Teaching Strategies

strategies and workshops developed and implemented during the SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic and for quick adjustments from in-person to remote modalities

Moodle Examples

Looking for examples of how your colleagues organize their Moodle course sites? Shared in this collection are screen shots from Moodle course sites across disciplines to illustrate how content is organized and presented. Additional notes have been included to explain navigation details and other choices.

Instructional Models for 2020-2021

The Instruction sub-committee of SU's Task Force developed four teaching models as guidelines to reference as you design and develop your courses for this fall. The models are not "rigid" and you may find a feature of one model you would like to use with another model. And ... depending on your courses' pedagogies, you may find different models fit best for different classes.

The descriptions of the four models with some sample scenarios:

Instruction Models SU Fall 2020 v3

Model 4 (HyFlex) - Set-Up Guide

The recording of the Instructional Models July 10, 2020 session:

Instructional Models [recording]

Each teaching space has been re-designed for social distancing and other safety protocols. Furniture in the spaces cannot be moved and in some spaces, the whiteboard/chalkboard may not be available for the instructor's use.

Information about room capacities and arrangement of the furniture: Floorplans by Building


As you are adapting your courses for distance learning, the Center for Academic Success will provide guidance on how these changes may impact students with academic accommodations.

  • Update: 8/3/20: The Center for Academic Success is working on a guidance document, which will answer most of your questions. For more assistance, reach out to Jennifer Smull, Associate Director of Academic Success

Assignments - Collecting, Grading, and Returning

Collecting assignments online is fairly straightforward, since many instructors already collect work electronically. The main challenge during a campus disruption is whether students have access to computers, as anyone needing a campus computer lab may be unable to access necessary technologies. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Require only common applications. Students may not have access to special applications located on campus computers. Be ready with a backup plan for such students. Note: some of the applications available on SU computers on campus are available to SU students, faculty and staff. Check the last section of the Tools page.]

  • Avoid emailed attachments, which will quickly swamp your email inbox. Consider using the Moodle Assignments tool and/or Google Drive to collect assignments instead.

  • State expectations, but be ready to allow extensions. With shelter-in-place orders or other crises, 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.

  • Require specific document names. It may sound trivial, but anyone who collects papers electronically knows the pain of getting 20 files named Essay1. Give your students a simple file naming convention, for example, FirstnameLastname-Essay1.

Grades Communication

We have provided some additional information about communicating with students about their grades and course grade average. See the "Grades in Moodle and Grade Calculator" section of the "Tools" page.

Communicating with Students

Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your classes—whether a planned absence on your part, or because of a crisis impacting all or part of campus. Let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations. Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and save you dealing with individual questions. Keep these principles in mind:

  • Communicate early and often. Let students know about changes or disruptions as early as possible, even if all the details aren’t in place yet, and let them know when they can expect more specific information. Avoid swamping them with email, but consider matching the frequency of your messages with that of changes in class activities and/or updates to the broader crisis at hand (for example, the campus closure is extended for two more days; what will students need to know related to your course?)

  • Set expectations. Let students know how you plan to communicate with them, and how often. Tell students both how often you expect them to check their email, and how quickly they can expect your response.

  • Manage your communications load. You will likely receive some individual requests for information that could be useful to all your students, so consider keeping track of frequently asked questions and sending those replies out to everyone through the Moodle Announcements item. This way, students know they might get a group reply in a day versus a personal reply within an hour. Also, consider creating an information page in Moodle, and then encourage students to check there first before contacting you.

Course Materials

You may need to provide additional course materials to support your changing plans, from updated schedules to readings that allow you to shift more instruction online. In a pinch, providing some new readings and related assignments may be your best bet for keeping the intellectual momentum of the course moving. Considerations when posting new course materials:

  • Make sure students know when new material is posted. If you post new materials in Moodle, be sure to let students know what you posted and where.

  • Keep things phone-friendly. In a crisis or if the campus closes, some students may only have a phone available, so aim to use mobile-friendly formats, Google Documents and searchable PDFs being the most common. Consider converting other files (for example, PowerPoint presentations) to Google documents or PDFs which are easier to read on phones and tablets, and keep the file size small. It is fairly easy to reduce the size of PDF files using Adobe Acrobat, and there are online tools that do the same thing (for example, search Google for “PDF file size”). Videos can be large, so only require them if you are confident students will have sufficient internet access and an unlimited data plan to access and play them.

Discussions and Collaborative Work

Synchronous discussion

  • If you have a smaller class, you may be able to organize a synchronous discussion session using Google Meet or RingCentral Meetings. However, please do not penalize students who cannot participate in synchronous meetings.

  • You can also put students into small-group breakout sessions in RingCentral Meetings, move between the sessions to check in on them, and then return everyone back to the full group, just as you might do in a physical classroom. At this time, breakout sessions are not present in Google Meet but is is on the list of features "coming soon."

Asynchronous discussion

Translating a seminar-style discussion into an asynchronous format can be disorienting, but keeping those conversations going during a campus closure promotes student community as well as student learning.

  • Begin with some type of course content—typically a reading or video— designed to elicit student response.

  • Considering breaking into smaller groups. Because students sometimes struggle to engage in an online conversation with the whole class, you can separate students into smaller groups, and set up Forums in Moodle or a shared Google Document for each group.

  • 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 one or more 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.

  • Craft discussion questions to be as clear and as specific as possible so that students can build off of the question for a sustained response. See Stanford TeachingCommons’ “Designing Effective Discussion Questions”

  • Assign roles to students so that they understand when and how they might respond to you or their peers. For example, students might “role play” as particular kinds of respondents or you might ask them to do particular tasks (e.g. be a summarizer, a respondent, a connector with outside resources).

  • Grading: If grade the discussion in a face-to-face setting, grade it also in the online setting. In Moodle, you can add a Forum as a grade item allowing you to assign grades and leave comments for every participant.

  • 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.

  • Explicitly guide students on civility and discussion guidelines. Consider important differences between online and face-to-face communication, and urge your students to do the same. Tone of voice, body language, and general demeanor translate poorly into text-only communications, so think before you write and encourage your students to do the same. Remind your students that an online course forum is an extension of the classroom, and the same expectations of civility and critical thinking apply as when you're face-to-face. In particular, 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.

Lectures/Presenting - Live and Recorded

You can deliver lectures and presentations online either live or recorded.

  • Synchronously: Lectures can be delivered in real-time using Google Meet and RingCentral Meetings. You can show your face, display yourself writing on a page or tablet, or share your screen (including a Google Presentation, Powerpoint or your hand writing on a tablet). Using Google's Jamboard is a digital whiteboard/chalkboard and you can share your jam documents for them to view or as a collaborative whiteboard/chalkboard. You can involve students during your online lectures through two-way video, audio and chat, or with interactive polls (such as polling feature in RingCentral Meetings or apps like PollEverywhere, Mentimeter, Kahoot, or quizzing/survey apps like Google Forms or Moodle Quizzes).

  • Asynchronously: You can record your lectures on your computer with free apps. On the Tools page, we reference two kinds of tools: a) tools that allow you to record voice-over narration with a slide show; and b) tools that allow you to make a video of your screen, of yourself speaking, of a document camera, or of several of these things combined. After you stop recording, you can make minor edits (to start and stop points.) (We are not recommending any tools that have robust editing features, since we are trying to keep things simple.) You can post the links to your recordings placed on Google Drive onto your Moodle class sites for easy access by your students.

Lab Activities

One of the biggest challenges of teaching during a disruption is sustaining the lab components of classes. Since many labs require specific equipment, they are hard to reproduce outside of that physical space. Here are some considerations as you plan to address lab activities:

  • Take part of the lab online. Many lab activities require students to become familiar with certain procedures, and only physical practice of those processes will do. In such cases, consider the parts of the lab experience you could take online - for example, video demonstrations of techniques, online simulations, analysis of data, other pre- or post-lab work.

  • Investigate virtual labs. Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some labs (for example, virtual dissection, night sky apps, video demonstrations of labs, simulations). Those vary widely by discipline, but check with your textbook publisher, or sites such as Merlot for materials that might help replace parts of your lab. Middlebury College has provided a list of additional options for virtual labs.

  • Provide raw data for analysis. In cases where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected, and then provide some raw sets of data for students to analyze. This approach is not as comprehensive as having students collect and analyze their own data, but it might keep them engaged with parts of the lab experience during the closure.

  • Explore alternate applications and software access. Some labs require access to specialized applications that students cannot install on their own computers. The last section of the Tools page contains information on how to use/get some of the applications found on campus computers. These are available for SU students, faculty and staff. Depending on the situation, Southwestern may be able to help set up alternatives.

  • Increase interaction in other ways. Sometimes labs are more about having time for direct student interaction, so consider other ways to replicate that level of contact if it is only your lab that is out of commission.

  • See additional suggestions

Office Hours

Video meetings: Use Google Meet or RingCentral Meetings to hold virtual office hours and to keep appointments with students. If your students do not have access to adequate bandwidth for video conferencing, use Google Chat for asynchronous typed conversations.

Calendar appointments booking. If you're not already using the appointments booking feature in Google Calendar, this could be a good time to start. You can designate selected time slots for which students can sign up. If students have their own Google Calendar time zones set correctly for wherever they are, Google Calendar will automatically make the appropriate adjustments on their calendars.

Peer Review of Writing

Having students work in small groups to read one another’s papers and offer guided, substantive feedback is one of the most effective ways to foster writing knowledge in your classroom, and the benefits of peer review are well-documented. After speaking with faculty about peer review here at Southwestern, we’ve developed a list of five best practices to help you make the most of peer review in your classroom.

Please visit the Debby Ellis Writing Center's "Peer Review" page to learn about

For models of effective peer review materials, visit the DEWC's "Model Peer Reviews and Further Resources."

Presentations by Students

Typically student presentations usually take the form of short lectures and they can be delivered to you and to the class in the same way that you can deliver your own lecture content to the class.

  • Create videos. Students today generally know how to shoot short videos on their phones. They can share them with the class through Google Drive or YouTube. Each Southwestern account has a YouTube channel. With YouTube, advise students to upload their videos to their SU YouTube channel for your class, mark as "unlisted" and share the link with you in the appropriate venue.

  • Share videos. Posting the links to students' videos in Google Drive or YouTube in a Moodle Forum, where other students can comment on their classmates' presentations, may offer the nearest analogue to a synchronous face-to-face presentation. It also provides easier integration with the Moodle Gradebook than just hosting the video on Google Drive or YouTube. If you're inviting peer review, encourage students to make both appreciative comments and comments that could lead to improved performance in the future.

  • Deliver the presentation in real time. You may also have students give presentations live in Google Meet or RingCentral Meetings sessions.

Performing and Studio Arts

We recognize that the learning in active courses such as studio arts, performing arts, and applied subjects requires specialized equipment or spaces and is based on action. These activities may not translate easily to the online environment. Here are some suggestions shared at other institutions:

  • Consider projects that can use a “kitchen table studio”: As we know from William Morris, art resides within the “resistance of the materials,” and artists have long adjusted their work to fit their available space. If there are particular store-bought or studio materials, students may be able to purchase these online or locally where they are living. Or consider projects that draw on found or easily-available-at-home materials.

  • Create a video demo. See above “Lectures/Presenting - Live and Recorded” for some tips.

  • Do synchronous or asynchronous critique: You could host critique in Google Meet or RingCentral Meetings. You could have students create mini-portfolios with Google Slides or Google Sites.

  • Solo work: While recorded performance (acting, dance, musicianship) is nowhere equivalent to the real life event, if you are able to create solo exercises (for example, a dramatic monologue or solo), students can record and share—and critique can be as above.

  • Background or preparatory work: If there is some relevant background reading or research that supports or informs an art project or performance, you could assign this as group reading and discussion (see "Discussions and Collaborative Work" above) or as a short, independent project or group project.

Other resources:

Tests & Quizzes

Here are a few things to keep in mind for online exams:

  • Look at non-exam options. Consider whether you could assess student learning outcomes for your course without an exam. For example, by using a paper or a cumulative project.

  • Look at alternate exam formats. For small classes, you might consider conducting oral exams in Google Meet or RingCentral Meetings or have students deliver presentations online to demonstrate their learning.

  • Use Moodle to create an exam. If a traditional exam is the only option, the Moodle Quiz module supports several different types of questions. Allow time to research different question types and determine how best to configure your exam in Moodle. There are many security options available in Moodle to help ensure the integrity of your exams, such as limiting time, randomizing questions, and using question sets so each student receives a unique test.

  • Additional options:

    • Set time limits. Allow students to use the resources at hand (like an "open book" test), but place a time limit, word count limit, or both on the exam. Moodle makes it easy to incorporate extended time accommodations on timed assignments, by specifying exceptions for the students with the override feature.

    • Draw quiz questions randomly from larger question banks, preferably using questions that you have personally created. If you're drawing questions from a publisher's question bank, consider modifying the questions or responses in some quick but non-trivial way. For multiple-choice questions, also randomize the sequence in which choices are shown.

    • Require students to provide narrative rationales for multiple-choice questions.