emergency learning. These resources will remain available, but will transition over time to more general resources for continuity. For support designing online courses, please see our large collection of resources.


Keep Teaching!
Maintaining Instructional Continuity in Emergency or Interrupted Operations

This website provides information and resources for Mason faculty to continue instruction in the event of an interruption in campus operations. Many different scenarios can interrupt instruction, such as weather-related campus closures or shutdowns due to emergency situations related to health or other environmental concerns.

UPDATED: May 26, 2020

This page responds to the Covid-19 university-wide continuity plan:.

  • Summer session courses will be fully online.
  • Will your course(s) be online in Summer Session 2020? Stearns Center’s Online Course Primer workshop begins April 29; please contact your chair or director for more information.
  • Keep track of these and other university policies on the Provost’s Covid-19 News Archives page.

Stearns Center continues to recommend working in stages as outlined below rather than trying to create a full course transformation all at once.

  • Begin with basic learning support: Your goal is not to replicate your current face-to-face class, or to create a fully developed online class, but to use online tools to adapt so that you can support learners temporarily through virtual connections.
  • Use Blackboard and common, basic tools: To provide the most consistent experience for all of our students through this transition, we advise all faculty to create a course base using their assigned Blackboard course shell, and to focus wherever possible on using basic Blackboard tools that our staff can support.
  • Ready for the next stage? See our information below about increasing opportunities for student engagement and Active Learning in remote online courses.

 

If you’re returning to this page, please check our updates:

Below the brief descriptions here, we’ve provided expanded information on each stage, linking to resources you can use right now.

We are also collaborating with ITS to provide technical support and resources for your Blackboard course. Click the button below for more information.

ITS Blackboard Support

In any stage, you are the key ingredient for success, and our goal is to support you as you make decisions that best match your curriculum, your students, your resources, and your program’s goals.



Stage One is where we recommend all faculty begin as we prepare for online classes.

  • Even if you are an experienced Blackboard user, please check the information below to see if any ideas can help you during this transition.

Our guide provides recommendations that emphasize continuity of instruction for immediate use. We will help you identify key learning needs, choose a strategy and a basic tool or two to support it, and communicate with students. For most of those new to online instruction or those planning a (first) class session or two, these steps will be sufficient to help you keep teaching in the short run.

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View a Sample Basic Blackboard Site with Resources and/or Upload a Basic Blackboard Course Template

  1. View a site. All faculty are invited to view and explore our Sample Basic Blackboard Site.
    1. This site 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 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).
  3. OPTION A: Remodel your Blackboard site to match the Sample by uploading our Template. If you are opening a new Blackboard site right now or refreshing a Blackboard site that you have not already modified much, you can download a ZIP file and install the FULL Sample Blackboard Site Template directly into your course.
    1. Follow the instructions in the Sample Basic Blackboard Site >> Facilitation Toolbox >> Copy this Template
    2. Use this link to download the ZIP file you need.
      1. Depending on your browser, the file will arrive in your Downloads folder, on your Desktop, or to some other location you have set.
      2. Note that depending on your browser settings, the ZIP file may automatically convert to a folder (with a folder icon rather than a square gray ZIP file icon and a .zip suffix). If this happens, do not use this folder but either try a different browser or change your browser settings to stop this conversion:
        1. Change Safari settings
        2. Change Firefox settings
        3. Chrome doesn’t usually do this, but if it does, disable its extensions and retry
      3. 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
    3. This template will NOT delete any of your current Blackboard materials. Everything you see in the template will be available when you import the .zip file into your own course, including assignments and the quiz access in the weekly lessons.
  4. 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.
  5. Need help? Support staff in our virtual office hours are available to assist you during business hours (scroll down the linked page to #3). If you would like to request assistance solving a specific online course design problem not addressed in the webinars, office hours, or other information here, please submit your request here.

Open my Blackboard Site for the First Time

Stage 1 resources are designed for implementation in the Blackboard Learning Management System (LMS). If you have not yet activated the Blackboard shell for your affected course(s), or you have limited experience using Blackboard, we recommend that you take the following steps now:

  1. Try a webinar: If you have not used Blackboard before, you may benefit from watching our ITS and Stearns Center staff use Collaborate Ultra in Blackboard to present their information–sometimes being a student helps you solve teaching problems!
  2. Log into Blackboard, where a course site exists for every course you teach this semester.
  3. If you have not yet used this site, please know that until you take a final step, your course is not yet visible to students, so you have time to develop resources on your own before students see the site.
  4.  If you have not used Blackboard before, or would like a quick review, we recommend the following resources
    1. Introduction to Blackboard
    2. Quick Overview of Adding Content to Blackboard
    3. Blackboard Faculty Quick Start Guide (pdf) ( this is a 1-pager from ITS with quick tips to get started).
  5. If you have not posted files to Blackboard before, you might find the following resources useful:
    1. Create a PDF at home from a text document or scanner
    2. Edit a PDF at home
    3. Scan a document at home to make a PDF using your phone or tablet
  6. All faculty are invited to view our Sample Basic Blackboard Site. See the first instruction cluster above if you would like to import some or all of that site into your Blackboard course.
  7. Need help? Support staff in our virtual office hours are available to assist you during business hours (scroll down the linked page to #3). If you would like to request assistance solving a specific online course design problem not addressed in the webinars, office hours, or other information here, please submit your request here.

Teach Synchronously with Blackboard Collaborate Ultra

    1. Synchronous learning (real-time video streaming of your course during its scheduled meeting time) allows you to present materials “live” during your current time slot. This can engage students and will let you use your currently prepared lesson, though you may miss students who don’t have reliable wireless/streaming access.
    2. For synchronous teaching, choose Collaborate Ultra for streamed video broadcast, which is featured in Blackboard (or possibly WebEx if you’ve already registered your university account there). In an emergency, you may choose a public application that you are more familiar with, but Mason guides and support staff will not be able to assist you with these.
    3. Attend a webinar: Check the ITS Webinars list to register for (or find a recorded version of) a scheduled webinar for Collaborate Ultra that uses Collaborate Ultra. (Sometimes experiencing the student perspective helps you solve teaching problems!
    4. 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 and other accessibility support provided by GMU’s Assistive Technology group; see their contact data on the information sheet.
    5. 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: Contact Susan Kehoe or Richard Wood (who promise their teams will practice safe social distancing with you!).
    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. See a GMU Blackboard Template site: All faculty are invited to view our Sample Basic Blackboard Site. Please see the first instruction cluster “OPTION A” if you would like to import ALL of that template site into your Blackboard course.
    8. 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.
    9. OPTION: Explore Lafayette University’s list of resources for already-created academic videos.
    10. Remember to make your course available to students, if it’s not yet, when you’re ready to share with them, and communicate with students clearly about your plans.
    11. Record your sessions to provide access to students who are unable to attend in real time.
    12. Do you Zoom? Check this helpful article about preventing “Zoombombing. ITS and the Provost’s office have issued recommended guidance for faculty using Zoom.
    13. Make back-up plans: Have a plan yourself, so that if there are technological glitches or delays, you know what you can do to provide students with information and support. And have a plan for your students, so that those who find themselves with limited access, technology problems, or other constraints on their learning can still engage with the main goals of the class session(s).

Teach Asynchronously via Blackboard with Kaltura

    1. Asynchronous teaching (using uploaded or recorded materials and scheduled assignments due at set deadlines during the week) will require some modification of some class events but it will give the most students the best opportunities to participate (often a course will have 2-4 deadlines per week)
    2. For asynchronous teaching, choose Kaltura for recording a presentation that can feature your voice, your face, and/or your slides or documents (you may be surprised how easy it is to get started with) and/or Blackboard Discussions for assigning and collecting student responses.
    3. What’s a microlecture? Download this guide to preparing a five-minute microlecture that emphasizes key concepts without overwhelming you or your students.
    4. Attend a webinar: Check the ITS Webinars list to register for (or find a recorded version of) a scheduled webinar for Kaltura.
    5. Consider videos for different purposes: See our Seven Videos to Engage Your Students handout for ideas.
    6. 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 and other accessibility support provided by GMU’s Assistive Technology group; see their contact data on the information sheet.
    7. 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 Kaltura won’t capture, GMU TV can help: Contact Susan Kehoe or Richard Wood (who promise their teams will practice safe social distancing with you!).
    8. 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.
    9. See a GMU Blackboard Template site: All faculty are invited to view our Sample Basic Blackboard Site. Please see the first instruction cluster “OPTION A” if you would like to import ALL of that Template site into your Blackboard course.
    10. 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.
    11. OPTIONAL: Explore Lafayette University’s list of resources for already-created academic videos.
    12. Remember to make your course available to students, if it’s not yet, when you’re ready to share with them, and communicate with students clearly about your plans.

Find Directions for Other common Basic Blackboard Tasks

Create a Communications Plan Using Blackboard Announcements

  1. Create a communications plan:
    1. Start now: As soon as possible, tell your students what you plan to do to continue your instruction, why you’ve chosen that plan, when and how they can expect to hear from you next, what the best method and timing is for contacting you, and how they can adapt if their situation is complicated or they lose online access.
    2. Set a routine: Decide how often you will send announcements (we recommend 2-3 times a week on a regular schedule) and let students know your plan.
  2. Communicate accurately! Please be sure that you are giving your students the correct and most recently updated information about the university’s status and policies.
  3. Choose Blackboard Announcementswhich leaves a good trail, and which more students check than their email! Plan to send new announcements regularly.
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
  4. Consider holding virtual office hours: Especially if you’re teaching asynchronously, consider using some of your regularly scheduled course time to meet students in a “virtual office”: You can open a real-time session in Blackboard Collaborate Ultra or WebEx, give students the schedule and access links, and be available to take questions, give advice, or just reassure students and provide a sense of community and continuity. If feasible, consider having a “question of the day” to encourage students to stop by.
  5. 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.
  6. Set reasonable limitsYou don’t have to be available all the time. It’s fine to decide on a regular communication protocol and inform your students of your availability (“not after 10pm”) and response time (“I will respond to your questions within 24 hours except on weekends”), and hold to those decisions.

Decide on How to Set Deadlines and Schedules for my Students

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. Consider the timing of your deadlines
    1. Use business hours at first where feasible: Consider specifying due dates that are during business hours (9:00-5:00 EST) when students have full access to technical support if they have trouble. (See “Be flexible” below for more information.)
    2. Identify deadlines as Eastern Standard Time to be clear to any students who are working remotely from other time zones.
  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.
  5. 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.
  6. Consider adapting your original schedule: To maintain equal access, you should keep your course progress overall in line with the rest of the university’s timeline. However, you may adapt  the number, timing, or grade-weight of assignments, or delete some tasks, in order to streamline the workload for you and for students. Always check with your department leaders or course coordinator if you have questions. For ideas, see Stage Three.
  7. Acknowledge and adapt to new challenges in time management. Teaching and learning online, especially in an emergency situation, require different strategies for managing time. For ideas to help you and your students, check our Managing Your Time tip sheet.


Stage Two recommendations and resources will help you develop more student interaction and support you in assessing student learning. Especially in situations where online instruction will continue for a week or longer, or where you have an imminent major exam, these resources will become useful. You are encouraged to build in interaction and assessment as necessary components of student learning.

Set up an Asynchronous Discussion Board, Blog, Wiki, or Journal for Students to Post To

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 a Blackboard Discussion to create that connection asynchronously. Please also see more resources about designing assignments for discussions in the “Build Opportunities for Engagement” information below.

  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 “Build Opportunities for Engagement” section below!
  4. Need help? Support staff in our virtual office hours are available to assist you during business hours (scroll down the linked page to #3). If you would like to request assistance solving a specific online course design problem not addressed in the webinars, office hours, or other information here, please submit your request here.

Active Learning: Build in Opportunities for Student Engagement in Lectures and Discussions

Active learning includes teaching methods and strategies that involve meaningful student participation and engagement with course conceptsWhether you are a novice or veteran of active learning, it helps to think about how you might think about using active learning to support the goals for your remote learning course. 

  1. Isn’t all learning “active” learning? In a best-case scenario, yes! But students who are used to a test-for-the-right-answer culture may have learned habits of sitting back waiting to be told what to memorize. Research shows that the more that we can deliberately structure our classes to have students fully connect with the process of evaluating and analyzing material, the more we help them increase retention of information as well as critical thinking. To understand more about how to help students move from a passive to a more active state, see our quick Guide to Active Learning and Online Teaching.
  2. Consider what “active” looks like in your class. Active learning can happen in any part of your class: synchronous lecture, reading assignments, class projects, discussions. It doesn’t have to be fancy, extensive, or complicated. Check our quick Guide to Transforming Learning Tasks for the Online Environment for some ideas you can use right now.
  3. Evaluate your priorities. Where would active learning make the most sense in your class? We’re still in a teaching emergency, and everyone is overwhelmed. Check our guide for Setting Active Learning Goals to make sure you and your students are putting energy into top-priority events.
  4. Adapt your course and communicate with students. Once you know what you’re doing and why, try to share much of that rationale with students, so they can see the benefits (rather than worry that you’re just giving them “busy work”). Review our Guide for Structuring and Introducing Remote Active Learning.
  5. Balance delivery of information with student response. To leave time for student engagement, faculty often focus on creating microlectures: short bursts (5-8 minutes) of high-priority content information that sets students up for their next task. Download this guide to preparing a five-minute microlecture that emphasizes key concepts without overwhelming you or your students, and see our recommendations in Stage One of this page for Teaching Asynchronously with Kaltura in Blackboard.
  6. What about my large lecture course? In a face-to-face course, we frequently judge “active engagement” by students’ faces, though this may not always be accurate. In an online setting, you may need to structure opportunities for students to fully engage: See our Guide To Student Engagement in Large Classes.
  7. Choose a basic engagement tool: Discussions. Faculty frequently use a Discussion Board to engage students in higher-order learning: analysis, evaluation, and application of key concepts. Start by downloading our Guide to Facilitating Effective Online Discussions. For tips on setting up discussions or using other tools (blogs, journals, peer assessment), see our information in the previous cluster above about Discussion Boards.
  8. For some more tips on creating a viable discussion generally, see our resource page here. And remember the basics:
    1. If you just want students to demonstrate they know content, you can use a Discussion board for posts without asking for responses
    2. If you want a more interactive discussion, your assignment will benefit from being open-ended, focusing on challenging problems in the field, and/or related to current events, to motivate students
    3. It’s important to clarify your expectations for both student posts (length, content, level of insight or analysis) and student responses; instead of just saying “respond to a peer,” consider asking students to build on, evaluate the quality of, synthesize, or pose questions about one or more first-round posts
    4. To lower your workload, consider making discussion-board grading 1/0 (complete/incomplete) and providing collective feedback (see “Your Role” below)
  9. Establish protocols and expectations for students: It’s helpful to remind your students that online discussions and work sessions require the same level of formality, care, and insight that their face-to-face interactions have.
    1. NettiquetteConsider reminding them about online “netiquette” and strategies for disagreeing with an idea rather than judging a person
    2. ModelsHelp students understand their responsibilities using the GMU Writing Center’s guide for student discussion posts
    3. GrammarUsually faculty grant students some leeway in discussion regarding grammatical correctness and writing style, just as we would in a face-to-face classroom, but it can be helpful to be direct about “how informal is too informal”
  10. Establish protocols for your own roleDecide on and communicate your strategy about how you will join, respond to, and evaluate student discussions, meetings, and other formative assignments.
    1. Usually faculty choose not to respond to individual posts, but to let the first round or two of discussion happen among students — unless a student is being inappropriate for a classroom setting
    2. Posting an overview or collective response to a whole thread — or using a weekly post or video to summarize the high points and add your insights — can help expand students’ understanding
  11. Decide on how to assess or grade discussions or other activities. Feedback is essential, but it can also be time consuming.
    1. Start by deciding what kind of feedback meets your needs: Giving Feedback in Emergency Remote Learning.
    2. Consider our overall tips for Managing Feedback to Students
    3. Check 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.
    4. See this handout about specific kinds of comments that boost student learning in active discussions.
    5. Also see our advice, rubrics, and models specifically for grading threaded discussion boards.
  12. Ready to innovate? Maybe you’ve already tried a “post once, respond twice” discussion about key points, and you’re curious what else you could do.
    1. Consider some of the examples suggested in this short Inside Higher Education article
    2. Consider other ideas for online discussions from University of Wisconsin, University of Texas, and from Morton Ann Gernsbacher at U of Wisconsin
    3. Make sure that as you try new approaches, you give exact directions about — and, if possible, provide students with models of — posts that demonstrate the length, specificity, and analytical contributions you are hoping for
  13. 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. If you have students with disabilities, remember the resources you and they can still access on campus.
  14. Need help yourself? Support staff in our virtual office hours are available to assist you during business hours (scroll down the linked page to #3). If you would like to request assistance solving a specific online course design problem not addressed in the webinars, office hours, or other information here, please submit your request here.
  15. Acknowledge and adapt to new challenges in time management. Teaching and learning online, especially in an emergency situation, require different strategies for managing time. For ideas to help you and your students, check our Managing Your Time tip sheet.

Create a Quiz, Test, or Exam, or Use the Assignment Tool to Collect Student Work

  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.
  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. Use assignments and grading rubrics for major projects: Blackboard provides an Assignment option to help you collect, provide feedback on, and assign grades to student written projects. Blackboard provides opportunities to create and use rubrics to help you provide feedback to your students. For more about assignments, see our FAQ page.
  7. Consider alternatives to “traditional” exams and essay assignments: See our Alternative Assessments in Remote Teaching handout.
  8. Need exam-building help? If you would like to request assistance having your print exam (especially midterms or finals) converted to Respondus Browser, please submit your information here. Please allow 24-48 hours for turnaround time: our instructional design team will use the information you provide to build your exam and contact you when it’s ready.
  9. 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.


Stage Three recommendations help you adapt your teaching goals to meet the needs of a more complex or extended online learning situation. When key learning goals are difficult to meet in an online venue (hands-on labs, student performance, class presentations) or as online tools or local constraints affect the depth or coverage you can maintain, these resources will help you to adjust your goals for student learning to prioritize some facets of your course, set others aside, and/or alter your focus to take advantage of opportunities available only in an online setting.

Consider Alternatives and Adaptations for Labs and Site-based Learning Experiences

  1. Sometimes taking out a single step can allow students to achieve most of the key learning necessary: students scheduled for a lab or field experience 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
  2. Sometimes reorganizing the order of events in a semester can allow you to postpone key hands-on activities until an operational interruption has resolved or until you have had a chance to develop further resources: if students can move forward with review and analysis of additional principles during the interruption, and return to more interactive work later in the term, then the effects on their overall learning are minimized.
  3. Perhaps you can take advantage of the current situation: if students are working in community organizations that have needed to make changes, could they switch focus to analyze or create materials for this new set of social constraints?
  4. Consider alternatives to “traditional” exams and essay assignments: See our Alternative Assessments in Remote Teaching handout.
  5. Look for examples that others have created that you might adapt for your own class. (The science resources in the following list were curated by Martin Samuels of Harvard and LeighAnn Tomaswick of Kent State.)
    1. A list of online science simulations and lab resources divided by discipline and course type
    2. A set of lab simulations from Harvard’s LabXchange
    3. A collection of virtual labs from MERLOT
    4. A wealth of online STEM simulations from PHET
    5. Note that at JoVE (Journal of Visualized Experiments), all science video content is free through June 15, 2020.
    6. The American Psychological Association maintains an Online Psychology Laboratory,
    7. A crowdsourced resource collection for art, film, and other production course materials (this additional resource page about theatre & music education online is a little more chaotic, but may have some good suggestions)
    8. An in-progress resource on Team Based Learning transfering to online
    9. A webinar & slides about Teaching the Language Class in the move to online learning
    10. See resources for teaching Community Based Learning gathered by Mason’s SAIL office
    11. See information about additional Mason access to MATLAB and Simulink and 100+ companion products through June 30, 2020.
    12. Do you have other resources or tips to share about transitioning your teaching in these new circumstances? Add general resources or discipline-specific resources to our Mason Faculty Resources page — and check out what other faculty have contributed!
  6. 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), GMU TV can help: Contact Susan Kehoe or Richard Wood (who promise their teams will practice safe social distancing with you!).
  7. 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 and other accessibility support provided by GMU’s Assistive Technology group; see their contact data on the information sheet.

Look for Alternatives if my Students Need Access to Books, Articles, or Films

  1. Mason Libraries has the following suggestions:
    1. Check if materials are available through Mason Libraries or their databases
    2. Check what materials can be uploaded through their E-Reserves or found through Interlibrary Loan. Mason Libraries has prepared this guide about e-reserves and interlibrary loan options
    3. See also their guide about considerations of copyright as we teach during the pandemic
    4. Need to get access to a film? Check their Film info-guide or contact the Media Librarian, Heather Darnell.
  2. Check directly with your textbook publisher: for example, Macmillan is offering free access to resources through the end of the term;  Cengage is also offering access.
  3. Scribd requires that you sign up, but it has a 30-day free membership which could support you or students for part of the semester
  4. Check Mason’s Open Educational Resources Finder to identify other free online learning resources

Modify my Syllabus to Adapt to the New Expectations

Online learning can be as effective for most kinds of coursework as face-to-face learning–but it’s not the same as face-to-face learning. Effective online courses maximize the advantages of online spaces while detouring around limitations.

NOTE 1: Before making any changes, always check with your department or program coordinator if your course is one of multiple sections of the same course or has crucial outcomes as part of a required course sequence.

NOTE 2: After making changes, be sure to inform your students of the changes and especially of your reasons for the changes.

  1. To start, 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
  2. Where possible, use the steps of “backwards design” to focus your attention on key student outcomes and struggles, so that each week or section of the course builds toward those goals even if the pathway looks different from your F2F course:
    1. Know the top priority learning goals for each week/unit of your course: what should students know how to do by the time you reach each checkpoint?
    2. Identify which goals are primarily about preparational knowledge: prioritize the basic resources students need in order to identify, recall, and define key concepts
    3. Identify which goals address complex or applied knowledge: provide more guidance and feedback in these areas to help students analyze, apply, solve, and evaluate concepts and problems in the field
    4. Identify which goals are about knowledge creation: you may need to reimagine some projects to enable students to provide their own interpretation, build their own solutions, create a project to share, or report on new data
    5. Identify the concepts or tasks that cause students the most difficulty as learners in your course, so that you can focus your guidance and feedback on those issues
    6. Consider modifying or deleting material, assignments, or exam sections that do not support top-priority learning goals
  3. You might consider deleting some of your planned lectures/assignments/events.Remember that teaching or learning challenges in the next month may limit your or your students’ access to learning. Having a little breathing room from the outset will lower everyone’s stress levels.
  4. You might consider re-weighting or altering the approach to grades, to emphasize alternative assignments that let students show you their knowledge in alternate forms.
    1. Where possible, try only to modify grade-weights that are upcoming rather than already graded. For instance, shift some grade-weight from a final exam to some shorter quizzes or assignments.
    2. Consider moving from letter grades to a system of completion-based grading: 1/0 for complete/incomplete, or 5/4/0 for Excellent, Complete, Incomplete. This can focus students on staying engaged with material and lower their stress about completing work.
  5. Build some preparation work and some complex/applied/creation work into each week or section of your course.
    1. Often faculty use text and/or video delivery combined with a simple quiz or response task to first prepare students to comprehend basic concepts. Feedback on these preparation tasks can be automated (multiple-choice quizzes), completion-based (1 point/0 points), or collective (summary of key discussion points) rather than individualized and labor-intensive.
    2. Often faculty use interactive tasks (discussions, wikis, team projects, assignments) to focus students on applied/creation tasks, provide opportunities for peer collaboration or review, and use more extended rubrics or feedback models to direct and assess student learning.
  6. Take advantage of the options provided in an online setting
    1. Post materials that students can rewind, review, rewatch, and reconsider, and ask them additional questions to guide their attention and challenge their recall
    2. Create quick zero-credit or completion-credit quizzes so that students can quickly self-assess on their learning
    3. Hear from all students, not just a few, about their understanding of material, via your discussion or journal options
    4. Pose more difficult, in-depth problems for students to solve and post to a discussion or assignment
  7. Consider alternatives to “traditional” exams and essay assignments: See our Alternative Assessments in Remote Teaching handout.
  8. Want some more course design ideas? The Association of College and University Educators has posted a free quick video course to get faculty up to speed with online teaching. See national experts Michael Wesch and Flower Darby cheerfully coach you through best practices in 3-minute videos with helpful handouts
  9. Need more help? Support staff in our virtual office hours are available to assist you during business hours (scroll down the linked page to #3). If you would like to request assistance solving a specific online course design problem not addressed in the webinars, office hours, or other information here, please submit your request here.

 



For additional resources and guides, please see our information for Planning Ahead so that your next course is “Emergency Proof,” and for Strategies for Teaching you can use in developing specific assignments for a class you’re teaching now.