Teaching Remotely

The Chicago Center for Teaching offers a range of programs and services for instructors and mentors.

Student Government has helped collect important feedback about student experiences with remote
learning. Thanks to student government for their partnership in these efforts. See student feedback along with suggestions from instructors gathered by the Chicago Center for Teaching below, or share tips from your remote teaching experience.

The University is rapidly working to advance its understanding of remote instruction. Spurred by the necessary transition to distance learning, we have gathered key resources and best practices from around campus and beyond to enhance our educational infrastructure and support you in designing/redesigning your courses for remote teaching. A companion site, Learning Remotely, provides complementary support for student learning.

  • Need IT support for your remote class? Please contact us.

Mid-Spring Quarter 2020 Feedback

Tips from Students on Learning Remotely

UChicago students have provided substantial feedback on their experience with classes taught remotely. Thanks, in particular, to leaders in Student Government for their help in this process. Key takeaways are below; additional student suggestions will be incorporated throughout various sections of this website.

Zoom works well for synchronous sessions, especially when instructors incorporate creative teaching methods. Try:

  1. Using Breakout Rooms for small-group discussion (a big hit with students)
  2. Using the Whiteboard feature to illustrate points
  3. Encouraging active participation during synchronous instruction (e.g. ask for volunteers to read passages out loud; provide clear guidance on how to use Zoom’s ‘raise hand’ feature)

The flexibility of asynchronous recordings is very important for accommodating students’ schedules and expanded use of Canvas features like Modules and Assignments has been effective. See the Course Set-Up page for ideas.

Clear boundaries and expectations are key. Between the mixed teaching methods and technology features, it’s easy to end up spending more “in-class” time than normal, or to have less engagement during that time. Try:

  1. Establishing a “video on” rule upfront for those who can – students report more engagement when they can see other students – but asking them to turn off their videos if they need to get up and move around
  2. Asking someone to be a time-keeper during synchronous session
  3. Aligning recordings/synchronous lectures so they add up to the normal class hour(s)

Lessons for Remote Teaching from UChicago Instructors

UChicago instructors have been actively participating in a number of discussions about remote teaching, from regular departmental meetings to University wide roundtables organized by the Chicago Center for Teaching focused on the humanities and social sciences as well as STEM disciplines. Summarized below are common lessons learned.

Assess the learning needs of students with a pre-survey

Being aware of students’ access to technology, time zone differences, and other issues has helped instructors adjust their teaching to enable student access.

Gather feedback from students.

  • Learning how students are experiencing the various aspects of the course provides valuable information on if and how to adjust.
  • Feedback can also help to assess why students do or do not participate in various ways—for example, are expectations clear for how to speak up in Zoom, are there issues related to their home learning environment, etc.

Provide clear, regular structure using Canvas modules

Weekly modules containing pre-recorded lectures, reading assignments, guiding questions, and discussion threads make clear what is expected of students and helps them focus on the content (rather than navigating the technology).

Recognize asynchronous participation possibilities

Many instructors have reported being quite pleased with the quality of student understanding and analysis demonstrated in posts to discussion threads, blog posts, and the like. Making such work a valued aspect of student participation helps to promote this.

Move from asynchronous “pre-work” to synchronous discussion

Setting up the material in clearly organized modules that prompt students to produce some low-stakes work—reading reflections, collaboratively produced presentations, concept maps, etc.—helps to set up productive Zoom discussions. Students come into Zoom having worked up some initial thoughts that they are ready to share. For example:

  • Provide several discussion questions in a module for students to consider ahead of time, and then divide students into Zoom breakout rooms based on the question they want to discuss.
  • Have students work in small groups prior to class to discuss the readings, lectures, etc. and come to Zoom with a brief presentation based on their discussion.

Build social interaction into the course

Helping students maintain social presence promotes their well-being and leads to more engagement in the course. For example:

  • Have students make brief Panopto videos to introduce themselves.
  • Start each Zoom session with informal 5-minute breakout discussions for students to chat, echoing the kind of socializing that might occur before class begins.
  • Create quarter-long “working groups” of students (of, say, 4-5 students) who meet regularly to discuss material, produce low-stakes group presentations, etc. Consider grouping students together who are in similar time zones, and be mindful of the total amount of time you are requiring students to be working on the course. Canvas groups may help facilitate this.
  • Create a “social presence” discussion thread in Canvas where students can post photos, images, thoughts, questions, etc. that are about their lives beyond the course.

Consider where your course is on the synchrony spectrum

Some instructors are conducting most of their course over Zoom, while others have gone almost entirely asynchronous. Some courses have experienced great engagement over Zoom discussions, and some have experienced excellent engagement over Canvas discussion threads. By the same token, some courses have struggled with both of these modalities.

In short, instructors are finding success with a variety of modalities. Think through what options you are providing for students and adjust to accommodate access issues (technology, bandwidth, time zones) and to promote the kind of engagement characteristic of learning in your area.

Provide clear instructions for participation in Zoom

One’s ability to read body language and other visual cues over Zoom is hampered. As a result, it can be difficult for students to navigate points of entry into an online discussion, and it can be challenging for an instructor to orchestrate this.

Clearly communicate to students how they should enter the discussion and how you will call on them. For example:

  • Have students use the “raise hand” function, and use it to call on students.
  • Assign a “reporter” for breakout discussions—someone who is responsible for summarizing key points for the larger class.
  • Have a TA or a rotating student monitor the chat. Pause regularly to have the chat monitor flag any questions.

Embrace flexibility

Structured asynchronous materials allow for student flexibility for when to complete readings, watch lecture videos, and so on.

Providing options for assignments allows students to meet the learning goals in a variety of ways. For example, have students identify their strongest 3-4 pieces of work (discussion posts, presentations, etc.) to submit for a quality grade, and grade the rest for completion.

Supporting Students in their Learning Environments

As you interact with students, you may also become aware of difficulties they have in accessing resources. UChicago has a number of programs, longstanding and new, that you can suggest to them.

Overarching sites for Spring 2020 student support:

As always, students in need of emergency assistance or information should contact the Dean-on-Call at 773.834.HELP (4357). Follow the voice prompts carefully.

Students needing immediate treatment of medical conditions should contact 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Health and wellness

  • Student Health Services has moved primarily to telehealth options – appointments can be scheduled by calling 773.702.4156.
  • Student Disability Services can assist students remotely with accommodations via disabilities@uchicago.edu or 773.702.6000.
  • 24/7 mental health support is available for UChicago students (regardless of location) by calling 773.702.3625.
  • A full list of Health and Wellness Spring Quarter changes/resources is available on the Student Health and Counseling Services website.

Food security and other financial concerns

Need for improved access to devices and connectivity

Systems, Policies, and Support

Canvas, Zoom, and Panopto are the core systems available for remote teaching. The Course Set-Up section of this website has information on getting started with these systems as well as links to other resources. Resources for using Canvas and Zoom are here:

As of Spring Quarter 2020, the following policies and copyright statement provide guidance for instructors and students about course sessions. Please see the information below and contact us with any questions.

For individual support with remote teaching, please contact us.


The University offers live virtual and self-directed training sessions for instructors. You can register for training online and access quick-help resources via the Training section on this website.