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Continuing to Teach: Transitioning to Virtual Classes

Resources to keep your class running

Your objective is to use the resources available to help students meet the core learning outcomes of your courses. It may be frustrating to let go of the course plan you developed in January, and some of you may be teaching in new formats for the first time. Instead of trying to recapture the course as you envisioned it, focus on building the elements you need to put in place to help students meet your instructional outcomes. The resources listed here provide multiple options for keeping your class running—likely more resources than any one instructor could use.

Finding Help

For additional information and support:

  • Check the CETL website for ongoing updates.
  • Access the Canvas for Educators course for videos, guides, and other information. Use the Self-Enroll link if you are not already in the Canvas for Educators course.
  • Contact the Help Desk with any technology questions because they are partnering with CETL to coordinate support.
  • Contact Canvas via phone or email 24/7. Click the Help button in Canvas.

Getting Started

  • Communicate with your students right away: Even if you don't have a plan in place yet, communicate with your students as soon as possible. Inform them that changes are coming and what your expectations are for checking email or Canvas so you can get more details to them soon. Acknowledge the variety of feelings surrounding the change in course delivery and that the disruption to the semester impacts everyone.
  • Consider realistic goals for continuing instruction: What do you think you can realistically accomplish during this time period? Do you think you can maintain your original syllabus and schedule? Do you hope students will keep up with the reading with some assignments to build structure and accountability? What do the students need to do to meet the course learning outcomes?
  • Review your course schedule to determine priorities: Identify your priorities during the disruption—providing lectures, structuring new opportunities for discussion or group work, collecting assignments, providing feedback, etc. What activities are better rescheduled, and what can or must be done online? Give yourself a little flexibility in that schedule, just in case the situation takes longer to resolve than you think.
  • Pick tools and approaches familiar to you and your students: Try to rely on tools that are familiar to you and your students and roll out new tools only when necessary. As much as possible, choose technologies that can work on a cell phone, in case students don’t have access to a reliable computer or Wi-Fi connection. The situation is already taxing everyone's mental and emotional energy; introducing new tools may leave even less energy and attention for student learning. Think about an alternative plan for students who may not have access to certain technologies.
  • Identify your new expectations for students: You will likely have to reconsider some of your expectations for students, including participation, communication, and deadlines. As you think through those changes, keep in mind the impact this situation may have on students' ability to meet those expectations, including illness, lacking internet connections, or needing to care for family members. Be ready to handle requests for extensions or accommodations equitably.
  • Create a more detailed communication plan: Once you have more details about changes in the class, communicate them to students, along with more information about how they can contact you (email, online office hours, etc.). A useful communication plan also lets students know how soon they can expect a reply.

Communicating with Students

Setting your expectations for communication to and from students from the start will help make your changes transparent and easy for students to follow.

  • Email: The easiest way to send email to your students is to initiate the message from your Canvas Inbox. By starting from within Canvas, you don't need to keep track of email addresses, and you can choose to contact individuals, groups, sections, or the entire class.
  • You can also email your students directly from Outlook.

Some students may choose not to forward Canvas messages to their UWEC email account. Let students know to check their Canvas Inbox regularly or change their notification preferences in Canvas.

  • Canvas Announcements: As with Canvas messages, whether students receive email notifications for new announcements depends on their personal Canvas notification settings.

Distributing Course Materials

You will likely need to provide additional course materials to support your changing plans, from updated schedules to readings that allow you to shift more instruction online.

  • Make sure students know when new material is posted or shared: If you post new materials in Canvas, be sure to let students know what you posted and where.
  • Keep things mobile friendly: Some students may only have a cell phone available, so make sure you are using mobile-friendly formats, PDFs being the most common. Consider saving other files (e.g., PowerPoint presentations) to PDFs, which makes the file size smaller. Most programs for creating documents can convert documents to PDF.

Share Documents in Canvas

  • You can upload documents in Canvas to a module or linked on a page. Use clear naming strategies so students can easily determine what the document is before downloading. When adding to a module
  • One simple way for students to know which documents are related to an assignment is to embed the document files directly in the assignment directions in Canvas; due dates can be helpful so that students know when to complete the content.

Creating and Delivering Content

It's not just about content: When courses are disrupted, hearing from the instructor can mean more than just providing content. Hearing from you also establishes a sense of normalcy and a personal connection through your presence in the course. Consider ways that you can make students feel connected and cared about: acknowledgement of current challenges, working well in a new way, and reminders about the class being a community together.

Options for Creating and Delivering Content

When deciding how to create and deliver content in an alternative format, consider the nature of the content and your comfort level creating various kinds of content,

Consider the following scenarios to help guide your decision on the delivery of content.

Scenario 1: "I want to provide information to my students that I would normally deliver during an in-class lecture”.

Provide a written commentary in a Word document or in the Notes section of a PowerPoint.

Scenario 2: “I want to continue delivering my lectures in a format similar to what I use when I teach face-to-face.” For information on delivering lectures in this format, see this Sharepoint document.

Scenario 3: "I have a short PowerPoint that I would normally go through in class. The students can read what is on the slides, but they need more context and information from me as the instructor". For information on delivering lectures in this format, see this SharePoint document.

Scenario 4: "I need to deliver some information to my students, and I do not have any slides or other visual aids to include". For information on this scenario, see this SharePoint document.

Scenario 5: "I have an assignment in a document or in Canvas, and I want to have the assignment on the screen while I explain and give examples to students". For information on this scenario, see this SharePoint document.

Evaluating Student Learning

Instructors can assign and collect work electronically in a variety of ways. The main challenge during a campus disruption is whether students have access to computers, as students who would normally use an on-campus computer lab may be unable to access necessary technologies. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Require only common software: Students may not have access to specialty software located in on-campus computer labs. If needed, students and instructors can access a campus computer by using the Virtual Lab.
  • Avoid emailed attachments: It may be easy to collect assignments in small classes via email, but larger classes might swamp your email inbox. Consider using the tools embedded in Canvas instead. Balance what is simplest for students with what is easiest for you to manage.
  • Create assignments in Canvas: Instructors can collect documents and videos from students using the Assignment tool in Canvas. Setting due dates will remind students to turn in their work and instructors can use SpeedGrader to annotate and give feedback on their work.
  • State expectations but be ready to allow extensions: Because of the nature of this disruption, some students will undoubtedly have difficulties meeting deadlines. Make expectations clear but be ready to provide more flexibility than you normally would in your class.
  • Update expectations for projects: Campus disruptions may limit students' access to resources they need to complete papers or other projects, and team projects may be harmed by a team's inability to meet face to face. Be ready to change assignment expectations based on the limitations a disruption may impose. Possible options include allowing individual rather than group projects, having groups record presentations with Kaltura or Collaborate Ultra, or adjusting the types of resources needed for research papers.
  • Individual or Group Papers: To discuss strategies about how to facilitate this online, contact John Rylander, Director of the Center for Writing Excellence at (715) 836-3146 or

Using Quizzes and Exams in Your Course

  • Canvas Quiz Tool: The Quizzes tool, despite its name, can be used for both low-stakes assessments (for example, quizzes, practice quizzes, or surveys) and high-stakes assessments (tests or exams). Its strength lies in the ability of Canvas to automatically grade many question types, including multiple-choice, true/false, matching, numeric, and fill-in-the-blank. You can also include short-answer and essay questions, and grade those manually using SpeedGrader.
  • Embrace short quizzes: You can give small quizzes to hold students accountable or do spot-checks on their learning, and this might be ideal to keep students on track. Short quizzes can be a great way to keep students engaged with course concepts, particularly if they are interspersed with small chunks of video lecture. Consider using very-low-stakes quizzes to give students practice at applying concepts—just enough points to hold them accountable, but not so many that the activity becomes all about points.
  • Move beyond simple facts: It is good to reinforce concepts through practice on a quiz, but generally it is best to move beyond factual answers that students can quickly look up. Instead, write questions that prompt students to apply concepts to new scenarios, or ask them to identify the best of multiple correct answers.
  • Check for publishers' test banks: Look to see if your textbook publisher has question banks that can be loaded into Canvas. Even if you don't use these questions for your exams, they can be useful for simple quizzes. Some textbooks also have their own online quizzing tools that can help keep students engaged with the material.
  • Consider alternate exams: Delivering a secure exam online can be difficult without a good deal of preparation and support, so consider giving open-book exams or other types of exams. They can be harder to grade, but you have fewer worries about test security.
  • LTS Help: If you have your tests in text or Word format, LTS can import them into Canvas for you. Refer to the Quiz or Test Import Options guide for more information.
  • Proctoring: We do not have any technology to proctor online exams, but there are strategies such as time limits, randomization, creating higher level questions, etc.

Fostering Student Communication and Collaboration

Once you come up with a topic, you can create a discussion and invite students to respond. Settings allow you to use threaded replies (helping students track their replies to each other's posts), make the discussion a graded assignment, and assign discussion to the entire class or within smaller groups. One particularly helpful option is to require students to post before seeing replies, which requires students to refine their own thoughts before seeing others'. Consider encouraging them to read posts and provide quick feedback to each other, in addition to posting replies.

You can use SpeedGrader to grade discussion posts. Each student's posts (including original posts and replies to others) are displayed for easy review. Replies are shown individually by default, but you can view them in context as well.

Maintaining SSD Accommodations

All mandated accommodations still apply to online classes; however, they will be administered differently. We have requested students remind you of their accommodations. Examples include:

  • Testing Accommodations: extended test time will be managed in Canvas by you and no e-form will be required.
  • Alternative Format: please provide handouts in an accessible format to ensure accessibility with screen readers.
  • Captioning: captioning will continue to be provided through CETL & SSD but may take a longer turn-around time; in that case homework deadlines may need to be adjusted.

Adapted from: Indiana University. (n.d.). Retrieved from

UW Extended Campus Resource Website

UWEX’s Instructional Design and Media Services teams have developed a new website designed for faculty/instructors to support the quick creation of online instructional materials. The UWEX COVID-19 Resource Website contains the following resources:

  • Information on how to leverage existing materials and/or quickly create new online materials, including video (information on accessibility included)
  • A downloadable Canvas template that contains prepopulated builds to assist with the quick creation of fundamentals for a course (e.g. discussions, resources, assignments/assessments, etc.)
  • Assistance on crafting a message to students to inform them of what will happen to a given course as it transitions to online delivery (when it will be ready and what to expect)
  • Resources and tips to successfully teach online (e.g. how to communicate with and engage students, etc.)
  • Links to COVID-19 information provided by UW System
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