Conducting Course Activities

There are a range of strategies and digital tools for conducting course activities remotely or in a physically distanced format. Certain options may fit your needs better than others depending on the circumstances, and as you assess your course and students’ learning experience over time. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. Start small and build in flexibility so you can adjust and prioritize accordingly.

On this page you will find guidance for remote courses, in-person courses in a physically distanced format, as well as lab, field and arts courses.

Remote Courses

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Keeping Students First

As you make adjustments to your course delivery during a disruption, keep your students at the forefront of your planning and decisions. Consider how the current circumstances may be affecting them, and how these effects – such as lack of internet connectivity, learning from different time zones, illness or needing to care for family members – may contribute to their ability to meet your expectations, continue to make progress and be successful in your course. Be supportive and flexible; be ready to handle requests for extensions or accommodations equitably.

Things to consider about your students’ ability to learn remotely, particularly during an abrupt or prolonged disruption:

  • Access to technology (such as a computer or printer) and reliable internet
  • Time zone differences
  • Accessibility and accommodation needs
  • Previous experience learning remotely and using digital learning tools
    • *This includes accessing academic support outside of the classroom – such as advising and tutoring services – which in some cases, may also need to be done remotely causing students to need to make further adjustments to how they learn and get support
  • Access to a conducive learning environment and study space
  • Increased likelihood of becoming sick, dealing with mental health issues or needing to take care of a family member

Using Synchronous and Asynchronous Activities

Remote instruction or activities can be delivered synchronously or asynchronously. See this campus guidance defining synchronous and asynchronous delivery, as well as modes of instruction.

As you are developing or transitioning to remote course activities, think through questions such as: Does the activity require students to interact with you? With each other? Or is it something that could be done without coming together?

Synchronous and asynchronous approaches offer distinct possibilities and, at the same time, require attention to particular challenges:

Synchronous activities allow for real time engagement and interaction.  They can include almost anything that currently happens in a face-to-face classroom, such as lectures, discussions, demonstrations, problem-solving, small-group activities, and so forth. However, synchronous activities are often best used for things such as answering questions while students complete problem-sets, vigorous discussions or office hours. Due to technical or scheduling difficulties (e.g, internet connectivity and bandwidth issues, learning remotely from significantly different time zones, or limited access to web conferencing tools in China), some students may have issues with accessing parts or entire synchronous sessions. Consider recording these sessions live so that students are able to access the content at a later date, if needed. See the strategies and tools outlined below for more specifics.

Asynchronous activities afford more flexibility and can make it easier for all students to participate. These activities may include peer-to-peer group work, recorded student presentations, quizzes, responses to written prompts and/or discussion. Staying on track and time management can be especially challenging for students in a course with many asynchronous activities. Creating a pattern for how regular assignment types will be due each week will help students with these challenges.

Keeping in the mind both the value real-time engagement and issues related to flexibility, carefully consider the balance of synchronous and asynchronous elements of your online or remote course.  As you move through the semester, continue to assess what is working well and what is not – for both you and your students – and adjust accordingly.

Managing Courses with Canvas

If you haven’t already, start by setting up your course in Canvas, UW–Madison’s learning management system (LMS). You can use Canvas as a class hub to centralize all communications, instructions, materials, discussions, assignments and assessments for your course. A Canvas course shell is created for all timetable, credit-based courses at the beginning of every semester. Follow these steps to publish your Canvas course shell. We recommend building out your Canvas course, focusing first on a few essential areas:

Communicating with Students

Communicating with your students is essential for both in-person and remote course delivery. This section covers strategies and recommended tools to communicate with your students remotely.

ASYNCHRONOUS COMMUNICATION

Canvas Announcements are one of the easiest and quickest ways to reach students in the event of a disruption. If you chose this as your primary means of communicating with students, let your students know. Make sure your students check their Canvas notifications settings to allow for copies of announcements to be forwarded to their emails. Students are emailed Canvas Announcements by default; however, some may have elected to turn off this feature and would need to turn it back on. Each announcement is automatically posted to the “Announcements” page for future reference.

SYNCHRONOUS COMMUNICATION

For synchronous interactions or communications with your students, you can use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, which is already integrated with Canvas, or Google Hangouts Meet for things like office hours or remote discussions. You may also choose to use a UW–Madison-approved web conferencing system. It is important to use an approved tool to ensure student interactions are secure, and campus technical support can be provided, as needed. Campus support resources will not be able to provide assistance for non-approved tools. In addition, users in China will likely experience technical difficulties with many web conferencing tools including Blackboard Collaborate and recording the synchronous activities for those students would be recommended.

If you choose to record any course activities, such as a lecture, group discussion or office hours, please refer to the Provisional UW–Madison Online Collaboration Session Recording Policy for guidance on how to ensure student privacy and abide by FERPA regulations.

Delivering Lecture Content Remotely

If your class includes lectures or demonstrations, consider using video. Hearing your voice and seeing your face can help students maintain a sense of instructor presence, which is especially important in remote teaching and learning. Here are some effective practices for recording audio and video.

If you choose to record any course activities, such as a lecture, group discussion or office hours, using audio or video, please refer to the Provisional UW–Madison Online Collaboration Session Recording Policy for guidance on how to ensure student privacy and abide by FERPA regulations. In general, please keep the following in mind:

  • If the recording only includes the instructor or other instructional staff such as TAs, it is not a student record and is not considered protected by FERPA. It can be shared through course-specific and public channels.
  • If the recording includes students – asking questions, presenting, etc. – and those students are identifiable because they are heard, seen or named, then the recording is protected by educational records.
    • The recordings can only be made available to course instructors, students enrolled in the course or student officials with legitimate educational interest. It should not be shared through public channels.
    • If the recording is made accessible to individuals outside of the class, written consent from identifiable students is required prior to the release of a recording, unless the recording has been edited to remove the portions that identify students.

ASYNCHRONOUS AND RECORDED LECTURE DELIVERY

Instructors are encouraged to use asynchronous and recorded lecture delivery during extended remote instruction, especially with large courses (500+ students), to reduce technical or scheduling difficulties (e.g, internet connectivity and bandwidth issues, or to accommodate students learning remotely from significantly different time zones) and to better ensure the ability for all students to participate. To deliver a lecture coordinated with a slideshow, use Microsoft PowerPoint for Office 365 (additional instructions for Windows and Mac). If you need to create a screencast of something other than slides, you can record yourself or your screen with Kaltura Capture, which is part of Kaltura MediaSpace, the university’s centrally supported video delivery service. It is recommended to limit your recordings to 4-6 minutes in duration in order to limit the file size, and make it easier to upload and download. Here are some additional recommendations for how best to use Kaltura Capture. Whatever approach you use to record yourself or your screen, you can upload it to Kaltura MediaSpace and make it available to your students through your Canvas course.

SYNCHRONOUS LECTURE DELIVERY

If you want to deliver a synchronous lecture, Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is recommended. Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is integrated with your Canvas course and roster, making it convenient for you and your students to access and use. The tool also allows you to record the lecture or event in real-time, which you can share with students afterward. This is recommended so that students who are unable to attend the live session due to technical or scheduling difficulties (e.g, internet connectivity and bandwidth issues, learning remotely from significantly different time zones, or limited access to web conferencing tools in China) can still access the content and continue learning. If your course enrolls between 250 and 500 students, you will need to set up a large scale session.

While Blackboard Collaborate is recommended as the primary tool for synchronous lecture delivery (since it provides the ability to also record the lecture), another option for a live lecture is Webex (which you would need to download if you haven’t already used the tool). Something to keep in mind is that students will only be able to access WebEx through the sessions you set up, they cannot download the tool through the university.

Finally, another option to connect with your students synchronously is Google Hangouts Meet. Please make sure you access Hangouts Meet through your UW–Madison GSuite account.

AUDIO-ONLY LECTURE DELIVERY

If you do not need to coordinate your lecture with a slideshow or demonstration, you can record an audio-only lecture. In a pinch, you can use your laptop microphone or phone. For better quality, use a dedicated microphone or headset, if available. When you export your audio, use the MP3 format to ensure broadest compatibility with your students’ devices. Consider using GarageBand (MAC, iOS) or Audacity (free, open source) audio recording software. As with any media, you can upload it to Kaltura MediaSpace and make it available to your students through your Canvas course.

TEXT-ONLY LECTURE DELIVERY

You may also decide to provide students with just the text of your lecture — preferably broken up into chunks, punctuated by activities in which students interact with the material. You can do this using Canvas Pages or a more advanced content authoring tool like Pressbooks, which is based on WordPress.

Conducting Discussions and Collaborative Work Remotely

Transitioning discussions to a remote environment can be difficult, but keeping these going during a prolonged disruption and remote instruction can promote student community and learning. This guide offers some effective practices for facilitating online discussions. The UW-Madison Discussion Project also has some quick tips and a sample rubric (see #10 on the list) for assessing remote discussions.

If you choose to record any course activities, such as a lecture, group discussion or office hours, using audio or video, please refer to the Provisional UW–Madison Online Collaboration Session Recording Policy for guidance on how to ensure student privacy and abide by FERPA regulations. In general, please keep the following in mind:

  • If the recording only includes the instructor or other instructional staff such as TAs, it is not a student record and is not considered protected by FERPA. It can be shared through course-specific and public channels.
  • If the recording includes students – asking questions, presenting, etc. – and those students are identifiable because they are heard, seen or named, then the recording is protected by educational records.
    • The recordings can only be made available to course instructors, students enrolled in the course or student officials with legitimate educational interest. It should not be shared through public channels.
    • If the recording is made accessible to individuals outside of the class, written consent from identifiable students is required prior to the release of a recording, unless the recording has been edited to remove the portions that identify students.

ASYNCHRONOUS DISCUSSION

Like lectures, instructors are encouraged to use asynchronous discussions, especially with large courses (500+ students), to reduce technical or scheduling difficulties (e.g, internet connectivity and bandwidth issues, learning remotely from significantly different time zones, or limited access to web conferencing tools in China) and to better ensure the ability for all students to participate. The Discussion tool in Canvas is recommended for most courses, while Piazza is particularly useful for formula-heavy or other STEM courses.

As you prepare for remote discussions, consider important differences between remote and face-to-face communication, and urge your students to do the same. Tone of voice, body language and general demeanor often translate poorly into verbal or text-only communications. Here are some more tips on making remote discussions more effective, as well as five specific approaches recommended by Morton Ann Gernsbacher, PhD Vilas Professor and Sir Frederic Bartlett Professor of UW–Madison.

ASYNCHRONOUS GROUP DISCUSSIONS

You can conduct group discussions using similar principles as noted above. Canvas supports the creation of groups, where each group in your course will have its own homepage including its own discussion area. Group activities can be particularly useful in supporting class cohesion during remote learning.

SYNCHRONOUS DISCUSSIONS

You can organize a synchronous discussion session using Blackboard Ultra, Google Hangouts Meet or Webex. Like synchronous lectures, it is recommended that you record your synchronous discussions so that students who are unable to attend the live session due to technical or scheduling difficulties (e.g, internet connectivity and bandwidth issues, learning remotely from significantly different time zones, or limited access to web conferencing tools in China) can still access the content and continue learning.

SYNCHRONOUS GROUP DISCUSSIONS

Blackboard Ultra also allows you to use breakout rooms, where you can break your students into smaller discussion sections and then bring them back together in the main room. Breakout rooms only work for sessions with 250 participants or less. If you need to have more 250-500 participants in an Ultra Conference, you will need to set up a large scale session.

GROUP PROJECTS AND ASSIGNMENTS

Group projects and assignments can still be conducted remotely and can help students connect with each other and create a sense of community. By making groups in Canvas you can automatically create a virtual space for students to work together. You can also create group-specific Blackboard Collaborate sessions to help students meet and work together. The Google Docs integration with Canvas through Canvas Collaborations also allows students to easily create and share Google Docs together, and submit a Google Doc for an Assignment in Canvas.

Grading Remotely in Canvas

With its Gradebook and Speedgrader functionalities, Canvas provides efficient and convenient ways for instructors to grade remote course activities, and communicate with students about their grades. See below for guidance on how to use Canvas to grade assignments, discussions and quizzes.

CREATING ASSIGNMENTS

In order to grade anything in Canvas, or with the SpeedGrader, you have to first create an assignment in Canvas. Any assignment you use in a face-to-face class can be created using Canvas Assignments including peer review assignments. Canvas also allows you to easily assign different due dates and times to different students or groups of students. This is particularly helpful if you have students with accommodation needs.

ENTERING GRADES WITH CANVAS SPEEDGRADER

SpeedGrader helps instructors grade papers and assignments more efficiently, and also provides a convenient way to communicate with students about their grades. You can use SpeedGrader to submit a grade, add typed comments, or record audio or video feedback.

USING SPEEDGRADER TO GRADE PAPERS

SpeedGrader makes it particularly effective to grade papers or test questions with short or long answers. You can add comments, highlights, strike-throughs, and even free-draw on submitted papers. If you create and attach a rubric to your assignment before making it available to students, you will likely find it quicker to leave detailed feedback, and to grade. Depending on your needs and preferences, you can also download the student submission, add comments and feedback in Word and then re-upload or attach them to SpeedGrader for students to see. If you download and re-upload, you will need to manually enter the grade for that student in SpeedGrader. If you would like help ensuring originality of student work, consider using Turnitin’s originality checker. Students can also use it to check for proper formatting of citations in their work. Turnitin and materials provided by the vendor – such as this Plagiarism Spectrum Primer – can be used as a resource to help you discuss the originality of work with students.

GRADING STUDENT PRESENTATIONS, VIDEO ASSIGNMENTS AND DISCUSSIONS ONLINE

Canvas and SpeedGrader can also be used to conduct and grade student presentations remotely. If you choose to have students submit audio or video recordings as assignments or presentations, they can upload videos captured on their phone, laptop or through Kaltura Capture to an assignment in Canvas.  You can also create Blackboard Ultra sessions where students can join as moderators so they can record their session and upload it to Canvas. You can use Blackboard Ultra or another approved web conferencing software to conduct synchronous presentations with a live audience, as well. Please remember that any recordings of students and their work is FERPA protected and should not be shared outside of those enrolled in the class. Please refer to the Provisional UW–Madison Online Collaboration Session Recording Policy for more details.

You can also create graded Discussions in Canvas, which allow you to assign grades and leave comments for each participant.

Administering Tests and Quizzes Remotely

During a prolonged disruption that requires remote instruction, consider a variety of assessment methods, using more frequent, low-stakes assessments and de-emphasizing high-stakes exams as the primary or only way to assess student work, and assign grades. There are options for take-home type tests, which students can upload as files to Canvas, or timed essay exams through Canvas, as well as other possibilities. Regular, ungraded knowledge or well-being checks can also be helpful to keep students engaged, ease stress and provide support.

SETTING UP LOW-STAKES QUIZZES

You can use Canvas Quizzes to set up low-stakes quizzes. Canvas Quizzes provide a variety of question types. Canvas will auto-grade quizzes, except those with long or short-answer question types. If you  want to include longer or short-answer question types, you will need to grade those question types using the SpeedGrader. You can also set up non-graded or self-check quizzes that students can take as many times as they want. If you have a student who requires accommodations, you can use the Moderate Quiz function to give them additional time or attempts to complete the quiz or exam.

SETTING UP HIGH-STAKES QUIZZES

While it is generally not advised to use Canvas Quizzes for high-stakes testing such as midterms or finals, exceptions may need to be made in certain circumstances. To promote academic honesty and integrity, here are a few things to consider:

Sharing and Managing Files Remotely

While Canvas is ideal for delivering content, it is not designed for easily hosting and managing files. In particular Canvas is not designed to host extra large files such as video, audio or PowerPoint files. For these reasons, consider using a file storage system such as Google Drive, Box or Kaltura MediaSpace (video files) to host your course’s files.

EMBEDDING FILES IN CANVAS

You can share any course-related files through Canvas by embedding those files from Box or Google Drive. You can embed files either through the Box integration or Google Drive integration with Canvas, or for those comfortable with editing HTML by using an embed code. Similarly, you can also embed video files through our university’s video hosting service Kaltura MediaSpace either through its integration with Canvas or through an embed code. If you do not want students downloading your files, make sure you disable download in Box and choose the “view only” option in Google Drive.

SHARING FILES OUTSIDE OF CANVAS

Box and Google Drive also allow you to share your files in other ways such as generating easily shareable URL links. However, if you share a URL, your students can share it as well, so if you prefer that the files are not shared outside of your course, you should embed them in your Canvas course as noted above.

Conducting Lab, Field, Studio and Performing Arts Courses

When transitioning to alternative modes of course delivery during a disruption, some courses require additional planning and considerations, such as lab field, studio and performing arts courses. Find guidelines, examples and resources for at the following links:

Supporting Your Students' Use of Digital Tools

Internet and technical equipment are critical to teaching and learning remotely. In addition to a computer, certain course activities, such as learning assessments and the proctoring of remote exams, require students to have a functioning webcam and microphone, as well as a robust, dependable internet connection. Here’s an overview of the technology the university recommends for learning remotely. Students access to, and prior use of, this technology and equipment will vary. To assess your students’ prior experience with various tools and other resources available to them, consider offering a short, non-graded Canvas quiz or a Google form like this sample survey at the start of the disruption or period of remote learning. You can continue to use this type of non-graded quiz or survey as your course progresses to continue to assess your students’ evolving situations and ability to participate in the course.

Please let your students know that they should contact you immediately if internet connectivity or access to certain equipment (such as laptops, webcams, microphones, digital learning tools, or printers) is inhibiting their course work or ability to participate in the course. As mentioned throughout this page, you are also encouraged to use asynchronous instruction and learning activities wherever possible to reduce technical or scheduling difficulties (e.g, internet connectivity and bandwidth issues, learning remotely from significantly different time zones, or limited access to web conferencing tools in China) and to better ensure the ability for all students to participate.

For the current COVID-19 pandemic, other helpful resources for students can be found at: covidresponse.wisc.edu/students/ including tips on learning remotely, tool access, academic advising and career services support, and more.

The following are direct links to KnowledgeBase documents for specific tool access and use:

To troubleshoot and resolve any technical issues, contact the DoIT Help Desk.

In-Person Courses (Physically Distanced)

The following are a selection of commonly used active learning approaches that can easily translate to in-person courses in a physically distanced format. Find additional resources.

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Fishbowl Discussions

Fishbowl discussions encourage full student participation, reflection, and depth of knowledge. Students are broken up into groups or teams. Each team takes turns being engaged in a discussion on a topic (inside the bowl) and observing others’ discussions (out of the bowl). Students “in the bowl” respond to an instructor prompt for a specific period of time. Students outside of the bowl listen and reflect on the alternative viewpoints.

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Minute Paper/Muddiest Point

The “minute paper/muddiest point” approaches have students write quick responses to a question to help instructors gain insight or understanding of content. Questions could include: “What was the most important thing you learned today?“; “What important question remains unanswered?”; or “What was the muddiest point in _______ ?

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Small-Group Discussions

Small-group discussions provide students the opportunity to share ideas or opinions without having to address the entire class. A simple small-group discussion asks students to divide into groups and democratically discuss a prompt provided by the instructor. A member is selected to report the highlights from their discussion to the entire class. Small-group discussion structures include group member roles (note-taker, devil’s advocate, expert, spokesperson), turn-taking rules for speaking, and team or individual discussion question worksheets.

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Student-Defined Questions

Student-defined questions help students individually reflect on a reading assignment, lectures, or presentation. Before class, students write a question based on that content and write a model answer for it. In class, student pairs exchange questions and write a response to the partner’s question. They trade, read, and compare answers.

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Think/Pair/Share

The Think/Pair/Share approach poses a question, asks students to reflect on the question, and has them share their ideas with others. Think has students reflect before speaking to organize their thoughts. Pair and Share ask students to compare and contrast their thoughts with others and rehearse their responses before sharing with the whole class.

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Lab, Field & Arts Courses

Lab Courses

Guidelines and examples for conducting lab courses

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Field Courses

Guidelines and examples for clinical, agricultural, educational and community based field courses

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Arts Courses

Guidelines for performing and studio art courses

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