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Getting Started

This guide is intended to assist Grinnell instructors design their courses during the COVID-19 emergency. Courses may be completely online, or may include some classroom and face-to-face components. We offer here some general ideas to keep in mind and some specific suggestions and examples of instructional activities to consider.

For a more comprehensive list of resources for course design, pedagogy, and technology, see the Course Development Resources page of this website.

This site will be updated regularly as we continue to organize ideas and resources.

Begin With Students and Their Situation

  • What can you realistically expect from students, given their circumstances? Students may face a variety of physical, emotional, cognitive, and financial challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic that can impact learning and performance. Remember that students don’t have to be directly impacted by a crisis for it to have a significant impact on their health, well-being, and stress levels. When possible, offer all students additional flexibility to meet deadlines, adjust workloads, and the necessary time to adapt to a changing situation.
  • Be mindful of the ways in which a crisis can impact communities in different ways, and how students from different identity groups (race, ethnicity, age, religious affiliation, gender, sexual orientation) may respond to a situation. Moreover, consider that some communities may become targets of bias incidents, discrimination, and even hate crimes during times of crisis. Reflect on how your own response to the situation is impacting you, your approach to teaching, and your interactions with students, and how you can best support your students.
  • Consider whether and how to discuss the ongoing crisis situation with your students. The resource Teaching in Times of Crisis from the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching offers valuable tips for discussing local, national, and international crises in class. Misinformation spreads easily in times of crisis, and students may have misconceptions about the causes of an issue or about communities that are impacted. When possible, correct misinformation that students may be sharing.

Set Realistic Learning Goals for Your Students

  • Examine the learning goals for your course. What are the most essential things for your students to learn? 
  • Help set your priorities and expectations by reviewing your syllabus and course schedule to determine how these goals can be realistically accomplished in a remote learning environment.
  • What expectations do you have for students’ participation, workload, deadlines, and communication during this time? Try to keep expectations realistic and manageable, keeping in mind that students’ ability to meet these new expectations may be compromised (e.g., they may lack power/internet, may be quarantined, may be caring for family members, etc.).

Maintain Communication and Social Presence With Your Class

  • It is important to communicate early and often with students through Blackboard, email, or other channels. You can post “Announcements” in Blackboard that will go to the entire class.
  • When setting expectations about the course work and deadlines with students, remember to discuss your expectations for communications. When can they expect to hear from you, and where should they expect to receive that message? When do you expect to hear from them, and how?
  • Keep track of students’ frequently asked questions and share answers with all students on a Blackboard page for faster communication and to avoid answering repetitive emails.
  • Offer regular online “office hours” so students can stay connected with you. You may want to offer the option for students to contact you via email, video or text chat, or a phone call. Use WebEx or Blackboard Collaborate to host office hours, and schedule 1:1 meetings with students.
  • Stay active in the online space (discussion boards, groups, etc.) so students feel your presence and that they’re still “in class” during this period.
  • Use discussion boards, group work, and synchronous class meetings to help students stay connected to the class community.

Adjust Assignments and Activities for Remote Learning

As the instructor, you have several options to continue instruction in the event of a campus closure. These can include live or synchronous class sessions, self-directed study options through asynchronous activities like readings, recorded lectures, threaded discussions, or other possibilities. The first thing to think about is your learning goals. Instead of focusing on the specific assignments and work you’ve typically asked students to do, focus on the reasons you designed those assignments and that work. Perhaps it will be possible to reach the same goals in a different way.

Visit the Teaching Strategies page to explore options for adapting specific types of assignments or teaching practices for an online space.

Visit the Specialized Resources page for more information and resources for reimagining a lab, studio, or performance-based course in an online space.

Visit the Accessibility and Inclusion page for more information about strategies and best practices for making distance learning accessible.

The views and opinions expressed on individual web pages are strictly those of their authors and are not official statements of Grinnell College. Copyright Statement.