Which online platforms are best to use?
Microsoft Teams is a platform that provides a shared workspace to chat, share/edit files, and host video/audio meetings. Recommended uses include recording training sessions and office hours, holding video meetings, and holding group audio calls.
Webex is a live presentation and meeting tool that allows users to share audio, video, and presentations. Webex is integrated into LEARN and a Webex widget can be added to your course page in LEARN. There are a number of components to the Webex platform (compared in detail here):
- Webex Meetings: for interactive meetings, small group seminars, and thesis defenses
- Webex Training: for seminars and sessions where the instructor has more control over who participates and when
- Webex Events: for webinars
When downloading the Webex software (recommended), be sure to download the Webex Meetings software (not Webex Teams). UWaterloo accounts are for Webex (Meetings, Training and Events) and not Webex Teams. Use Microsoft Teams instead of Webex Teams. Support resources are available in the IST Webex Knowledge Base.
Bongo is a virtual meeting space that allows instructors and teaching assistants to engage with students individually or in groups. Using Bongo, instructors can post lecture slides, create breakout rooms, and record meetings/office hours/Q&A sessions. Additionally, Bongo allows for individual and group video assignment submission, as well as a video peer review option. Students can also use Bongo to connect with each other while working in groups. The Virtual Classroom feature can be accessed in any LEARN course by clicking Connect > Virtual Classroom. The Video Assignment feature is accessed by clicking Submit > Video Assignment.
All three tools are supported by the University. Talk to your Centre for Teaching Excellence Faculty Liaison about how to use these tools effectively in your teaching.
How much time should students expect to spend on each course?
While there is no single University guideline for expectations around hours spent per course, recommendations from units across campus generally fall within a range of 7 to 12 hours per week, per course. This would include all course-related activities (i.e., attending classes and tutorials, preparing for classes and tutorials, completing assignments, studying for tests, etc.)
In the Faculty of Health, the expectation is that full-time students are pursuing their studies as they would a full-time job (i.e., 40 hours per week). For undergraduates, this means that students should plan to dedicate approximately eight hours per week to each course they take, with the expectation that some weeks the workload may be slightly higher and some it will be slightly lower, depending on test dates and assignment deadlines. The Keep Learning Team suggests using a “workload estimator” to assist with calculating workloads.
For graduate students in a thesis- or dissertation-based option, it may be more challenging to allocate a specific number of hours to each task/course. However, instructors and Advisors should be aware of the “full-time student = full-time job” approach and endeavor to keep their students’ overall workloads within that range.
How many and which types of assignments are best for the remote environment?
There is no specific amount or weight of assignments that work best in online courses. However, you should provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning during the term and to receive timely feedback so they can gauge their progress. In most cases, instructors should avoid an assessment structure that relies on three or fewer heavily-weighted assignments.
It is important to keep students’ overall workload in mind and, where possible, coordinate with instructors in your unit to avoid overloading students at traditionally heavy times of the term, such as Weeks 6 and 12.
In the remote environment, students generally have access to all course materials and are able to collaborate with classmates, including during assessments. As such, new strategies should be considered to promote academic integrity, such as setting LEARN up to generate an individual set of questions randomly drawn from a larger question bank for online quizzes.
In addition, students may be in different time zones or experiencing challenging circumstances. Please consider how you can make the course more equitable and accessible for all.
However you decide to assess students’ progress, it is important that your assessments and teaching strategies align with the learning outcomes of the course (i.e., course alignment). If you need assistance adjusting an existing assignment or examining your course alignment, please connect with email@example.com for course design and assessment strategies.
What is the recommended approach for final exams?
Synchronous final exams are strongly discouraged at this time. You should review the Fall 2020 midterm and final exam scheduling principles when making decisions about your assessments for fall term.
If you are considering including an asynchronous final exam, please explore the following options:
Oral exams are one approach to testing student knowledge while maintaining academic integrity. You can use a free online platform such as SignUpGenius to facilitate individual sign-ups, allowing for flexibility and choice. Oral exams can be as short as 15-20 minutes per student. Creating an objective set of questions and marking scheme will allow you to recruit assistance from teaching assistants in order to facilitate a larger number of exams. Microsoft Teams or Bongo can be used as a platform to host your oral exam. Consider screensharing your questions and having students respond orally. These exams can be recorded (with student permission) in case they need to be reviewed after they have occurred.
Exam alternatives, such as major assignments or tests, can be due during the last five days of the formal lecture period, provided they are not worth more than 25% of the final course grade.
No exams or assignment deadlines are permitted in the period between the end of lectures and start of exams.
Please visit the Keep Learning site for more details on final exams and alternative assessment strategies.
What is the best practice for posting lectures online?
The Centre for Teaching Excellence advises recording lecture content in 5- to 10-minute segments and interspersing those segments with small activities that help students process the new knowledge, make connections to other concepts, apply an idea, or make some notes in response to prompts.
Try to keep videos, narrated PowerPoints, and screencasts to less than 500 MB to keep files more accessible for students for whom bandwidth limitations might be an issue. Be sure to include a transcript or captions to improve accessibility. The Online Learning Assistants can assist in developing transcripts (contact your unit Teaching Fellow for more information).
MP4 is the preferred format for video recordings and screen captures. If you are using a Mac your files may be in QuickTime Movie format (.mov). These .mov files can be converted to .mp4 files using free utilities like Handbrake or Micro Converter. More information is available on the CEL website.
Visit the Keep Learning website for more approaches to developing and delivering online course content.
Source: Transitioning to Online Lectures
How many minutes/hours of lecture should be posted weekly?
Rather than focusing on a specific number of lecture minutes, consider the overall guidelines for weekly workload. However, in general, try to keep total weekly lecture time under one hour.
According to the Centre for Teaching Excellence, the online format can often create the opportunity for lecturing less without any reduction in the type, amount, and quality of the content that students encounter. To reduce the amount of lecture content that you need to create for your course, you could:
- Link out to material that already exists online, for example, Open Educational Resources and publicly available multimedia such as TED talks and podcasts.
- Substitute an extra reading in place of a lecture. Explore articles related to your lecture topics that could be assigned in lieu of the time that students would have spent watching a recorded lecture.
Emphasize existing course readings. You may at times cover certain material through both assigned readings and lectures, using lectures to reinforce or comment on things that students have already read. When transitioning online, it may be more effective to signal to your students the important sections of the reading and add comments and clarifications with minimal repetition or summary of the content. You can also combine readings with a simple comprehension activity to help ensure that students have mastered the material.
Source: Transitioning to Online Lectures
With a remote delivery format, students will be in different time zones, have different living circumstances, and may encounter challenges with computing equipment and reliable internet service. In terms of fairness, students must be able to achieve the learning outcomes from a course asynchronously.
Should an instructor feel synchronous course activities are essential to foster achievement of learning outcomes, they must ensure that no students in the class are disadvantaged if they are unable to participate synchronously. All students must have equitable access to course materials and activities.
Please consider the following guiding principles for Faculty of Health undergraduate courses:
- Synchronous activities must not include graded activities or be used to assess “participation.”
- Non-mandatory synchronous learning activities should be organized for no more than one hour per week for 12 weeks of the term. This does not include office hours.
- The time for synchronous learning activities should be consistent, although you may wish to provide more than one option in the week to enable more students to participate.
- If synchronous learning activities are to be offered, instructors should consult with the class about optimal times for holding any synchronous activities. You may opt to allow individual tutorial or seminar groups to select their own meeting time. Please keep in mind that you may have new students joining the course during the course add period (first two weeks of the term). In addition, students’ circumstances may change throughout the term.
- Meaningful and adequate access to the same learning experience must be made available to students who cannot attend the synchronous learning activity.
- Your course outline must inform the class that you will have synchronous learning activities, limited to one hour a week for up to 12 weeks, that there will be no grade directly associated with these activities, and that alternatives will be provided for those who cannot attend.
How can I ensure that my content is accessible for students with disabilities?
Creating online content that is fully accessible often requires specialized knowledge and skills. However, every instructor should strive to create material that is more accessible to help improve access and equity for all learners.
Transitioning to teaching fully online is a great time to explore Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to make your course as accessible and flexible as possible for all.
If you have students in your course(s) who are registered with AccessAbility Services, their office will work with both students and the instructor to ensure the content can be accessed (for example, by creating alternate formats). Please note that this is done based on one-to-one consultation with registered students, and the office is not able to create accessible materials for instructors/ whole courses.
The easiest way to ensure that your PDFs are accessible is to start with an accessible document. Microsoft Word and PowerPoint both have accessibility checkers built-in, so you check to see how accessible your files are as you develop them. You can also use this Word Accessibility Checklist and PowerPoint Accessibility Checklist as you develop your materials. It is recommended that instructors use built-in style features in Word and PowerPoint as they are typically accessible.
The Centre for Teaching Excellence supports the use of Camtasia to create video lectures and has identified friendly contacts, support, and resources. Be sure to add video captions or include a written transcript for any videos or audio that you post. The Online Learning Assistants can assist in developing captions and transcripts (contact your unit Teaching Fellow for more information).
You can check the accessibility of any items created directly in LEARN using the Brightspace Accessibility Checker. Remember that images of text (e.g., a screenshot or a scanned page from a textbook or article) cannot be read by a screen reader and are thus inaccessible. Include text descriptions for any images that you add to LEARN (the system prompts you to do this as either a caption or alt text whenever you post an image).
Staff in the Centre for Extended Learning and the Centre for Teaching Excellence can provide guidance in designing learning activities, creating accessible content, and assist with technical issues. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to connect with an accessibility expert from their offices.
When it comes to designing and delivering courses, it is important to consider accessibility on several fronts. In addition to disability, which is discussed in a separate response, you will want to consider accessibility needs related to mental health and economic needs.
Transitioning to teaching fully online is a great time to explore Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to make your course as accessible and flexible as possible for all learners.
Following the principles of UDL will help make your course more flexible, which can greatly assist in reducing student stress and anxiety. Some specific tips include:
- Use LEARN Announcements and Discussion boards for all communication so that it is contained within your course and easy for students to locate
- Establish clear guidelines for respectful, appropriate communication in the online world
- Add the RLS-created mental health resources widget to your LEARN homepage
- Create several opportunities for students to demonstrate learning (i.e., do not rely on the same type of assessment style throughout the entire course)
- Base the course grade on several lower-stakes assignments rather than two or three high-stakes assignments
- Provide clear assignment evaluation criteria and detailed, timely feedback so that students can continually improve their work
- Ensure that instructions and expectations are clearly articulated and provide discussion boards where students may ask clarifying questions
- Build in flexibility (e.g., if you have a weekly quiz, automatically drop the two lowest marks or provide a penalty-free late day that students may apply)
- Ensure high-stakes aspects of the course are asynchronous
- Record and post any synchronous components of the course (e.g., live video office hours for test preparation or a guest lecturer) to ensure students can catch up on missed content
- If your lecture is audio-only or does not include slides, provide students with a lecture outline that they can use to make meaningful notes as they listen
- Decide which tasks are essential competencies for the course and which ones allow for more flexibility
- Do not require your students to participate in the class using video, unless necessary (e.g., to demonstrate an essential skill)
- Recognize that, in some households, certain topics may be difficult or even dangerous for students to discuss openly. Consider providing options for written responses when discussions are not comfortable or safe for students.
- Consider take-home exams instead of live testing
Students and their families may be experiencing new economic stressors related to COVID-19, or may have pre-existing hardships exacerbated without access to on-campus resources, such as reliable computers, a strong internet signal, and the campus libraries. Here are some things you can do to minimize the impact of these hardships on students enrolled in your courses:
- Recognize that students have a wide range of technology skills—do not assume that everyone is tech-savvy, and provide support on tech tools to ensure equitable participation
- Do not assume that students have mobile phones, home computers, or reliable home internet, and be prepared to make accommodations, as needed
- Consider using eReserves, podcast episodes, TED Talks, or other freely accessible preparatory work, where possible
- If a textbook is required for your course, explore whether the campus library can add an e-copy (or multiples) to their course reserves for free student use. The UW Bookstore or the publisher may also be able to help grant access to students in need
- Do not prohibit students from using creative backgrounds in their video chats (they may help students conceal home situations that they want to keep private)
- Students without a reliable home internet plan may have connectivity issues or be relying solely on their mobile phone data plan which can quickly become expensive. Students may also be sharing bandwidth with other household members who are working and learning from home. Some helpful actions to mitigate connectivity issues include:
- Create a written transcript for any videos or other media that require students to use a lot of data (i.e., allow them to read rather than download or stream media).
- Limit the length of course videos to short segments (this is good pedagogical practice, too) and a file size of less than 500 MB
- Consider alternatives to assignments that require students to upload large files to an online dropbox
- Where possible, be open to a phone call in lieu of a video chat for meetings
- Post low-data file alternatives, such as lecture slides with all of the images removed, for faster downloading
- Make sure that all tools used in the course are mobile-friendly
- Consider that students might use free Wi-Fi hotspots outside of their homes and strive to make it possible for students to download a week’s materials at once
Please note that the University of Waterloo has made funding support available for both domestic and international students who may incur costs related to studying remotely in the fall term as a result of COVID-19.
How can I avoid violating copyright in my course?
All students, faculty and staff should continue to follow the University of Waterloo Fair Dealing Guidelines. When considering copyright issues in your instruction and research, please review the following UWaterloo resources:
- Fair Dealing Advisory Guidelines
- Copyright guidance for online instruction on the University’s Keep Learning website
In its ongoing copyright awareness efforts, the University will continue to make supports available to students, faculty and staff using the above web resources, email, social media, and individual consultation opportunities.
Please consult the Copyright Advisory Committee website for the most recent updates on this and related matters.
If you have any questions about copyrighted materials you wish to use in your course, please contact Lauren Byl, the Copyright and Licensing Librarian at email@example.com.
How can I protect my intellectual property when sharing resources online?
Instructors may want to consider including a statement of intellectual property directly within their syllabus, and addressing the issue early in the term through a LEARN announcement or audio/video message. Suggested boilerplate text for course outlines that may be edited to suit individual needs can be found on Secretariat - Entering Relationships with External Organizations Offering Access to Course Materials. For assistance in framing a statement for your course, please contact the Secretariat.
There are institutional guidelines pertaining to organizations external to the University of Waterloo that make available teaching resources from the University of Waterloo. As well, the Associate Vice-President, Academic has outlined additional considerations impacting intellectual property in a remote environment.
If you find that your copyright has been violated (e.g., through students sharing materials on CourseHero, OneClass, or similar platforms), please contact the appropriate Associate Dean for support managing the copyright violation, including a legal request to have the materials removed.
Where possible, consider utilizing open access resources or making your own work open access. Learn more at Open Scholarship at Waterloo.
How can I modify face-to-face (f2f) active learning activities for the online environment?
In all likelihood, you will need to drop or change some elements of your course to be able to transition to a fully online format. When making decisions about how to shift or adjust your content, begin by consulting your intended learning outcomes.
Regardless of the changes you make to course delivery, students must have the opportunity to gain essential knowledge, skills, and values through the course.
If you need a refresher on writing intended learning outcomes, please see this resource from the Centre for Teaching Excellence, and ensure your intended learning outcomes are clearly articulated in your course.
Some of the approaches you opt to use in the online world may not feel as dynamic or engaging as approaches in f2f environments. Remember: for courses that rely heavily on f2f contexts, this shift to online teaching is likely temporary.
Instead of spending time attempting to replicate f2f course work exactly, instructors should strive for course alignment, which begins with strong learning outcomes.
Course alignment refers to a course where assessments and instructional strategies align with the intended learning outcomes.
In order to help ensure your course is aligned, ask yourself:
- What specific things should students learn in this course (i.e., your intended learning outcomes)?
- What methods will I use to convey these learnings (i.e., what are your instructional strategies)?
- How will I measure whether or not each learning outcome has been fulfilled (i.e., what assessments will you use in this course?).
By the end of the course, students will develop a leisure program that addresses the needs of individuals with a specific disability.
- Prepare short video lectures on etiology of disabilities commonly encountered in TR practice
- Assign course readings on adapted and inclusive leisure programming
- Collaboratively develop a sample leisure plan using Bongo
Students will work in self-selected groups of three or four to create a month-long leisure program for a population of their choosing (e.g., play skills for children with autism).
If you need assistance adjusting an existing assignment or examining your course alignment, please connect with firstname.lastname@example.org for course design and assessment strategy support.
What are the best practices for online tutorials and seminars?
The Centre for Teaching Excellence has a created resource for designing and delivering effective online tutorials.
If you are planning to maintain synchronous seminars or tutorials, please see the Faculty guidelines for synchronous course components.
Microsoft Teams and Webex Meetings are the recommended tools for hosting seminars and tutorials. Both tools allow for recording with closed captioning, are supported by the University, and allow for multiple people to be seen on screen at once (Microsoft Teams = 9 people, Webex = 25 people).
Ensure that seminars and tutorials are recorded and posted on LEARN to allow any students who could not attend synchronously to review the material. Remember that students must be informed when and where sessions will be recorded and posted. Visit the Privacy and Remote Teaching and Learning document for detailed privacy guidelines for instructors.
Instead of assigning marks for attending/participating in the seminar or tutorial, assign marks to pre- and post-event tasks that everyone can complete, even if they were not able to attend in real time. For example, before a seminar, ask students to submit a short summary of an assigned reading. After the seminar, ask students to respond to a reflection question based on the seminar discussions.
What are the best practices for online labs?
There are two basic categories of learning outcomes when it comes to labs:
- Conceptual learning outcomes: labs are used to demonstrate, or have students discover through observation, a particular phenomenon. Learning activities may include designing lab protocols, organizing and interpreting data, drawing conclusions, and discussing the implications of their discoveries.
- Procedural learning outcomes: procedural labs may be a means to an end (i.e., a way to prepare students for the conceptual learning outcome) or an essential learning outcome in and of themselves (e.g., students demonstrating that they can perform a procedure correctly). Learning activities may include viewing a procedure demonstrated by an instructor or practicing/demonstrating a procedural skill at home (when safe and practical to do so).
What are the best practices for managing group work in an online environment?
Group work can be facilitated relatively easily in the online environment. As with in-class group work, the following best practices apply:
- Identify a clearly articulated instructional objective and how group work can advance that objective
- Create detailed and specific instructions for students to follow. Include these crucial items:
- A description of the group work, including the purpose and grade weighting
- How many students will be in each group. This depends on the purpose and complexity of the group work, and the nature of deliverables.
- How groups will be formed. Consider your options: students may self-select, groups can be randomly assigned in LEARN, or you may designate groups.
- Timelines for each stage of group work—what is to be done/produced and when. Provide as much detail and guidance here as possible to keep groups on track and avoid confusion/frustration.
- How students will be graded. Consider how the group project will be graded overall (e.g., a rubric), and how individuals may be graded for their contribution to the group (e.g., peer evaluation).
- Provide a space for groups to connect with one another, at least initially. A group discussion in LEARN is a good start. Providing an icebreaker activity can open the lines of communication in this space.
- Group contracts are encouraged. They help set the ground rules, clarify roles and responsibilities in a group, and identify strategies for managing conflicts.
What online peer review programs are available?
Before integrating a new tool into your course, consider whether a simple approach to peer review, such as a feedback form or survey, will work for your purposes.
The Centre for Teaching Excellence has a detailed resource on Using Student Peer Review in Any Class.
What are the guidelines for holding office hours?
Office hours are an essential part of providing support and building classroom community during remote terms. There are two broad options for office hours:
- Drop-in office hours: Set up virtual office hours as a recurring meeting that the whole class can attend. There is no “waiting room,” which means any student can come and go as they wish. This works well with a tool like Bongo and is appropriate for things like assignment Q&As or test preparation sessions. These sessions can be recorded and posted for anyone who was not able to attend.
- By-appointment office hours: Set up virtual office hours and ask students to choose one of the meeting slots you have made available. This works well with a tool like Microsoft Teams or Webex Meetings and is appropriate for private or specific conversations, mentoring, or students in different time zones.
Instructors are encouraged to offer a minimum of two hours/week of office hours.
It is suggested that instructors engage in a combination of both options throughout the term to ensure they are connecting with students as a group and addressing individual questions and needs. Teaching assistant(s) can also be available to facilitate office hours or Q&A/study sessions.
Instructor might consider using a term other than “office hours.” Remote office hours are notoriously poorly attended, and framing them as “Question and Answer Sessions” or “Test Preparation” may encourage more students to attend.
How can I build a strong, engaged classroom community?
Online classrooms significantly change social relationships with and between students. Not only will it be challenging to build a strong sense of classroom community, it may also be difficult to recognize warning signs of students in crisis.
You might consider starting the term with an optional survey to understand your students’ lives as they are now. This might include questions about:
- Their experience taking online courses
- Their technology, connectivity, and any other issues that might impact access to the course
- Their roles and responsibilities outside of the classroom (e.g., working, caregiving)
- Any information they are willing to share about their current well-being
- An open-ended prompt such as, “One thing I would like my course instructor to know is…”
Here are some other strategies for building a sense of support and community in online courses:
- Hold video office hours and one-to-one meetings with students throughout the term. Open office hours, tutorials, or study sessions can be run on LEARN via Bongo and individual meetings can be set up via Microsoft Teams
- Create a “Getting to Know You” discussion board where students can introduce themselves to you and one another
- Post a weekly message, video, or audio clip in LEARN Announcements that highlights important announcements, addresses common questions, and generally checks in. Mentioning topical items, like the weather or the news, is a good way to show students you are there in “real-ish time”
- Use PEAR, Google docs, or other tools that allow students to engage in peer review
- Use Perusall to create collaborative reading activities for students based on your course textbook or any other PDF or EPUB document
- Use Kahoot, Menti, or some other free, accessible polling tool to prompt student reflection, check comprehension, or gamify your course (Kahoot has a guide for online courses and Menti has tools for remote working)
- Create a social media assignment where students can communicate and collaborate through Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Wikipedia, etc.
- If you do not use Instagram or Twitter, consider creating an account and engaging with our unit and faculty accounts (many students follow these)
- If you implement discussion boards, be thoughtful and intentional about how they are used and monitored to ensure they are meaningful to student learning and connectedness
- Provide timely and useful feedback on all assignments
- Remind students that they are a part of large campus culture. Post announcements about virtual campus events. Assign attendance at webinars and live-streaming events for course credit or bonus marks. Encourage students to access supports and resources that are designed for virtual learners
The Centre for Extended Learning has created a comprehensive guide for instructors and teaching assistants who would like to better understand the critical role of online facilitation in online course delivery and build practical online facilitation skills and strategies that are relevant, effective, and authentic: Fostering Engagement: Facilitating Online Courses in Higher Education.