Remote Teaching and Instructional Continuity

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, USF will shift to primarily remote instruction for the Fall 2020 semester. The Instructional Design team has curated resources to support faculty in this transition to engage online students and maintain instructional continuity.

ID Remote Instruction eNewsletter

Dear Faculty,

The start of fall semester is fast approaching. We hope you are feeling confident, and maybe even a little bit excited, about leveraging some of your new remote teaching skills and trying out the innovations you’ve been planning for this new course modality over the summer.

We’ve put together a brief checklist for you on things to think about and do before your first day of synchronous class. If you have any questions, concerns or need some additional help, please do not hesitate to reach out to ETS for a quick answer or to schedule a consultation. You can email us at (for remote course design questions), (for Canvas or Zoom questions) or schedule a consultation with either of us through our new appointment tool.

It has been a pleasure getting to know you through our workshops and trainings this summer, and we wish you the best of luck in the coming weeks. We know you can do it, and we’re here to help at every turn!

Faculty Pre-Semester Remote Instruction Checklist

  • Publish your Canvas course (ASAP). Your students cannot access the content and activities in your Canvas course until it is published. In addition to publishing the overall course, make sure all pages, activities and assignments you’d like students to be able to see are also published.
  • Communicate your first week plan with your students (ASAP). You can do this through email or a Canvas announcement (or both!). Include when you will meet, how you will meet (your Zoom meeting information), point them to your netiquette policy, and make clear any other expectations for your first meeting.
  • Check-in with students regarding potential access issues and their situation at home. You may have a student with poor internet bandwidth, located overseas, or without access to a quiet space to participate in class. It is important you are aware of these issues and are prepared to be flexible. Consider importing our template survey into your Canvas course to easily query your students. (Use this tutorial to import the survey into your course from Canvas Commons.)
  • Consider publishing an ‘Introduce Yourself’ discussion forum so students can begin introducing themselves to one another. Respond to students’ posts, and introduce yourself in the forum as well. This is a great way to create community and demonstrate your interest in your students as individuals.
  • Make a plan for how you intend to build community in your course. Building relationships with you and fellow students is critical to your students’ success in your course and is more challenging in the remote environment. Be intentional about building community in your course during the first week and continue throughout the semester.
  • Plan to host online office hours during your typical office hour window. Make sure students know how to access these office hours (open Zoom room, by appointment). Consider planning additional office hours for increased flexibility and to accommodate students in different time zones.
  • Point students to the university's guide for students for preparing for the remote semester. It includes recommendations like checking your internet speed, giving Zoom a test drive, and where to get technical support.
  • Practice using Zoom. Make sure you have the most recent version of Zoom downloaded onto your computer, (there have been a few new versions this summer) and organize a time to meet up with a few friends so you can try out functions like breakout rooms for small group work and discussions.

A Google Docs version of this checklist can be found here.

Dear Faculty,

We hope your first week of our fall remote semester has gotten off to a smooth start!

As a follow-up to Provost Cannon’s communications this week around the start of wildfire season and planned PG&E rolling black-outs, we wanted to provide some suggestions on how to plan for synchronous class session alternatives, in the event you or your students miss a class session due to loss of power or internet. Below is a list of considerations for both you and your students.

As always, if you have any questions, concerns or need some additional help, please do not hesitate to reach out to ETS for a quick answer or to schedule a consultation. You can email us at (for remote course design questions), (for Canvas or Zoom questions) or schedule a consultation with either groups through our new appointment tool

Suggestions for Synchronous Class Session Alternatives

  • Record your synchronous class session and/or prepare low/no bandwidth alternative activities (Faculty) - There are many types of remote instruction activities which qualify as remote ‘seat time’ but that are not synchronous, including viewing recorded class sessions and recorded lectures, and reviewing course notes and slides. Plan for how you will weave the alternative activities back into your next synchronous meeting. Refer to our Credit Hour Equivalents for Remote Instruction document for some ideas, and make sure to review our recommendations below regarding recording, instructor created videos, discussion boards, and more.
  • Let your students know you intend to be flexible (Faculty) - Students may be concerned if your Zoom class suddenly cuts out due to either your or their loss of internet. Proactively communicate to your students that you intend to be flexible, will communicate with them as soon as you are able, and that alternative activities and assignments will be provided for them to stay on track.
  • Check-in with your students to see if they are okay (Faculty) - Last week, we suggested surveying your students in preparation for the semester, including identifying their location. (You can preview the survey here.) Use the data you’ve collected to notice if you have a student in an affected area, and consider checking in with them individually to see how they are doing.
  • Confirm you can access Canvas, Zoom, and your USF email on your phone. (Faculty and Students) Canvas and Zoom offer mobile apps for you to check course materials and send messages on the go if you don’t have access to a computer or electricity. Additionally, confirm you can access your USF email from your mobile device. Note: Zoom will significantly reduce your battery life — avoid extended synchronous meetings if you do not have power. Contact the ITS Help Desk at (415) 422-6668 if you have trouble installing Canvas, Zoom, or your email on your mobile device.
  • Sign up for PG&E outage notifications (Faculty and Staff in Northern California) - You can sign up for PG&E notifications (via email, text or phone) regarding planned public safety planned outages. If you are aware you will have an upcoming outage, prepare an alternative to live class and communicate with your students accordingly. Encourage your students to notify you if there is a planned outage in their area so you can arrange an accommodation. Make sure to keep all of your devices fully charged and consider including a portable power charger in your emergency kit.

Low/No Bandwidth Alternative Activity Recommendations

  • Record your synchronous class sessions (Faculty) - Recording your Zoom class session is as simple as clicking ‘Record’ at the beginning of class, or even pre-setting all of your class sessions to automatically record. Make sure to record to the cloud, and enable auto transcription. (An important feature for students with hearing disabilities). Once your recording is available (you’ll receive an email), post or email your students the link. In your cloud recording settings, enable the ability for viewers to download so that students can view the video if their electricity goes out. Have questions or concerns about recording your synchronous classes, check out our Synchronous Class Session Recording FAQ (in progress).
  • Record and post your lecture for viewing offline - In addition to hosting meetings and classes, Zoom can be used to record lectures. If your wifi is out, you can use your phone to record short videos, Quicktime (on a Mac) to record short videos, screencasts or slide-based lectures, and the Canvas media uploader tool or the Canvas Teacher App to upload the files to Canvas (Note, the Canvas storage limit is 2GB). Focus on developing micro-lectures — 2-10 minutes each, limited to 1-2 subjects and with 5-7 focused content points, and make sure the files are set to download so your students can view them offline. (We’ll share more on the benefits of asynchronous learning in future communications.)
  • Post or email your slides to students and provide a related assignment - Consider adding in reflection activities or other types of activities that do not require a lot of instructions. For example, consider taking a current content point and asking students to relate it to a real-world application, their own experience, or their predictions for how it will evolve over time.
  • Create a discussion board assignment - Participation in a discussion board counts as remote ‘seat time’, does not require participation at a particular time like a synchronous class, and students can also prepare their posts offline, and add them to the board once their access is restored.
  • Distribute Worksheets - Consider preparing worksheets or other types of assignments students can complete offline and upload to Canvas once their power is back on. If students have hard copies of assignments, then they can download a phone app to use as a scanner to convert their documents to a PDF, and then submit using the Canvas Student App.

Dear Faculty,

As some of you may have noticed, Zoom briefly went down yesterday morning. To be sure, this is not a regular occurrence. In fact, there was only one report of Zoom going down, very briefly, during all of our remote instruction in spring semester. Nevertheless, it is good to be prepared with a plan in the event this happens while you are teaching.

As always, if you have any questions, concerns or need some additional help, please do not hesitate to reach out to ETS for a quick answer or to schedule a consultation. You can email us at (for remote course design questions), (for Canvas or Zoom questions) or schedule a consultation with either groups through our new appointment tool.

Suggestions for What to Do if Zoom Goes Down While Teaching

  • Confirm that Zoom is indeed down - You could have experienced a loss of connection at home or Zoom could indeed be down. Try logging back into your Zoom session a few times. If that doesn’t work, check your internet connection. If the connection is fine, check the USF ITS Systems Status Updates page to confirm the outage. ITS will also send out a campus wide email notification once they’ve confirmed the extent of the issue. They will also let everyone know once it’s back up.
  • Email your students to let them know your corrective plan - Send a class email using your DonsApps email to your students letting them know that Zoom is down and what next steps you have in mind. For example, “If Zoom is back by 12:00, we will resume class then. If it is not back by 12:00, I plan to record my lecture and post a knowledge check quiz on Canvas by the end of the day today that I’d like you to have completed by our next class session.” Make sure to remind your students that you intend to be flexible.
  • Consider sending a class Canvas announcement in place of or in addition to an email - A great alternative to DonsApps email communication with students is the announcements feature in Canvas. Sending a Canvas announcement comes with the added bonus of students receiving a ‘push notification’ to their mobile phones if they have the Canvas App. A push notification is a message that pops up on a mobile device. (Note, students are able to opt out of push notifications on the Canvas App so it’s not a guarantee they will get the pop up message. Access support resources regarding the Canvas App.) Alternatively, some faculty use apps like Remind or GroupMe to set up class text messaging groups.
  • Two primary options for make-up class if Zoom does not resume in time to proceed with class - There are two primary back-up options for you to consider if Zoom does not resolve quickly enough for you to continue with class as planned. In order to be flexible to your students, you might consider offering more than one of these so they have options.
    1. Switch to Google Meet - Google Meet is a video-conferencing tool similar to Zoom that is available to us at USF through the Google Apps suite. You can access it using the Google Apps menu from your Dons Email account. If you’d like to go this route, we recommend getting familiar with Google Meet now, organizing a back-up meeting room, and communicating to your students now that this is the plan if Zoom ever goes down. (Google Meet resources: Cheat Sheet and Start a Google Meet video meeting) Google Meet does not have all of the bells and whistles of Zoom, e.g. break-out rooms, but is a good tool and is quickly evolving. Keep in mind that if you have students living in China, they will not be able to use this tool.
    2. Plan to sub in an asynchronous class activity - Reference our post from last week about recommended low/no bandwidth alternative activities to Zoom.
  • Promote your office hours, and consider extending them, for students who are confused or concerned - Students may feel anxious or confused if they’ve suddenly lost connection to class or aren’t clear how the time will be made up. Make sure to remind your students about your virtual office hours, where you can provide additional clarification 1:1, and consider extending your office hours to provide guided instruction.

Dear Faculty,

You’ve made it to week three of our first fully remote fall semester. We hope that, after some initial bumps in the road, you’re feeling more comfortable and beginning to experience some sort of ‘new normal’.

This week we’re bringing you a few suggestions around rhythm and routine in your course.

This topic is partly motivated by my recent experience as a parent of a first-time remote learning kindergartener. In the last three weeks our family has had the unique opportunity to preview the rhythm and routine of three different remote kindergarten classrooms—each with similar curriculum but very different schedules, distribution of synchronous and asynchronous instruction, and amounts of screen time. While I’m not suggesting that 5 year olds compare with late teens, early 20s or even adult learners, I’ve been struck by the universality of online course design best practices.

In closing, here is a quick plug for our Fall 2020 ‘Wisdom of Another’ Remote Instruction Workshop Series, a series of workshops which will combine research-informed course design best practices with the real world experiences of USF part-time and full-time faculty members. Our first session, Sustaining Community through the Screen, will feature Dr. Danny Domínguez from the Marriage and Family Therapy program in the School of Education (9/22 and 10/1).

As always, if you have any questions, concerns, or need some additional help, please do not hesitate to reach out to ETS for a quick answer or to schedule a consultation. You can email us at (for remote course design questions), (for Canvas or Zoom questions) or schedule a consultation with either groups through our new appointment tool.

Kind regards,
Susan Zolezzi, Associate Director of Instructional Design

Suggestions for Establishing Rhythm and Routine in your Remote Course

  • Determine what the right balance is between synchronous and asynchronous instruction in your course: A recent EDUCAUSE Review article about blended online course delivery outlines some of the strengths of each modality:

    Synchronous time can be scheduled for those activities where students need the support of faculty and peers, such as during group work and complex problem-solving activities, collaborative and discovery learning exercises, and peer feedback and critique sessions. When students require practice with problem sets or need time to increase their proficiency, they may benefit from an asynchronous environment. Asynchronous learning allows students to acquire new knowledge and practice skills at a pace that is optimal for their learning. This could potentially reduce the anxiety of students who fear they can't keep up with their peers.”  — Farmer (2020), 6 Models for Blended Synchronous and Asynchronous Online Course Delivery on EDUCAUSE Review

  • Establish a predictable rhythm and routine for each week of your course. Knowing what to expect will reduce stress for students (during a particularly stressful time!), help them focus on their learning and participation, plan their time, and establish their own daily routines. For more on organizing your course, check out ACUE’s Online Teaching Toolkit.
  • Establish a format you’ll follow in each class session. Lecturing for 3+ consecutive hours in an in-person class is hard enough. Convert that directly online, and you’ll quickly lose your students’ attention and exhaust yourself:

    Limited attention spans combined with the primacy-recency effect suggest that it is generally most productive to divide class time into short segments of about twenty minutes, introducing new materials at the beginning then giving students opportunity to process the new learning, and moving on to closure activities toward the end.”  — Barkley (2010)

  • Communicate your routine and reiterate it weekly. Students will benefit from an additional communication at the beginning of each week reminding them of what’s planned for the week ahead. Call out anything out of the ordinary. Consider using Canvas announcements to send this message so that students can easily reference it with the rest of their course materials.
  • Make sure your Canvas course reinforces your routine and schedule. If you’re using the Dons Remote Template for Canvas, you already have a model course structure set up for each week (or other unit of study) in the modules section of your course. Make sure these modules are consistent and clearly mirror the schedule you’ve developed. This helps students focus on the content and activities at hand rather than navigation.
  • Consider how you can incorporate more small group or individual support for your students. Student connection and support (from you and fellow students) is key to students feeling motivated and set up for success in online courses. Determine ways to connect individually or in small groups with students, e.g. mandate a 15 minute individual check-in during office hours or use a portion of your synchronous class time to spend time with small groups of students using break-out rooms.
  • Be open to student feedback about your rhythm and routine. Now that you’re a few weeks in, consider getting student feedback—formally (through a survey) or informally (through a class discussion) to understand what’s working well and what’s been challenging for your students. Having agency over the learning process motivates students. This modality is new for all of us, and it’s natural to need to change course here and there.


  • ACUE. (2020). Online teaching toolkit. ACUE.
  • Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. Jossey-Bass.
  • Farmer, H. (2020). 6 Models for Blended Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning. EDUCAUSE Review.

Dear Faculty,

As we near the end of week four of fall semester, we wanted to take a moment to highlight the importance of building community in your course. Feeling part of a community in your course is key to your students’ success. USF student survey data has also shown connection is a key indicator of persistence.

As you may have found, building community can be more challenging online than in-person—where you can chat informally with students before and after class, students reap the benefits of physical closeness and being able to interpret body language, and where furniture can be arranged to promote community. We’ve compiled a list of suggestions for building community online below. We encourage you to contribute your own ideas (or explore others) in our new faculty teaching ideas library.

Would you like to try one of the above suggestions, but aren’t sure how to get started or are struggling with the implementation? The Instructional Design team is here to help. We offer 30 and 60 minute 1:1 consultations, which can be booked through our new appointment tool. We can also connect you with some of our experienced hybrid and online instructors—email requests to

We hope you will join us for our first Fall 2020 "Wisdom of Another" Remote Instruction Workshop Series event, Sustaining Community Through the Screen, with Dr. Danny Domínguez from the School of Education (9/22 and 10/1).

Suggestions for Building Community in your Remote Course

  • Collaboratively establish community agreements for your course. This might include a learning contract and/or netiquette policy. A safe course environment, underpinned with trust, support and respect, increases engagement and supports a culture of openness and inclusivity.
  • Design a weekly activity to strengthen the community you’ve begun to build. Consider having a weekly sharing activity exclusively designed to increase familiarity with one another and deepen social connections (we’ve had faculty say they’ve had students share about pets, birthdays or challenges they are having with COVID). This might be a small group Zoom breakout or all-class activity. Be transparent about your activity’s objective so that students know the purpose of the activity. As Michelle Pacansky-Brock notes:

“When you reflect on your college classes, the ones that you remember the most were the ones that involved relationships. They were the ones that made you feel connected in some way to the instructor, and you felt like you were part of a group in the class."  —from Barkley (2010), Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty

  • Build in opportunities for students to share their knowledge and personal experiences related to course content. Add reflection discussions to help students relate their own perspectives to the course content and/or with real world applications, strengthening both individual understanding and connections between students.
  • Share your own experience. When instructors share personal information about themselves, whether it be about their own learning journey or their experience with COVID, students begin seeing them as real human beings. This serves to provide an opportunity for deeper connections between students and instructor, higher levels of motivation in students to do well, and a greater sense among students that subject matter mastery is attainable. Also, you serve as a role model for your students—it’s helpful if you demonstrate behavior you’d like to see in them.
  • Encourage students to leave their videos on. Make sure to leave yours on too. There are potential equity issues in requiring students to use their videos, and students with bandwidth issues might have to periodically switch their video off to improve the quality of their connection. Where possible, however, we suggest you encourage students to leave their videos on to assist in getting to know one another and to help you interpret (albeit, limited) body language. (Always provide students an opportunity to request an exception to this norm.) Have a conversation with students about why this is important to gain their buy-in rather than telling them it’s a requirement.
  • Add a poll to get some real-time feedback on how students are feeling. A poll is an easy and quick way to get students’ responses to a topic in aggregate. Students can see each others’ responses, and depending on the question type you choose, there are features to show trends, connections and comparisons. Zoom has a built-in polling feature, which can be set-up in advance or activated on the spot. PollEverywhere, a more robust polling tool, can be integrated into Google Slides or Powerpoint. Students respond using a web browser or cell phone.
  • Take steps to make sure all students are participating. Some students might find it easier to become passive participants in class via Zoom, and it can be challenging for instructors to track who is participating with several pages of students to scroll through in gallery view. In her book, student engagement techniques, Elizabeth Barkley suggests:

“To be a true learning community, all members must exchange information, ideas and opinions… To encourage students to stay attentive, consider creating a stack of cards with students’ names… Try to call on every student within a reasonable time frame depending on the size of the class.”  — Barkley (2010), Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty

  • Add or convert an individual assignment into a group project. Working alongside one another will provide students an opportunity to build deeper relationships with a few classmates. You can use synchronous class time for this collaborative work, or suggest students meet outside of class time.
  • Create synchronous and asynchronous spaces where students can show up, share, and process experiences they are having together. This might be related to your course or otherwise. Synchronously, this is as simple as creating a recurring Zoom meeting and setting it up so participants can join before the host. You then have the option to join, or not. Consider coming to some of these to guide and participate with students, but also allow students to meet on their own. Asynchronously, you can do this by setting up a “Student Lounge” open discussion forum in your Canvas course and encouraging students to take ownership of it.
  • Get input from students on how they would like to create and sustain community in their course. Having agency over the learning process motivates students, and asking students to take lead on some of the community building takes pressure off you. You might also ask students about additional technologies they’re aware of which assist with community building. You can send these ideas to ITS (email for further exploration.

In addition, here are a few suggestions we’ve heard from USF faculty that have stood out:

  • Nicola McClung from the School of Education has students create and join ‘special interest groups’ based on common interests (or in some cases, shared time zones).
  • Patrick Schweiterman from the College of Arts and Sciences suggests opening your Zoom session 15 minutes before class starts so students can join and chat informally with one another (with or without you there). (You might consider sticking around at the end of class too.)
  • Helen Maniates from the School of Education uses "equity sticks" (popsicle sticks individually labeled with each student's name) to take turns calling on students to read part of her slides in order to bring more voices into the Zoom room.
  • Byron Au Yong from the College of Arts and Sciences has students edit their names in Zoom during class to include pronunciation of their name, preferred gender pronouns, and location.


Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. Jossey-Bass.

O’Malley, S. (2020). Professors Share Ideas for Building Community in Online Courses. Inside Higher Ed.

Dear Faculty,

As we tackle week six of the remote semester, we wanted to highlight the value of recording lectures for your courses. 

Recorded lectures have a number of advantages. They provide instructors and students flexibility in their schedules, and relieve some of our collective Zoom fatigue. Recorded lectures can be used to flip your classroom to allow for more active learning in your live sessions, or students can watch videos in place of a class session.

Recorded lectures support student learning - when students watch recorded lectures they can pause, rewind and review as much as they like. This is particularly helpful for students with learning disabilities and English language learners. 

Following are a few tips for recording your lectures. A special thanks to Mishiara Baker, our resident Audio Video Multimedia Developer, for her contributions.

Would you like to try one of the above suggestions, but aren’t sure how to get started or are struggling with the implementation? The Instructional Design team is here to help. We offer 30 and 60 minute 1:1 consultations, which can be booked through our new appointment tool. We can also connect you with some of our experienced hybrid and online instructors—email requests to

If this message has piqued your interest, we hope you will register here for our Fall 2020 ‘Wisdom of Another’ Remote Instruction Workshop Series session, Augmenting Remote Instruction with Recorded Lectures with Associate Professor John Zarobell (9/24 and 10/15). 

A Few Tips for Recorded Lectures

  • Keep it short. To assist with student attention span and cognitive load, keep your recorded lectures to 10-15 minutes. (These lectures are commonly referred to as microletures.) Chunk content into small, manageable chunks to ensure you’re not trying to cover too much. Longer lectures can be made into multiple microlectures. Writing a script can help keep you on track, and make sure you are clear and concise.
  • Prioritize foundational or complex concepts. When you use video to cover foundational or complex concepts, students can review them multiple times and return to them when they have questions or in preparation for exams. Additionally, you can reuse these videos when you teach your course again or even across courses.
  • Pick your product. USF has institutional licenses for Echo360 Universal Capture and Zoom, both of which can be used to develop recorded lectures that include screen and video inputs. Visit the Instructional Technologies and Training webpage to request an Echo360 Universal Capture account and locate training resources.
  • Get everything ready before you hit record. If you intend to show websites, documents or other resources on your computer, have them ready. You can then use  ALT+Tab on the PC or CMD+Tab on the Mac to switch seamlessly between them. Also, make sure you’re in a quiet place with good lighting and that you’ve muted your phone (and found something to occupy your kids!). 
  • Determine whether you’ll show your ‘mug’. If you are lecturing to a text slide, record in split screen view with a recording of yourself speaking. If you have more highly visual slides or more complex visuals - like figures, graphs, etc - minimize the video of yourself or consider recording audio only. (If there are no visuals associated with your lecture, consider creating an audio podcast instead.) 
  • Start with an overview and the intended key takeaways. At the beginning of your recorded lecture, point out what you would like your students to learn from the video, and particular things to keep an eye out for. In addition, consider asking students to pause the video periodically during the lecture to think about the answer to a question you’ve posed or to reflect on a concept. These techniques will help keep them engaged. 
  • Be yourself and keep it interesting. Do you usually tell jokes or share an anecdote in class to get a laugh or draw students in? Do this on video too! The idea is not that your video is perfect (you will never like how you look or sound on screen). Ot’s more important to be authentic and for your personality and quarks to come through. Make sure your enthusiasm comes through in your tone of voice too.
  • Build in accountability for watching your recorded lecture. This is super important. Make students accountable for watching by having them apply what they’ve learned in a related online discussion board, low-stakes quiz, assignment, or live class activity that they won’t be able to otherwise participate in.
  • Consider trying out the Learning Glass. The Learning Glass is a lightboard used to develop short lecture videos that involve whiteboarding, like concept mapping and worked examples. Instructors write on the glass and the image is flipped in post-processing. Check out our Course Media webpage to learn more, see some examples, or schedule a consultation to come to campus to make a video (using our social distancing protocols).


ACUE. (2020). Online teaching toolkit. ACUE.

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2012). 7 Things You Should Know about Microlectures. EDUCAUSE.

Mayer, R. E. (2020). Multimedia learning. Cambridge University Press.

Dear Faculty,

We are hearing from many of you that your semesters are going well. In fact, in a workshop today one instructor shared that he loves teaching online—that he’s a “convert”! We love hearing your success stories.

We’ve also heard that, for some faculty and students, Zoom fatigue is well and truly setting in. In some cases, more students are turning their videos off, and faculty are feeling like lectures are falling flat. 

If you’ve been wondering what you might do to enliven your live sessions, you might consider incorporating some active learning activities. 

According to Elizabeth Barkley in her book Student Engagement Techniques

Active learning is a learning technique that challenges students to engage through mental contributions, hands-on activities, and/or the process of investigation, discovery and interpretation.” 


Active learning increases opportunities for understanding context, applying knowledge, and sharing ideas. It helps students take ownership of their learning, therefore increasing student motivation, and assists with building relationships and community in a class.

With a little bit of planning and the power of Zoom break-out rooms, active learning activities traditionally done in in-person classes can be extended to Zoom. Here are a few ideas.

For those of you who were a fan of the active learning card game activity we played in the Remote and Online Instruction workshops, here is that list of 52 activities again. (A special shout out to Seattle University, the original developers of the game.) 

We’ll be hosting a few workshops in late October exclusively dedicated to playing the card game again, and if you’d like to work with us to organize a department-specific session, let us know at

We encourage you to reach out to the Instructional Design team for a 30 or 60 minute 1:1 consultation to explore incorporating active learning into your remote course in more detail together: book here (select instructional design consultation).

And don’t forget about our Fall 2020 Wisdom of Another Remote Instruction Workshop Series. Learn more and register here.

Eight Active Learning Activities for Your Live Class

  • Think Pair Share: Provide students a prompt, give them a few minutes to respond individually (perhaps in a short free-write), and then put them into two-person break-out rooms to discuss. When students return to the larger group, ask a few groups to share with the larger group. This activity is good for getting students to talk about their developing understanding and to generate engagement through more intimate groups. 

  • Snowballing: Similar to Think Pair Share, the snowball technique begins by students considering a prompt on their own. They then move into pair discussion in break-out rooms. After some discussion, pairs join with another pair to discuss in a group of 4 and so on. The snowball effect can continue until the entire class is together as one group. This activity is good for making sure everyone gets a chance to participate, and providing a range of modalities in one experience — individual, paired, small group, whole class.

  • Guest Speakers: Remote instruction is the perfect opportunity to bring outside experts in your field into the classroom. (In some cases, you’ll get experts into class that you couldn't previously because it doesn’t require travel!) Students can contribute questions in a Google Doc in advance. The document can then be shared with the expert, and be used as a guide during the session. This activity is great for bringing alternative expert perspectives into your class, and making connections between course content and the real world.

  • Case Studies: Divide students into small groups, and provide each with a real or simulated story for them to analyze together. Send them into break-out rooms with a list of questions to answer, related to the case study. If you like, add in a shared Google Doc or Slide for each group to record shared notes. Once group work is complete, bring students back together to present to the larger group. Groups can work on the same case studies and compare findings, or use different ones to bring diverse and variety of perspectives. This activity is good for encouraging critical thinking, sharing diverse perspectives, and making connections between course content and the real world.

  • Learning Games: A presenter in a recent student engagement webinar I attended used a free online tool to generate a crossword puzzle we all had to complete together in a shared Google presentation slide, working against the clock. Learning games such as this one are good for encouraging student collaboration and teamwork, and motivating students with competition. Check out some more learning game ideas here.

  • Debates: Students gather information, explore all sides of the issue, form an initial opinion, and defend the position in a debate and refine opinions through knowledge gained in the debate. You can have students prepare for the debate in small groups in break-out rooms (or offline), and then develop clear Zoom protocols to conduct the debate. This activity is good for improving critical thinking skills, and improving students’ confidence through practiced public speaking.

  • Team Concept Maps: Students write keywords about a concept onto a virtual sticky note and then organize them into a flowchart. Students simply draw the connections they make between concepts. Padlet is a great free online tool to facilitate such an activity. Concept maps are good for helping students see the bigger picture, make connections, chunk information, and benefit students who prefer learning visually.

  • Virtual Poster Sessions - Posters enable visualization which foster student learning, and provides an opportunity to pair visuals with readings, lectures, and assignments. Students can prepare virtual posters on their own or instructors can put students in groups in break-out rooms with a shared Google slide or powerpoint deck to build as a ‘virtual poster’. When students come back together, each student or group can then present to the whole class. Shared presentations becomes a permanent record for students to reference later. This activity is good for encouraging participation by all students, and to challenge groups to consider multiple perspectives.


Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. Jossey-Bass.

Brookskill, S. D. & Preskill, S. (2016). The discussion book: 50 great ways to get people talking. Jossey-Bass.

Dear Faculty,

It is hard to believe we are nearing the midpoint of fall semester. With about eight weeks of instruction left, we thought it would be a good time to suggest incorporating a mid-semester evaluation into your course.

Mid-semester evaluations can be short and sweet or more extensive. They might involve a series of quantitative questions or a few brief open-ended questions. Whatever the format, the end goal is the same, to get some low-stakes, formative feedback at a point in the semester in which you have time to incorporate adjustments that can make a direct impact.

Incorporating feedback from students signals that you care about their learning experience, value their opinions, and are open to feedback. This gives students a greater sense of agency over their learning experience, and can strengthen your relationship with them.

Participating in mid-semester evaluations also provides students a chance to reflect on their learning, and practice giving constructive feedback.

Finally and importantly, mid-semester evaluations can help avoid surprises in end-of-semester teaching effectiveness surveys, and even boost those evaluations if done property (McGowan & Osguthorpe, 2011).

And now, for a few short plugs…

We’ve gotten some great feedback on our growing Faculty Teaching Ideas Library. If you’re looking for some inspiration or have an idea to share, we encourage you to check it out here

Are you interested in hearing from faculty experts and discussing with colleagues what they are doing in their remote courses this fall? Join us for one of our Fall 2020 Wisdom of Another Remote Instruction Workshops. Learn more and register here.

Incorporating a Mid-Semester Evaluation into Your Course

  • Start with a self-reflection to determine what you’re most interested in learning, and use the results to guide your evaluation questions. Don’t limit this mid-semester evaluation to an opportunity for students to reflect on their experience. Start with a self-reflection on what you think is working well and could be improved, and what specifically you’d like to get some feedback on. Have you incorporated new routines or active learning techniques into your course? Are you using Canvas for the first time and want some feedback on how you’re presenting your materials? These could all be areas of focus.

  • Alternatively, keep it simple and open. Maybe you’re not sure where to start with your questions or prefer to keep things open-ended. Some feedback is better than nothing! In this case, we suggest something like the following: 1) What has been the most helpful in ensuring your success in this course so far? 2) What have you found the most challenging in this course so far? 3) What are some suggestions you have for improving the course? Keep in mind these more general questions might not result in specific, concrete feedback, but they may yield some useful nuggets.

  • Make sure it’s realistic and actionable. Questions about the amount of work, opportunities for community building, or the balance between lectures and discussion in synchronous sessions are things that you can realistically change in the remaining weeks of the semester. The balance between asynchronous and synchronous instruction or your planned proctored online exam may not be. Make sure you’re focusing your questions where you will be willing and able to make an adjustment.

  • Build and administer the survey. No doubt you have your favorite surveying tool. To keep it simple, consider building the evaluation as a quiz in Canvas. Qualtrics is another university-wide instructional technology we have at USF. Google Forms is also great, but not ideal if you have students living abroad in your courses as they can’t easily access Google products.

  • Analyze the feedback. We know we don’t need to tell you how to analyze survey data. But as a recap, you want to focus on patterns, discard one-off comments or off-topic feedback, and then sort feedback into buckets—like recorded lectures, assignments, class Canvas course or Zoom issues. Draw some conclusions from there.

  • Make an action plan. You don’t have to incorporate all of the feedback—you are already up to your eyeballs with running your courses remotely (maybe, while home-schooling your kids!). Prioritize the low hanging fruit (least effort, highest reward), or the feedback which you think will make the most significant improvement.

  • Communicate the changes you’ve made based on students’ feedback. Make sure to thank students for their feedback and let them know what actions you’re taking as a result.

  • Reach out to us for help! Do you need help formulating mid-semester evaluation questions or building your survey in Canvas or Qualtrics? Reach out to us for help by scheduling a 30 or 60 minute 1:1 consultation. You can book here (select instructional design consultation).


McGowan, W. R. & Osguthorpe, R. T. (2011). Student and faculty perceptions of effects of midcourse evaluations. To Improve the Academy29(1), 160–172.

Dear Faculty,

We were thrilled to hear from so many of you after last week’s message suggesting you’re either already doing mid-semester evaluations or plan to for the first time! For those who have been mulling it over in the last week, please reach out if you need assistance or would like us to connect you with a colleague to learn more about their success with mid-semester evaluations. 

And for those of you wondering how to do an evaluation anonymously in Canvas, the short answer is—go to Canvas quizzes, select a Graded Survey (if you want to assign points) or Ungraded Survey, and make sure to tick the ‘Make Responses Anonymous Box’.

And now for this week’s topic—multimedia projects. (Authored by our resident Audio Video Multimedia Media Developer, Mishiara Baker.)

Multimedia projects engage students in the production of short media pieces whereby they can build and demonstrate their understanding of course content while producing impressive media objects that are fun to make.  These projects capitalize on student enthusiasm and interest in media, and offer them practice in developing media literacy skills, which will serve them well in future jobs. Providing students options for completing projects supports Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Multimedia projects also invite active student participation, and higher order thinking skills, as students analyze and make decisions about content. 

There are many types of multimedia which are conducive to group projects. Here are a few: 

  • Videos: With video, students can show and tell. They can explain a concept, demonstrate or itemize the steps of a process, or establish and defend an opinion.
  • Websites: Webpages can transform essays, reports, case studies, blog posts, or journals into highly visual and dynamic elements that communicate ideas more effectively. 
  • Virtual Posters: Virtual posters can be easily developed from templates to distill information into its most essential elements, or to persuade, advertise, or diagram. 
  • Audio Podcasts: Podcasts are audio recordings that are best suited to non-visual information, and can be used to review a reading, provide opinions and comments, aggregate different points of view and build and defend arguments. 

Following are some of the products supported by ETS at USF that can be used to develop multimedia projects: Adobe Spark (websites), iMovie (videos), Zoom (videos) Canva (not a USF product but / free version available, virtual posters), Audacity (podcasts), and (podcasts).

Are you interested in hearing from a faculty colleague about how they’ve incorporated multimedia group projects into their remote course this fall? Join Leigh Meredith, Assistant Professor of Rhetoric & Language, and multimedia developer Mishiara Baker, on Thursday, October 22, 3:00-4:00PM, for a one hour workshop. Learn more and register here.

Suggestions for Incorporating a Multimedia Project into your Course

  • Determine where it makes sense to add in a multimedia project. Is there a project already part of your course that would easily lend itself to a multimedia response? Is there a project that worked well as in-person group work, and you’ve been looking for a new way to do it remotely? These might be good candidates for consideration. Make sure you’re clear on what you want students to be able to achieve, both content and multimedia wise, and that the project you’re designing aligns with your learning objectives.
  • Determine how you’ll assess the project. How will you assess students’ work in this new medium? We highly recommend you develop a rubric - either in collaboration with students or on your own. Consider having students peer review others’ projects, and peer review teammates’ participation as part of the grade.
  • Introduce the project and show examples of a successful final product. Take time to showcase a successful final product and point out different features. (If you don’t have one ready, consider building a quick one yourself with a previous students’ content.) If you’ve created an assessment rubric, you might consider sharing it up front to help students better understand expectations.
  • Provide your students clear instructions, as well as technology support resources, to ensure technology isn’t a barrier to completing the project. Multimedia projects require clearly defined steps for students to follow, as well as guidance to support their use of a media creation tool. Introduce the tool(s) you will use during class, and build in some time to explore and play with the tool(s). Consider creating a low-stakes assignment using the tool prior to work on the project that is fun and easy to help students get to know the tool, and factor-in what part of or how using the technology will be assessed in the project (assuming learning the new technology is expected to complete the project successfully). If you’re not proficient with the technology yourself, reach out to our colleagues at ITT ( - for training or to request they join your class to provide students’ training.
  • If it’s a group multimedia project: Divide students into groups, and have them identify roles and responsibilities which incorporate multimedia-specific tasks. Consider whether you prefer students self-select their groups based on interest in a topic (or multimedia type), or if you will create them. Make suggestions or have students clearly lay-out all of the different needed roles for the type of multimedia project they intend to develop (e.g. meeting scribe, text writer, image locator, website compiler, copy editor, presenter, scheduler) or can allow students to determine and select their roles and generate a group collaboration plan at the outset.
  • Determine whether the project will be developed in-class, out-of-class, or both. Will you allow students time to work on their projects during a synchronous class session in breakout rooms or should they meet in a private Zoom session in lieu of having a live class session and provide a recording for you to review? Consider whether you need to build in opportunities for instructor (and possibly peer) feedback along the way, and/or additional multimedia tech support.
  • Make a plan for how projects will be showcased. How and when will students share their work? Project links could be posted on a discussion board in Canvas and peer-reviewed, or they could be shared in a live class or as homework before coming to class to discuss.
  • Reach out for additional support. If you’re interested in incorporating a multimedia project into your course but aren’t sure where to start, or have any questions about the logistics, you can schedule a 30 minute 1:1 consultation with Mishiara Baker, our AV Multimedia Developer (book here, select course media consultation). In addition, ETS’s ITT team offers training for Adobe Spark and podcasting technologies such as Audacity and (learn more here, select ‘Teaching and Learning Technology’ Classes). 

Additional Resources

Dear Faculty,

We’re officially halfway through the semester! Around this point, both students and teachers begin thinking toward the end of the semester, determining what’s needed to complete their courses’ final assessments successfully. 

Given this, we’ve decided to focus this week on formative feedback. A special thanks to Jill Ballard, one of our superstar Instructional Designers, for authoring this message.

Formative feedback is the primary component of formative assessment, which helps students understand what their next steps should be—it’s the basis for improvement. These low-stakes evaluations give clarity to what students (really) know, what they don’t know yet, and what they need to review. The feedback also informs instructors about their students’ current understanding of content and skills, their misconceptions, and can help determine what points need to be reiterated or adjusted before moving on to new content.  

Did one of the suggestions below resonate with you, and you’d like some assistance exploring how you might implement it in your course or design the experience in Canvas or Zoom? The Instructional Design team is here to help! You can book a 30 or 60 minute 1:1 consultation with us here (select instructional design consultation).

Congratulations on making it this far!

A Few Things to Consider

No doubt, you already have formative assessment points in place, such as graded drafts, peer reviews, conferences, practice checks, etc. While these are important graded markers to show students’ progress, consider ways to integrate more immediate, less-formal formative feedback throughout your course. 

Here are a few guidelines for intentionally adding new feedback points:   

  • Be transparent about the methods you’re using as students may not recognize that feedback is being given when it’s more casually delivered. 
  • Make clear connections between any formative feedback being offered and coming summative assessments (final projects, presentations, exams), even if small. 
  • Prompt students to listen for and note the feedback they’re getting, including the importance of cross-learning. Set students up to take more ownership of their learning and preparation for final assessments. 
  • Be timely—getting immediate feedback allows students and instructors to make quick pivots around their next steps.
  • Review your mid-semester student survey feedback (if you have this) and tie in any requests for more feedback when integrating new feedback activities. 

Suggestions for Incorporating More Formative Feedback into Your Remote Course

Adding opportunities for informal formative feedback can happen in both the synchronous and asynchronous portions of your remote course. Here are some examples below.

In the synchronous course sessions 

Large group feedback:

  • Utilize polling (using Poll Everywhere or Zoom polling) to prompt students with key questions for a variety of purposes—to solidify foundational knowledge, to discover misconceptions, to start larger discussions. Using in-class polling is also a useful engagement technique. (Learn more about getting a USF Poll Everywhere account and training via ETS.
  • Share your ‘top-three’ key points after reviewing a developmental assignment group or discussion posts. These points may be repeated issues or questions, or you may want to confirm specific points. While these top three may not be an individual student’s thought or question, it’s useful for all to know what you see as important key points. 
  • Show a model example of part of a final project or assessment (such as a presentation, a written segment, or process) to the whole class. In the chat, ask students to submit one thought or question about why it’s good, what was surprising, and/or what’s not clear. Answer a few key or repeated questions immediately, and during a short break, review the remaining questions and follow up with the group with answers when you rejoin. This offers an opportunity for rich cross-learning.

Small group (breakout room) feedback:

  • Ask students to peer review a developing piece, such as a presentation practice (real or video) or written draft, for a given, narrow focus rather than a whole evaluation. The intent is to give and get feedback of course, but also to share and generate questions around what’s successful and what should be improved. These questions can be addressed by instructor visits to the breakout rooms or by asking students to bring them back into a full class discussion after the small group activity. 
  • Review a rubric. If you’re using a rubric for your final assessment (for the final project,  paper, etc.), create an activity for students to review it together in groups of three and develop one question to share out. When you rejoin as a whole class, ask a speaker from each group to be ready to share their screen and point out an area in the rubric that pertains to their question. This could also be done in a discussion forum—students post their question and rubric screen capture, and the instructor could post the answer for all students to read.
  • Ask students individually or in small groups to determine one question about their (paper, project, performance, etc.) to submit to a discussion forum for answers. Invite students to answer each other's questions, but as the instructor, keep an eye on responses and be ready to jump in and clarify or redirect as needed. Ask all students to read through the whole discussion. 
  • Adapt Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) to your remote learning environment. These fun activities are also formative assessments at their base, and can be used in a variety of ways online. Check out USF TEAch for more information on a few of these including Concept Mapping, One Minute Papers, and the Think-Pair-Share activity. 

Individual feedback:

  • Offer short mini-conferences for students to address their most pressing question (ask them to determine this before), and to be ready to show some example of their work or other materials as a basis. This short conference won’t allow for a full suite of help, but getting students to self-assess their needs, create questions, and determine how they’ll explain themselves is half the feedback loop. 

And asynchronously, between live course meetings

  • Leverage metacognitive learning strategies by asking students to self-assess through a short written reflection. This can be easily submitted to Canvas in a simple text-entry, low-point credit/non-credit assignment. Prompting with a pertinent reflection question, students can discover what they’re clear about and what they need to learn, study, or do more toward their goal. These self-reflection submissions are also useful for instructors, giving you insight about students’ progress overall. 
  • Incorporate short, low-point Canvas quizzes addressing key information, foundational knowledge or skill practice, allowing multiple attempts for full success. These self-graded quizzes will strengthen students’ knowledge and can also lead to follow up discussions  in class for additional clarity or related information.