Teaching in a Modified Semester

Teaching in a Modified Semester

In Fall 2020, the final three weeks of the semester will be taught entirely online. Furthermore, face-to-face classes may have to suddenly pivot online like they did last spring. To teach effectively this fall, instructors will need to make the most of available classroom time and consider ahead of time how they will move their class online.

Prepare for a shortened, and possibly disrupted, semester.

  • Set priorities. Identify the learning outcomes in your course, as well as the main chunks of content, and list them in order of priority. For the least important chunk, consider whether it should be optional content, or perhaps excluded from the course altogether. Know it advance what you'd cut from various times in the semester, if needed.
  • Don't jam in extra content. Based on feedback from students this past spring, it is important to not just jam more content into a limited amount of time, especially if we lose time to another pivot to remote teaching. Having priorities lets you trim, rather than jam in content.
  • Help students become familiar with Canvas tools early in the course. Then when the course moves online (or if the course needs to quickly pivot to remote learning), students will have already have practiced with the tools and know how to use them. Some tools to consider:
  • If students are assigned a major culminating project at the end of the semester:
    • Identify steps that could be truncated or simplified. For example, if doing a literature search is part of a project but not part of the course goals, you might simplify that part of the project by providing articles to review rather than having students search for them.
    • Move class presentations that are part of larger projects to an online space (by recording them in Zoom, for example) and have students post their presentations for other students to view and comment on. Or, for a visual presentation (e.g., a poster or infographic), have students post their presentations and do a virtual “gallery walk.”
  • If teaching a community-engaged course, where your students partner with community entities, 
    • Brainstorm with your community partner to identify a project that serves both the partner and student learning and can work virtually.
    • Create a scope of work that includes a detailed, flexible timeline for interactions and benchmarks for students to meet.

Reserve precious, in-class time for the most important interactions.

  • Put "housekeeping" reminders in Canvas Announcements rather than taking up class time.
  • Encourage students to prepare for class by having quick check-in assignments with points attached.
  • Re-arrangecourse content so that lessons that benefit the most from in-classroom interaction take place early in the semester.
  • If you spend some class time lecturing, record your lectures in Kaltura and post them for students to view outside of class. Class time can then be used for more valuable interactions.
  • Move assignments that require in-class collaboration to early in the semester, if possible.
  • If students are normally assigned to do brief weekly presentations (to introduce the week’s readings, for example, or explain a key concept), have students record their presentations and post them to a discussion board where other students can view them.
  • Move review sessions to a different time, or make them asynchronous.
  • Give take-home, open-book exams rather than in-class exams.


Preparing in advance will let you make wiser decisions about how to make the best of those final three weeks online, or to manage a shortened semester. If you want to run your ideas past someone, consider pairing up with a departmental colleague or contact the CITL for feedback.