Organize your course for remote instruction

Expanded guide: Organize your course for remote instruction

Organizing the various elements of your course provides a roadmap for students to follow throughout the quarter and allows them to focus their efforts on learning. These recommendations discuss ways to organize the various elements of your remote course.

Organize your course for remote instruction using these strategies:

This diamond icon ♦ in the text indicates that there is content in the right sidebar that relates to that particular strategy.

To discuss your unique teaching and technology needs, schedule a consultation with an ATS instructional designer at For questions about pedagogical and teaching strategies, contact the Center for Educational Effectiveness:

Plan or revise your course organization

Advance planning helps you to identify differences between in-person and remote instruction and make necessary modifications.

  • Identify your needs and priorities for remote teaching. As you begin thinking about how to organize your course, consider your proficiency with the relevant instructional technologies, the particular needs of your students, the structure of your course, the requirements of your material or your discipline, the assignments and assessments you usually use in the course, and the limits and opportunities presented by the remote course format.
  • Consider your class size, your students, and their technology access.  Student-related factors will impact how you organize your class. How many students will you have? How will this impact how you teach? Who are your students? What background knowledge about your course topic do they already have? Are they familiar with remote learning and technology? Use the Know Your Students tool to get a better sense of your students’ background and technology access to help clarify the direction you’ll take as you organize.
  • Check alignment of learning outcomes, assessments, and activities. What are your goals for student learning in your course? Once online, will your course assignments and assessments lead to the student learning outcomes you have identified? What modifications will have to be made for the remote format? What homework and in-class activities delivered online will support students’ ability to learn in your remote class? Reviewing each activity and assessment to assess its purpose in your course will help you identify changes you may need to make as you move your class online. Use Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning in planning your course. ♦1
  • Consider modifying your course grading structure. Review your course grading structure and policies. Consider whether you’ll need to make changes to the assessments in your class or to the way grades are structured or weighted. Will you need to have a proctored final, or are there alternative assessments that might be better adapted to the online format? What tools can you use to grade efficiently? ♦2
  • Determine the delivery mode of your remote class sessions. How can content and learning activities best be delivered? Should your course use live Zoom sessions or pre-recorded (asynchronous) sessions? What existing resources created by you or others (e.g., TED Talks, YouTube videos) can be used? What course materials do you need to create? ♦3

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Organize your course on Canvas

Organizing your Canvas course can help students focus on course content.

  • Segment topics into separate Canvas Modules of similar length. If possible, use the structure one Module = one week. The alignment between topic and the week of the quarter will be a powerful aid for students in quickly orienting themselves to your course each time they sign in. 
  • Use consistent structure within and across Modules. Transitioning to remote learning increases students’ cognitive load significantly. Structuring each Canvas Module in the same way allows students to devote more time to learning course content and less to learning course navigation. Using section headers such as Review, Prepare, Learn and Apply in each Canvas Module provides students with a predictable structure each week to guide their studying. The "Template 4: Module 1 Overview" document provides descriptions of each of these sections. 4
  • Give students a “roadmap” for each Canvas Module.  Begin each Canvas Module with a Module Overview that acts as a roadmap for students.  The Module Overview mirrors the Canvas Module’s structure. It explains the learning outcomes for the weekly Module, provides instructions for the work students should do, and guides the sequence in which they should do it. 5
  • Structure your Canvas module as you would a formal outline to help students engage with your course. Ask yourself at each step whether the outline will be clear and transparent to students. Number elements of your Module (e.g., readings, videos, handouts) and use full titles for course elements. Delete document extensions (e.g., .pdf, .doc), underscores and other non-standard sentence elements from the description line/link to increase readability.
    • Yes: Reading 1: Advanced series of more robust drones are teaching themselves how to fly (
    • No: Drones_Teach_Selves_To_Fly.pdf
    • Technology that supports this: Canvas Files, Canvas Modules, Canvas Pages

For a more in-depth discussion of these topics, and for additional concrete ideas about how to organize your course in Canvas, please visit Structure your Canvas course.

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Organize your live or asynchronous Zoom session

Structuring your Zoom sessions facilitates learning and creates community.

  • Build structure or routine into your sessions. Having a similar structure for each session allows students to interact with course content rather than think about course processes. Going over an agenda at the beginning of class helps students understand the overall plan for the video or live session. Chunk your content into 10-15 minutes segments and ask focus questions or plan for group interactions at those regular intervals. This can be done in live or pre-recorded sessions using various technologies. Ending with a preview of the next Canvas Module can help students get started on the next topic.
  • Make the course structure or routine transparent to students. Explain to students why you have organized the class in the way you have, and be explicit about what you would like them to do during different phases (e.g., answer questions on paper during a pause in a recorded video, turn on their cameras during Zoom breakout sessions). Let them know what counts as participation in your meetings and how they should and should not communicate with you during remote sessions. Finally, consider building in a regularly-scheduled time for community-building in live sessions (e.g., short small-group check-ins in Zoom breakout rooms at the beginning of each live session) so that students feel connected during remote learning. When in breakout rooms, be sure there are specific prompts to focus discussion.
  • Familiarize yourself with technology before you teach. Before launching your first session with students, plan to practice with your instructional team to work out any issues early. Can you schedule a meeting, invite participants, and manage the audience? Can participants view your video and/or screen? Can you view theirs? Is your audio clear and consistent for participants? Have you practiced using features like screen share, breakout rooms, polls, or audience feedback? Work out the details before you teach for a more productive class session. It may be helpful to do a practice session with TAs or colleagues. CEE and ATS can also help. 
    • Technology that support this: Zoom

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Organize your Instructional Team

Organizing the work of your instructional team saves time and increases course effectiveness.            

  • Assign roles to yourself and to your TAs. For example, during live sessions, the instructor might lead the session, deliver lectures, and guide discussion while Teaching Assistant(s) monitor and manage the chat feed, surface questions to the instructor, and contribute to lectures and discussions. Roles can also be assigned for asynchronous course elements, such as Canvas Discussion Boards, Announcements, and Module updates. ♦6
  • Communicate regularly with TAs. Especially for large classes, planning procedures and assigning tasks to each TA can save time over the course of the quarter. Create (or ask your TAs to create) timelines or checklists for tasks that need to be done during the quarter and identify who will be responsible for which tasks. Holding regular meetings with TAs will ensure clear communication and give your TAs the opportunity to ask questions and propose ideas. ♦7
    • Technology that supports this: Canvas, Google Docs, Google Meet, Google Sheets, Zoom, email

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