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Keep Teaching

The guidance on this page will help you continue instruction and keep students progressing toward your course’s learning objectives using Blackboard and other online tools.  


Do not try to use all of the strategies listed on this page. Identify the most basic elements you need to put in place to meet your short-term instructional objectives. If the situation continues, you can add more activities back in. Not all face-to-face activities can be replicated online; however, almost all learning objectives can be achieved in the online classroom.

General Principles

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

  • Immediately reach out to students who miss class. There are many reasons students may miss the scheduled class sessions: changed work schedules, lack of childcare, the difference in time zone. Personal contact with students helps keep them engaged and makes them feel cared for. Lack of teaching presence in the virtual environment is correlated with lower retention.

  • Share “How-to” resources with your students. Students can self-enroll in the Blackboard Student Orientation on the Blackboard home page and explore resources at They can also contact the Help Desk. Do not assume all students have mastered technology, whether that be using Blackboard, Office 365 or something else. Approximately 20% of students lack the basic technology skills they need. 

  • Prioritize course activities and focus on delivering the ones with the most significant impact on learning objectives. Distinguish between "must-have" and "nice-to-have" content and assignments. Your students may have less time to do work during this time, and some will struggle academically because of the lack of structure and routine they are used to having. CETL staff are available to talk through options with you. 

  • Maintain normal course scheduling. Use Blackboard Collaborate (or an approved alternative) to hold classes at regularly scheduled times. Do not penalize students who cannot participate due to time zone differences, poor internet access or similar factors. Record class meetings so students can access the information if they are unable to attend or have technical difficulties. 
  • Rearrange course activities, if needed, to delay those activities where face-to-face interaction is most crucial. If you teach a lab or other course that requires in-person activity, push those activities back. When possible, be creative and develop alternatives that allow students to achieve course objectives remotely.
  • Replace physical resources with digital resources where possible. Students who have left campus may not have access to West Library. If you can, substitute materials that are available in the library’s full-text databases or that are freely available online. Avoid assigning readings from e-books owned by the library as most can be used by only a limited number of people at one time.  
  • Use tools that are familiar to you and the students to the greatest extent possible.

Specific Strategies

Delivering Face-to-Face Content Virtually

Lectures and Discussions

You will hold class using a tool called Blackboard Collaborate. (Instructors who already have an alternate method in place may continue using the selected tool or platform.)

How to Meet with Students

  • Dedicate 10-15 minutes of the first class sessions to troubleshooting technical issues. Getting audio set up is the most common issue. 

  • Log into Collaborate a full 10 minutes prior to the start of the session.

  • Practice using Collaborate with a friend or colleague before classes resume.

  • Promote a tech-savvy student to Moderator and ask him or her to help manage questions in the chat box or to call peers to help get audio working.
  • Record class sessions using Blackboard Collaborate. You can access Collaborate online or through the Blackboard Instructor app. Expect delays and hiccups. Not only this campus, but much of higher ed in the U.S. is doing what you are doing.
  • Use your webcam and/or share your screen, but adjust the session settings so students cannot use theirs. Doing so reduces the amount of bandwidth required. You cannot share your screen if you moderate a meeting on the app instead of on a computer.
  • Post a copy of the recording in YuJa so captions will be auto-generated for students who want them. Instructors must correct captions to 99% accuracy. 
  • Avoid posting PowerPoint presentations with narration in Blackboard. The files can be quite large and may be difficult for users with low bandwidth to download and play. 
  • To record a demonstration, ask someone to record the demo using the YuJa app on a mobile device. 

Flipping the Classroom

Some of you may decide to record videos in advance of class sessions. Asking students to watch those videos prior to class can be a good alternative to a live lecture if you continue to meet with students during the scheduled class time. Face-to-face courses are not being changed to fully online courses, and you must hold regularly scheduled class sessions. 

  • 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 in a discussion forum, or take a brief content quiz in BlackboardYou can also insert questions into YuJa videos or ask that students use the commenting tool. (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 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; just focus on delivering the content students need. 
  • Avoid recording a lecture in which you read text from a PowerPoint slide. Instead, use simple images that relate to the content. Provide overview content that contextualizes the readings and activities rather than summarizing the textbook content because students might not complete assigned readings 


  • Check your written content for clarity and grammatical errors. 
  • Use Arial, Helvetica, Calibri or another simple font in black. Do not use a wide array of font colors in Blackboard. Avoid colors that have low contrast with the background.  
  • Save Word and PowerPoint files as PDFs whenever possible. PDFs are easier to open on mobile devices.  
Running Virtual Lab Activities

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 virtually. 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 if you are able to visit campus.
  • Investigate virtual labs such as those provided by the ChemCollective. In some circumstances, a virtual lab experience might be suboptimal but adequate. In some cases, working through case studies may be an acceptable alternative.
Conducting Asynchronous Discussions

If you have a class of more than 8-10 students, it may be difficult to get all students involved in a robust discussion during the scheduled class time. Blackboard Collaborate allows you to send students to "breakout rooms" for small-group activities and discussions. Contact CETL to set up training if you are interested.

Alternately, you may want or need to create some asynchronous discussion forums. Discussion forums have a reputation for being boring or busy work, but they can be used successfully. Contact CETL for a link to a one-hour overview of research on successful use of discussion forums and criteria for evaluating your discussion prompts.

The Discussion Board tool in Blackboard provides a digital space for these conversations to happen. Other options include Perusall (class discussion of a PDF or webpage in the form of annotations)Flipgrid (video discussions), and VoiceThread (audio and/or video discussions).  

Start with the following guidelines to promote robust online discussions. 

  • Mechanics: 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 two or three 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. (Sarah Stone Watt, Pepperdine University, Keep Teaching page) 
  • Draft your prompt and review it by answering the following questions:  
    • Does this prompt have a yes or no response? Prompts with yes or no answers discourage conversation because only one person needs to post in the forum. 

    • Does the prompt allow students to reply from a variety of perspectives? The prompt should be open-ended enough that each student can bring something new to the table; however, “What’s your opinion of….” is too broad a question. Students may struggle to formulate answers to this question.  

    • Does the prompt require students to reference the content they are learning? Require students to support their responses with evidence, whether that be assigned readings or sources they find themselves. When you ask students to share personal experiences, incorporate a reflection element. 

    • Does the prompt ask students to synthesize knowledge and concepts from the course or another discipline? Avoid writing prompts that limit responses to one concept or textbook chapter. (Christine Harrington, webinar recording. Contact CETL for a link)
  • CETL has a number of discussion forum rubrics that you can import into Blackboard to make discussion forum grading easy. Visit the CETL folder in Institution Content to access rubrics or email for more information.  
  • 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. Remember that both too little and too much participation by the instructor inhibits student participation in discussion forums. Ask guiding questions and point students to other relevant posts, but don’t dominate the conversation. 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. Blackboard 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. 
Facilitating Collaborative Work in a Virtual Classroom

Options for Virtual Collaborative or Interactive Work

  1. Get back to basics. Assign partners or teams, ask them to exchange numbers and email addresses, complete an activity and then report back during the next class session.
  2. Use Blackboard Collaborate Breakout Groups. During a live session, you can send groups of students into their own meeting rooms for discussion and interaction. You can also distribute documents to these groups. Moderators can jump from group to group to check in with students and pull all participants back into the main room. Students in the breakout groups can work collaboratively on a document! See below.
  3. Have students work collaboratively using Office 365. Some of you are already familiar with Google Docs, which does the same thing. The Microsoft Educator Center has free online training that you can work through to gain confidence in using Office 365 tools.
  4. Use Flipgrid to allow students to have video conversations with one another. Microsoft has a one-hour training for educators. (If you've participated in the How Humans Learn book club, note that videos do not have to be limited to 1.5 minutes.)

This list isn't exhaustive. If you want to talk through options for moving an activity to the virtual environment, contact us.

Facilitating Active Learning with Social Distancing

Ideas for Active Learning in the F2F Classroom

  • Use polling software. Plickrs is a low-tech alternative. The University-supported software for polling is SMART Notebook.
  • Use brainstorming tools (SMART Notebook has a Shout It Out interaction that allows users to submit text or graphics to a communal whiteboard). Check out AwwBoards (Summer Institute training) as another option.
  • Conduct breakout groups using collaborative tools such as Google Docs. Rather than speak, groups of students would interact via chat, on a document, etc. (thanks to Tom Tobin for that idea).
  • Incorporate physical movement -- Stand if you agree. Stay standing if you also agree. Movement by itself doesn't constitute active learning, but the importance of getting blood flowing rather than sitting for extended periods is well documented.
  • Provide individual whiteboards (or ask students to bring their own). They can solve problems and/or write answers down and hold them up. Sanitation would have to be considered.
  • Group students so that each group has proximity to a shared space on the wall. Students can approach the wall one at a time to add write on poster paper, a whiteboard, or add a Post-It note. One student can take a picture of the completed work and share with everyone in the group.
  • Similar to using polling tools, ask students in a group to share cell numbers. Groups can "discuss" answers and then share the agreed upon solution with the class at large. (For all activities requiring sharing out, I would ask the loudest speaker in each group to take that role on.)

  • Read Active Learning in Hybrid and Physically Distanced Classrooms

Visit our Remote Assessment Kit and Resources page for additional information. 

Getting Help

The Center for Teaching Excellence stands ready to assist you with course design and implementation to support you during a sudden transition to temporary online teaching. 

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" and Pepperdine University's Keep On Teaching plan.