For technological questions, please reach out to the Digital Learning Team at x4420 or

For pedagogical, assessment, and student learning questions, please reach out to the Center for Teaching and Learning x3351, or

Note: This document was adapted from a document created by Jenae Cohn and Brian Seltzer, Stanford University, California. Their work was outstanding and served as the basis for Hobart and William Smith Colleges guide for Academic Continuity During Disruption.

Teaching during times of potential disruption requires creative and flexible thinking about how instructors can support students in achieving essential core course learning objectives. This document offers suggestions for instructors who are looking to continue offering a student-centered learning experience in a remote learning environment. While the process will no doubt feel unfamiliar and at times possibly frustrating, try as much as possible to be patient. There will questions and differing expectations based off the differences between remote and face to face teaching. Be willing to switch tactics if something which previously worked face to face isn't working in the new medium.  Sometimes the lowest tech solution can be the most effective.  Stay focused on making sure the students are comfortable, and keep a close eye on the course learning goals–while you might not be able to teach something exactly the way you imagined, as long as you're still meeting the learning goals of the course, you're doing fine.

Remote Learning Policies and Recommendations
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous?
Identifying Key Tools and Functions within CANVAS
What is Zoom?
Run Your Class Live With Zoom
Strategies for Recording Lectures, Presentations, and Other Content
Skip the Video
Office Hours

Remote Learning Policies and Recommendations

Institutional policies, guidelines, and bylaws pertaining to instruction remain in effect during the disruption. You are likely already using tools such as email, network space, VPN (Mac & PC) and Box. In addition to using CANVAS or Zoom, you are encouraged to continue using the tools with which you are comfortable and finding effective. Please consult the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Digital Learning Center for pedagogical and technical support during the disruption.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous?

The first question in designing remote content is to answer the question ‘Synchronous or Asynchronous?'  The two options for instructors to facilitate class sessions remotely are described as thus:
  1. Synchronous: Instructors and students gather at the same time and interact in “real time” with a very short or “near-real time” exchange between instructors and students.
  2. Asynchronous: Instructors prepare course materials for students in advance of students' access. Students may access the course materials at a time of their choosing and will interact with each at differing times.

Instructors may choose to engage their students synchronously or asynchronously depending on the course content or material that needs to be taught. There are many advantages and disadvantages to asynchronous and synchronous teaching options.

Advantages of Synchronous Teaching

  1. Immediate personal engagement between students and instructors which may create greater feelings of community and lessen feelings of isolation
  2. More responsive exchanges between students and instructors which may prevent miscommunication or misunderstanding

Disadvantages of Synchronous Teaching

  1. More challenging to schedule shared times for all students and instructors
  2. Some students may face technical challenges or difficulties if they do not have fast or powerful Wi-Fi networks accessible

Advantages of Asynchronous Teaching

  1. Higher levels of temporal flexibility, which may simultaneously make the learning experiences more accessible to different students and also make an archive of past materials accessible.
  2. Increased cognitive engagement since students will have more time to engage with and explore the course material.

Disadvantages of Asynchronous Teaching

  1. Students may feel less personally exchanged and less satisfied without the social interaction between their peers and instructors.
  2. Course material may be misunderstood or have the potential to be misconstrued without the real-time interaction.

Examples of synchronous tools would be chat rooms and webconferencing tools.  Examples of asynchronous tools are discussion boards and pre-recorded videos.  The primary tools for remote learning at HWS are CANVAS with Zoom as a supplemental tool.

Identifying Key Tools and Functions within Canvas

If you are new to using CANVAS, you may appreciate some orientation to key Canvas tools and functions.  The Canvas 101 Guide is a great starting point for faculty new to CANVAS,  below are links to specific tools:

  • Assignments: Instructors can create space for students to upload submissions, from informal reflections to formal written assignments and projects. Instructors can select the grading approach within the assignment. Assignments are best for instructors who wish for the students' work to only be viewed and assessed by the instructor.
  • Announcements: Instructors can send mass e-mails or messages to the whole class community via the Announcements tool. The benefit to using Announcements over e-mail is that instructors do not need to collect individual student e-mail addresses and that the messages are archived in the course Canvas site.
  • Discussions: Instructors can create threaded, written discussion forums for instructors to engage in written (or audio/video) dialogue with each other and respond to written prompts.
  • Files: Instructors can post key course documents, like the syllabus, readings, assignment sheets, and activity descriptions in this space.
  • Pages: Instructors can create content for students to read or access that is not already created in a separate website or in a Word Document or other kind of document. The settings for Pages can also be changed so that the page can be edited by both instructors and students to create a class Wiki.
  • Chat: Facilitates real-time conversations. All course users can participate and view all chat content. Course Chat history is recorded and can be viewed for future reference.

For more information about CANVAS, you may refer to the CANVAS resource page provided by the Digital Learning Center where you'll find CANVAS course material and a quick reference card.  You may also refer to the CANVAS instructor guide found here. Finally, check out this video from Stanford on how to organize CANVAS course pages in modules, pages, or files.

What is Zoom?

Zoom is a web-conferencing platform for which HWS has licensing. Zoom allows you to engage in live conversations with your students using audio, video, and text-based chat features. Unlike a video-conferencing program like Skype, you do not need a unique username or account to use Zoom. Instead, your HWS name and password will allow you to generate a link and a phone number that you can share with anyone. Participants can then follow the web link to join in on a live conversation. You can access Zoom in by visiting the HWS Zoom page and logging with your HWS credentials. From there, you can download the essential software (available for workstations and phones) and create future meeting links.  For additional information on how to access and utilize HWS Zoom functionality, please refer to the Digital Learning Center's Zoom resource page.

Run Your Class Live With Zoom

This option works especially well for small discussion-based classes though it's also effective for large lectures.

Pedagogical Recommendations:

  • Use slides and screen sharing within Zoom to make sure discussion questions are visible to students who may have a slow Internet connection or who may struggle to hear the audio for the initial question. (Look for “Share Screen” at the bottom of your Zoom call.)
    • On your first slide, display an agenda at the start of the class session so that students know what to expect of the shared time together.
  • Use the chat (bottom of your screen). See In-Meeting Chat.
    • Moderate discussion, i.e., “call on” a student with a comment to speak, to help them break into the conversation.
    • It may be worthwhile to ask a student to act as a chat monitor to remind instructors of questions they may have missed.
    • You might use the chat to troubleshoot technical problems. For example, if a student is having trouble connecting via audio or video, the chat might be a space for you as the instructor or for fellow students to work together to problem-solve. This may, again, be an opportunity to ask a technically adept student to help on the technical aspect of things.
  • Use Zoom Breakout Rooms to help students talk in smaller groups (just as they would do break-out groups in a larger class environment). See Managing Video Breakout Rooms.
  • Rethink your classroom activities to make the class more interactive even if Zoom students don't have ideal connections and aren't able to hear and see everything perfectly.
    • Have students write and comment together in a CANVAS discussion.
    • Try to collect student responses or designate a class recorder to collate them and then share results with both in-person and online students.
  • Consider making discussion questions available in advance in CANVAS, etc. so that students can access the questions if screen sharing does not work. If sharing slides in advance to CANVAS, share as PDFs so students will be able to access the material on their phones.

A Few Troubleshooting Tips:

  • If your microphone is not working, use the phone number listed in the Zoom invitation when you set up a Zoom call. You can use your phone as the microphone and audio source for your call rather than your computer's built-in microphone if necessary.
  • If your Internet connection is slow or lagging, consider temporarily turning off your video stream and only maintaining the audio stream. Sometimes, running the web camera on your computer will use up the Internet's bandwidth in a way that might make communication challenging. Turning off the video should improve communication quality and consistency.
  • If you have earbuds or a headphone set, wear them! Wearing earbuds or headphones will reduce the amount of noise that your computer will pick up during your quality, which will make it easier for your students to hear you. Similarly, you may want to advise your students to wear earbuds or headphones during the call.
  • Advise students to mute their microphones if they are not speaking and unmute the microphones when they wish to speak. Students may be joining Zoom calls from all kinds of different locations many of which may create distracting background noise. Encourage students to mute themselves if they're not speaking to minimize background noise. Using the “raise hand” feature or simply seeing the microphone unmuted will give the group a visual cue for when a student wishes to speak. See Raising Hand in Webinar
  • Check the “chat” space for student questions and contributions. Some students may not have working microphones and, therefore, may be unable to contribute via voice. The chat room is a good place for students to contribute, ask questions, and be involved.
  • Check the Zoom Help Center 

Accessibility Suggestions:

  • For students who have difficulty with seeing screens or small type/text, narrate the material that you're displaying visually on the screen. Just as you might read materials aloud in class, read screen material that you share on-screen just in case students are not able to see essential text.

For an excellent primer on how to teach sessions using Zoom complete with a class example, check out the following Zoom: Teach Online Class Sessions.

Strategies for Recording Lectures, Presentations, and Other Content

Class meetings may be recorded and made available in a restricted manner to students currently registered for the class; if faculty choose to record a class meeting, they should communicate this to students. Students may not record lectures or classes without permission from the faculty leading the class (and guest speakers, when applicable); students who require recordings to support learning needs should contact the Disability Services Coordinator at the Center for Teaching and Learning for individualized accommodations. When permission is granted, students may keep recordings only for personal use. Recordings may not be reproduced, shared with those not in the class, or uploaded to other online platforms. In the event that faculty would like to share recordings beyond the class, they must request consent of students identifiable in the recordings prior to dissemination. Many faculty will want to record presentations or mini lectures for their students; this approach allows for students to access content asynchronously.

Pedagogical Recommendations

  1. Keep videos short – no more than 10 minutes- as student engagement severely drops off thereafter
  2. Be yourself –  use conversational tone as much as possible and don't even try to be “perfect” – resist extensive editing or “redos” as authenticity resonates with students
  3. Related to #2 introduce the lesson with some words from you personally to provide context and meaning from your perspective, you even might choose go on camera for a minute; note, however,  if you do go on camera, quickly shift the focus of the camera (screenshare) back to the content (ex. your powerpoint)

For detailed recommendations and instructions on how to record materials and make them available to your students here at HWS, please consult Tools for Recording Lectures, Presentations, and Other Content

Skip the Video

Many online courses do not have a video component at all and can be handled entirely through chats or other asynchronous means.  Additionally, bandwidth and platform limitations for both instructor and students may prelude usage of intensive formats like video.  If you are not sure you have the right equipment, are uncomfortable with the tech setup, or have other limitations then skipping video might be a good option.

Pedagogical Recommendations:

  • Annotate your slideshow with notes and share this with students using CANVAS or email.
  • Set up a discussion for students in CANVAS. Use specific, structured questions, and let students know expectations for their responses. See our recommendations on written discussion questions later in this document.
  • Share links to outside resources. Encourage students to watch videos, read articles, etc.
  • Use Chat to have a live, text-based chat session with students.

Office Hours

Set up virtual office hours to meet with students using a synchronous method.  You can use Zoom video meeting, share your phone number with students to call, or you can set up a Zoom chat or audio streaming only session.

Pedagogical Recommendations:

  • Keep the link to the Zoom room you're using for your students in a central place on your course Canvas site. The main factor to consider when holding office hours or conferences with students via Zoom is your accessibility as an instructor. Make sure they know how to find your “office” (just as you might offer them directions to your office on-campus).
  • Encourage students to share their screen/work with you. Screen sharing is possible not just for the instructor in Zoom, but for students too. Help your students navigate towards a screen sharing option so that they can show you their written work on their screen. If screen sharing isn't an option, then have the student share their work through CANVAS file upload or email.