Online Teaching Toolkit
The Online Teaching Toolkit provides information about teaching best practices, answers questions about online teaching through an FAQ, and provides information on curriculum resources that can be used to support online courses.
Online Teaching Best Practices
These best practices will set you up for success in your online courses. Click on the best practice for tools and resources.
- Let Student Learning Outcomes Guide Course Design
Review your course learning outcomes (sometimes called objectives) for the entire course. Then determine how students will demonstrate to you that they've achieved these goals (summative assessments). Once you have your summative assessments, think through the specific content and skills students need in order to be successful. This will guide the course design and determine the content and formative assessments you need to include.
- Use Authentic Assessment of Learning
Authentic assessment requires application of course knowledge to a new situation. These types of assessments focus on complex, real-world situations that require a student to think about application of knowledge and skills in society rather than just in the classroom.
Because authentic assessment asks students to apply knowledge they are typically more
interesting and thus more motivating for students. Authentic assessments are also typically a better measure of student learning, especially for higher-order thinking skills. They also eliminate any concerns about academic dishonesty since the student is producing original work, usually in parts.
- Assess Learning Early Using Low-Stakes Assessments
Low-stakes assignments are forms of evaluation that do not heavily impact students’ final grades or other educational outcomes. The purpose of low-stakes assignments is to provide students with an indication of their performance while taking a course and give students an opportunity to improve their performance prior to receiving a final grade, either on an assignment or in a course. Mid-term projects or exams come too late to yield the necessary guidance.
- Solicit Early Feedback About How the Course is Going
Early in the semester, around week 3, ask students how it's going. Early feedback surveys or informal discussions with students throughout the course asks students to provide feedback on what is working well and what will help them have a better course experience. Do this early so that you can make corrections and modifications to your course.
- Be Present
Students won't see you most of the time so it is important that you are in regular communication with them. Use the Canvas communication tools such as announcements and discussions regularly. You should plan time to be active in your online courses multiple times per week - daily if you can manage it! When faculty engage with students regularly online a community is built just like an in-person course
Here are some suggestions for remaining present in your online course:
- Set regular virtual office hours
- Create a discussion board for student questions and set notifications so you know when to respond.
- Create a discussion board that you use to post course-related materials such as news articles, memes, pictures, etc. Students can post also as a way to build community.
- Be clear about when you are available and when students can expect a response to an email or post.
- Create a Supportive Community
Design a course with multiple ways of interacting so that students engage in student-to-faculty and student-to-student interactions.
- Provide a personal introduction at the start of class so students get to know you. Video is a great idea since students won't get to meet you in person.
- Provide Mini-lectures in video, text, or audio
- Engage in weekly coaching and reminder announcements
- Engage with students through office hours, discussions, or announcements to explain course content as a class or individually
- Start class with an introduction discussion board and asks students to post a video or written introduction that includes fun facts and a photograph
- Create a general discussion forum for students where they can ask questions and get help from each other
- Use small groups where students are responsible for working through course readings and other materials
- Set up small group activities or discussions using the Canvas group feature
- Share Clear Expectations
Online learning is intensive and it is important for students to have clear expectations about the course schedule, deadlines for participating in discussion forums, due dates, and participation or attendance.
It is also important that students know what to expect about communication. How will they interact with you and how will you communicate with them? How long will they wait for a response to an email? This is important for an online student because they won't see you at the next class session as in an in-person course.
- Use a Variety of Large Group, Small Group, and Individual Work Experiences
Online courses can be more enjoyable for students when they have the opportunity to work together. Build in this opportunity but also provide individual assignments. A mix of the two is ideal. Group work does not have to be tedious in an online course. Instead of graded group assignment or presentations consider discussion groups where students discuss a reading, problem, or case study/scenario.
- Create Discussion Posts that Invite Questions, Discussions, and Reflection
If you want a good discussion you have to pose a good question. You want to avoid posting a discussion question that asks for facts or questions with a yes/no answer. Make sure your questions are open-ended and require engagement with the course material.
Tips for Online Discussions
- Model good Socratic-type probing and follow-up questions. Why do you think that? What is your reasoning? Is there an alternative strategy? Ask clarifying questions that encourage students to think about what they know and don’t know.
- Stagger due dates of the responses and consider mid-point summary and /or encouraging comments
- Provide guidelines and instruction on responding to other students. For example, suggest a two-part response: (1) what you liked or agreed with or what resonated with you, and (2) a follow-up question such as what you are wondering about or curious about, etc.
- Be flexible. Consider indicating a number of discussions students must participate in throughout the semester. This provides flexibility for working students and parents and gives all students some choice in how they engage.
- Have students (individually or in a small group) pose questions throughout the semester. This puts them in charge of the discussion and allows you to see where students are struggling with course material and/or have misconceptions.
Online Teaching FAQ
- How do I know if students are prepared for online learning?
Consider contacting your students and asking them a series of questions about their needs for class. Below are links to sample questions. You can create this in Qualtrics, through Canvas, or use a Google form.
Pre-Created Survey in Google Forms. Note, you must make a copy of this form in your own account.
Questions in Google Docs. Note, you must download a copy and edit.
- How do I maintain accommodations for students online?
UNC students who qualify for disability accommodations are entitled to those accommodations regardless of the course delivery method.
In order to assist faculty with making the transition to online course delivery, Disability Resource Center (DRC) has created a set of resources to guide you with DRC information as well as creating accessible materials for your courses online. Please see the Faculty/Staff section of the COVID-19 Accommodations and Access Guide on the DRC website.
It may be helpful for students to share the student information page on Canvas so that they know they can get support while working online.
- How do I keep equity in mind when teaching online?
We have many first-generation students and students from minoritized groups on our campus. Here are a few tips and considerations for keeping equity practice in mind:
Help relieve the stress associated with technology
Students will need some time to learn how to navigate the online environment. Consider building in some formative activities that enable the students to make mistakes without impacting their grades. Some possibilities include the opportunity to connect with a group via zoom before an assignment is due, an offer to zoom with students who are concerned about how the process works or whether their internet connection is sufficient, or perhaps a short quiz to allow students to work through any issues before completing a midterm exam.
Focus on asynchronous teaching
It’s tempting to require students to meet synchronously as we know that students enrolled in our courses are all available during our usual class time, but the fact is that they may have other things they need to attend to during an emergency such as personal or family illness.
Another concern for some students will be the reliability and speed of their internet connection and access to technology (webcams, for example).
Some students might not have regular access to computers (especially if siblings or parents are also at home), so consider the possibility that students will be accessing the course materials on their phones, which brings up the additional issue of limited data.
Consider introducing new content in short snippets, with videos or readings that can be viewed in just a few minutes, and returned to later.
Promote a positive online community. As educators, we know that it’s essential to provide students with a safe place to interact with their peers and with us—and this need amplifies in an online environment.
Provide students with netiquette (short for internet etiquette) guidelines for how to interact online
Add an anti-discrimination policy along with the netiquette guidelines to emphasize the need for the online learning community to be inclusive and respectful.
Offer flexibility on assignments and exams
Expect that your students will be overwhelmed by everything that is happening. They may have new responsibilities caring for others. They may work in retail and service jobs that might require longer hours, or some may be experiencing financial stress or food insecurity if retailers and restaurants cut their hours or close. Be flexible about due dates and perhaps offer students a choice of assignments.
While this might not be possible in every class, consider turning exams into learning experiences, rather than assessments. Whatever you do, realize that you will be unable to control the environment in which your students take exams if you are giving them online. Perhaps embrace the idea that students will be using other resources (and possibly collaborating) by shortening the test and asking them more in-depth questions that might require them to do some outside reading or thinking. Consider offering them multiple opportunities to take an assessment (so if they lose their internet connection, you won’t spend time trying to reset their exam.)
Acknowledge, with your students, that these are stressful and uncertain times
Let students know that you are willing to do to help them through the rest of this semester, and what they can expect from you in terms of frequency of contact, assistance with assignments, etc. and how to get help.
- How do I set up synchronous class meetings? If I am using Zoom or Teams for class meetings do I have to schedule these during regular class time?
- How do I make my Zoom meeting secure?
- Where do I find my Zoom recordings? Can I save my Zoom recordings?
You have the option to either record your Zoom meetings to the cloud or locally. If you record locally you will determine the location on your computer after you select Stop Recording.
If you record to the cloud you can access the live link and the video file for 30 days. Recordings are automatically deleted after 30 days. You will receive an email reminding you that recordings will be deleted.
Yes, you can download the Zoom recording files to your computer. You should do this within 29 days of the recording as all recordings will automatically delete after 30 days.
- How can I get help using Zoom while I'm in a live session?
- How do I record asynchronous lectures?
You can use PowerPoint or Zoom to record asynchronous lecture. The following videos show you how to record and load the MP4 to Canvas using Panopto. If you record in Zoom you can paste the video link into Canvas instead of uploading a file.
Best practice for recording asynchronous lecture is to limit videos a maximum time of 10 minutes. If you typically lecture for 40 minutes in a 50 minute course, break down the lecture content into smaller videos for students to more easily digest.
- I have recorded lectures/class sessions that I want to post to Canvas. How do I upload
them to Panopto to share with my students?
Once you have an MP4 you can load it to Panopto. From Panopto you can use the generated link or embed code to post the lecture in an announcement, assignment, or discussion.
- How do I create a Panopto assignment so students can upload videos to Canvas?
Students can upload videos to Canvas if you create a Panopto assignment folder. Once a student has a video loaded they can take the link and share it in a discussion board for other students. You can also set the folder so that all students can see all of the content.
- How might I turn an in-class paper submission into an online submission?
Use Canvas assignment options. Students can upload files or paste directly into Canvas. You can also have students submit assignments using email.
Note: Students are overwhelmed. When possible, use Canvas instead of requiring students to use a different system or software.
- How might I turn an in-class quiz or test into an online quiz or test?
- How might I turn an in-class discussion into an online class discussion?
- How might I turn a face-to-face student presentation into an online presentation?
There are a number of ways students can present online:
- Ask students to deliver their presentation in Teams or Zoom.
- Ask students to record their voice in a powerpoint presentation, upload it to YouTube, and share the link in Canvas.
- Ask students to record themselves on their phone or Teams and upload to Canvas.
- How might I turn a face-to-face lecture into an online lecture?
- How might I turn a collaborative student activity/assignment/project into an online
collaborative student activity/assignment/project
You can create groups in Canvas. Once you’ve created groups in Canvas each group has access to its own discussion board and email list.
Zoom provides breakout group options and the instructor can toggle between groups.
Groups can also meet in Teams. This is best done by assigning a Group Leader in Canvas and asking that person to create a group in Teams for their group. They will then send the link to each group member by posting it in the group Canvas discussion board or emailing the group.
- How might I grade online participation and take attendance?
You might consider eliminating your participation grade given that students may get ill or may not be able to participate in a timely manner due to internet disruptions.
Canvas has tools such as Roll Call for taking attendance. To grade participation/discussions online you can apply a rubric.
- How might I turn face to face office hours into online office hours?
You can use Canvas or Teams for online office hours.
Online Curriculum Resources
This section includes resources to help faculty teach online including OER, information on using UNC library resources, and information on discipline specific online resources that can be included in an online course. This list will be updated regularly. If there is a resource you would like added please email CETL at email@example.com.
- Software and Free Programs
IM&T has put together a list of software available either through UNC or through outside vendors opening their licensing requirements and costs during the Covid-19 pandemic.
- UNC Library Resources
UNC's University Libraries has numerous online resources that students can access. This includes streaming film, streaming performances, streaming music, book chapters, books, articles, and more.
You can see the full list of library databases online. Select the Subject drop-down box and search by your subject area. For example, if you are teaching in Theater & Dance you will find 15 specific databases including those with streaming video of performances. In most cases these can be embedded into Canvas.
For specific help selecting resources contact your library liaison.
- All Disciplines
The MERLOT collection consists of tens of thousands of discipline-specific learning materials and learning exercises intended to enhance the teaching experience. Browse by discipline to get started.
Numerous museums are offering virtual tours. This includes the British Museum, Guggenheim, Van Gogh Museum, and the National Museum of Anthropology. Click here for a list.
Cambridge University Press is making higher education textbooks in HTML format free to access online during the coronavirus outbreak. Over 700 textbooks, published and currently available, on Cambridge Core are available regardless of whether textbooks were previously purchased. Free access is available until the end of May 2020.
Oxford University Press is offering free resources for faculty and students.
- Performing and Visual Arts
Along with library databases with streaming content including Audio Drama, Dance in Video, and Digital Theater Plus there are some other resources you can consider for Performing and Visual Arts courses. Below you'll find links to editable google docs where you can find ideas and resources and share your own.
- STEM - Remote Labs
Merlot is a collection of open online resources. You'll find virtual labs and simulations for various STEM areas such as biology, physics, and statistics.
PhET Colorado offers online simulations in all STEM fields.
Get Body Smart provides animated text narrations and quizzes to explain the structures and functions of the human body systems.
Information for Conducting Labs During Emergency Remote Teaching
The following recommendations combine what resources are available to support virtual lab exercises with assignments that combine data interpretation with the experience of experimental design, hypothesis building, and self-reflexive critiques of the methods and outcomes that students develop.
1. If the focus is on learning techniques and their application to specific experimental situations, consider asking your students to engage in online simulations that may cover at least portions of, if not the entirety of a protocol.
Harvard’s LabXchange has just released a suite of lab simulations with assessments and guidance that focus on basic molecular biology techniques. How to combine these simulations with supporting content and your own assessments is described here. You will be able to assign these simulations with your associated assessments and get your students’ performance data. For additional help email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also consider Merlot's collection linked above.
You might consider having your students watch videos of experiments; you can ask your students to first make predictions and then discuss the results. The Journal of Visualized Experiments (link takes you to UNC access) offers videos of experiments. This is full access until June 15, 2020.
2. If the focus is on interpreting experimental data, consider extracting datasets from the published literature that are aligned with the experiments students would have encountered in lab and develop problem sets that focus on the interpretation of the data. One could also combine the experimental protocols with interspersed questions that explore the reasons behind specific steps so that students gain deeper intuition into why certain procedures are performed. In place of actually performing the experiment, students can gain a critique-based understanding of the method followed by data interpretation.
3. If the focus is on project-based lab research, your students have probably already been working on their projects since the start of the term. Furthermore, there is usually a capstone assignment in the form of a final paper, grant application and/or poster that describes their work, both with context and future directions defined. Consider asking your students to switch to the capstone assignment now with an emphasis on interpreting the data they have already gathered or if they have not generated their own data yet, focus on having them predict their experimental outcomes and design the next experimental steps in detail. Divide up the rest of the semester into draft submissions of sections of the capstone that will allow you to provide formative feedback and enable your students to experience experimental design, further hypothesis building, and predictive data analysis. This approach aligns especially well with a written capstone styled like a grant application.
This information adapted from Harvard University's Boc Center.
- Foreign Languages
Language Panda is a database of digital instructional materials for the teaching of a variety of foreign languages. The content of this database is user-provided, meaning that it is designed by FL instructors for other FL instructors.
Duolingo is an online language learning platform with lessons for over 30 language. This tool can help supplement in-class activities.