Teaching Effectively During Times of Disruption

Teaching Effectively During Times of Disruption

Teaching during times of potential disruption requires creative and flexible thinking about how instructors can support students in achieving essential core course learning objectives. This document offers suggestions for instructors at Hartwick College looking to continue offering a student-centered learning experience in a remote or online learning environment.

While the process will no doubt feel unfamiliar and at times possibly frustrating, try as much as possible to be patient. There will always be hiccups, but times of disruption are, by their nature, disruptive, and everyone expects that. Be willing to switch tactics if something isn’t working. Above all, stay focused on making sure the students are comfortable, and keep a close eye on the course learning goals–while you might not be able to teach something exactly the way you imagined, as long as you’re still meeting the learning goals of the course, you’re doing fine.

Modified for Hartwick College by the Technology Resource Center/Information Technology

Original By:
Jenae Cohn, Academic Technology Specialist for PWR, jdcohn@stanford.edu
Beth Seltzer, Academic Technology Specialist for Introductory Studies, bethseltzer@stanford.edu
Original Article
Creative Commons Open Source Share Icon


Synchronous vs. Asynchronous?

There are two options for instructors to facilitate class sessions remotely:

Synchronous: instructors and students gather at the same time and interact in “real time” with a very short or “near-real time” exchange between instructors and students.

Asynchronous: instructors prepare course materials for students in advance of students’ access. Students may access the course materials at a time of their choosing and will interact with each over a longer period of time.

Instructors may choose to engage their students synchronously or asynchronously depending on the course content or material that needs to be taught. There are many advantages and disadvantages to asynchronous and synchronous teaching options.

Advantages of Synchronous Teaching:

  1. Immediate personal engagement between students and instructors, which may create greater feelings of community and lessen feelings of isolation.
  2. More responsive exchanges between students and instructors, which may prevent miscommunication or misunderstanding

Disadvantages of Synchronous Teaching:

  1. More challenging to schedule shared times for all students and instructors.
  2. Some students may face technical challenges or difficulties if they do not have fast or powerful Wi-Fi networks accessible

Advantages of Asynchronous Teaching:

  1. Higher levels of temporal flexibility, which may simultaneously make the learning experiences more accessible to different students and also make an archive of past materials accessible.
  2. Increased cognitive engagement since students will have more time to engage with and explore the course material.

Disadvantages of Asynchronous Teaching:

  1. Students may feel less personally exchanged and less satisfied without the social interaction between their peers and instructors.
  2. Course material may be misunderstood or have the potential to be misconstrued without the real-time interaction.

Identifying Some Key Tools and Functions within D2L

If you are new to using D2L, you may appreciate some orientation to key D2L tools and functions.

Assignments: Instructors can create space for students to upload submissions, from informal reflections to formal written assignments and projects. Instructors can select the grading approach within the assignment. Assignments are best for instructors who wish for the students’ work to only be viewed and assessed by the instructor.

Discussions: Instructors can create threaded, written discussion forums for instructors to engage in written dialogue with each other and respond to written prompts.

Content: Instructors can post key course documents, like the syllabus, readings, assignment sheets, and activity descriptions in this space.

A course in D2L with quick how-to videos and help resources are available on D2L.  Documents and resources specific to COVID-19 are also available on D2L.

For more information on how to set up and use other tools in D2L, TRC staff assistance is available at technology@hartwick.edu or 607-431-4357.


What is Zoom?

Zoom is a video-conferencing platform that the College has a license for. All users start off with a basic account (1 to 1 meeting). If you plan on meeting with 3 or more participants, you will need a licensed account. The College currently has 40 floating licensed accounts. Zoom is useful for interactive sessions between an instructor and students at dispersed locations.

If your meeting host has not used a Hartwick Zoom account before, they should do the following:

  • Go to https://hartwick.zoom.us
  • Click Sign In
  • Select Sign In with Google
  • Enter your Hartwick email address and password just as if you were signing in to your email account
  • This will bring you to your personal meeting page where you may set preferences and schedule meetings
  • You may sign out again any time
  • Download/install the Zoom Client for Meetings from https://hartwick.zoom.us (click the Download Client link available at bottom of login page). The Zoom client should also be installed on whatever laptop you will use for the meeting.

If you have not used Zoom but wish to try it, or need a licensed account, please contact the TRC at technology@hartwick.edu or 607-431-4357. For additional information about the different accounts, please visit Zoom Support.


Shifting Your Classes Online

You have three options for shifting your classes temporarily online:

Option 1: Run Your Class Live With Zoom

This option works especially well for small discussion-based classes, though it’s also effective for large lectures, especially if you have a moderator.

Pedagogical Recommendations:

  • Use slides and screen sharing within Zoom to make sure discussion questions are visible to students who may have a slow Internet connection or who may struggle to hear the audio for the initial question. (Look for “Share Screen” at the bottom of your Zoom call.)
  • On your first slide, display an agenda at the start of the class session so that students know what to expect of the shared time together.
  • Use the chat (bottom of your screen). See In-Meeting Chat.
  • Moderate discussion, i.e., “call on” a student with a comment to speak, to help them break into the conversation.
  • You might use the chat to troubleshoot technical problems. For example, if a student is having trouble connecting via audio or video, the chat might be a space for you as the instructor or for fellow students to work together to problem-solve. This may, again, be an opportunity to assign a student to a special role, especially if you have students eager to help on the technical aspect of things.
  • Use Zoom Breakout Rooms to help students talk in smaller groups (just as they would do break-out groups in a larger class environment). See Managing Video Breakout Rooms.
  • Rethink your classroom activities to make the class more interactive even if Zoom students don’t have ideal connections and aren’t able to hear and see everything perfectly.
  • Consider making discussion questions available in advance in D2L, etc. so that students can access the questions if screen sharing does not work. If sharing slides in advance to D2L, share as PDFs, as students will be able to access the material on their phones.

A Few Troubleshooting Tips:

  • If your microphone is not working, use the phone number listed in the Zoom invitation when you set up a Zoom call. You can use your phone as the microphone and audio source for your call rather than your computer’s built-in microphone if necessary.
  • If your Internet connection is slow or lagging, consider temporarily turning off your video stream and only maintaining the audio stream. Sometimes, running the web camera on your computer will use up the Internet’s bandwidth in a way that might make communication challenging. Turning off the video should improve communication quality and consistency.
  • If you have earbuds or a headphone set, wear them! Wearing earbuds or headphones will reduce the amount of noise that your computer will pick up during your quality, which will make it easier for your students to hear you. Similarly, you may want to advise your students to wear earbuds or headphones during the call.
  • Advise students to mute their microphones if they are not speaking and unmute the microphones when they wish to speak. Students may be joining Zoom calls from all kinds of different locations, many of which may create background noise that could be distracting. Encourage students to mute themselves if they’re not speaking to minimize unnecessary or distracting background noise. Using the “raise hand” feature or simply seeing the microphone unmuted will give the group a visual cue for when a student wishes to speak.
  • Check the “chat” space for student questions and contributions. Some students may not have working microphones and, therefore, may be unable to contribute via voice. The chat room is a good place for students to contribute, ask questions, and be involved.
  • Check the Zoom Help Center

Option 2: Pre-Record Your Lectures

If you are not comfortable presenting live, another good option is to pre-record any lecture material, upload it to Google Drive and link to it in D2L. We recommend that you pre-record lectures using Zoom, as this will generate automatic closed-captions that are needed for accessibility reasons.

Basically, you’ll want to open up your Powerpoint or slides, make sure you’re recording to the cloud, and then use Zoom’s “Share Screen” tool.

Pedagogical Recommendations:

  • Keep videos short and lively. It is often harder to focus on a video than on a person! Check out some tips for creating lively short online videos from online educator Karen Costa.
  • Test your microphone to make sure that you have good sound quality. Consider using a headset with an external microphone to capture better audio.
  • Consider ADA compliance. Automatic closed-captioning is not perfect. Speak clearly and not too quickly to make the content as accurate as possible. If using a tool other than Zoom for recording your lecture, consider uploading your videos to YouTube to take advantage of their automatic (though not perfect) closed-captioning.
  • Integrate interaction with the lecture material. You might consider setting up a D2L discussion board with some specific questions, using a quiz, or setting up a chat session for a text-based live discussion.

Option 3: Skip the Video

Many online courses do not have a video component at all. If you are not sure you have the right equipment and are uncomfortable with the tech setup, this might be a good option, at least for the short-term.

Pedagogical Recommendations:

  • Annotate your slideshow with notes and share this with students using D2L or email
  • Set up a discussion for students in D2L. Use specific, structured questions, and let students know expectations for their responses.
  • Share links to outside resources. Encourage students to watch videos, read articles, etc.

Office Hours

Set up virtual office hours to meet with students using your webcam, share your computer screen or collaborate using Zoom’s whiteboard feature. If you are more comfortable, you can also give students your phone number to call, or you can set up an online chat.

Pedagogical Recommendations:

  • Post the link to the Zoom meeting you’re using for your students in a central place on your course D2L site. The main factor to consider when holding office hours or conferences with students via Zoom is your accessibility as an instructor. Make sure they know how to find your “office” (just as you might offer them directions to your office on-campus).
  • Encourage students to share their screen with you. Screen sharing is possible not just for the instructor in Zoom, but for students too. Help your students navigate towards a screen sharing option so that they can show you their written work on their screen.

Other Use Cases

Student Presentations

Pedagogical Recommendations:

If students are sharing their presentations asynchronously:

  • Ask students to record themselves at their screen, using a web camera, the built-in microphone on their computer, and screen sharing software combined to capture both their faces/persons as well as the slides on the screen.
  • If students do not have access to a laptop computer or webcam, they can also use the voice memo feature on a phone to record audio, save audio files, and upload the audio files to Google Drive. Invite students to share their audio/video files separately if necessary.

If students are sharing their presentations synchronously:


Resources to Learn More

General Tips for Teaching Online:

Tips and Tricks for Teaching in the Online Classroom: Jim Harrison and J. Diane Martonis, Faculty Focus

Selecting the Appropriate Communication Tools for Your Online Course: Rob Kelly, Faculty Focus

8 Lessons Learned from Teaching Online: EDUCAUSE Research Library

How To Be a Better Online Teacher: Flower Darby, Chronicle of Higher Education

Resources for Online Writing Instruction:

Annotated Bibliography of Online Writing Instruction research (compiled by Heidi Harris, 2019)

Foundational Practices of Online Writing Instruction (book); edited by Beth Hewett and Kevin DePew, 2015. Here are a few chapter highlights:

Grounding Principles of OWI: Beth Hewett

Asynchronous and Synchronous Modalities: Connie Mick and Geoffrey Middlebrook

Faculty Preparation for OWI: Lee-Ann Kastman Breuch

Preparing Students for OWI: Lisa Meloncon and Heidi Harris

Personal, Accessible, Responsive, Strategic: Resources and Strategies for Online Writing Instructors (book): Jessie Borgman and Casey McArdle, 2019

Back To Top