Transitioning to Online Instruction


As your Faculty Development Specialist, I wanted to reach out to you during this time of transition to a temporary virtual class format. Moving face-to-face courses to a virtual format can be stressful, and can create some challenges and choices that can be difficult to navigate. I'm here to help!

I am happy to work with any of you as you make difficult pedagogical choices for your courses.

I've put together some suggestions and tips for moving face-to-face coursework to the virtual format.

General Tips/Advice

  • Review your syllabus to determine your priorities. What information is critical? What information is supplemental? What information can be easily accessed by students through other resources?
  • Review assignments for feasibility. Out of class assignments such as group projects, papers, etc. can likely be kept as-is. In class testing, presentations, etc. will likely need some adaptations.
  • Review your content delivery plan and gather resources. Did you plan to deliver most of your content through lecture? Determine what absolutely needs to be delivered via lecture, and what information can be obtained through other means (such as readings, student projects or assignments, existing websites, etc.)
  • Consider your expectations for students. If "class participation" is a big part of your grade, you'll need to reconsider what that looks like when you aren't meeting students face-to-face.
  • Communicate early and often with students. Consider including a paragraph in future syllabi indicating where students should go for information about your course in the case of a campus closure (i.e. "information will be posted in the D2L Announcements" or "check your email.")
  • Don't get fancy! The goal here is to maintain academic integrity through a different format, not to create flashy and tech-heavy online courses. Use the tools that feel comfortable to you, and that make sense for the needs of your course.

Moving lectures online - Asynchronous vs Synchronous lectures

  • Asynchronous lectures allow students and faculty to interact with the material and each other on their own time. It's important to keep some time parameters in place when delivering content asynchronously. Consider the timeline for your course. If you normally cover topic Y during week 7, allow students to access the online course material, asynchronous lecture, and participate in any assignments at any point during that week. Create a deadline for all assignments based on topic Y's content.
  • Synchronous lectures allow for the closest "feel" to a face-to-face classroom. In this format, students and faculty access the same online space at a designated time. This can be done through D2L using our Virtual Classrooms tool.
  • Regardless of format, it is important to include assessment of student interaction with and understanding of the presented material. Without the face-to-face interaction, you are losing body language and facial cues that allow you to identify when students are confused. In the asynchronous format, you are also losing the ability for students to ask clarifying questions mid-lecture. Create some comprehension questions for students to complete after viewing the lecture or course material. Additionally, consider creating a discussion space for students to "raise their hands" and ask questions. Monitor this discussion daily!
  • You may be used to meeting in class once a week, or a few times a week, but with online courses, students may be accessing the material at any time. Therefore, it's important to "check in" on the course more often. Students may have more questions, be unsure and anxious, or work on course material and assignments at odd hours. Be as accessible as possible during this time to support students as they (inevitably) struggle through a stressful time.

Considerations for delivering content online asynchronously

  • Without students as a "captive audience" in the classroom, more consideration needs to be made for student attention spans for online lectures. If you would normally lecture through the majority of a 50 minute class, consider breaking up that lecture when preparing it for online distribution. Find natural breaks in the lecture, or use other resources to go in-depth after a brief introductory/highlights lecture. For example:
  • An article, textbook reading, or website may provide the information in a readily available format. Your online lecture could highlight important or missing components of that resource. Create comprehension based discussion questions or assignments to assess student understanding of the information.
  • If using PowerPoint (PPT), multiple technological resources can help you put your PPT lecture online. Use the voiceover capabilities within PPT, or use the Panopto tool to record your PPT lecture.

Alternatives to the video lecture

Faculty may not want to create video lectures for a variety of reasons, from technological to personal preference. That's fine. Other options exist to disseminate course content without resorting to recording a bunch of audio/video lectures. Here are some possibilities:

  • If your PPT slides are comprehensive, and/or include information in the "notes" section that expand on the slide content, you can simply share your slides as-is with your students.
  • Create an explanatory word document highlighting the important components of the topic.
  • Make the students do the work. Create assignments that require students investigate information on the topic on their own. Be prepared to provide feedback, expand on missing or incomplete information, clarify, and redirect as needed.
  • Don't reinvent the wheel. Is there a video, article, or other resource that has already been created on this topic? Be sure to add your own thoughts, take-away's, or highlight certain aspects of the resources. Keep your own presence in the course so that it doesn't become a compilation of other people's resources.

Course Assignments

Some assignments, such as papers and projects, may be easily adapted to the online format. Simply use the D2L Dropbox for student submissions. What may need to adapt is your communication of these assignments to students. Adjust deadlines as needed based on your contingency plan and any schedule interruptions. Be clear and consistent in your communication. Think about the questions students normally have when completing the assignment under "normal" circumstances, and address these questions through a detailed assignment sheet. Provide detailed feedback of student performance in the assignment.


Moving tests away from the face-to-face format can be quite stressful for faculty. How can faculty ensure students are not cheating, either by looking up answers online, or by sitting together to take the test? Without access to proctoring services, this is a very valid concern. However, exams can be formatted in a way to mitigate these issues.

  • Assume students will be sitting together, accessing the internet, etc. This means you will need to rethink how you ask questions. Fact-based questions are easy to look up. Consider reformatting questions to require students to apply information at a higher level.
  • Some resources to help you rewrite multiple choice questions:
  • Use the technology to your advantage. Create time limits on the exam, turn off "backwards navigation" so students can't go back to a previous question, and use the randomization option. This link provides resources for how to use D2L's quizzing features. These options make it harder for students to work together or to look up information quickly enough in the time allowed. Keep in mind, students who receive accommodations such as extended time on exams will still receive those accommodations in the virtual setting.
  • Include an academic honesty statement at the beginning of each exam. Require students to affirm that they will maintain academic integrity while taking the exam.
  • Create open-book versions of your exam. Allow students to use the resources that they (may) use anyway by creating an exam that requires them to do so. This article offers some recommendations.

Group Work Online

Group work can be conducted quite effectively in the virtual environment.

  • Set specific parameters for group expectations. Are students required to meet in person, or can they work on the project individually with communication happening via phone or online? What are the roles for each student? How will they be assessed? Etc.
  • Set up a virtual space for group work. This can be a discussion board for each group, or other virtual space.
  • Set goals and "check in" dates. What must be completed, and by when? How will students communicate their progress to you? Keeping tabs on the group progress will allow you to provide timely feedback if they group gets off track.
  • Set up a space for questions, or a process for communication. Are you checking D2L discussion boards daily? Do you expect students will email you with questions? How are you planning to communicate with the groups? Should there be one "point person" for each group who asks questions/submits group work, etc.
  • If needed, schedule conference calls with each group to discuss progress.

Video of ‘Basics of Online Pedagogy’ Workshop

If you were unable to attend one of my ‘Basics of Online Pedagogy’ sessions, you can watch the video here.

For more pedagogical assistance, contact:
Amy Simolo, Ed.D.
Faculty Development Specialist

For technological support, contact
For technical help and how-to guides to using Scranton resources, click here.

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