The Keep Teaching website supports faculty in preparing to teach their courses fully online. Being prepared to run in-person or blended courses online ensures a continuous academic experience for students, even if there are disruptions to on-campus teaching and learning. Information here will walk you through strategies and technical instructions for teaching online. Official communication regarding any emergencies or other campus disruptions can be found on UBC’s main website.

High-Level Guiding Principles for Teaching Online

In 2020, UBC faculty and student leadership organizations developed key UBC guiding principles for teaching online. The resulting report offers guidance and suggestions for effectively designing and teaching courses fully online. It also details six high-level guiding principles, which are summarized here.

The implications under each principle are intended to prompt careful consideration, rather than prescribe specific approaches. To learn more about each recommendation, expand the section below.

Implications for Instructors of Principle 1

  • Consider all decisions in light of their impact on the wellbeing—of ourselves, our students, and our teaching assistants (TAs).
    • Review your course adaptation plan with a lens of wellness. Is the strategy sustainable for you, your students, and TAs? What options and safety nets are in place?
  • Ensure required resources (e.g., textbooks) are accessible to all students.
    • Accessibility considerations include the cost, logistics of shipping worldwide, offline options to accommodate eye strain, and online options that accommodate screen readers.
    • Consider using or creating Open Educational Resources (OER) where possible and appropriate. See Open UBC for resources around open scholarship, the UBC OER Fund, and the UBC OER Champions initiative.
  • Build flexibility into your course, which might apply to any of the following:
    • Assessment strategies - More frequent, lower-stakes assessments may help students keep on track while avoiding the intense stresses brought by fewer, higher-stakes assessments.
    • Policies for work submitted - For example, consider offering a few “free passes” for late work, or count only the best 10 out of 12 quizzes.
    • Synchronous classes - Students will have different living arrangements to contend with as they learn remotely. Synchronous attendance for long periods of time, or even turning on a web camera, may not be possible for some.
  • Design and delivery of assessment must consider the workloads of the instructor, support staff, TAs, and students.
    • Always keep in mind the demands of students in mastering material, learning skills, and dealing with multiple learning technologies in the context of a full course load.
    • Structure assessments for efficient grading. Seek advice from colleagues and learning support teams for ways to do this.
  • Consider alternate ways to engage students in some course material that encourage variety in students’ interactions and ability to complete or take lessons off-screen. For example, invite students to walk outside and identify relevant course concepts. Offer the option to complete a corresponding reflection as an audio or video file rather than typed text.

Implications for Instructors of Principle 2

  • Ensure course learning objectives are clearly articulated from the start. Objectives typically take the following format: “By the end of this course, you [a successful student] will be able to…” with a priority list for how students are to engage in learning, and what needs to be measured.
  • Consider if the learning objectives are achievable for students at this time. There may be some that could be adapted, altered, removed, or deferred until later in a degree program, depending on current conditions.
  • Use your learning objectives to guide decisions about where to invest your and your students’ time (e.g., with respect to content, assessments). Backwards Design—working backward from your goals, intentions, and learning objectives to the learning activities and assessment that support them—can be a helpful course design model to achieve this. Reach out for help in developing creative solutions.

Implications for Instructors of Principle 3

  • "Keep It Simple"—that is, keep your course design and delivery simple—whenever possible.
  • Minimize the number of different applications required by students, especially those that go beyond UBC’s primary learning platform Canvas. Every time you add a tool or platform beyond Canvas, it adds to the learning load for students (as well as potential privacy compliance concerns).
  • Check that all necessary applications follow UBC guidelines for privacy compliance. Clearly communicate to students how to anonymize their identity for any non-compliant applications that are deemed important for facilitating student learning.
  • Consider alternatives for students who may not have access to uninterrupted high-quality internet, if the course design relies heavily on specific synchronous sessions that require this.
  • Be explicit about the technological requirements of the course in your syllabus, including hardware, software, applications, and alternative/support options. Offer accommodations, such as recordings, for students whose technology fails. (Likewise, consider preparing a plan for when your own technology fails.)
    • Report to your unit/program/faculty any essential technological tools (e.g., specialized software) required by your students to succeed, and devise a plan for support options. Effectively communicate this information to students as soon as possible.
  • Check in with your students regularly to ensure you understand if they are facing any challenges relating to bandwidth, and help them mitigate problems (with support). Invite students to tell you if their technology/network connections are getting in the way of their ability to participate in the course, so you can work with them on solutions.
    • Students can also reach out to their faculty advising office, Enrolment Services advisor, and other technical student support contacts. By advertising these options, students can avoid disclosing to you, if they are not comfortable doing so.
  • Please reach out to your department administration for support, if you (as the instructor) do not have remote access to essential technology to teach your course.

Implications for Instructors of Principle 4

  • Keep in mind where your students are located. Students may be joining from around the world, including some from time zones that may be completely inverted to yours. This difference does not mean that you need to be available in all time zones. But it does mean that requiring attendance at synchronous sessions, with no possibility to make up those points, is not fair to ask of students.
  • Consider using both synchronous and asynchronous components. One major decision here is determining what activities are best done synchronously (i.e., everyone is expected to be in the same virtual space at the same time to do something together) and what activities are best done asynchronously (i.e., students choose when to complete tasks, typically within an allowed window of days). Asynchronous activities may offer the most flexibility and convenience; synchronous activities may more easily build community.
    • Ideally, strive for a mix of both asynchronous and synchronous activities each week, structured in a reliable pattern. Choose a mix that makes the most sense for you and your students. Consider the activities that are necessary to meet learning outcomes, rather than focusing on filling the allotted time.
    • For synchronous activities, ensure you stick to your assigned course time slots, to help your students avoid scheduling conflicts. Include breaks as appropriate. Plan how students in different time zones can participate (e.g., add an asynchronous option, group students by time zone).
  • Explore ways to facilitate interaction. Consider how students can engage with content, with each other, with you, and with your TAs.
    • For example, use synchronous time to engage students in structured activities in groups, offer a drop-in virtual office hour in Zoom, and moderate discussion board threads in Canvas. Reach out to local and central learning support teams for examples and ideas, and see the pages on this site.
    • Consider engaging students in collaboratively developing class guidelines on ways of interacting and communicating online that promote learning within an inclusive class environment.
  • Explore ways to intentionally build community in online learning activities. Students may feel isolated and lonely, and—in an online rather than face-to-face environment—their particular support needs may be more difficult to identify.
    • Ideas to build community include the following: invite students to create an online (video) introduction, break up a larger class into smaller base groups for semi-private discussion and work, design structured activities or assignments to invite students to collectively share ideas to solve a problem, learn students’ names, and use the Canvas Gradebook’s “message students who… did not submit” to quickly reach out to students who have stopped engaging.
    • Create spaces in Canvas for groups to do collaborative work together, such as group-only discussion boards. Convey the expectation that these be used (rather than a social media platform, for example). Canvas is privacy-compliant, whereas other external tools may not be.
  • Consider your assessment strategy. How assessments are structured, weighted, and deployed within an online course can support students in a manageable, sustainable way online.
    • For example, low-stakes (and quick to check) mini-assignments can help keep students on track for success on larger projects. Consider few (or no) high-stakes exams, alongside regular engaging low-stakes activities and a scaffolded term project.
    • Consider whether there is room to offer students some choice in how to demonstrate they have achieved learning goals. Refer to Reimagining Assessments on the UBC Wiki and the UBC Senate Principles for Digital Learning Materials Used for Assessment.
  • Ensure your course policies are up-to-date and align with your faculty or unit’s student-advising messaging.
    • Consider embedding some blanket flexibility, such as a certain number of no-questions-asked “free passes” offered to everyone. Such flexibility can help students accommodate their unexpected hardships with less stress while minimizing your administrative load.
  • Consider accessibility, inclusivity, and wellness broadly. Provisioning closed-captioning and ensuring recordings are available offline are just some of the ways that course design and delivery can be leveraged to help students with a broad range of accessibility requirements participate fully in the course.
  • Ensure TAs have the training needed to fulfill their roles effectively. Include those hours in their paid time. Consider the TA Institute, faculty- and department-level offerings, as well as what specialized training you can offer for your course in particular.
  • Ensure that the type and timing of work being asked of TAs is appropriate, given TA union regulations.

Implications for Instructors of Principle 5

  • Try a positive approach. Academic integrity is often discussed in terms of what not to do, and we know from the research literature that breaches such as cheating and plagiarism are most typically the result of feelings of desperation plus opportunity. Another approach to academic integrity is to invite students into the community of scholars, as a way to discuss the values associated with a scholarly community when creating and sharing knowledge.
  • Consider adaptations to assessments to minimize both student desperation and opportunity. These adaptations could include lower weighting or regular mini-quizzes on foundational factual knowledge (i.e., that which can be looked up easily) and reserving greater weight for multi-phase, scaffolded, and personalized assignments.
  • Explicitly discuss and model how academic integrity is a crucial part of participating in an academic/scholarly community aimed at knowledge creation, including how you manifest integrity in your own work and your expectations for students.
  • Form a purposeful statement of expectations around academic integrity in an online space, specific to the course and presented to students in the course syllabus at the beginning. Discuss this with them in the first sessions of the course.
    • Revisit the statement throughout the course. Keep integrity top of mind by including a brief question on each assignment asking students to reflect on how it relates to academic integrity.
  • Embed assessments of meta-cognition, which help students reflect on how they know what they know, while simultaneously revealing insufficiencies. Examples include exam wrappers and (group) oral exams.
  • Consider carefully the implementation and use of academic misconduct detection mechanisms in online assessments. Seek clarity on departmental/faculty policy and procedures on reporting academic misconduct.
  • Consult UBC resources for help. See the faculty academic integrity quickstart guide on the UBC Academic Integrity website for more information.

Implications for Instructors of Principle 6

  • Keep students informed. If your course or program has been changed in a way that may impact degree progression, communicate with students clearly and regularly about the changes they are experiencing. For example, some courses that typically have a hands-on lab component may be split such that the lab component will be completed at some future time.
    • If applicable, clarify for students how your course has been restructured, and what degree requirements will or won’t be satisfied by your current course. If a face-to-face component is required, relay to your students any information you receive on when and how they can expect to be able to complete that portion.
  • For the remainder of the course, focus on what students can do and learn now, rather than what is missing. A tone that focuses on the missing component may cloud recognition of the learning that can and will actually take place.

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