Teaching Remotely

Course Management for Teaching Remotely

Syllabus and Course Expectations

All instructors should have a syllabus with policies and classroom expectations available to students on the course Canvas page in an accessible format. This section contains specific policies and recommended language to include on your syllabus.

Course Expectations

In addition to going over what you expect students to learn over the course of the quarter, it is highly recommended instructors provide students with a brief overview of classroom protocols and behavioral expectations as well.  

Remote courses can go over how discussions will work, cell phone and internet usage during lectures, and expected Zoom etiquette. “There is an expectation that students in this course will be actively engaged and on camera while on Zoom. If a student requires an exception, they will need to reach out to the instructor directly.”

Please be mindful that some students may not be in a situation where they feel comfortable turning their camera on or are unable to find a quiet space to have their microphone on and actively participate outside of the chat feature. You may list as an expectation that students’ cameras should be on, but permit exceptions.

Recommended language for Zoom expectation:

“There is an expectation that students in this course will be actively engaged and on camera while on Zoom. If a student requires an exception, they will need to reach out to the instructor directly.”

Recording and Deletion Policies for Academic Year 2021-22

Please include the following language on your syllabus:

The Recording and Deletion Policies for the current academic year can be found in the Student Manual under Petitions, Audio & Video Recording on Campus

  • Do not record, share, or disseminate any course sessions, videos, transcripts, audio, or chats.
  • Do not share links for the course to those not currently enrolled. 
  • Any Zoom cloud recordings will be automatically deleted 90 days after the completion of the recording.

Contingency Planning

Classes that meet in person or have an in-person component may want to be prepared to shift online in the event of inclement weather or an emergency. Consider developing a plan that includes the following:

  • How will you communicate the shift: email, Canvas notification, etc.?
  • How will the class work remotely?
    • What parts will be synchronous? What will be asynchronous?

Also, if an instructor is unable to teach for a period of time, how will the course move forward? Can a TA take over or will asynchronous content be made available to students?

Disability Accommodations

Please include the following on your syllabus:

The University of Chicago is committed to ensuring equitable access to our academic programs and services. Students with disabilities who have been approved for the use of academic accommodations by Student Disability Services (SDS) and need a reasonable accommodation(s) to participate fully in this course should follow the procedures established by SDS for using accommodations. Timely notifications are required in order to ensure that your accommodations can be implemented. Please meet with me to discuss your access needs in this class after you have completed the SDS procedures for requesting accommodations.

Phone: (773) 702-6000

Email: disabilities@uchicago.edu 

Planning for Accessibility

Accessibility for Students with Disabilities

When you need to move coursework online quickly, it’s easy to lose track of everything that needs to be completed. Visit Planning Accessible Courses to learn more about providing courses and materials that are accessible to all students.

Accessibility for Instructors with Disabilities

We recognize that instructors with disabilities are also quickly transitioning to remote courses. If you need any changes to an accommodation or need to request an accommodation (pdf) please contact Jacqueline Hennard, the Associate Director of the Office for Access and Equity. If you are experiencing any accessibility-related issues with instructional technology please contact the Center for Digital Accessibility.


General Guidelines for Communication

Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your class(es)—whether a planned absence on your part, or because of a crisis impacting all or part of campus. You will want to let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations.

Communicate early and often

Let students know about changes or disruptions as early as possible, even if all the details aren’t in place yet, and let them know when they can expect more specific information.

Set expectations

Let students know how you plan to communicate with them, and how often. Tell students both how often you expect them to check their email, and how quickly they can expect your response.

Manage your communications load

You will likely receive some individual requests for information that could be useful to all your students, so consider keeping track of frequently asked questions and sending those replies out to everyone, or as a Canvas Announcement to the class.

Class Management Tips

Before, During, and After Class

Before Class

Before you begin your class, remember to have everything you need to teach remotely and that your preferred Zoom settings are configured the way you’d like. Also, have close by the contact information for your unit’s IT support.

During Class

During class make sure to welcome your students and ensure your preferred Zoom settings are functioning the way you’d like. Set expectations for the class should your or their technology malfunction or should there be other unanticipated interruptions during class.

After Class

After class, if you scheduled the Zoom meeting through Canvas and recorded to the Zoom cloud, the recording will be made available to students in Canvas, in Zoom navigation, under recordings. For more information see Use the Zoom-Canvas Integration.

If you are not using the Zoom integration in Canvas, please see this page for more information on managing your cloud recordings.

Solving Technology Problems During Class

  • If you lose your connection to the computer audio, you can wait 90 seconds and Zoom will automatically attempt to reconnect you.
  • If the audio and video are unstable for your connection, and you are not using the recommended Ethernet cable, move the computer closer to the Wi-Fi router. Getting closer to your router can improve signal strength and network speed.
  • If your Zoom connection is unstable, try turning off your webcam video. Turning on your webcam video uses more bandwidth than audio only. Switch it off by clicking Stop Video in the toolbar at the bottom of the meeting screen.
  • If your Zoom connection is unstable, leave the meeting and join it again. If you are the host, end the meeting and start it again.
  • If you have problems with audio, switch your audio source. Click the microphone icon in the toolbar at the bottom of the Zoom meeting window and select a different connection type. For instance, if you’re having issues with computer audio, join by phone. Alternately, if you have connected with phone audio and your cellular connection is poor, switch to computer audio.
  • The Zoom website has additional troubleshooting tips.

Tips from Students on Learning Remotely

Student Government has helped collect important feedback about UChicago student experiences with remote learning. We are grateful to student government for their partnership in these efforts.  Key takeaways are below; additional student suggestions have been 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” protocol 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.

We welcome all spring and autumn instructors to continue to share tips from their remote teaching experience.

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.

Office Hours

Office Hour Considerations

Even if you are teaching in person, office hours may be held on Zoom; please consider using the scheduling capabilities in Canvas for setting these up.

Since some of your students may be in different time zones, please consider being flexible in when you can be available for remote office hours.

For remote office hours, two frequently used options include:

Class Discussions and Engagement

Synchronous Engagement

Use Canvas Conferences to hold virtual office hours quickly and easily.

  1. See: How do I create a conference in a course?

Use Canvas Chat to converse synchronously with students.

Asynchronous Engagement

Create a Canvas Discussion and allow students to comment on your discussion prompt.

Create group assignments in Canvas to foster collaboration among your students.

Enable Peer Review on Canvas Assignments to allow students to assess one another’s work.

Students can work collaboratively in a Google Doc with Canvas Collaborations.

You can also create Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, etc. outside Canvas Collaborations using the UChicago Google Suite for collaborative work.

Creating and Grading Assessments and Exams

Considerations for Assessments and Exams

Assessment of student learning means thinking about the work we ask students to complete so they can practice with the material, show their understanding of the content and get feedback to improve. This includes both graded student work (essays, quizzes, exams, projects), as well as informal, ungraded activities that allow students (and instructors) to check-in on their understanding.

  1. Think of assessment as a tool for learning.
    Summative assessment means measuring and evaluating students’ learning likely for a grade, while formative assessment means providing feedback to help students improve. Exams and quizzes can be used for both purposes, if clear, timely feedback is provided.
  2. Use it as another way to communicate with students.
    There is evidence that providing students with regular retrieval practice leads to more enduring learning. Frequent quizzes that do not deeply impact grades are a great learning opportunity because the stakes feel low for students and instructors have additional opportunities to communicate and provide feedback.
  3. Be thoughtful with exam questions.
    • There is always concern with online testing that students are pulling their answers from the textbook or the internet. One way to get around this is to ask questions that require deeper analysis of text or data, as opposed to basic facts. Some other things you can do are: Randomize questions for each exam, and randomize answers for multiple choice questions
    • Create different versions of questions (same question, different values) for different groups of students
    • Consider allowing the use of books and notes
    • Verify that your questions aren’t “Googleable”
  4. Be mindful of exam length and timing.
    Shorter exams are recommended for learning remotely, because they provide more frequent learning opportunities and are easier for students to complete. It is important to be mindful when creating exams that not all students have unlimited access to computers or internet, and some students are in very different time zones.
  5. Accessibility
    You are responsible for ensuring that your course is accessible to all enrolled students. Please visit Planning Accessible Courses to learn more about providing courses and exams that are accessible to all students.

Creating Assessments and Exams

Canvas Quizzes

Canvas Quizzes is a robust assessment tool that allows instructors to design online assessments for students with a variety of question types and options. Instructors can choose from 11 question types, including multiple choice, fill-in, and essay, and Quizzes allows file uploads (great for showing work). (Please note that we use Classic Quizzes and not New Quizzes in our Canvas instance.)

Get Started with Canvas Quizzes:


For some subjects, assessing students is easier with hand-written work. Gradescope is a tool that facilitates the grading of hand-written work in an easier, more efficient, and more consistent way. It also allows better feedback for students with robust rubrics and comments. It can be used by any instructor and integrates with Canvas for roster sync and to push grades to the Canvas Gradebook.

Get Started with Gradescope:

Academic Integrity

Consider starting the exam with a Statement of Integrity which each student must read and acknowledge before starting the exam. Asking students to read a brief statement that reminds them that the exam is expected to reflect their own work and ideas—and having them confirm this as the first exam question—can help to remind them of the values of academic integrity and that they should honor them in taking the exam.

Grading Tools and Tips

You can choose to download all submissions in bulk or grade and provide feedback online using Canvas’ SpeedGrader. Here are some links that may prove useful: