Transitioning Course Activities

In the event of a disruption that requires you to teach your course remotely, this general guidance can be a helpful place to start. The guidance notes the importance of communicating with your students, reviewing and updating your syllabus and course schedule, adjusting expectations and priorities, addressing accessibility and disability-related accommodations, as well as being flexible and starting small. 

Assessing Your Readiness to go Remote

Here are some quick questions to assess your readiness to move to remote instruction, and to focus your efforts as you make the transition:

  1. Have I connected with my students and begun preparing to interact with them remotely? Remember that instructor presence is critical in distance teaching and learning, the more they hear and see you the better.
  2. Have I started to modified my syllabus and course schedule to convey changes to priorities and expectations, where necessary? Do I have a plan for how to share these updates with students?
  3. Is at least some of my course content ready to be delivered remotely (either synchronously or asynchronously)? Do I have a backup plan if the technology doesn’t work as anticipated?
  4. Do I need to modify my assessments to be delivered and collected remotely?
  5. Do I have a way to evaluate assessments and record grades in a central place accessible by others, if needed on short notice, such as the Canvas Gradebook?

There are a range of strategies and digital tools to consider as you think through these questions and begin to transition your course to an alternative mode of delivery. Certain options may fit your needs better than others depending on the circumstances. See below for recommendations on what to consider, starting with Canvas.

Getting Started in Canvas

We recommend starting with setting up your course in Canvas. Canvas is 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 courses.  A Canvas course shell is created for all timetable courses at the beginning of every semester. If you haven’t already, follow these steps to publish your Canvas course shell to start using the tool. We recommend building out your Canvas course, focusing first on a few essential areas:

Additional Strategies and Tools for Key Course Activities

In addition to Canvas, there are a number of other tools and strategies you may consider, and find useful, as you transition to teaching online. We’ve organized these options by the following key course activities.

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Communicating with Students

Communicating with your students is essential. 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 campus closure or other emergency. 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 chose 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, such as Zoom.

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 Online

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 online 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, or to accommodate students learning remotely from significantly different timezones) 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 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 Online

Transitioning discussions online 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 online 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, or to accommodate students learning remotely from significantly different time zones) 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 online discussions, consider important differences between online 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 text-only communications. Here are some more tips on making online 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 useful in supporting class cohesion during periods when students my be physically far from each other.

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, or to accommodate students learning remotely from significantly different time zones) can still access the content and continue learning.

Synchronous Group Discussions

Blackboard Ultra also allows you to use breakout rooms, where you can breakout your students into smaller discussion sections and then bringing them back together in the main room. Breakout rooms only for sessions with less 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 online, 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

With its Gradebook and Speedgrader functionalities, Canvas provides efficient and convenient ways for instructors to grade remote and online 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 in need of accommodations. 

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 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 Online

During a prolonged disruption and 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 a grade. 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. As long as you do not use long or short answer question types, Canvas will auto-grade the quiz. If you do 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 accommodation, 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 Online

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 don 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. 

Running Lab Activities Remotely

Lab activities typically require specific equipment and supplies, and can be challenging to fully translate to an online environment. Here are a few solutions that may work for some labs:

  • Divide the lab experience into smaller segments, and determine which segments can be taught remotely. If you normally begin a lab session with an orientation to certain procedures or equipment, try using a video recording to deliver the same information.
  • Try virtual labs such as those provided by the ChemCollective.
  • Create lab videos that allow students to make observations just like they would in a normal lab setting. Those observations can be turned in on Canvas and graded.
  • If the primarily learning outcome of the lab experience is data analysis rather than data collection, consider providing the students with realistic data sets upon which to perform the required analysis.
  • Piazza can also be useful for group work around lab data.

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 online 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 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, or to accommodate students learning remotely from significantly different time zones) 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: covid19.wisc.edu/for-students including provides 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