Strategies for moving course online

How to facilitate your class online in the context of COVID-19 related disruptions

As you make plans for moving your class online during an emergency, focus on what tasks you are trying to accomplish:

Communicate with students

How: We recommend using the Nexus Quickmail block when you need to communicate with your class. Alternatively, you can choose "Email Class" from your course in WebApps to communicate with your students.


Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your class(es)—whether a planned absence on your part, or because of a disruption impacting all or part of campus. You'll want to let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations. Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and save you dealing with individual questions.

Keep these principles in mind:

  • Communicate early and often: Let students know about changes or disruptions as early as possible, even if all the details aren't in place yet, and let them know when they can expect more specific information. Don't swamp them with email, but consider matching the frequency of your messages with that of changes in class activities and/or updates to the broader crisis at hand (for example, the campus closure is extended for two more days; what will students need to know related to your course?).
  • Set expectations: Let students know how you plan to communicate with them, and how often. Tell students both how often you expect them to check their email, and how quickly they can expect your response. Let them know, too, if you are using the Nexus Quickmail tool, since they may need to update their Nexus notification preferences.
  • Manage your communications load: You will likely receive some individual requests for information that could be useful to all your students, so consider keeping track of frequently asked questions and sending those replies out to everyone. This way, students know they might get a group reply in a day versus a personal reply within an hour. Also, consider creating an information page in Nexus, and then encourage students to check there first for answers before emailing you.


Distribute course materials and readings

How: Nexus


You will likely need to provide additional course materials to support your changing plans, from updated schedules to readings that allow you to shift more instruction online. In a pinch, providing some new readings and related assignments may be your best bet for keeping the intellectual momentum of the course moving.

Considerations when posting new course materials:

  • Make sure students know when new material is posted: If you post new materials in Nexus​​​ be sure to let students know what you posted and where. You might even ask that they change their Nexus notification preferences to alert them when new materials are posted. 
  • Keep things phone friendly: In a crisis, many students may only have a phone available, so make sure you are using mobile-friendly formats, PDFs being the most common. Consider saving other files (for example, PowerPoint presentations) to PDFs, which are easier to read on phones and tablets, and keep the file size small. It is fairly easy to reduce the size of PDF files using Adobe Acrobat, and there are online tools that do the same thing (for example, search Google for "PDF file size"). Videos take lots of bandwidth, so only require them if you are confident students will have access to them during the disruption. You may also consider using Google G-Suite (including Google Drive, Docs, Sheets and Slides).


Deliver lectures

How:  Live/Synchronous Lectures: Zoom + Pre-record Asynchronous Lectures: Ensemble

Live/Synchronous Lectures: Zoom

Zoom is a video conferencing application where many individuals can join the same meeting and share audio and video. It also allows for screen sharing and presentation mode. There is also the option to record the session to your computer so that you can upload it to Nexus for individuals to view on demand. Union College has an institutional license so users can immediately access the tool by going to and logging in using their Union credentials. Your Union College licensed account can hold up to 300 participants. Read Teach Live Courses with Zoom (quick start guide), How Can I Use Zoom to Teach? (longer guide), as well as the ITS Zoom Knowledge Base article for more information and guidance. You can link to the  Attend Classes with Zoom quick start guide for students in your Nexus course.

Equipment you will need: 

  • Device with a good Internet connection.
  • Headphones or earbuds (optional)
  • Microphone (if possible, a separate microphone can be better than your device's built in)
  • Web camera (optional, preferred for face-to-face contact)


  • Consider getting setup with an Zoom for a short test to see if it works for you BEFORE an emergency situation occurs.
  • Try to connect via a wired Ethernet jack (versus wireless connection). This prevents WiFi dropouts and speed issues.
  • If connecting from a laptop, plug in the laptop wall power. Battery use can adversely affect video quality.
  • Test the connection before the call; this is strongly recommended: Go to the Zoom site to test your audio connection or test your video connection.
  • Ensure that you have a camera, microphone, and headphones or speakers available. Earbuds or headphones are preferable to avoid audio feedback and echo. Most modern laptops and all-in-one desktops have a headphone jack, microphone, and speakers built in.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and how you appear visually:
    • Call from a quiet location with no background noise.
    • Close blinds on windows so that you are easier to see on video.
    • Wear neutral, solid-colored clothing. Avoid black, white, or striped clothing.
    • Be aware of your behavior. Because you are on a video conference, people can see what you are doing at all times.
  • Be aware that ITS cannot troubleshoot remote connections in non-Union locations, because there are many equipment configurations and network connectivity options.
  • Send a note to students instructing them to follow all instructions in the video conferencing invitation and note important supplemental information, such as a backup phone number in case you are disconnected. 
  • As host of a Zoom session, you can mute participants when their background noise becomes distracting.
  • Zoom has a breakout room feature that allows you to put students into small groups and then bring them back for large discussion.
  • If you are faculty or staff and want to retain your Zoom Cloud recordings longer than the rolling 120 day retention policy, contact ITS to setup a "Zoom to Panopto media workflow" to your Panopto Video Library (see below). Setting up this workflow means any future recording you make to the Zoom cloud will automatically copy the "Speaker View" version over to your Ensemble video library without you having to do anything.

Pre-record Asynchronous Lectures: Panopto

Panopto allows you to record your voice and screen, complete easy edits, and upload your video to a place where students can view in Nexus


  • Consider getting setup with Panopto and downloading the Panopto recorder tool for a short test to see if it works for you BEFORE an emergency situation occurs. 
  • Consider using a microphone if at all possible to increase sound quality. One option many people use is pairing an existing bluetooth or wired headset you might have for your phone with your computer. Learning Environments also has a limited number of microphones that can be loaned out to faculty.
  • Some instructors draft scripts before recording, others might refer to a brief outline or try a few takes before completing a recording with which they are happy
  • More information about using Panopto can be found on the ITS Knowledge Base.


Run lab activities

One of the biggest challenges of teaching during a building or campus closure is sustaining the lab components of classes. Since many labs require specific equipment, they are hard to reproduce outside of that physical space.

Considerations as you plan to address lab activities:

  • Take part of the lab online: Many lab activities require students to become familiar with certain procedures, and only physical practice of those processes will do. In such cases, consider if there are other parts of the lab experience you could take online (for example, video demonstrations of techniques, online simulations, analysis of data, other pre- or post-lab work), and save the physical practice parts of the labs until access is restored. The term might get disjointed by splitting up lab experiences, but it might get you through a short campus closure.
    • Tip! You might consider having your students watch videos of experiments; you can ask your students to first make predictions and then discuss the results.
  • Investigate virtual labs: Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some labs (for example, virtual dissection, night sky apps, video demonstrations of labs, simulations). Those vary widely by discipline, but check with your textbook publisher, Schaffer Library (Jennifer Grayburn), the Imagine Lab (Cole Belmont), or sites such as Primo for materials that might help replace parts of your lab during an emergency.
    • Tip! MERLOT offers a collection of virtual labs in a variety of science disciplines; PHET offers interactive simulations that allow students to vary parameters; and many textbooks also provide interactive lab-based resources; ChemCollective (joint project from NSF, Carnegie Mellon, and NSDL) offers free, online chem lab simulations for topics including Stoichiometry, Thermochemistry, Equilibrium, Acid-Base Chemistry, Solubility, Oxidation/Reduction and Electrochemistry, Analytical Chemistry/Lab Techniques; eScienceLabs and Hands-On Labs are fee-based services that will work with faculty to create custom online and hands-on lab kits for your course;
  • Provide raw data for analysis: In cases where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected, and then provide some raw sets of data for students to analyze. This approach is not as comprehensive as having students collect and analyze their own data, but it might keep them engaged with parts of the lab experience during the closure.
    • Tip! One type of question you may want to ask students involves providing them with a random sequence of steps involved in the experimental methodology, and asking them to put them in the correct logical order. This requires students to critically understand why each step has to come before the next in a protocol. You can also provide students with a blank step, which they would need to fill in for themselves once they identify what step is missing. An example of such a question from LabXchange can be found here (click on "Design" on the right-hand side).
  • Explore alternate software access: Some labs require access to specialized software that students cannot install on their own computers. Depending on the nature of the closure (for example, a building versus the entire campus), the ITS Learning Environments team might be able to help set up alternate computer labs that have the software your students need.
  • Increase interaction in other ways: Sometimes labs are more about having time for direct student interaction, so consider other ways to replicate that level of contact if it is only your lab that is out of commission.


Foster communication and collaboration among students

How: Nexus Forum DiscussionsNexus Perusall Article/Chapter Collaborative AnnotationsZoom 


Fostering communication among students is important because it allows you to reproduce any collaboration you build into your course, and maintains a sense of community that can help keep students motivated to participate and learn. It helps if you already had some sort of student-to-student online activity (for example, Nexus Forum Discussions) since students will be used to both the process and the tool.

Consider these suggestions when planning activities:

  • Use asynchronous tools as needed: Synchronous learning should be emphasized, and having students participate in live Zoom conversations can be useful, but scheduling may be a problem, and only a few students may actively participate (just like in your classroom). In such cases, using asynchronous tools like Nexus Forum Discussions, or Perusall Article/Chapter Discussions allows students to participate on their own schedules. Kialo is another online discussion tool that provides students a visual way to see how an argument is constructed and defended. In addition, bandwidth requirements for discussion boards/tools are far lower than for live video tools.
  • Link to clear goals and outcomes: Make sure there are clear purposes and outcomes for any student-to-student interaction. How does this activity help them meet course outcomes or prepare for other assignments?
  • Build in simple accountability: Find ways to make sure students are accountable for the work they do in any online discussions or collaborations. Assigning points for online discussion posts can be tedious, so some instructors ask for reflective statements where students detail their contributions and reflect on what they learned from the conversation.
  • Balance newness and need: As with any changed activities, you will need to balance the needs and benefits of online collaboration with the additional effort such collaboration will require on everyone else's part. Learning new technologies and procedures might be counterproductive, particularly in the short term, unless there is clear benefit.


Collect assignments + assess student learning

How: Nexus

Tips: An excellent way to reduce the transmission of viruses on print-outs is to have students take quizes on, as well as submit assignments to, Nexus–the College's learning management system. This allows faculty to grade, provide feedback, and return quizzes and assignments to students 100% online.

  • Nexus has a feature to collect assignments digitally, provide students feedback and share student grades. This is widely used by faculty at Union College to collect papers and other digital projects.
  • An alternative way in Nexus to collect, grade assignments and provide feeedback to students is through Google Assignments. The tool includes an "originality report" feature that is similar to Turnitin in that it scans the submitted assignment and checks it with anything on Google to find potential plagiarism. If studetts are turning in papers in pdf, Word, or Google Doc formats, Google Assignments is worth exploring.
  • Nexus allows you to communicate individual grades, category grades, and total grades with students digitally and confidentially. This is facilitated by the Nexus gradebook.
  • Nexus has a capable Quiz feature that allows instructors to author multiple choice and open-ended questions fairly easily. It also allows support for both matching and fill in the blank question types. The options available within a Quiz allow you to control when each Quiz is available and what is released to students. You can also analyze how students perform by question and see general information about a student's performance on the assessment (time to complete, etc.). Once a Quiz is published, there is also a feature enabling you to provide extra time and other accommodations that might be in place for specific students via the Accommodative Services Office.

 Please contact our Learning Design and Digital Innovation (LDDI) team for help and more information.

Keep Teaching! During prolonged campus or building closures Home Page

[With appreciation, the above recommendations were compiled/modified from Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning and the Indiana University, Teaching and Learning Center]


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Article ID: 100281
Sun 3/8/20 11:13 PM
Wed 4/6/22 1:04 PM