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Best Practices

Please note: As you prepare to take your course online, it is important to plan to make it as accessible and inclusive as possible. Tips for doing that are available at Accessibility Considerations for Online Teaching.

Communicate with students

Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your class(es) — whether a viral outbreak like COVID-19, a planned absence on your part, or a crisis impacting all or part of campus. You'll want to let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations. 

Keep these principles in mind:

  • Communicate early and often: Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and save you dealing with individual questions. 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. Don't overload  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, if 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. Let them know, too, if you are using the Canvas Inbox tool, since they may need to update their notification preferences.
  • 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. 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 Canvas, and then encourage students to check there first for answers before emailing you.

Distribute course materials and readings

You will likely need to provide additional course materials to support your changing plans, from updated schedules to readings that allow you to shift more – or all – 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 Canvas or another shared resource (e.g., Google Drive or Stanford Box), be sure to let students know what you posted and where. You might even ask that they change their notification preferences to alert them when new materials are posted. For Canvas, refer them to How do I set my Canvas notification preferences as a student?
  • Keep things accessible & mobile friendly: In a crisis, many students may only have a mobile device available, so make sure you are using mobile-friendly formats including PDFs and Canvas Pages.  Consider saving other files in two formats, its original application format and a PDF.  PDFs are easier to read on phones and tablets and keep the file size small, and the original file format often has application features that are helpful to students who use accessibility software. Also note that videos take lots of bandwidth, so only require them if you are confident students will have the network and computing resources to access them during the current situation.

Deliver lectures

Panopto and Zoom cloud meetings and recordings shared within Canvas are the only methods approved by Stanford for hosting video or video conferencing. (GSB faculty should contact the Teaching and Learning Hub for Panopto alternatives.) 

Per university policy, you are not permitted to use tools that are not licensed by Stanford or for which we do not have an agreement. This is because these agreements protect the privacy rights of our students and the intellectual property and other rights of the university. Use of non-licensed tools that process student data puts the students and university at risk. Individual faculty and staff members cannot assume that liability on behalf of the university. See Stanford’s Administrative Guide 6.3.1 for more details.

To help you determine which tool, Panopto or Zoom, would best fit your teaching situation, please review the brief feature comparison below. There is no limit to the number or size of the recordings in either tool. Clicking on the Panopto or Zoom links will provide you with additional details. Please visit Technology Setup Choices to help you determine the most suitable  recording equipment for your needs.

Panopto for streaming and uploading pre-recorded video 

Panopto allows you to upload existing videos, pre-record your lectures or stream your live class from a webcam (40 second delay), as well as embed related media and quizzes.

  • Security: Videos are only available to those who can access your Canvas course
  • Accessibility: A transcriptionist can edit the auto transcription after the video is processed.
  • Advanced Editing: Allows for editing of videos, adding slides, bookmarks, etc
  • In-Video Search: automatic speech recognition (ASR) and optical character recognition (OCR) makes whole video searchable, even text on screen.

Zoom for video conferencing and recording video

Zoom allows hosts and participants to see each other via webcam, share their screen, chat, use a whiteboard, and allows the host to record from a computer or mobile device.

  • Security: Anyone with a password can participate in your meeting (meeting can also be restricted to Stanford authenticated users). Likewise, recordings can have a separate password and can be restricted to Stanford authenticated users. 
  • Accessibility: A transcriptionist can participate in your meeting to create live closed captioning or can improve the auto transcription of your recording afterwards
  • In-Video Search: automatic speech recognition (ASR) creates an interactive transcript.

Regardless of which of these tools you use, your sessions should be recorded so they can later be captioned for students. Per the Office of Accessible Education (OAE), this applies to all classes, as instructors may not know whether students will need this accommodation and OAE may reach out for copies of your lecture to create transcripts and/or captions for enrolled students.

Due to the many compliance issues (e.g., student privacy, copyright) associated with public posting of recorded lectures, instructors should not post this content on any site other than their Stanford Canvas course site.

Run lab activities

One of the biggest challenges of teaching online from anywhere is sustaining the lab components of classes. Since many labs require specific equipment, they are hard to reproduce outside of that physical space.

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 if there are other 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). Save the physical practice parts of the labs until access to campus is restored. The quarter might get disjointed by splitting up lab experiences, but it might get you through a short campus closure.
  • 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 during an emergency.
  • 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.
  • Increase interaction in other ways: Sometimes labs are about providing time for direct student interaction; consider other ways to replicate that type of interaction or create new online interaction opportunities, including using available collaboration tools, such as Zoom. 

Foster communication and collaboration among students

Fostering communication and collaboration among students can build and  maintain a sense of community that can help keep students motivated to participate and learn. 

Consider these suggestions when planning activities:

  • Use asynchronous tools when possible: Having students participate in live Zoom conversations can be useful, but scheduling can be a problem, and only a few students will actively participate (just like in your classroom). In such cases, using asynchronous tools like Canvas Discussions allows students to participate on their own schedules. In addition, bandwidth requirements for discussion boards are far lower than for live video tools.
  • Link to clear goals and outcomes: Make sure there are clear purposes and outcomes for any student-to-student interaction. Define how this activity helps students meet course outcomes or prepare for other assignments.
  • Build in simple accountability: Find ways to make sure students are accountable for the work they do in any online discussions or collaborations. Assigning points for online discussion posts can be tedious, so some instructors ask for reflective statements where students detail their contributions and reflect on what they learned from the conversation.
  • Balance newness and need: As with any changed activities, you will need to balance the needs and benefits of online communication and collaboration with the additional effort it will require on everyone’s part. Learning new technologies and procedures might be counterproductive, particularly in the short term, unless there is clear benefit.

Collect assignments

Collecting assignments during a campus closure 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:

  • Avoid email for assignment collection: It may be easy to collect assignments in small classes via email, but larger classes might swamp your email inbox. Consider using Google Shared Drives or Canvas Assignments instead. Balance what is simplest for students with what is easiest for you to manage.
  • State expectations, but be ready to allow extensions: In the case of a campus closure or other crisis, 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 filenames: It may sound trivial, but anyone who collects papers electronically knows the pain of getting 20 files named Essay1.docx. Give your students a simple file naming convention, for example, FirstnameLastname-Essay1.docx.

Assess Student Learning

The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and the Office of the Vice Provost for Technology and Learning (VPTL) can provide individual consultation to instructors wanting to adapt a final exam to a different format to ensure that the new format is measuring what the instructor wants. Additionally, they have technologies that can assist with the administration of take-home exams, including distribution, submission, and, in some cases, grading. Here are some options for adapting your final exam:

  • Distribute Exam PDF electronically and ask students to scan with their phones: You can distribute a PDF of your exam via Canvas at an appointed time for printing using Files or Assignments. Students can work on it in the privacy of their room and scan it to a multi-page PDF using an app like GeniusScan, then upload it either to Canvas Assignments or Gradescope.Such exams, however, CANNOT be closed-book per the interpretation of the Honor CodeGradescope accepts scans of student work and uses AI to break it into questions that can be graded by multiple graders simultaneously, or by the AI itself. Canvas Assignments can be used for essay exams (recommend File Upload option), but do not ask multiple graders to enter grades at the same time in SpeedGrader or they will overwrite each other’s work; download all files and have one person enter grades.
  • Use Canvas to offer exam online: Canvas allows final exams to be timed and offered online.  This may not work for all classes, however it may be an option for many. Canvas can also auto-grade in many instances. Such exams, however, CANNOT be closed-book per the interpretation of the Honor Code. Instructors may wish to consult with CTL to ensure that an online offering of an exam is measuring the same learning as the timed final exam.

Shared guidance from other Stanford units

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Portions of the guidance on this page are adapted, with permission, from the Indiana University website. “Keep Teaching” content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License by the Trustees of Indiana University.