The resources found on this site will support you in planning for Summer and Fall so that regardless of the delivery mode in which you teach, you’ll be able to continue teaching smoothly and successfully. This guidance is aligned with a robust academic continuity plan, which would leave you prepared for academic disruptions at all scales, such as planned travel, snow days, and yes, even a public health emergency.
This site covers the designing and planning parts of creating a course, along with best practices for online course design. We encourage you to also review the Course Resources for Faculty site, which provides tutorials on using the RIT-supported tools to implement your course plan.
Flexible Course Elements
To be flexible in your course design, it's best to create modular course components that are reusable across teaching formats. Given the uncertainty around fall semester, it is important to prioritize work that can be used in either a face-to-face mode or online. There are several parts of your course that can be prioritized and used regardless of instruction mode.
The following are useful to build ahead for flexibility in teaching modes:
Syllabus and other introduction to the course content: Instructors need to have their syllabus shared in myCourses and use the myCourses gradebook per RIT policy regardless of teaching mode. You may also want to prepare weekly learning plans or other guiding documents for students. You may need to adjust some of these materials if and when teaching modes shift, but the core stays the same.
Assignment instructions: Digital copies of instructions are helpful for students to have in any mode. Students can refer to them from anywhere. Pre-writing these gives you the opportunity to seek feedback from others on the clarity of the instructions.
Quizzes and exams: You can have a digitally-delivered quiz/exam regardless of teaching mode. The benefit is that questions with a defined answer can be graded automatically.
Slide decks with lecture notes: Can be used as the original file for student self-study or review, for an instructor giving a face-to-face lecture, or as material for making pre-recorded video.
Pre-recorded video: Can be used for online courses as core course material. Video can be used in a face-to-face class as required homework (a form of a “class reading”) that frees up time for a more hands-on activity to take place during class time.
You can also curate a list of 3rd-party resources that you can use to supplement self-created materials or as a launching point for a more targeted activity you facilitate.
Preparing a Course Design
As you prepare your course design, follow these steps:
The skills and knowledge the students need for successful completion of the course.
Critical assignments that students may have to complete online.
Other assignments that you’d like to figure out how to do online.
The places in your course where students can be active participants in their learning.
The balance between screen time and non-screen time for your students.
Consider how time “works” in online courses. Students can work on your course away from the screen, too. Are you building in those opportunities? “Chunking,” or breaking content and activities into manageable segments, can help here.
The length and impact of the videos you create for your course.
The digital tools that facilitate students to be able to work on and submit activities. Which tools you comfortable using? Do you need to learn a new tool?
Based on your inventory above, prioritize which changes are the most urgent and impactful. Work on those first. If you're not sure how to proceed or need ideas, contact an Instructional Designer.
Set a plan for yourself to complete your course build in myCourses, make any video assets and course content you need to create, design assessments, and write clearly-worded assignment instructions.
Important: Plan to complete course development before the course opens so you can focus your efforts on teaching and interacting with students. Something will be lost in the tradeoff if you try to launch an incomplete course and “build ahead” while you’re also teaching.
Get feedback from colleagues. Where you have access to a peer in your discipline, ask whether your assignment instructions are clear.
Get feedback from instructional designers. Show them your learning outcomes and their relationship to assessment methods and course activities.
Get feedback from technical staff. Ask whether there’s a more efficient way to manage your tasks in the course. Ask for feedback on your course organization and navigation.
Get feedback from students you trust. If you are teaching the course now, consider asking your current students what’s not working and what to keep. Note: They will especially appreciate it if you act on their feedback by modifying what you can within the same course. It signals you take their feedback seriously.
One way to plan your time is to work backwards from the first day of class. For all the weeks leading up to launch day, plan for the time it will take you to prepare content and organize the course, and if desired, create media/videos.
If you can, build in a week at the end of your schedule for final review, feedback and integrating changes.
After the course starts, keep a teaching log so you can prioritize your revisions. Note what worked well and what you want to change next time.
We suggest that you not try to create the perfect online course. Make the course that’s within your arm’s reach for today, and plan to improve it over time.
Examples from Other Faculty
Note that some resources in this section may reference technology that is not supported by ILI or was once supported and is no longer supported. A list of currently supported technologies is available on the ILI website. Faculty may choose to use an academic technology that is not supported by ILI, but the faculty member would be responsible for supporting it and ensuring that students can access course activities on an ongoing basis.
For more information about implementing ideas from these resources in your course, please submit a consultation request form. A member of the ILI staff can work with you to identify the most fitting pedagogy and technology for your course's needs.
Q&As with Online Faculty
In the following Faculty Panel recordings, you can learn from experienced online faculty about building and facilitating online courses.
Michael Skyer (MS in Secondary Education Program, NTID)
Elizabeth Reeves O’Connor (School of Communication)
Teachers on Teaching
Teachers on Teaching is a faculty discussion series in which RIT faculty share emerging teaching practices that they are using at RIT. Many of the sessions were recorded. Visit the Past Teachers on Teaching website to access descriptions of sessions held in 2015 - 2019 and available recordings of the sessions. We recommend browsing the headings of the page or searching the content of the page (Ctrl+F on Windows or Command+F on Mac) for a keyword of interest.
The Innovative Learning Institute also has some demonstration online courses developed by RIT faculty and a template myCourses course shell.
The demo courses are example online courses developed by your colleagues. You can observe best practices in action and find some inspiration for your own course design.
Note that there is value in browsing the setup of a course that is not in your discipline. Things like organization of materials, syllabus setup, and certain activities translate across disciplines. You can request view-only access to the following courses:
It’s not uncommon to think of “lecture” as a class mode, but lecturing is just one activity that takes place in a class. Interactive dialogue facilitated by an expert scholar is one of many invisible activities in a classroom that many of us may take for granted.
We encourage you, instead, to think of your whole-class meetings and how they will be conducted online. That doesn’t mean your class has to “meet” at the same time. Some of the richest online course experiences are asynchronous.
Questions you can reflect on now:
Where do your whole-class meetings take place?
What do you do in those meetings?
How do you create opportunities for students to actively participate?
Indicate which technologies you will use in the course. Provide students with documentation or tutorials if they are available. Several quick tips for supported tools like myCourses and Zoom are found at the Student Support for Learning Online webpage.
If you have an assigned class day/time listed in SIS, schedule synchronous meetings during that assigned day/time to prevent conflicts with student obligations to other courses and to aid in the scheduling of interpreters/captionists.
If there is no assigned class day/time listed in SIS, schedule synchronous meetings based on consensus on when you and your students are available. Consider using a scheduling poll (e.g. Doodle) to find the best time.
All meetings that cover course content should be recorded and posted to myCourses to allow for flexibility in student attendance.
Office hours, student check-ins, or other optional meetings can be scheduled using the method of your choice (e.g. set hours you choose, scheduling poll).
Be aware of accessibility, and have a plan for live interpreting/captioning for supported students. Review details about interpreting/captioning on the Course Resources for Faculty website.
Tell students which method(s) they should use to contact you and how quickly you will respond to questions (e.g. within 24 hours on weekdays).
Set up a myCourses Discussion forum for students to ask course-related questions. Encourage students to check this area for answers before emailing you. Reply to questions in this forum for all students to benefit from the answer.
Tell students which method(s) you'll use to contact them and how often they should check it.
Include Access Services providers on course communications.
Update your course calendar to clearly outline due dates. Remind students that myCourses is in the US Eastern time zone by default. They can have due dates displayed in their own time zone by clicking their name in the upper right and changing Account Settings.
Organize content using module folders in the Content tool of myCourses. Some suggestions are to organize content into modules by week, topic/unit, or type of materials. Keep a consistent pattern of organization throughout the course.
If you use slide decks (PPT, Keynote, etc) with lecture notes to organize your talking points, these can be used as the original file for student self-study or review, for an instructor giving a face-to-face lecture, or as material for making pre-recorded video.
Pre-recorded videos you create can be used for online courses as core course material. They can also be used in a face-to-face class as required homework (a form of a “class reading”) that frees up time for a more hands-on activity to take place during class time.
The best course videos are brief, make one succinct point, and are part of a balanced diet of course activities. For guidance on making high-impact videos, review the Course Media rubric from ILI.
Your course materials and platforms must be accessible to students. For more information, review the Accessibility Resources on the Course Resources for Faculty site.
From NTID faculty member Sara Schley, EdD: “Encourage students to tell you about any accessibility concerns. But also let them know that you do not need to know what their disability is in order to make your classroom and your teaching fully accessible.” And: “Too much of the time, the disability statement on the syllabus is the only time disability is addressed in the class, and this only ensures that stigma persists and that accommodations are a secondary concern.”
What other ways might you use the discussion board other than for a threaded discussion? Are there opportunities for students to use the discussion board to aggregate and synthesize resources? To stage an asynchronous debate?
For more ideas, review this University of Waterloo article, which explains the importance of assigning grades to online discussion (usually 10-20% of final grade), posing effective questions, providing structure and describing your expectations, and, in classes larger than 15, dividing students into small groups of 6-8.
Think about why you are assessing student learning. Are you evaluating student learning of a set of topics or are you providing students with quick feedback about whether they understand a topic so far?
For the latter, consider creating simple “check-your-knowledge” quizzes. The Quiz tool in myCourses offers a simple way to let students receive quick feedback and an immediate automatic grade.
Use a mix of assessment strategies such as low-stakes assessments, open-book exams, projects, and written work (discussion posts, assignments).
For small section sizes, if identity is a concern, consider brief webcam check-ins with each student to discuss curricular topics and confirm students' understanding.
Simple, clear, direct assignment instructions are helpful for students to have in any course mode. Students can refer to them easily when they need them. Pre-writing these gives you the opportunity to seek feedback from others on the clarity of the instructions.
Split large projects into parts (sub-deliverables) with separate submission folders and grades.
If your assignments involve group work, consider the implications very carefully.
Students can find coordination of group work to be challenging and unsatisfying. The same “free rider” problems that exist in the classroom are amplified online.
Use group work very intentionally, when the learning outcomes require it (e.g. application of teamwork skills are a desired learning outcome), or when the nature of a task in a future career requires it.
Remember that students may be in different time zones. Collaboration may need to be text-based and asynchronous, such as in Google Docs.
Include a written or video introduction that tells students how the course will work, how to navigate the course, and how to get started with the course. This can be posted to the Announcements tool in myCourses.
Provide students with materials and support resources to help with self-directed learning:
Share the Academic Success Center (ASC) toolkit with students (includes tools for assisting with time management, study process, academic organization, and more). Instructors can also request a consultation with ASC staff (contact email@example.com) to discuss ASC services and how to incorporate learning strategies into course assignments.
There is a student-focused website that focuses on the habits of a good online learner and the support systems available to students.
An RIT policy established recently for online courses requires that instructors use some means to verify their students identity. In summary, when a course is listed in SIS with “Online” mode, the instructor will be asked to verify that they have made a reasonable attempt to verify identity. Methods to accomplish this are described in detail on the SIVC webpage.
RIT policy requires instructors to post their Syllabus (usually in the Content area of myCourses), as well as use the Grades tool to update student grade status throughout the term. You may need to adjust your syllabus if and when the teaching mode shifts, but the core stays the same. Syllabus design guidance appears on the ILI website.
If you have built all of your materials into myCourses in advance, your focus while the course is in session is to foster a learning community and support student learning.
“Taking attendance” in an online course is typically substituted with instructors regularly reviewing students’ overall engagement with the online materials. A weekly or class-based attendance grade is not typically given. Instead, instructors use this information to help reach out to students who are not engaging to expected levels.
Check your students’ activity and progress in myCourses on a regular basis.
Use the Classlist tool to view the last time the student accessed the course.
For students who are disengaged, reach out through your advertised communication method. Provide specifics about your concern (ex: “I am concerned because you haven’t completed the first three quizzes”). If a student continues to be disengaged, use the following methods:
For undergraduate students, use Starfish to notify students that they are concerned about their lack of response. This will also notify the student’s academic advisor, and if a student has additional support advisors in place, they will be notified as well. Keep trying to communicate with the student even after the alert has been raised in Starfish.
For graduate students, contact the program’s graduate coordinator and/or academic advisor to determine next steps, and keep trying to connect with the student.
Additional Methods to Support Student Learning
Update the online grade book promptly after assignment/assessment due dates. Note that many of the myCourses tools automatically export to Grades when you grade students’ work in them (e.g. Quiz and Assignments).
Summarize the online discussions on a weekly basis. This is a good place to clarify misunderstandings and confusion points, and reiterate key points. Send a whole-class email with your summary, post and pin your summary in the myCourses Discussion, or do both.
If you have set up a Q&A forum in the Discussion tool, check and respond to questions on a regular basis.
Consider holding virtual office hours through Zoom. Use the waiting room feature to communicate with one student at a time.
Have a way to collect feedback from students so you can use that to inform your next run of the course. Keep improving the course over time. Students also appreciate being asked for feedback in the middle of a course so you can make improvements in that same course run.
At the end of the semester
Remind students of the importance of and to complete the course evaluation form.
Send an email with a closing personal message to students.
Need Assistance? Have Questions?
Each college has a representative on the College Course Advancement Team (College CATs) who will support their colleagues in the development of high-quality instructional materials for any teaching modality. Your College CAT is a resource for you while preparing classes for the fall – from acting as a sounding board for you during course development, to helping brainstorm activities for multiple modalities, to guiding you to resources and trainings.
Faculty teaching fully online or in a hybrid format can request instructional equipment, such as microphones/headsets, webcams, and/or document cameras to enhance their online or hybrid course. Requests for such items should be directed to CATS@rit.edu.