Teaching During COVID

COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of life, including teaching and learning. It presents us with a unique opportunity to take a fresh look at our courses as we adapt them to be taught in different instructional formats. The resources below can help you create engaging learning experiences for any course format.

lightbulb in thought bubble

Quick Tips & Best Practices

The PIVOT Course Checklist identifies best practices that should be addressed in your courses regardless of the course format.

The PIVOT Ideas & Tips document complements the checklist by listing corresponding activity ideas & tips to help you address the checklist criteria in each of the four course types being offered during COVID.

Preparing for Learning

At the center of a well-designed course are the students.  As you adapt your course to be offered in a new format, consider your learners and their needs.

Generation Z

Most of your learners will likely be part of Generation Z (born 1995-2010).  Here are some things we know about Generation Z students…consider how these characteristics might impact students’ learning experiences and how you can use them to your benefit in the instructional process:

  • Born with technology; don’t know life without the Internet; tech not a tool, it’s part of life
  • Get constant stimulation and have world’s knowledge at fingertips from multiple devices; limited attention span; expect things on demand
  • Assume information/experiences/suggestions are tailored to them
  • Social life is online; social media not a distraction, but central to their communication
  • Prefer video over text; communicate in images
  • Think non-linearly; prefer to construct rather than be instructed

Special Considerations for COVID-19

Also keep in mind that students may have varied home and work situations as a result of the pandemic. Students may be caring for siblings/children/sick relatives, may not have easy access to the Internet or a quiet space to work, may be sharing a computer with other family members, etc.  Consider how you can build accommodations for these various scenarios into your course.

Learn More

Seemiller, C. & Grace, M. (2017) Generation Z: Educating and Engaging the Next Generation of Students. About Campus, 22(3), 21-26.

Generation Z: Making a Difference Their Way – Tedx talk by Corey Seemiller, author of Generation Z Goes to College

PNW Fact Book – learn more about PNW student demographics


Take a minute to think through this question:

If you had to summarize your course in a 1-minute elevator speech, how would you describe it?

Go ahead…take a few minutes to jot down some notes about what your 1-minute elevator speech would include.

When prompted to succinctly describe your course, you may find that you state some overarching goals followed by a summary of the content grouped together into themes or broader categories.  You likely provide a higher-level overview of the course than the individual content topics you cover in each week (as we often present in our syllabus).

While you, as an expert in your field, may easily see how the individual content topics come together into broader themes, the students in your class, as novice learners, may not conceptualize the content in the same way.  It is important that you make those relationships between content topics explicit to students so they can develop a rich understanding of the subject matter.  And one way you can do that is by building those content themes into the structure of your class.

It is important that your course has a logical and consistent organizational structure, no matter the format in which it will be taught.  Consider if you want to organize your course into topics/themes, weeks, units/modules, chapters, projects, etc.  Try to use the organizational structure to help students see connections between the content being addressed in the course.

Within each of these organizational “chunks,” you’ll want to include a consistent menu of learning activities and assessments (which are discussed more in the following steps).  For example, each “chunk” of your course may include:

  • learning objectives for “chunk”
  • readings/media
  • assignments
  • quiz
  • resources

Replicate that same structure using the modules and sub-modules in Brightspace to ensure that students can easily navigate the course and know where to find relevant tasks and information in each section of the course.

In the image below, “Week 1” is created as a Module and the other items (Readings & Media, Learning Activities, Assessments, and Resources) are created as Submodules within the Week 1 Module.

Modules and Submodules in Brightspace

For additional assistance building your course in Brightspace, visit the Office of Instructional Technology.

Learn More

Organize Your Course (video and resources from ACUE Online Teaching Toolkit)

Organizing Your Online Course (recorded webinar from ACUE webinar series)

Brightspace Tutorials

Creating Content in Brightspace

Add a Module

Delete a Module

Rearrange Modules and Submodules

When making a pivot in instructional format, your learning objectives are the anchor for all other instructional decisions.  They are not impacted by instructional modality.

basketball player with pivot food (learning objectives) and swing foot (activities & assessments)

A helpful analogy may be to think about the pivot foot in basketball.  Once that foot is planted, it cannot move or the player risks a traveling violation.  But the other foot (the swing foot) can move widely and a variety of plays can be made while keeping the pivot food anchored.  Once you lock in your learning objectives, you can alter your instructional activities and assessments as necessary to adapt to the new teaching modality.

Backward Design

Defining well-written learning objectives is the first step in a “backward design” approach to planning your course:

  1. State what you want your learners to know or be able to do at the end of a unit of instruction (learning objectives)
  2. Determine how you will know that learners have met those objectives (assessment methods)
  3. Identify learning activities that will support students in meeting the objectives and performing successfully on the assessments (learning activities)

For a successful course, each of these three elements needs to be in alignment with the others.

Writing Good Learning Objectives

You should define learning objectives for each “chunk” of your course (see step 2 above for more information about breaking your course into “chunks”). Well-written learning objectives…

  • Are student-centered(what students are going to learn vs. what you are going to teach)
  • Use action verbs (avoid words like understand, remember, believe, know, think, feel, etc. that cannot be directly observed)
  • Are measurable

Learn More

Backward Design Infographic

Instructional Alignment

Action Verbs for Course Objectives

Learning Objectives Builder

Articulating your Learning Objectives

For each learning objective, consider how students will demonstrate to you that they met that objective, and assessments of student learning appropriate for the new instructional modality. 

Bloom’s taxonomy can be a helpful tool to help ensure alignment between the learning objectives and assessment methods.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s taxonomy identifies six different levels of thinking, organized from basic thinking (lower-level thinking skills) to more complex thinking (higher-order thinking skills)

  • Knowledge
    recall information
  • Comprehension
    interpret information
  • Application
    use information in a new situation
  • Analysis
    break down information into parts
  • Synthesis
    compile information in a new way
  • Evaluation
    make judgments based on criteria

Assessment Methods

Recognizing the level of thinking required to meet each learning objective can help to construct appropriate assessment methods.

Objectives requiring more basic thinking skills (Knowledge, Comprehension, Application) may be possible to assess with objective methods such as a multiple choice test.  Assessing objectives requiring more critical thinking skills will likely need more sophisticated assessment methods such as papers, projects, presentations, case studies, debates, etc.

There are a variety of ways to assess any given learning objective.  Pivoting in course format presents a great opportunity to re-examine how you’re assessing student learning.  Strive to develop an assessment plan that includes:

  • meaningful assessments aligned to course objectives,
  • low-stakes assessment opportunities, and
  • variety in assessment methods.

Learn More

What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?

Bloom’s Taxonomy for Course Design

Bloom’s Taxonomy Action Verbs (pdf file)

How to assess student learning and performance

Assessing Learning in Courses

Student Assessment in Teaching & Learning

Authentic Assessment

Once you have locked in your learning objectives and aligned assessment methods to those objectives, you can identify appropriate learning activities to support students in meeting the objectives and performing successfully on the assessments.

Ensuring alignment between objectives, assessments and activities is the key to a well-designed course, no matter the instructional modality.  If there’s a break anywhere in the alignment triangle, the learning experience is in jeopardy.

triangle depicting 3 elements of instructional alignment - objectives, assessments, & activities

Presenting Content

Whenever possible, provide students with content in different formats (e.g., readings, video, micro-lecture, simulation).  If you are lecturing to students in a synchronous setting, break your lecture up with interactive activities .  Give students time to engage with their peers (in a classroom or using technology tools in a remote setting).  If you are lecturing in an asynchronous setting (i.e., you and students are not connecting at same time), break your lecture into small segments of no more than 6 minutes in length and focused on a single topic.  These microlectures are more effective for student learning and easier for you to create.

Add your course content into the course structure you built in Brightspace. See the Brightspace tutorials linked below and visit the Office of Instructional Technology for additional assistance building your course in Brightspace.

Using Synchronous Meeting Times Effectively

If you are teaching in an instructional format that includes synchronous interactions (i.e., you and learners are interacting in real time, either in a face-to-face or remote setting), consider how you can best use that time together to support learning.  We often use instructor and student time together to provide students with a first exposure to content (typically through a lecture).  But in many ways, getting the content is the “easy” part of learning; the “hard” part of learning is processing, organizing, applying, and synthesizing the new information.  Consider using your time together with students to engage in the “hard” part of learning with them and provide them with opportunities to interact with one another.

Supporting Learning

Provide students with opportunities to interact in meaningful ways with the content, with peers, and with you.  Students need opportunities to process their learning, connect it with existing knowledge, and apply it in new ways.  These opportunities are necessary for students to develop a deep understanding of your course content.

If you are teaching in an online setting, consider how you can adapt in-class activities for the online environment.

Learn More

Active Learning while Physically Distancing

Record Effective Microlectures (video and resources from ACUE Online Teaching Toolkit)

Recording Effective Microlectures (recorded webinar from ACUE webinar series)

Engage Students in Readings & Microlectures (video and resources from ACUE Online Teaching Toolkit)

Engaging Students in Readings & Microlectures (recorded webinar from ACUE webinar series)

Alternative Activities for Remote Teaching

Online Instructional Activities Index

Brightspace Tutorials

Upload a Topic

Create a File and Insert Stuff

Create an Assignment

Create a Discussion

Create a Quiz

Your syllabus is a critical document and often your first opportunity to communicate with your students.  Given the new instructional modality for the course, consider what policies, procedures, and/or guidelines need to be changed or added.

Be sure your syllabus follows the PNW accessible syllabus template (with COVID-specific statements) and does the following:

  • Is well-organized and easy to navigate
  • Communicates a positive, respectful, and inviting tone
  • Communicates your enthusiasm and passion for the subject
  • Defines expectations and responsibilities; reinforces your high expectations
    • Explains access, participation, and communication expectations…for students and YOU
  • Identifies your preferred contact method and office hours availability
  • Explains how to get help (with learning, technology, etc.)
  • Lists the course schedule/due dates
    • If you are teaching a course with synchronous meetings, be sure the dates, times and format for each synchronous meeting are clearly indicated.

In your syllabus, be sure you are addressing specific policies/guidelines that are unique to the instructional format of the class.

Learn More

Facilitating Learning

“You do not teach content, you teach people.

Connect with the people and they will connect with the content.”

-Source Unknown

In order to connect with students, you must first be present in the course.  Being present is relatively easy to do in a traditional face-to-face course when you are seeing students on a regular basis.  But if you are teaching a course where you aren’t together with students twice a week in a classroom, and especially if you are teaching a course with no synchronous meetings, your active presence in the course may not be as obvious to students. Being intentional and deliberate about creating a sense of instructor presence will let students know that you are there with them on their learning journey.  And when students know you are involved and care about their success, they tend to be more engaged and more likely to succeed in the course.

Below are some ideas for developing instructor presence across 3 key dimensions:

  1. Persona – your personality, teaching style, interests; sharing the “real you” with your students
    • Create a welcome video to introduce yourself and provide an orientation to the course
    • Post a weekly announcement summarizing previous week and previewing week ahead
    • Share your “real world” experiences as they relate to course content
  2. Social – the connections you make with students and those students make with each other to form a learning community
    • Create opportunities for students to interact with and learn from one another
    • Start with an Introductions activity (discussion, brief videos, other ice breaker)
    • Use discussion forums to promote interaction and sharing of multiple perspectives (and participate to model good responses)
    • Provide timely responses to student questions; consider establishing a Q&A discussion forum
    • Hold virtual office hours
  3. Instructional – the work you do to guide and support students through the learning process
    • Provide students with choices, when appropriate
      • Learning materials (e.g., reading, video, outline, micro-lectures)
      • Demonstrating learning (e.g., test, paper, project, media creation)
    • Provide detailed and specific feedback (consider “wise feedback” model)
    • Reach out to struggling students
    • Recognize progress and achievements
      • Awards/Badges in Brightspace can help students monitor progress and recognize achievements

Learn More

Communicating with students on a regular basis is a key to creating a sense of instructor presence.  You should establish a communication plan that includes frequent communication with students.

You must also ensure that you are responsive to students’ questions and concerns.  Students can feel isolated and alone when they are not joining you and classmates in a classroom setting; those feelings are exacerbated when an instructor doesn’t respond in a timely manner. Though how you define “timely manner” may differ from a student’s definition.  For that reason, it is especially important to clearly state when you will be available (e.g., “I will check the course site and email daily during the week but will be unavailable on weekends”) and when students can expect to receive a response to a question (e.g., “I will respond to questions within 24 hours during weekdays.”).

Some communication tools/strategies you might incorporate into your plan include:

Engagement is a key to student success, especially for courses with online/remote components.  There are many ways you can promote student engagement in both the design and delivery of your course.

  • Use/Create Engaging Learning Materials
    • If creating recorded lectures, break them into micro-lectures that focus on one topic and are limited to no more than 6 minutes each.
    • Before you spend time creating something, see if something already exists…don’t recreate the wheel if you don’t have to! There are a ton of Open Educational Resources (OERs) available to use at no cost.
    • If presenting text-based material online, format the text to be easily readable (use headings, wide margins, space between paragraphs, bulleted lists, etc.).
  • Use Active Learning Strategies
    • Active learning strategies provide students with opportunities to process information, build on what they already know, make connections between ideas, explore other perspectives, talk with classmates, etc.
    • Active learning can be done even in online/remote teaching formats as well as in face-to-face classes with appropriate social distancing.  Here are some ideas for active learning while physically distancing.
  • Engage Learners with Video
    • Post a welcome video to tell students about yourself and the course (create using Video Note or Kaltura Capture).
    • Incorporate other video resources as appropriate.
  • Provide Learners with Choice
    • Choice can be a very powerful motivator.  Where appropriate, provide students with choice and flexibility in how they receive information (learning materials), engage with content and classmates (learning activities), and demonstrate their learning (assessments).
  • Be clear
    • Make the purpose of all instructional elements and decisions clear to students.

Learn More

Getting Assistance

If you need assistance designing your course and/or facilitating learning, contact the Center for Faculty Excellence.

If you need assistance with Brightspace or other instructional technology tools, contact the Office of Instructional Technology.