Keep on Teaching

Student looking down at laptop


In the event of a campus closure or emergency, instructors may be called upon to teach remotely. Depending on the circumstances, students may be scattered across the local area or even across the globe. To keep students progressing toward your course's learning outcomes during such disruptions, you can use a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities, both delivered online. To assist you in these endeavors:

  • This page provides guidance regarding the pedagogical "what-to" aspects of teaching at a distance.
  • The IT Technology and Learning team has prepared resources to help you work through the "how-to" aspects of teaching remotely.

General Principles

Before you begin transitioning your course plans and materials for remote instruction, please consider the following general principles.

  • Prepare your students to conduct class remotely by introducing remote learning tools and practices early in the semester.
  • Communicate with your students early and frequently. Cultivating a sense that you are present with the students in a meaningful if non-literal sense is crucial to successful online teaching.
  • Focus on learning outcomes even if you need to adjust the specific activities that contribute to those outcomes. Keep students moving toward those outcomes. Avoid "busy work."
  • Prioritize course activities and focus on delivering the ones with the most significant impact on learning outcomes.
  • Maintain normal course scheduling as much as you can. Try to hold synchronous activities to promote community, but please don't penalize students who cannot participate due to time zone differences, poor internet access, or similar factors. Additionally, it's ideal to schedule synchronous activities during the normal class time (relative to the Pacific time zone, or another reference point provided by the Dean's office), to avoid putting students in the untenable position of having to choose between simultaneous activities for different classes.
  • Convert synchronous activities into asynchronous activities to ease scheduling challenges, as long as the new asynchronous activity promotes the same learning outcomes.
  • Rearrange course activities if needed to delay those activities where face-to-face interaction is most crucial. 
  • Replace physical resources with digital resources where possible. Remember that students who are not on campus will not have access to the library, and some will lack access to their course textbooks. Have realistic expectations about library staff support for scanning articles or book chapters. If you can, substitute materials that are available in Payson's full-text databases or that are freely available online. Please be careful about assigning readings from ebooks in the Pepperdine Libraries catalog, though, as these are not equally accessible to all students at all times due to check-out limits.
  • Consult your divisional dean about any division-specific considerations.
  • Use tools that are familiar to you and the students, to the greatest extent possible.

It's advisable to begin the online experience with some kind of very low stakes community-building exercise, deployed as early as possible, to help students feel like they're part of a community rather than individuals accessing course materials in parallel, isolated from each other.

Specific Strategies

Communicating with Students

You are already familiar with communication via email, but you might wish to consider some other alternatives.

  • The Messages tool in Courses serves as a closed email system that is specific to one Courses site. Require students to use this tool, and consistently use it yourself, if you want to keep all course-related communications gathered in one place, separate from emails about other topics. It can be much easier to keep up with messages in the Messages tool than in your already overburdened email inbox. Of course, you must remember to check the messages for each course regularly, but Courses provides a helpful summary on your dashboard.
  • Consider using Zoom to hold virtual office hours and to keep appointments with students during the campus closure. If your students do not have access to adequate bandwidth for video conferencing, use the Chat Room tool in Courses for real-time typed conversations (adjusting for time zones) or Google Chat for asynchronous typed conversations.
  • If you're not already using the appointments booking featurein Google Calendar, this could be a good time to start. You can designate selected time slots for which students can sign up. If students have their own Google Calendar time zones set correctly for wherever they are, Google Calendar will automatically make the appropriate adjustments.
  • The Navigate platform is another resource available to quickly message students and advisees. If you have not already done so, please sync your calendar to the Navigate platform so that students can see when you are available and know when would be an appropriate time to schedule virtual appointments with you.

Delivering Lecture Content Online

If your plans for a canceled class include lectures or demonstrations, you can often use a recorded video to achieve the same effect. Furthermore, hearing your voice and seeing your face can help students maintain a sense of instructor presence, so important in online teaching and learning.

  • If you want to deliver a lecture coordinated with a slideshow, you can record your screen and audio with Zoom (the University's preferred web conferencing app), QuickTime (Mac), Game DVR (Windows), SnagIt (cross-platform), or other tools. Direct export of video from Microsoft PowerPoint is available only to Office 365 subscribers and presents other obstacles that screen capture apps can bypass.
  • If you want students to see your face, your computer probably has an adequate camera and microphone, and you can use Zoom to record yourself.
  • If you don't want to use Zoom, you can use QuickTime (MacOS) or the Camera app (Windows) to record video using the built-in camera.QuickTime can also record your computer screen, and the Game DVR in Windows can record any application window. For more robust video-recording and screen-recording tools, consult CTE or TechLearn about SnagIt.
  • If you want to conduct a demonstration and you have access to the appropriate materials, you can record the demonstration and provide it to your students online. Most of us have an iOS or Android phone with an adequate camera and video recording software already built in. Your laptop computer provides a still better, more stable option, but to preserve audio quality, try not to get more than about five feet from your laptop unless you're using a microphone (Bluetooth earbuds like Apple's AirPods are quite helpful here).
  • As an alternative to making your own videos, you could search for an adequate substitute on TED, iTunes U (requires an appropriate app), or the wilds of YouTube.

If you're making your own videos, try to employ the following practices:

  • Keep your videos short, below 15 minutes in length (following the Flipped Learning Global Initiative's recommended maximum of one minute per grade level). If your lecture would normally last longer than 15 minutes, divide it into smaller sections.
  • If you have students watching multiple videos for a single class session equivalent, insert some kind of learning activity between the video segments. This can be as simple as having students briefly derive a potential test question from the video they just watched, post a reaction the your Courses forum, or take a brief content quiz in Courses. (These kinds of engagement breaks make face-to-face lectures more effective, too.)
  • If you're making your own videos or voiceovers, prepare and use a script if you have time to do so. If you're shooting your own videos on a phone or similar device, use a tripod if you can to keep the picture steady. If you find that you must choose between audio quality and video quality, prioritize audio quality. Otherwise, don't worry too much about production values during the 2018 post-fire temporary modality shift; just focus on delivering the content students need.
  • When you export your video, compress your video and use the MP4 format to ensure broadest compatibility with your students' devices.
  • Since Pepperdine uses the Google ecosystem, you already have a YouTube account using your Pepperdine credentials. The easiest way to deliver videos you've made yourself would be to upload them to YouTube and then embed them in Courses using the Lessons tool. If you don't want your videos to be discoverable by the general public, mark them as "unlisted" (not "private," which means only you can see them) when you upload them to YouTube.

If your lecture doesn't coordinate with a slideshow or demonstration and you don't want just a "talking head" video, you could also record an audio-only lecture. Your computer or phone should already have an adequate microphone. When you export your audio, use the MP3 format to ensure broadest compatibility with your students' devices. If you use a MacOS or iOS device, you probably already have some version of GarageBand on that device. If you don't already have audio recording software, consider Audacity; it's free and open source, available for both MacOS and Windows, and its basic features are fairly easy to use, but it does require an extra setup step to export to MP3.

Finally, you could also simply provide students with the text of your lecture—again, preferably broken up into chunks punctuated by activities in which students interact with the material.

Running Lab Activities Online

Lab activities typically require specific equipment and supplies, and are therefore impossible to fully translate into an online space. However, there are some steps that may work for some labs.

  • Divide the lab experience into smaller segments, and determine which segments can be delivered online. If you normally begin a lab session with an orientation to certain procedures or equipment, perhaps you could use a video recording to deliver the same information (although this too may be precluded by the inaccessibility of the campus).
  • Investigate virtual labs such as those provided by the ChemCollective. In some circumstances, a virtual lab experience might be suboptimal but adequate.
  • If the primarily learning outcome the lab experiences addresses has to do with data analysis rather than data collection, consider providing the students with realistic data sets upon which to perform the required analysis.

Conducting Discussions and Collaborative Work Online

Translating a seminar-style discussion into an asynchronous format can be a bit disorienting, but keeping those conversations going during a campus closure promotes student community as well as student learning. The Forums tool in Courses provides a digital space for these conversations to happen. Sarah Stone Watt recommends the following basic formula for promoting robust online discussions.

  • Begin with some type of course content—typically a reading or video—designed to elicit student response.
  • Require students to make an initial post that responds to that content in some well-defined way. Then, require students to return later to respond to one or more posts by their classmates. Be specific about when students should complete each component. By iterating through this cycle several times with relatively short time between deadlines, you can get a little bit closer to the feel of an in-class discussion.
  • Make your discussion prompts as specific as possible, especially for lower-level courses, but also open-ended.
  • If you would grade the discussion in a face-to-face setting, grade it also in the online setting. In Courses, you can link a Forum to the Gradebook, allowing you to assign grades and leave comments for every participant.
  • Moderate your own participation. Intervene if necessary to keep the discussion going, but be even more patient with silence than you would be in a face-to-face discussion, keeping in mind the asynchronous nature of an online forum. Let the conversation develop between students.
  • Remind your students that an online course forum is an extension of the classroom, and the same expectations of civility and critical thinking apply as when you're face-to-face. You might want to share with your students eLearning Industry's "10 Netiquette Tips for Online Discussions."
  • Consider important differences between online and face-to-face communication, and urge your students to do the same. Tone of voice, body language, and general demeanor translate poorly into text-only communications, so think before you write and encourage your students to do the same. In particular, be aware that countering a student's perspective with an alternative perspective can have a chilling effect on a conversation, so try to allow those alternatives to arise from other students whenever possible.

You can conduct group work using similar principles. Courses supports the creation of groups within a class. You can then give each group its own Forum or other spaces in which to collaborate, differentiate content among groups, and so on. Beyond their educational value, group activities can support class cohesion during periods when students are physically far away from each other.

If you have a relatively small class, you may be able to organize a synchronous discussion session using Zoom, Google Hangouts, or a similar web conferencing tool. However, please do not penalize students who cannot participate in synchronous meetings.

Receiving Student Projects Online

Some student projects take the form of short talks or other types of oral presentations. These can be delivered to you and to the class in the same way that you can deliver your own lecture content to the class.

  • Students today generally know how to shoot short videos on their laptops or phones. Just like you, students automatically have their own YouTube accounts thanks to the Pepperdine-Google connection. Advise students to upload their videos for your class as "unlisted" and share the link with you in the appropriate venue.
  • Posting students' videos in the Courses Forum, where other students can comment on their classmates' presentations, may offer the nearest analogue to a synchronous face-to-face presentation. It also provides easier integration with the Courses Gradebook than just hosting the video on YouTube. If you're inviting peer review, encourage students to make both appreciative comments and comments that could lead to improved performance in the future.

Other student projects culminate in some kind of deliverable, such as a text document or video recording. For these, the Assignments tool in Courses is the preferred tool for receiving student work, though you could also use Google Drive or other channels.

For more details, please consult our Best Practices for Online Projects page.

Administering Tests and Quizzes Online

Administering a high-stakes assessment online during the stressful events surrounding a campus closure is probably ill-advised, but low-stakes assessments like daily reading quizzes or concept checks can easily be delivered through the Tests and Quizzes tool in Courses. Good practices in online quizzing include:

  • Focus on low-stakes assessments.
  • Allow students to use the resources at hand (like an "open book" test), but place a time limit, word count limit, or both on the exercise. Courses makes it easy to incorporate extended time accommodations on timed assignments, by adding students with such accommodations to a group within Courses and specifying exceptions in the assessment settings. Consult your Tech Liaison, the TechLearn team, or CTE if you need help finding the appropriate settings.
  • Draw quiz questions randomly from larger question banks, preferably using questions that you have personally created. This may, however, be unrealistic on short notice. If you're drawing questions from a publisher's question bank, consider modifying the questions or responses in some quick but non-trivial way. For multiple-choice questions, also randomize the sequence in which choices are shown.
  • Require students to provide narrative rationales for multiple-choice questions.

For more details, including techniques for promoting academic integrity in online testing, please consult our Best Practices for Online Testing page.

Giving and Receiving Help

Please consult Pepperdine University's Academic Continuity Plan for Teaching and Learning for overall institutional guidance in a time of disruption. Additionally, the Center for Teaching Excellence (email) and the Technology and Learning team (email) stand ready to assist you with specific, individualized course elements. You can also find many helpful tutorials at LinkedIn Learning provided by the University.

Significant portions of this guidance (including the title) are adapted, with permission, from the Indiana University Knowledge Base article "Keep teaching during prolonged campus or building closures." Special thanks also to Sarah Stone Watt, Jennifer Smith, Jacob Michael, and Natalina Parker for important contributions, and to Jacklyne Rodriguez for getting this page online so quickly.