The Office of E-Learning Services (ELS) provides the following support to all SPH faculty and instructors for remote, blended and online courses.

SPH E-Learning Support Services

The Office of E-Learning Services provides the following services for all SPH instructors:

Email support
Best for:

  • Brief questions about Canvas or academic technology tools.
  • Specific questions about Canvas settings or functionality.
  • General guidance on lecture recording questions or issues.

Consultations and working meetings
Best for:

  • Specific, detailed questions in a course.
  • Discussion of possible technology tools and how to use them
  • Exploration of assessment strategies, asynchronous versus synchronous approaches, and course structure, specific to individual course needs.
  • Guidance on course templating with real-time assistance.
  • Requesting ELS review of materials or course sites.

SPH Canvas Course Templates
Available in Canvas Commons, for import into any SPH Course Site

Contact ELS at to ask questions or request review of materials.

Best Practices for Remote Teaching

At minimum, instructors should upload their syllabi to Canvas and publish the course site.

  1. Find your Canvas course.
  2. Import the SPH Canvas course template and edit it to match information for your course.
  3. Upload a PDF of your syllabus to the Course Overview and Orientation module.

Once you are ready to make your course visible to students, don’t forget to publish your course site.

  • Synchronous vs. asynchronous: Based on student course evaluations from spring, there is no clear preference for synchronous or asynchronous teaching. Some students want synchronous and some want or need more flexibility.
    • Use synchronous meetings when it will have the greatest impact: for example, cases where students and instructors are interacting or asking questions. More formal instruction, like a lecture, is often better recorded in advance and watched on the student’s own time.
    • Keep synchronous time short and allow for breaks.
    • Consider making synchronous opportunities optional.
    • Make a plan for those who cannot attend synchronously: often this can be accomplished by recording your meetings and then sharing them securely later (in a way just students in the class can access).
  • Determine course priorities: Identify the priorities for your course. What are the most important elements of your course? What is most important for students to accomplish during the semester? Start your planning around these course priorities, and consider what may be easier to change or let go of from meeting in person.
  • Choose tools and approaches familiar to you and your students: Try to rely on tools and workflows that are familiar to you and your students, and roll out new tools only when absolutely necessary.
  • Create a more detailed communications plan: When teaching remotely, frequent communication is key. Before your class begins, make a plan on how you will communicate with students (email, Canvas announcements, discussion). Be prepared to communicate this to students right away, along with more information about how they can contact you (email, online office hours, etc.) and how soon they can expect a reply.

Keep in touch with students about any changes to your class(es). Let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations. Consistent and frequent communication can ease student anxiety and reduce individual questions.

Keep these principles in mind:

  • Communicate early and often: 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 swamp them with email, but consider matching the frequency of your messages with that of changes in class activities and/or updates to the broader situation.
  • Set expectations: Let students know how and when you plan to communicate with them. Also tell students both how often you expect them to check their email. 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 of your students, so consider keeping track of frequently asked questions and send those replies out to everyone. Consider sending out Canvas Announcements or class emails to address these common questions, or create an FAQ page in Canvas or a Google Doc with common questions and answers. Then encourage students to check there first for answers before emailing you.

In order to make it easier for students to access readings for your remote course, consider working with the UMN Libraries to put together an online course reserve list for students with links to any online articles students may need that will appear in Canvas. For details, visit the Libraries’ Online Reserve Information for Faculty page.

Here are a few suggestions as you plan lectures for remote delivery:

  • Be flexible with live video: Lecturing live with Zoom is certainly possible, and it best approximates a classroom setting since students can ask questions. However, be sure to record any live classroom sessions and be flexible about how students can attend and participate, as schedules and technology access issues might prevent students from attending synchronous sessions.
  • When recording lectures, try to do so in small chunks: Even the best online speakers keep it brief. We learn better with breaks to process and apply new information. To aid student learning, record any lectures in shorter (5-10 minute) chunks, and intersperse them with small activities that give students opportunities to process the new knowledge, make connections to other concepts, apply an idea, or make some notes in response to prompts.
  • It’s not just about content: Lectures can do more than just provide course content; they can also help establish a sense of community and a personal connection. Consider ways that you can use lectures to make students feel connected and cared about: acknowledgement of current challenges, praise for good work, and reminders about the class being a community.

One of the biggest challenges of teaching during a building or campus closure 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: Consider if there are 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Explore alternate software access: Some labs require access to specialized software that students cannot install on their own computers. Depending on the nature of the closure, contact UMN Help at to identify ways to get students access to software via apps to go or other methods.
  • Increase interaction in other ways: Sometimes labs are more about having time for direct student interaction, so consider other ways to replicate that level of contact if it is only your lab that is out of commission.

Fostering communication among students allows you to build collaboration into your course, and maintains a sense of community that can keep students motivated to participate and learn.

Consider these suggestions when planning activities:

  • Use asynchronous tools to allow students to connect on their own time: While having students participate in live Zoom conversations can be useful, using asynchronous tools like Canvas Discussions allows students to participate when it works in their schedules. In addition, bandwidth requirements for discussion boards are far lower than for live video tools.
  • Link to clear goals and outcomes: Make sure purpose and outcomes are clear for any student-to-student interaction. How does this activity help them 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 collaboration with the additional effort such collaboration will require of participants. Learning new technologies and procedures might be counterproductive, particularly in the short term, unless there is clear benefit.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning for the collection of remote assignments:

  • Require only common software: Students may not have access to the specialty software that was available in on-campus computer labs. Be ready with a backup plan for any speciality software you require or recommend.
  • Avoid email attachments: It may be easy to collect assignments in small classes via email, but larger classes might swamp your email inbox. Consider using the Canvas Assignment tool instead. Balance what is simplest for students with what is easiest for you to manage.
  • Set clear expectations, but be flexible: Make expectations for assignment submissions and deadlines clear, but be ready to provide flexibility when needed.
  • 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.

General tips for assessing student learning:

  • Embrace short quizzes: If you’re comfortable building quizzes in Canvas, short quizzes can be a way to keep students engaged with course concepts, particularly if they are interspersed with small chunks of video lecture. Consider using low-stakes quizzes to give students practice at applying concepts—just enough points to keep them on track, but not so many that the activity becomes all about points.
  • Move beyond simple facts: It is good to reinforce concepts through practice on a quiz, but generally it is best to move beyond factual answers that students can quickly look up. Instead, write questions that prompt students to apply concepts to new scenarios, or ask them to identify the best of multiple correct answers.
  • Check for publishers’ test banks: Look to see if your textbook publisher has question banks that can be loaded into Canvas. Even if you don’t use these questions for your exams, they can be useful for simple quizzes. Some textbooks also have their own online quizzing tools that can help keep students engaged with the material.
  • Update your plans for assignments and projects: Distances from campus may limit students’ access to resources they would ordinarily use to complete papers or other projects, and team projects may face obstacles in finding times and ways to meet. Revisit your existing assignments and adjust expectations based on remote delivery. You might decide to allow individual rather than group projects; to have groups record presentations with Zoom; or to adjust the types of resources needed for research papers.
  • Consider exam alternatives: Delivering a secure exam online can be difficult without a good deal of preparation and support, so consider giving open-book exams or other types of exams. They can be harder to grade, but you have fewer worries about test security.

Technology Resources

You can use Canvas as your course home, including using it to share course files, collecting and grading assignments, building quizzes, and holding asynchronous discussions.

Use Kaltura to record short video lectures or messages to your class for students to watch on their own time, or to upload a recorded Zoom session. You can also use KalturaCapture to record your screen if you need to demonstrate something.

  • The University of Minnesota has compiled useful resources for remote teaching on the Keep Teaching website.
  • If you don’t see your question answered here, please reach out to

Attribution: Some “Keep Teaching” content has been adapted by UMN SPH. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License  by the Trustees of Indiana University.

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