Preparing to Teach Online

Getting set-up and oriented with your online course

Here are four tasks you should prioritize while getting ready to teach an online course. These tasks are additionally important if it is the first time you are teaching a course that somebody else authored.

1. Keep your Course Instructor page up to date

Nearly every online course developed with the Centre for Extended Learning (CEL) has an About the Course Author and Course Instructor page included in its Course Outline. Writing a short bio helps students get to know you and see there is a real person to guide them and support them throughout the course.

You can find some guidance and examples in the Open Educational Resource (OER), Humanizing Virtual Learning, specifically the section Strategies in action:Sharing your personality and passion.

2. Confirm the course, department, and university policies

Double check the Course and Department Policies page in the Course Outline section of your course to ensure you’re familiar with the expectations being presented to students. You may also benefit from reviewing the University Policy page to be sure you know the policies all Waterloo instructors and students need to follow.

3. Familiarize yourself with the course

Getting oriented in your LEARN course and becoming familiar with the design, activities, and content before or early in the term will enable you to support students on day one and first impressions can make a big difference. Where should you start? CEL - supported courses are typically set-up with a left-hand navigation pane that is divided into 3 sections:

Course Outline

  • Course Schedule – is a good place to get an overview of the course structure. It contains all the course due dates and often contains links to module landing pages and assessments. This is generally the most visited page in any online course.
  • Final Exams – check if the course has a final exam. Once students see the Course Outline, you cannot make substantial changes to it and additions or removals of final exams are considered substantial. Final exam dates should be coordinated with the Registrar’s Office via Odyssey.


  • Weekly/Module Landing Pages provide a weekly/module overview, with learning outcomes, links to content and a list of readings/resources, and links to activities and assessments instruction pages.

Activities and Assessments

  • We recommend keeping all instructions for both graded and ungraded assessments in a single location and linking to them from other locations in the course. Linking rather than duplicating information throughout the course makes maintaining the course easier and greatly reduces the likelihood of forgetting to update instructions somewhere and confusing students (and/or causing them unnecessary stress) during the term.
  • We also recommend that you post announcements giving students reminders about key activities throughout the term and it can be useful to link to both these pages and the Course Schedule when you make your announcements.

4. Know your responsibilities re: final exams or final assignments

Exams will be listed on the course’s Grade Breakdown page and may also be referenced within the Activities and Assessments section and Course Schedule. If you wish to have an in-person final exams you must fulfill the responsibilities on the CEL Final Exam Coordination page to ensure that all students – especially those who will not be writing their exams on-campus - receive their exams on time.

The University’s Policies, Guidelines, and Regulations surrounding assessments, tests, and exams can be found in the undergraduate calendar (see Assessments, Test, and Final Exams).

Changes to exam plans right before the start of term are highly discouraged; however, if changes are desired and time permits, you can reach out to both your departmental scheduling rep and CEL as soon as possible for support with the necessary scheduling and set-ups.