Transitioning to Online Teaching A Basic Primer

This workshop will provide basic guides for rapid transition to teaching online. The goal here is not to cover the full nuances building and delivering an online course, but rather to present something of a transitional patchwork pedagogy: basic orientations, strategies, best practices, technological tips, and so on for effectively managing the current transition.

Basic Orientations

Be prepared to be different

Online requires making explicit all things implicit.

  • All the things you naturally do as a teacher do not occur in the online space. They have to be crafted and intentional, otherwise they do not exist.

What you normally do simply may not work.

  • Think about the goals behind the practices of what you do in a regular class and identify how those same goals might be achieved via online formats

Access & accessibility have new considerations

  • While we always need to be attentive to differently abled students with all manner of different learning needs, we now have to account for those without broadband or webcams or who are living in different time zones or who may be taking classes with siblings and pets and the like all present in their home learning space.

Have a plan, but be flexible.

  • At this moment we are not trying to build an online class. Rather, we are in survival mode. So while I encourage you to think about building better learning experiences, really just having a willingness to be flexible and to be forgiving with yourselves and your students will go a long way to your transitional success.

Modify Course & Expectations

What absolutely must stay (and stay as is)? What can be modified (maybe even cut) from the syllabus, schedule, plan, etc.? What can you accomplish differently?

  • Start by stripping the next few weeks to bare bones or the 'golden nuggets' of your class, and build out those core things first. Then work back through to add nuance, complexity, options, etc.

What pedagogical practices do you champion and do they translate to online modes? Or, put another way, what must remain a synchronous engagement vs. what can be transformed into an asynchronous activity?

  • Synchronous: students and instructors interact with course content (and each other) at the same time: e.g., video conference meetings (via Zoom) or live chat engagements (via Slack).
  • Asynchronous: students interact with course content (and each other) on their own time line (but within an operative time limit): e.g., threaded discussion posts or viewing (and responding to) teacher created videos.
  • A guiding frame: If my teaching approach is a lecture, an explanation, a concept introduction, or something similar, it can probably be (more) effective online as an asynchronous activity: e.g., create a video or write-up the explanation (maybe try creating it as an Adobe Spark page to add some life to it). If, however, what I am after is discussion or a modeling of inquiry, then synchronous is likely the way to go. (For more on synchronous/asynchronous practices, see below.)

What tools do you already know? How might they work for your pedagogical needs?

  • Sometimes the right tool is the one you already know. How might the features of your LMS work for you? Or Slack? Twitter? Google Docs?

What tools do you need to learn? Is there a way to practice in the coming days?

  • If needing to learn to use a tool, check available resources. Indiana University has guides for nearly all of the tools in Canvas, but also check YouTube or other online sources. There are amazing guides on the Internet for just about everything.
  • If you have never been in a Zoom meeting (or similar video conference space) or created an instructional video, find ways to practice before the first live event.

Consistency is King!

Communication Strategy: Choose a method (or methods) for your course Communication Strategy and always use that to facilitate course information to students.

  • IU - Instructors might look into recommending the Boost App for students (for more visit boost.iu.edu): Boost is a student-centric app that integrates with Canvas and pushes course information from Canvas to them on their phone (reminders about upcoming work, notifications/announcements, etc.). The students control the how and the what of what gets pushed to their phones.

Due Dates: Try (as much as possible) to make things due on the same day and at the same time each week. This will help students anticipate workflows in your class (and not require them to hunt among the now overwhelming proliferation of messages and notifications on Canvas).

Points Matter

Activities on Canvas without points will not be completed. Even small point values are helpful. No points, no purpose (assigning it).

Provide Student Orientation

Once you come up with a plan for how you will manage the transition, help orient students (to prepare them and to ease their own anxieties).

Some things to answer/address in your orientations:

  • How will communication work?
  • How will the shift to online impact course points/plans/practices?
  • How will it impact due dates and/or how assignments are collected? (more below)
  • How will office hours work?
  • Also identify a contingency plan (and give them guidance on that as well). ... "If nothing else, X". ... like this humorous example.


Zoom Video Conferencing tool is the most common (or perhaps most expected) mode of synchronous engagement for this transition. For bringing Zoom into Canvas, see my Integrating Zoom into Canvas guide.

Some Zoom-as-Classroom Considerations

Nuts & Bolts

  • When scheduling meetings, make sure everyone knows the time is for Eastern Standard Time.
  • Anticipate (and provide information on) back-up options. For Zoom, that includes Dial-in access. Might also leverage chat/synchronous text-based tools (Slack, Google's Hangout Chats, etc.).
  • Provide students with Zoom Procedures (beforehand and at the beginning of meeting).
  • NOTE: my own procedures include the following steps: join meeting, turn on video, turn off/mute mic. I also provide a brief guidance on online behavior: from being attentive to the visual frame of their camera to how they treat one another.

What can you do?

  • Talking-head approaches to engagement (be purposeful, but think about breaking things up into segments, with interactive elements)
  • Sharing screen (notes, images, powerpoint, etc)
  • Chat/textual conversation (for discussion/engagement)
  • Sharing files (via Chat)
  • Create polls (feedback loops)
  • Students can also share screens (if invited to do so)

How might you need to adjust?

  • The Chat will become a primary area for student engagement
  • Pause more often (and be patient)
  • Create polls (for content as well as functional engagement)
  • Point out things 'said' in the chat and ask follow-up questions
  • Invite student X or Y to turn on their mic and share their thoughts
  • Be welcoming of feedback (during and after)

Note: It takes nearly double the amount of time expected to facilitate a discussion in Zoom.

Other Considerations/Suggestions

Guest speaker: In addition to inviting traditional guest speakers to class, you might think about partnering with a colleague to engage in conversations in one another's class. A ten minute conversation, instead of lecture, can (a) often be more engaging and (b) be a nice change of pace in the model.

Should this be Zoom or a video? If what you are sharing is one-directional (i.e., covering content without notable input/interaction from students), then perhaps it should be a video asset and shared with students asynchronously. Zoom can let us lecture extensively, but what it provides (over just a stand alone video) is the opportunity to facilitate engagement and modeling of inquiry more reflective of active learning approaches.


Asynchronous has long been the main operative practice of online education. The challenge is to find ways to facilitate critical and creative engagement with course/disciplinary content, methods, epistemologies, and the like.

Asynchronous activities range from page/content engagments, discussion posts, quizzes and assignments, responses (in multiple formats: papers, Adobe Spark pages, vlogs, etc), and videos (created by teachers; viewed by students). Of note: content-based assets (readings, page creations, videos) are typically accompanied by an activity or engagement metric.

Make a Plan | Be Consistent

When deploying asynchronous methods, it its critical to communicate to students:

  • how to find content/activity;
  • how often these elements occur (i.e., and due dates - be consistent),
  • how do the asynchronous elements factor into the course grade, and
  • what are the expectations for the work.

Creating Videos

Technical Considerations

Rule 1: Audio is Key!

  • Whether you are simply adding a voice over to PowerPoint or using Zoom to create a talking-head video, if they can't hear you well, then you are wasting your time.

Rule 2: Control Lighting & Location

The visual plays an important role if going the talking-head route, but also in synchronous video conferences as well. So, be sure to think about your environment and what it communicates to viewers. Additionally, spend some time playing with the lighting. Typically we need 2 to 3 sources of light:

  • a spot light/focal light (pointed at you, off centered),
  • a fill light to help balance the light (avoiding dramatic shadows), and
  • an overhead (and/or back) light to help create separation from you and the rest of the elements in the visual plane.
  • if using a 3 point light set-up: imagine you are the center of a clock (facing 12) and the main light sources go at 11 and 2. The third light is either overhead or at 6 but elevated above the speaker (and out of shot).
  • Note: all of these lighting practices can be achieved through any number of light sources: natural light (windows), lamp, video light set, reflectors, etc. Play with different lights (and recording at different times of day) to see what creates a natural lighting feel.

Practical Considerations

Think about chunking:

  • 2-3min for content orientations, quick engagements, follow-up responses, etc.
  • 5-7min for targeted lessons: working through concepts, situating a critical idea, unpacking a stable disciplinary structure, etc.
  • 8-10min for working through a bit more complexity, offering a critical synthesis, or guiding through a procedure/method.
  • As a general rule, try not to create videos much beyond 10 minutes in length, as longer videos simply don't get viewed in full. If it really should be 15-30 minutes in length, then it should be reconfigured as part of a synchronous engagement.

Adding Appeal

One can record oneself presenting in Zoom and have that unedited video upload directly to Kaltura to share with students. But taking the time to add images, include text-on-screen (to highlight points/information), and even incorporate other elements (intro/outtro music) can make a notable difference in how the video is received (i.e., from number of students who view it to how long they remain watching the video).

  • No Frills: Zoom – Record – Save to Cloud – Kaltura
  • Some Frills: Zoom – Record (save local) – Adobe Rush (edit) – Upload & Share (from Vimeo and YouTube to Kaltura in Canvas)
  • Frills: Zoom + Rush/Premiere + Other (sound, movement, media)

For a more targeted guide on recording in Zoom and editing in Adobe Rush, you might check out my Spark guide on Zoom-to-Rush: A Digital Pedagogy Workflow or view the video that introduces the what, how, and why of that workflow: Episode 2 of Making the Jump (a video series on innovations in digital higher education)

Additional Resources (continuing to develop):

Created By
Justin Hodgson


Created with images by Annie Spratt - "untitled image" • Simon Abrams - "View" • kelseyannvere - "laptop computer technology" • John Schnobrich - "type away" • Pavan Trikutam - "vintage telephone on the wall." • lukasbieri - "laptop macbook mockup" • PDPics - "telephone phone vintage"