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Beyond the Basics

Identifying online substitutions for components of your course

Online teaching requires a different mindset from classroom teaching, but done well, it can be just as effective and engaging as in-person teaching. It involves thinking about teaching and learning in a slightly different way. If you have completed the First Steps for moving your course online or have experience with online course components or online teaching, you can think about trying some additional approaches to engaging students. For recommendations for working with graduate and undergraduate Teaching Assistants, click here

Here are some suggestions, structured in a way that identifies common class activities and then offers ways of shifting them online.

Homework, Questions or Quizzes. Many instructors ask students to complete and turn in frequent low-stakes assignments (or a quick weekly in-class quiz). These provide students with practice and feedback on critical skills or content, and enable instructors to continuously gauge student learning. This page lists several options for replacing these types of assignments, depending on the question format and modality. 

Major Assignments, Course Projects, or Take-Home Exams. The most straightforward way for submitting, grading and providing feedback on student papers, assignments, projects or take-home exams is to use the Assignment tool under Blackboard Assessments. This allows students or groups to:

  • Upload a Word document, PowerPoint file, PDF, or other software-based file.
  • Upload a picture or a scanned document created by hand.

Instructors then have several options, including:

Tests or Exams. Closed-book, individual tests or exams are the trickiest type of assessment to replicate online because it is difficult to restrict student access to peers and resources. Here are some options to consider:

  • Revise your assignment and assume that students will use the course material and one another and resources. This is the best approach because it helps you create more-authentic assessments, which improve student learning.
  • If that is not possible, the Test tool in Blackboard Assessments allows instructors to specify a defined amount of time to complete an exam. If some of your students have accommodations, you will need to work with Student Access Services. Timed exams or quizzes should be scheduled during your regular class time to avoid conflicts with other classes, or can be set up to be completed during a timed period within a longer time window. Flexibility in the time window will be important for students whose schedules have changed due to new responsibilities (e.g., caregiving) and for those who have inconsistent or poor quality internet access.   
  • You can also create question pools so that different students receive a subset of randomly selected questions on each topic. (video tutorial)
  • Consider replacing traditional tests or exams with tests, assignments or projects focus on application, evaluation, and skills other than remembering. Use the Assignments tool under Assessments (see above) for this option.
  • Consult with staff at CODL or CTE for help rethinking your assessments for the online environment.

Class-time Activities


The first thought for many faculty is to try to hold live class sessions online. Avoid live online sessions as much as possible, though, out of consideration for your students. Live sessions can create many types of technical problems that create frustrations for you and your students. There is also no way to know what type of internet connection students will have. An online session that seems to be going well on your end may not be viewable by some students.  Better approaches to presenting information include:

  • Recording video or audio and making it available on Blackboard. This page explains how you can do that.
  • Using existing videos (pre-recorded or publically available) on relevant topics, rather than creating new ones.
  • Posting your visuals (e.g., PowerPoints) to Blackboard. If needed for further explanation, include your “script” or annotations or comments that explain the ideas being presented. You can also create PDFs of your PowerPoint slides.
  • Posting pre-worked problems or sketches that you would create on a board in class. Simply annotate them with comments so that students can understand your thinking or problem-solving approach (i.e. what you would have said while writing).
  • Assigning readings or other material to address content you would have covered in class. Scaffold difficult reading material with reading guides, focus questions or other supports.

In-class Discussion or Q&A

As with lecture, you should avoid live online sessions as much as possible out of consideration for your students. Better approaches include:

  • Create and monitor Blackboard discussion boards, blogs or wikis on Blackboard and give students credit for participating. Ask them to address previously posted comments in any new post to foster cross-student dialogue and idea exchange.
  • Assign students to groups for Group Discussions in Blackboard to increase student participation. (video tutorial)  You can even ask them to generate a group or individual product that they submit as an assignment.
  • Create a VoiceThreadand have students add video comments to it. ​

If you feel you must have live discussions, Zoom is your best option. Think of these sessions as you would seminars with 20 or fewer students. The more students involved, the harder it is to allow all students to participate. You will need to make sure that all students have strong enough internet connections and webcams. You will also need to set up the sessions in advance and provide a Zoom link for students. (user guide)

Worksheets or other Learning Activities

  • Turn worksheets or other learning activities into Blackboard Assignments that students submit online. Provide individual feedback through the Assignment grading functions in Blackboard. (video tutorial) Or provide class-level feedback by posting examples annotated with your comments online.
  • Assign students to groups and ask them to work on learning activities in a Blackboard wiki, where you can track student contributions and provide feedback.
  • Student groups could also meet on their own, virtually, during class time (via ZoomSkype for Business or another means) and submit work via Blackboard. (See the Assignments and Assessments section above for ideas). Students can set up basic accounts in Zoom that allow them to host 40-minute sessions.  

 In-Class Learning Checks

Some instructors use high tech (e.g., clickers) or low-tech (e.g., show of hands or color cards) systems to gather and report student responses to questions during class, to assess student understanding, beliefs, or opinions, and use that information to promote peer learning. In a remote teaching situation, instructors can accomplish similar goals through the following options:

  • Use the Blackboard quiz and test functions. (video tutorial)  These quizzes can be completed for practice, mastery or an earned grade.
  • One approach to consider is requiring students to complete all questions on a Blackboard quiz successfully before they can unlock related class material. Give students as many attempts as they need to do this. (adaptive release info)

Performance-Based Teaching and Learning

Many disciplines teach courses that involve hands-on or performance-based work, such as labs, music, dance, theatre, art, design, and architecture. We encourage you to explore discipline-specific strategies for online teaching in these areas, and offer these general recommendations. 


Some faculty in science and math already use virtual lab options. Here are some additional ways that instructors can provide lab-like experiences in a hurry:

  • Virtual Labs and Other Resources. The POD network has compiled an extensive list of resources for Remote Teaching of Science Labs. The list includes online access to simulations, virtual labs, and other resources, as well as excercises and instructions for faculty. 
  • PHET Interactive Simulations. Colleagues at the University of Colorado at Boulder have developed a rich library of online interactive simulations that can be incorporated as demos in a class or used to structure a laboratory experience. These may be especially useful in lower-level science courses. The resource is searchable by topic, education level and type, and also includes materials to guide implementation in a course. 
  • Ideas for Engineering Labs, from Clemson University's Academic Continuity Site. 
  • Alternative Ways for Students to Develop Research Skills. For hands-on research that would usually be completed live, consider alternatives that might still meet the goal of teaching students inquiry/research skills in your discipline. Some examples:
    • Ask students to interpret, analyze and evaluate published research, with a focus on the particular skills or concepts your course targets (e.g., measurement error).
    • Present a description and rationale for an experiment and ask students to generate predictions and provide rationales for them.
    • Ask students to design research by developing a research proposal. Once they do, you can even consider providing them with similated data and asking them to analyze and interpret the data.
    • Harness virtual tools relevant to your discipline (e.g., Google Earth) for a different sort of experiential learning.

Student Performances  

Students and instructors can use video to record dance, music or theatre performances for modeling, instruction, practice and assignments. 

  • Have students use their phones or computer webcams to record video, which they can then upload to Blackboard. (video tutorial)
  • For ensemble music performances, have students collaborate and merge their individual performances with tools like Audacity or GarageBand.
  • Embed video in VoiceThread and ask students to comment or analyze with their own videos.
  • Link to video on YouTube or other sources and have students analyze the work. Or have students find their own examples of what they consider high-quality or problematic work in their area and have them explain various aspects of that work.
  • Link to video or audio of public student performances from previous years for critique.
  • Have students create practice logs or video logs in which they not only perform but explain what they are doing and provide a self-critique.
  • For more ideas about teaching remotely in the arts, see this resource page from Clemson University. 

Service Learning  

The Center for Service Learning (CSL) is gathering and ofering guidance for how to continue to support service learning or community-engaged learning. They have developed an online hub to disseminate and share this information.

Discipline Based Resources for Remote Teaching

Go to the bottom of the Resources Page for numerous discipline-specific resources for remote teaching.   

Interacting with students

Many instructors worry that online courses lack personal interaction. That's understandable, but a thoughtful and deliberate approach to online interaction can create a sense of community in a class and help an instructor's personality come through. Online courses can be especially valuable for quieter students who may feel isolated in a physical classroom. This page offers some ways to connect with students. You can continue to meet with students informally in the following ways: 

  • Office hours: Hold specified Office Hours in Zoom. Post link and a specified time frame, and students with the link can simply log on to meet. In most cases, students don't use online office hours any more than they do in person, so make sure students know how to contact you with questions. 
  • Individual meetings: Use Zoom, Skype for Business or a phone call to have individual meetings.

Making your Blackboard site more user friendly

It's important to make your course site as easy to navigate as possible. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Create a landing page that guides students to course material. You can set a page as a landing page in the Customization area of Blackboard.
  • Make sure your syllabus and contact information are easy to find.
  • Use short paragraphs, headers, and boldfacing to break up material and make it easier to read.
  • Create modules or folders to make each week’s materials easy to find. 
  • Explain to students what they will be doing in each module and assignment by creating learning goals for each week and explaining how students can achieve those goals.
  • Create an area where students can ask and answer questions.

Clear organization and expectations are essential for a successful online course.  This worksheet developed by CODL provides a user-friendly template for organizing your online course.