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Faculty and Staff Resources for Remote Learning

A variety of circumstances might require you to temporarily take your class online with minimal notice: a campus closure, increased absenteeism during a flu outbreak, a family emergency requiring your presence elsewhere, etc. This guide will provide you with some actions to take when making that shift quickly, including: delivering lectures online, distributing course materials through Canvas, and communicating with students outside of class.

For support from our Educational Technology team, please visit CIT’s online service desk at We are working remotely at this time, so we will be providing support virtually.

Contact an Instructional Designer to set up an appointment today!
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The resources listed here provide multiple options for keeping your class running—likely more than any one instructor could use. In order to make the course run smoothly during this time, focus on the most basic elements you need to put in place to meet your short-term instructional objectives. If the situation continues, you can add more activities, finding ways to accomplish them online as well.

General Principles

When you realize you have to move your class online quickly, consider the following right away.

  • Identify plans early: Consider addressing emergencies and expectations up front in your syllabus, so students know what will happen if classes are cancelled, including procedures you will implement. Inform them what your expectations are for checking email or using Canvas in order to provide them with more details. Consider doing this each semester, so you are ready in case of an emergency.
  • Get details about the closure or event: Campus closures or emergencies will be reported by the campus via phone, email and on the college's website. You can contact CIT for information about the current availability of IT services.
  • Check with your department: Your department may issue more details about the situation and guidelines about their expectations for classes. Administrators may want to have many of the department's classes handled in similar ways, so check with departmental leaders before doing too much planning.
  • Work with the library: 
  • Consider realistic goals for continuing instruction: What do you think you can realistically accomplish during this time period? Do you think you can maintain your original syllabus and schedule? Will students be expected to keep up with the reading with some assignments to add structure and accountability? While we may not be able to meet all of our original goals prior to our change in circumstances, we still want to keep the students engaged with the material and the class however possible.
  • Review your course schedule to determine priorities: Identify your priorities during the disruption—providing lectures, structuring new opportunities for discussion or group work, collecting assignments, etc. What activities are better rescheduled, and what can or must be done online? Give yourself a little flexibility in that schedule, just in case the situation takes longer to resolve than you think.
  • Review your syllabus for points that must change: What will have to temporarily change in your syllabus (policies, due dates, assignments, etc.)? Since students will also be thrown off by the changes, they will appreciate details whenever you can provide them.
  • Pick tools and approaches familiar to you and your students: Try to rely on tools and workflows that are familiar to you and your students, and roll out new tools only when absolutely necessary. If a closure is caused by a local crisis, it may be already taxing everyone's mental and emotional energy; introducing a lot of new tools and approaches may leave even less energy and attention for learning.
  • Identify your new expectations for students: You will have to reconsider some of your expectations for students, including participation, communication, and deadlines. As you think through those changes, keep in mind the impact this situation may have on students' ability to meet those expectations, including illness, lacking power or internet connections, or needing to care for family members. Be ready to handle requests for extensions or accommodations equitably.
Creating Community in an Online Class

Prior to the first day of class, post some information about who you are as a person. Create a text-based page with one or more still photos or develop a video to show students something about your life and interests. Reveal your personality throughout the semester by interacting with students in your authentic voice. Darby and Lang (2019). Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Create at least one opportunity for engagement during the online period. For example, you might do this through a live Zoom meeting during your regularly-scheduled teaching time, through one or more icebreaker activities, or through discussion questions in a Canvas discussion forum.

CIT Instructional Designers have created an introductory module that can be imported into your Canvas courses. Search for “Engagement Materials” in the Canvas Commons, download the import file from Google Drive and import it into your course, or email to request assistance. The module contains page templates, discussion ideas, and other resources to facilitate community building.

More Community Building Ideas

Communicate with Students

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'll want to let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations. A useful communication plan also lets students know how soon they can expect a reply. Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and save you dealing with individual questions.

We recommend using the Canvas Announcements feature when you need to communicate with your class. Canvas Announcements will email the students and include a copy of the announcement on your course site. For other alternatives, see also Communicating with Your Class

Principles to keep in mind when communicating with students:


  • 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. Don't swamp them with email, but consider matching the frequency of your messages with that of changes in class activities and/or updates to the broader crisis at hand (for example, the campus closure is extended for two more days; what will students need to know related to your course?).
  • 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. Let them know, too, if you are using Canvas as part of your communication, since they may need to update their notification preferences or change their habits (details in the next section).
  • 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. This way, students know they might get a group reply in a day versus a personal reply within an hour. Also, consider creating an information page in Canvas, and then encourage students to check there first for answers before emailing you.


Distribute Course Materials and Offerings

You will likely need to provide additional course materials to support your changing plans, from updated schedules to readings that allow you to shift more instruction online. In a pinch, providing some new readings and related assignments may be your best bet for keeping the intellectual momentum of the course moving.

For information on how to add files to your Canvas course, visit these Canvas File guides. For more information about organizing your materials, contact CIT or review these Canvas Modules guides

Considerations when posting new course materials:

  • Make sure students know when new material is posted: If you post new materials in Canvas, be sure to let students know what you posted and where. You might even ask that they change their Canvas notification preferences to alert them when new materials are posted. Refer them to How do I set my Canvas notification preferences as a student?
  • Keep things phone friendly: In a crisis, many students may only have a phone available, so make sure you are using mobile-friendly formats, PDFs being the most common. Consider saving other files (for example, PowerPoint presentations) to PDFs, which are easier to read on phones and tablets, and keep the file size small. Videos take lots of bandwidth, so only require them if you are confident students will have access to them during a crisis. 
  • Video will also require hosting somewhere for students to be able to access the material. As video files are large and your Canvas course space limited, we recommend using your Geneseo Google account to post videos to YouTube for embedding into Canvas pages.
Deliver or Record Lectures

Depending on your course, you may need to deliver some lectures to keep the course moving along. For any of these you will need the following equipment:

  • Device with good internet connection, preferably Wi-Fi (laptop. tablet, smartphone)
  • Headphones or earbuds (optional)
  • Microphone (if possible; a separate microphone can be better than your device's build-in mic)
  • Recommended microphone for purchase
  • Recommended headset for purchase
  • Web camera (optional, preferred for face-to-face contact)

Be aware, though, that a 45-minute live lecture sprinkled with questions and activities can become grueling when delivered online without intellectual breaks. 


Every Geneseo faculty, staff member, and student has a Zoom for Higher Education video conferencing account. This can be used independently or integrated into Canvas. For more information about how to set up and use your Zoom account, visit Zoom for Higher Education at Geneseo

Google Hangouts Meet

Google Hangouts can be created in Google Calendar. For information, visit this Google Hangouts Meet guide. Hangouts Meet is already included with G Suite for Education, and Google is making premium Meet features available at no additional cost to our G Suite for Education domain. The following premium Meet features will be rolled out over the next few weeks, and we have access to them until July 1, 2020:

Canvas Chat

The Canvas Chat tool can be used for real-time conversation with course users. Any user in the course can participate in a chat conversation and view all chat content. For more information, visit this Canvas Chat Guide.


YouTube allows you to record a video right on your smartphone, laptop, or tablet and upload it directly to the video-sharing platform. You can opt to make your video public (accessible to anyone), private (only accessible to you), or unlisted (accessible to anyone who has the link).

Faculty should upload course-related content, such as lectures, to YouTube as unlisted. Users can control the availability of their YouTube uploads at their YouTube Studio dashboard. To share the recording with your students, you can provide the YouTube URL in your Canvas course.

YouTube support link: "How to upload a video to YouTube" (from multiple platforms) 


If the content of your lecture is exclusively in PowerPoint, and you would like to be able to add, delete, or edit slides after your initial recording—or perhaps change the voice-over for one slide—you may want to consider the most recent version of PowerPoint.

This option is best for longer recordings, or for ones that you would like to be able to refine in the future. Unlike YouTube recordings, PowerPoint recordings can be changed in small ways, like editing a typo in a slide, without losing access to the audio that you previously made. This is also helpful if you decide to delete selected content, or add slides with new audio, at some point in the future.

The following articles provide information for creating video from PowerPoint:


Camtasia is a screen recorder and video editor. Faculty can schedule time to make use of the Newton Recording Studio to use Camtasia at There is a free version that places a watermark on your videos. Get started with these Camtasia Tutorials. To discuss licensing options, please contact CIT.

Other Options

Principles to keep in mind when creating Online Lectures

  • Record in small chunks: Even the best online speakers keep it brief; think of the brevity of TED talks. We learn better with breaks to process and apply new information. To aid student learning, record any lectures in shorter (5-10 minute) chunks, and intersperse them with small activities that give students opportunities to process the new knowledge, make connections to other concepts, apply an idea, or make some notes in response to prompts. Smaller chunks also lead to smaller files, especially when using voiced-over PowerPoint presentations.
  • Be flexible with live video: Lecturing live with Zoom or Microsoft Teams is certainly possible, and it best approximates a classroom setting, since students can ask questions. However, a crisis might mean some students won't have access to fast internet connections, and others may have their schedules disrupted. So, record these live sessions, and be flexible about how students can attend and participate.
  • It's not just about content: If a crisis is disrupting classes, lectures can mean more than just providing course content; they also establish a sense of normalcy and a personal connection. In online courses, we talk about the importance of "instructor presence", and that's just as true during short-term online stints. So, consider ways that you can use lectures to make students feel connected and cared about: acknowledgement of current challenges, praise for good work, and reminders about the class being a community. This affective work can help their learning during a difficult time.

A final note: "Videoconferencing Alternatives" by Daniel Stanford offers a metric for thinking about low-bandwidth options for remote teaching. Read his post for more about this visual: 

matrix of low/high bandwidth, low/high immediacy teaching practices

Run Lab Activities

One of the biggest challenges of teaching during a building or campus closure is sustaining the lab components of classes. Since many labs require specific equipment, they are hard to reproduce outside of that physical space.

Considerations as you plan to address lab activities:

  • Take part of the lab online: Many lab activities require students to become familiar with certain procedures, and only physical practice of those processes will do. In such cases, consider if there are other parts of the lab experience you could take online (for example, video demonstrations of techniques, online simulations, analysis of data, other pre- or post-lab work), and save the physical practice parts of the labs until access is restored. The semester might get disjointed by splitting up lab experiences, but it might get you through a short campus closure.
  • Investigate virtual labs: Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some labs (for example, virtual dissection, night sky apps, video demonstrations of labs, simulations). Those vary widely by discipline, but check with your textbook publisher, or sites such as Merlot for materials that might help replace parts of your lab during an emergency.
  • Provide raw data for analysis: In cases where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected, and then provide some raw sets of data for students to analyze. This approach is not as comprehensive as having students collect and analyze their own data, but it might keep them engaged with parts of the lab experience during the closure.
  • Explore alternate software access: Some labs require access to specialized software that students cannot install on their own computers. Depending on the nature of the closure (for example, a building versus the entire campus), the IT Service Desk might be able to help set up alternate computer labs that have the software your students need.
  • Increase interaction in other ways: Sometimes labs are more about having time for direct student interaction, so consider other ways to replicate that level of contact if it is only your lab that is out of commission.
Foster Collaboration Among Students

Fostering communication among students is important because it allows you to reproduce any collaboration you build into your course, and maintains a sense of community that can help keep students motivated to participate and learn. It helps if you already had some sort of student-to-student online activity (for example, Canvas Discussions) since students will be used to both the process and the tool.

Consider these suggestions when planning activities:

  • Use asynchronous tools when possible: Having students participate in live Zoom or Google Hangouts Meet can be useful, but scheduling can be a problem, and only a few students will actively participate (just like in your classroom). In such cases, using asynchronous tools like Canvas Discussions allows students to participate on their own schedules. In addition, bandwidth requirements for discussion boards are far lower than for live video tools.
  • Link to clear goals and outcomes: Make sure there are clear purposes and outcomes for any student-to-student interaction. How does this activity help them meet course outcomes or prepare for other assignments?
  • Build in simple accountability: Find ways to make sure students are accountable for the work they do in any online discussions or collaborations. Assigning points for online discussion posts can be tedious, so some instructors ask for reflective statements where students detail their contributions and reflect on what they learned from the conversation.
  • Balance newness and need: As with any changed activities, you will need to balance the needs and benefits of online collaboration with the additional effort such collaboration will require on everyone else's part. Learning new technologies and procedures might be counterproductive, particularly in the short term, unless there is clear benefit.
Collect assignments

Collecting assignments during a campus closure is fairly straightforward, since many instructors already collect work electronically. The main challenge during a campus disruption is whether students have access to computers, as anyone needing a campus computer lab may be unable to access necessary technologies. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Avoid emailed attachments: It may be easy to collect assignments in small classes via email, but larger classes might swamp your email inbox. Consider using Canvas instead. Balance what is simplest for students with what is easiest for you to manage.
  • State expectations, but be ready to allow extensions: In the case of a campus closure or other crisis, some students will undoubtedly have difficulties meeting deadlines. Make expectations clear, but be ready to provide more flexibility than you normally would in your class.
  • Require specific filenames: It may sound trivial, but anyone who collects papers electronically knows the pain of getting 20 files named Essay1.docx. Give your students a simple file naming convention, for example, FirstnameLastname-Essay1.docx.
  • Canvas has a feature to collect assignments digitally, provide students feedback, and share student grades. For more information, visit these Canvas Assignment guides
Assess Student Learning

It is fairly easy to give small quizzes to hold students accountable or do spot-checks on their learning, and this might be ideal to keep students on track during class disruptions. Providing high-stakes tests online can be challenging, however; they place extra stress on students, and test integrity is difficult to ensure. If you know there is a date for resuming on-campus classes, consider delaying exams until you return, if possible.

General tips for assessing student learning during class disruption:

  • Embrace short quizzes: Short quizzes can be a great way to keep students engaged with course concepts, particularly if they are interspersed with small chunks of video lecture. Consider using very-low-stakes quizzes to give students practice at applying concepts—just enough points to hold them accountable, but not so many that the activity becomes all about points.
  • Move beyond simple facts: It is good to reinforce concepts through practice on a quiz, but generally it is best to move beyond factual answers that students can quickly look up. Instead, write questions that prompt students to apply concepts to new scenarios, or ask them to identify the best of multiple correct answers.
  • Check for publishers' test banks: Look to see if your textbook publisher has question banks that can be loaded into Canvas. CIT can provide further assistance with this. Even if you don't use these questions for your exams, they can be useful for simple quizzes. Some textbooks also have their own online quizzing tools that can help keep students engaged with the material.
  • Update expectations for projects: Campus disruptions may limit students' access to resources they need to complete papers or other projects, and team projects may be harmed by a team's inability to meet. Be ready to change assignment expectations based on the limitations a crisis may impose. Possible options include allowing individual rather than group projects, having groups record presentations or deliver them via Zoom or Google Meet, or adjusting the types of resources needed for research papers.
  • Consider alternate exams: Delivering a secure exam online can be difficult without a good deal of preparation and support, so consider giving open-book exams or other types of exams. They can be harder to grade, but you have fewer worries about test security.

Canvas has a Quizzes feature that allows instructors to author multiple choice and open-ended questions fairly easily. It also allows support for both matching and fill in the blank question types. The options available within Quizzes allow you to control when each quiz is available and what is released to students. You can also analyze how students perform by question and see general information about a student's performance on the assessment (time to complete, etc.). Once a Quiz is published, there is also a feature enabling you to provide extra time and other accommodations that might be in place for specific students.

Secure test options are also available with Respondus LockDown Browser.

For more information, visit these guides:

Share student grades confidentially and digitally

Canvas allows you to communicate individual grades, category grades, and total grades with students. This is facilitated by the Canvas grade book. Do not share grades via email! These guides have more information:

Incorporate accessibility

Shifting the delivery of a course to online offers the opportunity to embed thoughtful, necessary features that impact all students. Taking the following steps will aid all learners, particularly those with poor or limited internet access, those who require specific course accommodations, and those who are new to the tools and techniques used in the course. 

  • Remind students of available help: The Geneseo Office of Accessibility Services can work with students individually as needed.
  • Enable captions: video and audio files used in an online platform need to be captioned, have transcripts available, or both. Seek out existing videos with strong captions, and make sure that any new material created for the course includes them as well. YouTube offers automatic captioning at about 80% accuracy as a starting point; these can be further edited in YouTube to improve their usefulness. Invite students to help improve the caption quality, as well.
  • Embed image descriptions: Images used for instructional purposes should have "alt text," short description that screen readers use. (For users with low bandwidth access, these will also be valuable.) Canvas asks for this when images are uploaded; Google Drive applications offer it as a right-click option once an image is added; PowerPoint offers an alt text field under the “Format Picture” options once an image is uploaded. Other tools where images are used should have similar options.
  • Link out to external readings: Rather than sharing large PDFs that require a lot of bandwidth to download and may not be screen reader-friendly, provide a stable link, such as a library item Permalink, for students to access course materials directly themselves.
  • Further advice: Excellent guidance is available on the University of Washington's "20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Online Course" and the Critical Design Lab's "Accessible Teaching in the Time of COVID-19
  • NEW: Freedom Scientific, the company behind JAWS Screen Reader, ZoomText, and Fusion programs, is allowing any user to download their software for free use until June 30, 2020. Use these programs to assist in your own adaptation to remote instruction, to test accessibility features of new instructional materials, and recommend to your students for use as well. 
  • NEW: Blackboard Ally, an accessibility review and support tool, is now available in Canvas courses. Learn more about Blackboard Ally here

More Resources:

Please direct your students to the guidance available on "Student Resources for Online Learning."