Teaching Remotely


Know that your remote course will be different. Your course will not look or feel the way it did in a face-to-face environment. Shifting your expectations of yourself and your students will reward all of you.

Learning goals are still your first priority. Keep learning goals in mind as you follow the principles detailed below, which will help as you plan and conduct your remote course. Since these principles are interconnected, it is best to have a holistic and iterative consideration of them – they will influence the choices you make as you plan, build, and deliver your course

Extra communication

Instructors should effectively communicate course content, expectations, grading policies, goals, etc. Do this in writing and in spoken announcements to the class, more often than you think is necessary.

  • Be clear from the start. Make sure that your expectations and course logistics are easy to find in your syllabus. Consider spending part of your first class session to acknowledge this new reality and reviewing these expectations and logistics. Although you are teaching class remotely, instead of in-person, many of your expectations remain the same.
  • Communicate with your students and encourage them to stay in contact with you.
  • Explain if teaching remotely is new to you. If you are new to remote teaching, tell your students that you don’t have it all figured out yet. Most likely, learning online will be a new experience for many of them, as well.
  • Let students know that you expect them to stay informed. Students should take responsibility for staying connected and up-to-date on assignments and due dates. Tell them where and when you will share information, such as on the homepage of your Canvas course.
  • Encourage students to use the technology. Remind them to seek help from classmates, UW workshops, and online resources to learn the technologies you will be using to teach. Post links to these resources in your Canvas course.

Create consistency and structure

Consistency and structure are critical in online learning. Regular, clear communication will go a long way toward creating consistency and structure. You can achieve that by doing the following:

  • Map out the course
  • Complete the entire course by the beginning of the quarter
  • Determine when modules will be open to students
  • Use the model of the physical classroom
  • Make introductions

Map out how the course will work and why

Especially at the start of the course, act as a guide. Explain to students:

  • When you will have discussions
  • How to find assignments
  • Where to go when they get lost
  • Where is their home base (e.g., Canvas course home page)
  • Be transparent about why this practice, that assignment

Complete the entire course by the beginning of the quarter

It’s easiest to communicate course structure when you have the entire class completed at the beginning of the quarter. This way you can give students a big picture view of what they will be learning and can better plan for heavy weeks during the quarter. It allows for better time management and planning. Provide a structure for activities and stick to it throughout the entire semester. Pick days of the week that certain types of activities will be due.

Determine when modules will open for students

If you’re not able to have the course 100% completed, you’ll need to determine when modules will open for students to view. Keep this day consistent throughout the quarter and don’t keep it a secret. Tell students when you will release content. If each new module opens on a Monday, with assignments due on Sunday, make sure you are available on the weekends to answer questions. If that schedule presents problems, consider opening new modules each Wednesday and having assignments due the following Tuesday. Students count on being able to work at a steady pace and depend on your consistency and availability.

Use the model of the physical classroom

The structure of in-person instruction is provided in part by the physical space, which gives students cues about expectations and behaviors. Face-to-face classrooms often have a setup that conveys norms. There are probably chairs, some sort of “stage” area near the front of the room (or an obvious place to focus their attention), students are likely all students are facing (even if they are at tables to do group work), there are whiteboards, a projector, etc. It’s clear to students when they enter a physical classroom, even if the room is empty, what they are expected to do, how they are expected to focus their attention.

Likewise, it is important when teaching remotely to set the tone from the beginning of the course, creating a similar structure and visibility in the online environment. Like you, your students are probably attending online class from a space that has many uses — they may be in their bedroom, or a common room they share with family or roommates, or even a public space. Lacking the focus that a dedicated classroom space provides, students may need time (not just at the beginning, but throughout the course) to create (and re-create) this focus in whatever space they are using. Suggest to students that they create a dedicated space where they live for participating in online classes. Encourage them to coordinate with roommates or family members so that they aren’t competing for network bandwidth when attending a class.

Make introductions

Take time to introduce yourself and have students introduce themselves (in a large lecture, consider using breakout rooms for students to introduce themselves to a small group of their classmates). As you review the course outline and explain how you’ll be working together online, make it clear and repeat often where students can go for support and help. This “getting started” experience is vital to student success in online courses.

Student engagement & feedback

Student engagement is always critical to learning success, perhaps even more so in an online course. Explore strategies you can use for student engagement.

Timing & flexibility

The remote teaching and learning environment calls on instructors and students to be flexible in the face of change, especially given the challenges all of us face around health, safety, child care, elder care, and income. Along with the challenges are opportunities to envision your course differently.

Access & equity

It’s easy to assume that students can organize their lives around their studies. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, particularly during a pandemic. Students do not all have the same access to high-speed internet or privacy. Some students may be living in crowded conditions with family or roommates, in different time zones. Others may be working part- or even full-time to support family. As you plan and carry out your remote course, keep in mind the varying situations your students may be studying in and use these access and equity strategies and resources.