flower in pavementResilient course design is a framework for understanding how to design courses that are less susceptible to disruption. Engaging in resilient course design involves creating a blended course that can be completed fully online if needed, whether due to campus closures or required student absences (e.g., self-isolation). The design choices made allow both students and instructors to seamlessly pivot between online and in-person formats for various course activities.

The goal of resilient course design is to only go through the design process once. It still may be necessary to improvise as the course gets underway, but the initial planning limits the potential for confusion and enables fast decision-making. These guidelines highlight key elements of resilient course design that differ from traditional course design or are vitally important to making a successful pivot.

Provide a clear structure

  • Make the course structure transparent to your students. Clearly identify in your course schedule which activities are intended to be in-person and which are intended to be online to help reduce stress and confusion in times of disruption and enable students to recognize which activities might need to change.
  • Familiarize students with the online tools and technology needed to facilitate teaching and learning online in your course. Ideally, incorporate all required online tools in the blended course to ensure that students are familiar with them if the course becomes fully online. Provide clear instructions on how to use the tools so students feel prepared when shifting formats.
  • Seek to limit confusion in times of uncertainty by including at least one online forum for communicating with students. They will be comforted by having a reliable, familiar way to maintain contact with you, and you will know they have a way to receive updates on any course structure changes.
  • Consider how you will provide structure for the following critical elements should you need to pivot to a fully online format:
    • How/where will students ask questions about course content and personal situations?
    • What instructions/guides about how to complete and submit asynchronous work will be available for students?
    • What expectations (if any) will you outline in terms of accountability and ensuring students complete asynchronous work?
    • How will synchronous meetings run in your course, if at all? 

Incorporate flexibility where feasible

  • Building in flexibility results in a more equitable teaching and learning experience for you and your students. Consider how you will provide flexibility for the following elements:
    • What are the alternative ways in which students can access the course material should they need to self-isolate or study off-campus due to changing circumstances?
    • How might you provide flexibility for yourself as an instructor?
    • What happens if you are unable to attend/facilitate in-person activities due to personal circumstances?
  • Map out your course activities and determine how-in-person activities can be done online. This mapping helps you think through all activities and may result in you swapping out an activity or two in advance. See the template below (adapted from the University of Missouri-St. Louis) to help you consider contingency plans that may be needed to shift any in-person activities/assessments to online versions:

In-person activities/assessments

Online alternative

How to communicate to students?

Example: Think-pair-share activity to discuss thoughts and questions from weekly reading

Contribute thoughts to discussion board in a predetermined group with prompt questions

Post announcement on course site with instructions on how to navigate discussion boards with predetermined groups

  • Be flexible with deadlines where possible. Offer slip days for students to submit an assignment within a predetermined window of opportunity without requiring advance notice or documentation.
  • Give detailed descriptions of the formative and/or summative assessments to provide transparency when it may be more difficult for students to ask questions. Be sure to post these descriptions in an obvious place online so students know where to find this information.
  • Create opportunities for synchronous small group discussions with designated note-takers so students who miss the discussions still have access to the notes. Alternatively, set up discussion boards consisting of the same questions used for in-class discussions so it is easy to pivot if in-person courses are cancelled or if students cannot attend class due to illness or self-isolation requirements.

 Make strategic choices in teaching and learning activities

  • Plan out any lectures in bite-sized chunks (5-15 minutes maximum) in case you need to start recording them.
  • Incorporate collaborative online note-taking into in-person classes to help students who need to miss class. The notes also give students an additional way to stay connected about the course material if the course moves online.
  • Avoid high-stakes, invigilated assessments of learning. Students become stressed when a course format changes, so seek to reduce stressors where you can and consider that a few smaller assessments are less daunting than a high-stakes one. When you are designing the assessments, also choose options that can be done online or as take-home assessments. Ideally, all students complete the same type of assessment unless a change is required for a student accommodation.
  • Incorporate teaching and learning activities that can be easily pivoted from in-person to online and still be effective. See the comparison table below (adapted from Carleton College) for sample activities that can be adapted to either format. Don’t worry about making all activities identical; you need to work within the affordances of each format and your comfort level.

In-person activity

Online activity

Student Q&A during lectures

Student Q&A via chat, videoconferencing, Piazza, etc.

In-person lectures

Pre-recorded lectures by instructor

Announcements in class

Announcements via text or video in LMS

In-person small group discussions

Breakout rooms in MS Teams, Zoom, WebEx, etc.

Student presentations in class

Student video recorded presentations using narrated PowerPoint presentations, Bongo Video Assignment, etc.

Scavenger hunt on campus

Virtual field trip

Gallery walk to read and respond to quotations using post-it notes

Comments and questions posted for quotations using Padlet

Diagnostic activity during lecture to check for learning using clickers

Similar check-in activity during lecture using iClicker Cloud, MS Forms, Mentimeter, etc.

Plan for key interactions

  • Consider the in-person interactions that are most meaningful to you and your students. Treat these interactions as coveted time in which thoughtful discussion and deep learning can occur. Seek to maintain these interactions as synchronous activities, when possible, when you move online.
  • Develop strong connections from the start of term to ease a sudden pivot to online. See the template below (adapted from the University of Missouri-St. Louis) to help you consider how to provide connection for each type of interaction:

Types of interaction

How will you provide connection in-person?

How will you provide connection online?

Student-Student

Example: Students work in small groups to brainstorm ideas on chart paper for a written analysis of a case study

Instructor creates a shared doc specific for each case study; students work in small groups to collaborate on the written analysis through the shared doc

Student-Instructor

Example: Instructor holds in-person office hours to provide an opportunity for students to ask questions

Instructor holds remote student drop-in hours once or twice per week for one-on-one consultations

Student-Content

Example: Students write ideas and questions on key sections of course reading through a gallery walk

Students participate in social annotation of course reading using Perusall or a shared doc

Student-Self

Example: Students engage in a one-minute paper at the end of a lecture to reflect on the topic

Students record reflection at the end of a lecture using a LEARN quiz, MS Form, or a shared doc

References  

teaching tips This Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Resilient Course Design. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.