Online teaching & emergency remote teaching

Last Updated: December 11, 2023
A woman takes notes while watching an online lecture

How this will help:

Define some vocabulary around online teaching and learning.

The basics

Emergency remote teaching

In March of 2020, the University of Michigan went online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the delivery of classes took place online, it was not the same as the type of learning experiences that come from a typical online course. You may have experienced feeling overwhelmed with the planning and facilitation during the fast transition. 

In fact, the COVID-19 crisis has fundamentally changed the field of online learning by adding the concept of “Emergency Remote Teaching” (or ERT, also sometimes called “panicgogy”) to describe what happened when faculty were given an incredibly short amount of time to learn and teach as much as possible about teaching online.

We define emergency remote teaching in the following way:

The rapid transfer of some portion of a course to the online environment to ensure continuity of instruction during unpredictable emergent situations that threaten the ability to teach on-campus.

ERT is sudden and unexpected. This time, it occurred because of the pandemic, although smaller closures due to weather or sudden illness could also theoretically interrupt instruction on a much smaller scale. Another difference is that during times of intense crisis we also advocate for pedagogies of care, meaning that the disruption is indicative of a larger issue that potentially threatens not only the instructional environment but also the health and well-being of either faculty or students. We emphasize flexibility and anything necessary to ease the transition for all involved.

Online teaching (and learning)

On the other end of the spectrum is online teaching, defined as:

The transformation of teaching practices to include thoughtful and well-planned instructional strategies that effectively engage the unique affordances of online technologies and pedagogies to support learning.

Online teaching is careful and deliberate. Generally planned well in advance (at least 8 weeks or more), it can be a significant investment in time and resources. Depending on the need and experience, some faculty can build a course on their own, but often there is a team including instructional designers, media developers and/or technology specialists that assist in the process. In an online course, the expectations for learning outcomes are no different than in a face-to-face course, but the way students achieve those learning goals may differ. In addition, we typically employ a different set of teaching methods in online teaching, ones that you may not have experienced in a face-to-face course. Students who take online classes (especially if they are in a degree program) may be different too. Online degree programs tend to appeal to working adults who couldn’t otherwise take the time off work or to relocate for their education, and we design accordingly.

What about the in-between? 

If you are reading this after March 2020, but before January 2021, we realize that many faculty are not going to be ready to fully teach online. Some might, and that is great! We also want to acknowledge there are many other factors that impact the instructional decisions that you might use during spring or summer or perhaps even fall. You may still be using some of the remote teaching practices, but it’s no longer an emergency.

We are defining remote teaching as:

Transferring course content and/or activities to the online environment temporarily to ensure continuity of instruction due to an anticipated and time-limited outage. 

The important thing here is that remote teaching is constrained by time. It’s not a permanent situation nor are the strategies likely the best practices for online teaching. But given the situation, we understand that everyone is doing the best they can.

Moving toward resilient teaching

Ideally, we would like to encourage you to consider what we have been calling “resilient teaching,” which we are defining as:

Intentionally integrate methods of teaching that easily adapt to rapidly changing contexts, to be capable of leveraging technology to move fluidly between environments. 

This is a long term change involving consciously choosing teaching strategies that can bend and move between delivery methods more easily. We want to encourage you to integrate methods that are capable of bending to fit multiple environments without becoming ineffective. 

We don’t know what will happen in the future, but being ready for change may be an integral part of it. If you’d like to learn more about resilient teaching, we will be launching a MOOC where you can learn more on June 1, 2020.


University of Michigan

CAI –Online teaching at Michigan