Teaching Strategies

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Setting student expectations

Setting expectations with students around communication methods and timelines. As much as consistency, it’s helpful to create a communication strategy for the class. You may want to reach out to them with information like how often and how you will be updating them:

“I will be sending an email out to our MCommunity group every Monday and Wednesday with an update. I also ask that you turn on your Canvas email notifications for Announcements as I will be posting more timely updates there.”

As well as how they should reach you:

“Please email me if you have a personal concern about completing coursework due to illness. I will be responding to emails once a day. For a faster response to questions, I have set up a FAQ section of our discussion board. Unless your question involves a personal issue, please ask your question there so that everyone can benefit from the response.”/

You may want to consider setting some expectations for students as well, although remember to be flexible.

“I hope that you will be able to continue to participate in the course during this time. If so, I hope to see that you are logging in at least twice a week to keep updated on assignments and discussions. If, for some reason, this is a challenge, please email me immediately.”

Other communication suggestions:

  • Create an MCommunity Group for the class

  • Create an FAQ in your course in Canvas to be able to provide a resource for students (and to ensure you aren’t answering the same question multiple times). The discussion board is a great place to set up a FAQ.

  • If you are posting announcements to Canvas, remind students to set their notifications to receive those announcements to email.


If you use discussion, peer-to-peer interaction, or group work there are a multitude of different strategies that you can implement in an online setting. If you have never used some of the tools and are not sure which ones may be appropriate for your class, check out our Introduction to Communication tools.


There are many ways to hold discussions and small group work online. If you want to hold a live (synchronous) discussion, you can do so through video conferencing (see ITS BlueJeans documentation). Bluejeans also offers an option to move between large group discussions and small breakout groups, so you can structure a series of small and large discussions in the same session.

Online discussion boards are another useful way to engage students in peer communication. In terms of technology, Canvas offers an online discussion tool. Another frequently used tool for class discussion is Piazza.

If you haven’t participated in an online discussion before, you may want to consider best practices for facilitation. Other campuses have reported that students really value the student-to-student connection during periods of isolation. Create a social space in your discussion board for students to connect.

Group work

Group work is also possible to facilitate online. You could encourage small groups to meet on their own schedule live via BlueJeans. Google Hangouts is also an option. In addition, Canvas offers several options to promote group work: an instructor can create groups within a course, which will provide the students in each group with their own Canvas workspace. That can include a discussion board, area for files, etc. Finally, the suite of Google tools (Docs, Sheets, etc.) enable group work and collaborative writing around specific assignments or projects.

Office hours

You may also want to consider holding a live “Office Hours” session via live chat or video conference. Office hours are a great way to interact with students, answer questions in a relatively similar way that you use in the classroom now. Our tips for hosting a videoconference can help with office hours as well.

Content Delivery

Remember that not all content delivery needs to come from a lecture. If you already have a slide deck, determine whether adding the slides to your Canvas course conveys enough information to guide students.

Other non-lecture ideas:
  • Assign readings or case studies and then use a student discussion to explore topics rather than a presentation format.

  • Create scaffolded notes for students to work through rather than having to watch a recorded lecture

If lectures are a critical piece of your content:

Your first consideration is whether you want to use a live (or synchronous) lecture. Using video conferencing tools (such as Blue Jeans) allow you to share content and have interactions with students and even host small group breakout sessions. A live session may help bring continuity to your course (particularly if you host it during the same time as you would your “regular” class). Some drawbacks to using a live session are that everyone has to be online at the same time. Therefore, if you do decide on a live session, it is recommended that you record that session for students who cannot attend at that time. Live sessions are also not recommended for large classes (75 or more students).

  • For tips on running a live section

  • For tips on setting up a home studio

A second option would be to record content for learners to engage with at a time best suited to their needs and situation (i.e., asynchronous).  This not only gives you as the instructor the flexibility to record on your own schedule but allows students who may not be feeling well enough to participate in a live session to still engage with content. You can record a lecture beforehand (through BlueJeans or Kaltura in Canvas) and upload it to the class. These recordings don’t have to show you talking — many recorded lectures record your audio but show slides for the visual component.

  • For tips on setting up a home studio

For additional information on the various options for lecturing remotely, see the ITS Remote Resource Guide

Exams & Assignments

Canvas is a great place to collect assessments and offer feedback to students. To have students submit files, add an assignment in Canvas. Once students submit a file, you can provide feedback through Speedgrader. If you are accustomed to giving exams, you can do so by leveraging quizzes in Canvas or you may want to think about a different type of assessment, for example, using a case study or a writing assignment. If there is a large scale disruption, you may need to take into account that many students might need to delay the completion of specific assignments given their personal circumstances. As a result, you may want to rethink different ways for students to demonstrate knowledge. If you have an exam planned ask yourself these questions:

  1. Can it wait? The disruption in classes is temporary. One option is to wait for the exam until normal classes resume.

  2. Can you use an alternative assessment? Case studies, longer assignments

  3. Can this assessment be completed online, in a Canvas quiz?

  4. Proctoring services are available for instructors wishing to administer high stakes assessments online. Use of these services can become expensive, particularly in classes with a large number of students, and requires a financial commitment from the academic unit.


Labs usually rely on specific equipment and hands-on activities. If social distancing is required, you might have to rethink whether or how students work with partners or in small groups or use the same piece of lab equipment.

If in-person classes are suspended, experimental lab work may need to be postponed until later in the term. The following ideas, however, may help you modify your labs so that remote participants can engage or so that you may teach them fully online.

Consider altering lab activities.For instance, you may shift the focus from data collection to data analysis. Provide students with sample data, perhaps in the form in which it would have been collected, and ask students to complete the analysis as if they had collected the data themselves. For cases where observations are part of the process, consider recording yourself or an AI completing the lab and ask students to take the necessary measurements and observations from the video. Students can then complete the analysis and reflection as usual. Students can collaborate on analysis and reporting using email, Canvas, or other collaborative tools.>

Explore alternative forms of instruction. Online simulations, which allow students to interact virtually with the equipment and lab conditions, may offer valuable practice for students. Many online resources are available, including many that are free. A few that may be of interest include (but are not limited to):

Adapted from Princeton’s McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning


Like labs, studio courses typically rely on experiential learning. If social distancing is required, you may have to modify or eliminate collaborative or small group activities.

If in-person classes are suspended, you may need to postpone certain activities until later in the term. However, BlueJeans and other web conferencing tools do allow for exchange and collaboration. For instance, you might segment a rehearsal, building in opportunities for response and feedback. For instructions on how to use Blue Jeans, see ITS Resources.

Also, consider whether remote students can complete an experiential component of your course independently and then engage in structured reflection.  You might ask: what was their process, how and why did they make particular choices, how did they revise their original idea, etc. They might also analyze their work using a critical framework from your course. Students’ individual reflections can be exchanged over email or on Canvas for peer comments.

Adapted from Princeton’s McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning

Resources to share with students

Share these resources with your students to help them adjust during this time.

  • Adjusting your study habits during COVID
  • Student guide to using BlueJeans & Zoom
  • Collaborating online during COVID
  • Student guide to Kaltura
  • For Instructors: Supporting students well-being during COVID-1

Share Feedback

Have other questions not addressed in the FAQs? Have other questions about remote teaching you want answered or resources you would like shared? Let us know and we’ll add them.

Need Something Else?

Contact the ITS Service Center by chat, phone (734-764-4357) or email for additional information or questions related to U-M supported online tools.

Please also reach out to your school, college, or unit’s IT professionals for additional information or questions that are specific to your department.

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