Shifting to a new mode of instruction may be strange and disorienting to students, so it is essential that any changes to how students meet with you, how learning content and activities are shared, and how your expectations of students have changed are clearly communicated by instructors. Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your class(es) especially due to a crisis impacting all or part of campus. Students are likely to be especially stressed during a crisis for their own personal safety and concerns for the safety of their families and community, so this guide helps provide reminders about how we can minimize the stress of changes in how the class will continue.

Specifically, you'll want to 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.

  • Identify your new expectations for students. You will have to reconsider some of your expectations for students, including participation, communication, and deadlines. As you think through those changes, keep in mind the impact this situation may have on students' ability to meet those expectations, including illness, lacking power or internet connections, or needing to care for family members.

  • Be ready to handle requests for extensions or accommodations equitably. For example, you may find you need to extend deadlines for a number of students who are caring for family members who've contracted the Coronavirus. It may be more equitable to extend the deadline for the whole class as some students may be reluctant to ask for an extension and could also be caring for sick family members. 
  • Communicate early and regularly: 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. Try not to swamp them with email, though. Be strategic, timely following a pattern, and 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 a campus closure is extended for two more days, what will students need to know related to your course?

  • Share your communication plan: 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 Announcements and Inbox tools, since they may need to update their personal notification preferences in Canvas.

  • Manage your communications load: You will likely receive some individual requests for information that could be useful to all your students, so consider creating a Frequently Asked Questions discussion thread in Canvas, and encouraging students to check there for answers before emailing you. When you get questions more than once, post the replies on the discussion, and direct your students to it. If students know that you will check this discussion board daily for questions, they may begin to post questions to the thread instead of emailing them to you.
  • Avoid the need for printing. Chances are that students do not own a printer or cannot come to campus to print materials in a lab. 

  • Not all students have a computer or a webcam. We recommend that you choose to deliver your course asynchronously in Canvas rather than teaching in Zoom only. Many students do not own computers, have internet at home, or have webcams that might be needed in a Zoom call. Students most likely have smartphones or access to a computer/internet but perhaps not at the time of the scheduled Zoom call. Placing materials such as readings and lectures online and activities (discussions and assignments) in Canvas minimizes the stress on students. 

Boilerplate Language to Adopt/Adapt

One potential stumbling block in teaching an online course is communicating how to use the course's technology tools to the students in the course. The students in your course will have varying levels of comfort with using new technology so it's important to help guide them through the process of using a tool they may be unfamiliar with. 

You cannot assume that all of your students will be tech-savvy or that most have used computers from a young age. Surfing the internet and using social media are not proof that a student can utilize other technologies to satisfactorily complete assignments and activities required of remote learning. It is essential that you communicate with students early about how to use the online tools that are used in your course.   

This page contains messages that you can use (copy-and-paste and/or adapt) to help students understand how to use the technologies in your online class. Fill in these boilerplate messages with course-specific information.  Please consider using these messages in one or more of the following places:

  • Announcement:  If you are considering meeting with students synchronously online, consider creating a “How to Meet” announcement as early as you can. This announcement will inform the students of the technical requirements that are required to prepare for that meeting.

  • Start Here Module: If your course is asynchronous in nature, consider creating a “Start Here” Module.  You could include a page that tells students how to get started on all of the technology that they will be using, or you could create individual pages for each technology.  

  • Embedded in Your Course:  When students are encountering a new tool or technology within the course, provide the information simultaneously with the tool or technology.   (Example: If students are turning in an assignment for the first time, consider posting the message related to assignments in the assignment directions)

  • Email: If you are choosing to use a tool outside of Canvas, email your students to tell them how to access the tools you are planning on using.  (For example, Instructors may want to send students to Zoom directly.  Customize the Zoom invitation to include a message similar to ones below about how students should prepare to use that tool.)

Pro-tip: Look at your course as if you were a student.  Decide where in your course would be a prominent place for students to get information, this would be a good place to place these messages.   

Activity Tool Synchronous/
Communicate updates, changes, and other relevant information. If you plan to use Canvas Announcements, have students verify their settings to allow Announcements to be forwarded directly to their email address. That way, messages will reach students even if they are not signed into Canvas. Canvas Announcements Asynchronous
Communicate information and allow students to respond at any time. Email Asynchronous
Communicate information and allow a live response Zoom Synchronous

Facilitate written discussions among students and instructors

Canvas Discussions Asynchronous
Facilitate live discussions among students and instructors


Hold remote office hours to provide an opportunity for live, one-on-one or small-group communication with you. Zoom Synchronous

Assignment Tool Messages

<insert assignment instructions>
Click on Submit Assignment. You will attach the assignment as a <insert application name or filetype; Word document, PDF, Zip file, .doc, .docx, .png, .jpg, .pdf> file by clicking the Choose File… button and then selecting your assignment file from your computer. Click OK, and then on the Assignment page, click Submit Assignment to turn in your assignment.
If you have a problem turning in the assignment, contact me at <insert email address>. 
<insert late policies, etc.>

VoiceThread Messages

Description how to make a comment to a VoiceThread lecture or student presentation

<Insert directions for VoiceThread student presentation>

If you would like to make a comment, click the Comment button at the bottom of the presentation on the slide on which you want to leave your comment. After clicking the Comment button, you will be given the choice to leave a voice, video (webcam), or text comment. Consult this helpsheet if you need assistance


Description to make a student presentation

<Insert directions for VoiceThread student presentation>

To complete your VoiceThread student presentation, please follow these steps on how to upload and narrate your slides found in this helpsheet.  

Discussion Board Messages

In Description Area of Discussion Board

<Insert Discussion Question>

The effectiveness of discussion boards relies on students interacting with one another to foster learning. As such, your first posting will be due by on Wednesday of each week, and you will be expected to make two replies to your classmates by Saturday of each week. You can find the expectations for the quality of your postings in the course syllabus.

Instructor-created Thread within Discussion Forum

<Insert Discussion Question>

Please return to the previous page (the forum), click Reply in the upper-left of the pane, and write your posting. The question or prompt will be above the text-entry box. Remember that your first posting will be due by on Wednesday of each week, and you will be expected to make two replies to your classmates by Saturday of each week. You can find the expectations for the quality of your postings in the course syllabus.

Communicating Expectations in a Discussion-Based Course

Participation in these discussions is mandatory and comprises a large part of your grade, so approach the Discussion Board with serious attention and thought. You will be held to the highest standards of spelling, grammar, high-quality ideas, and respect for others. You must POST ONCE and COMMENT TWICE in order to receive a grade. There is no partial credit!

A “Post” includes:

  1. A quote from the relevant chapter, including page number

  2. A question from the chapter or a personal query.

  3. An answer to the question posed with reference to the quote and other material from the chapter. Personal anecdotes are also encouraged, but you must reference the ideas from the book.

  4. Estimated 500-1000 words

A “Comment” includes:

  1. An answer to the question posed in the original comment using material from the chapter and personal stories.

  2. Estimated 250-500 words

How to post to the discussion board

<Insert Discussion Question>

To add your reply, please click the Reply button down below and a new text box will appear. In this new window, you will have to type in a subject and your answers go into the text box and finally, select Post Reply in the final step. If you click on a person's thread, you can click Reply and reply to your classmate's contribution. Most important is to click Post Reply in the final steps.


Blended and Online Syllabus Templates and Sample Syllabus Statements