How Do We Adapt?

Moving Our Teaching to a New Modality

On Wednesday, President Thrasher announced that we will shift from in-person to remote classes for at least the two-week period of March 23rd – April 6th. For those of us with limited or no experience teaching online, this may sound daunting. It’s also likely to be unnerving for many of our students, regardless of mythologies about “digital natives.” To further complicate the situation, some students do not have reliable computer access away from campus. A substantial number of our students simply cannot afford laptops or home computers, or Wi-Fi or unlimited data plans, and we’ll need to accommodate their challenges. We must be flexible and compassionate, and avoid unintentionally creating obstacles for students in already challenging circumstances.

We need to be compassionate with ourselves, too. Effective remote teaching demands planning and attention, and we don’t have as much time as we need. We’re doing our best in very trying exigencies and cannot expect perfection. But we don’t have to change our whole approach to teaching when we shift to a new modality.

To preserve the integrity of the learning experiences we’re providing for students, the first step will be to revisit our goals for their learning, and keep things as simple as we can. At this point in the semester, what do your students already know or know how to do? What must they master by the end of the term? Once you’ve decided what’s indispensable, you can think about what kind of interactions that learning would normally involve, and how to make them happen remotely.

As we move our courses online, we need to avoid cognitively overloading either our students or ourselves. Students will often be learning (how to use) the new format as well as the material they’re studying. If there are tools you already use and can adapt to teaching remotely, keep using them. And it doesn’t hurt to ask students what tools and apps they regularly use—for example, students may already be using GroupMe in your courses, whether you realize it or not—so you can take advantage of that to help them continue small-group discussions.

The main principle to keep in mind is that the tool should serve the learning goals, and not the other way around. And it helps to choose tools that work well across devices, because for better or worse, many students will be working on their phones. To help you think about how you might move the interactions you normally have in a face-to-face class online, we have been collaborating across units on this Google Doc. And if you have suggestions or feedback about this resource, please email us at

The Office of Distance Learning sent an email on Wednesday about training opportunities for online instruction, and they have also been compiling resources for online instruction in case of emergencies, including advice and tools for handling assessments, assignments, and grading. We are also here to help, so please get in touch if you would like some support.

We appreciated David Gooblar’s soothing words on Wednesday night: “To all my teacher friends…let your care for your students guide you, and you’ll be fine.”