Principle 4

Explore ways to adapt both your course design and delivery to take advantage of the flexibility made possible by online learning while cultivating a strong, inclusive, online learning community.

Implications and Suggestions for Instructors

Consider combining both synchronous and asynchronous components. Determine which activities are synchronous (i.e., everyone is expected to be in the same virtual space at the same time to do something together) and which are asynchronous (i.e., students choose when to complete tasks, typically within an allowed window of days). Asynchronous activities may offer the most flexibility and convenience (depending on deadlines); synchronous activities may more easily build community (depending on the activity). Ideally, strive for a mix of both asynchronous and synchronous activities each week, structured in a reliable pattern and clearly indicated in the syllabus/module materials to help students stay on track and plan their time. Consider the activities that are necessary to meet learning outcomes rather than focusing on filling the allotted time.

    • For synchronous activities, ensure all stick to your assigned course time-slots, to help your students avoid scheduling conflicts. Include breaks as appropriate. Plan how students in different time zones can participate (e.g., by adding an asynchronous option, grouping students by time zone). Consider how students can engage with content, with each other, with you, with your TA. For example, use synchronous time to engage students in structured activities in groups, offer a drop-in virtual office hour in Collaborate Ultra or Zoom, as well as moderate discussion board threads in Canvas.
    • For asynchronous activities, consider that any move to more asynchronous material (relative to what activities or lectures you might typically teach in a synchronous way) reduces the amount of instantaneous guidance available to students. Thus, what is an acceptable student workload for a face-to-face class might actually be a lot more work remotely.


Explore ways to intentionally build community in online learning activities. Students may feel isolated and lonely, are at greater risk of being invisible in an online rather than face-to-face environment, and their particular support needs may be more difficult to identify. Some ideas to consider:

    • invite students to create an online (video) introduction
    • break up a larger class into smaller base groups for semi-private discussion and work
    • design structured activities or assignments to invite students to collectively share ideas to solve a problem
    • learn students’ names
    • use the Canvas gradebook “message students who… did not submit” to quickly reach out to students who have stopped engaging.


Consider your Assessment strategy. Assessments can support students in both achieving and demonstrating your course-level learning goals. Carefully considering how assessments are structured, weighted, and deployed within an online course can support students in a manageable, sustainable way online. For example, low-stakes (and quick to check) mini-assignments can help keep students on track for success on larger projects. Consider few (or no) high-stakes exams, alongside regular, engaging low-stakes activities and a scaffolded term project. Consider whether there is room to offer the option for students some choice in how to demonstrate they have achieved learning goals. A thorough consideration of assessment adaptation ideas is available in an editable wiki document compiled by several faculty here.


Consider your course policies. Ensure your policies are up-to-date and align with your Faculty/Unit’s student advising messaging. Consider embedding some blanket flexibility, such as a certain number of no-questions-asked late passes offered to everyone. Such flexibility can help students accommodate their unexpected hardships with less stress (e.g., sole computer failure, new COVID outbreak), while minimizing your administrative load.

  • If you are teaching a section of a large multi-section course, consider reaching out to fellow instructors to explore collaborating on lessons, modules, or assessments.
  • Ensure TAs have the training needed to fulfill their roles effectively. Include those hours in their paid time. Consider Faculty and Department- level offerings, as well as what specialized training you can offer for your course in particular.
  • Ensure that the kind and timing of work being asked of TAs is appropriate given labour regulations.