Frequently Asked Questions

The purpose of this website is to support faculty who, due to a campus and/or district emergency situation, need to utilize digital technologies as part of continuing course instruction.This is not an example of educational or technological best practices but research-backed practices for quickly adopting digital tools and supporting continued instruction during an emergency. This site will provide direct information to that end, as well as areas for further growth surrounding pedagogical and technological best practices for online instruction.

Establishing Instruction

Messaging; i.e., How will my students know where to go and what to do?

Instructional messaging will come from faculty.  While the district will provide information on dates for movement, reopening, etc., all particulars about courses are faculty-developed and delivered.  It is important to begin communication early, and for communication not only to identify particulars about curriculum but also to establish the digital space as a learning environment and the human connection available within the virtual area.

Materials; i.e., How do I get course materials to students?

The most effective way to share material is to post them to Canvas as .docx or .pptx.  This can be done by going to the Files section of your Canvas course and creating folders to store, then uploading the items to those folders. Email is also a good way to share items, but ideally an email would follow-up the use of Canvas rather than replace Canvas.   PDF files are not easily readable by text-to-speech software, so our best practice is to work with Microsoft Office tools.  Proprietary tools such as Dropbox or Google Drive are not supported by the district and should not be used for the continuation of instruction in an emergency.

Communication; i.e., What is the best way to communicate with my students?

In an emergency, the most important element of communication is consistency.  Using email, Zoom and Canvas to communicate is effective and, when established and regularly engaged, will create a regularity and expectation with students.  Engaging social media or other multimodal forms of communication may seem opportune, but not every student accesses the same proprietary social media technologies and instructor focus during an emergency is best spent on the communication itself rather than the particular platform.

Flexibility; i.e., How can I meet my students where they are during this emergency?

While we may idealize as little interruption in course processes as possible during this emergency transition, it is important to remember that everyone in our community is dealing with this emergency and supporting students and their educational goals is the most important part of what we do.  One great way to re-establish community and honestly addressing the situation is to spend the first day or session of emergency instruction by reviewing the syllabus and revising or rewriting it as a community.  Each course will have different considerations, so use your content expertise as a way to facilitate a conversation that honestly assesses the traditional course flow with the existing reality.

Community; i.e., Am I supposed to do synchronous or asynchronous teaching?

There is not an incorrect modality for emergency instruction as long as your practices are thoughtful regarding the realities of your students.  Zoom is an excellent tool for synchronous sessions, where your students would meet at the same time as your F2F class.  At the same time, the emergency may change the availability of some of your students, so running your class asynchronously with drop-in or office hour sessions may be ideal.  You can also run synchronous sessions and record them so students who are unable to attend can review the recording; Zoom also has a transcription feature for review and accessibility engagement.

Discipline Questions

Engagement; i.e., What does a community-heavy class look like online?

Good online education harnesses the potential of telecommunications with the ubiquity of information.  Continuing conversational course objectives, as well as providing students a space to talk about the emergency, is important to provide time and space for.  Zoom as well as the discussion board area in Canvas are two excellent areas to engage these objectives. Within Zoom, you can move the course into small groups for supplemental discussion, and you can also set times particularly for well-being checks or hold the beginning or end of class for that topic.  Discussion board prompts can help tie the lived experience of students with the curriculum for reflection and deep thought, as well as engagement with the reflections of classmates.

Practice; i.e., What does a procedure-heavy class look like online?

The key to online engagement is to ensure students are progressing along with the content.  Look at the expected material covered in a session and consider if, with breaks for practice and questions, it is possible to cover in that amount of time.  Likely, you will need more time...meaning either identifying gaps in the curriculum where you can save time, or 'chunking' curriculum so that sessions focus on just one or two key concepts.

Along with the record feature on Zoom, the platform includes a whiteboard feature (open a session, share your screen, and then select the “Whiteboard” option as the screen you want to share).  This provides an area for equations, vocabulary, language engagement and more.  Working from a phone or tablet with the Whiteboard allows for easy writing and drawing.

Support; i.e., How will tutoring and other academic support exist in an emergency teaching situation?

The district is working to offer as much continual support of instruction as we do in a F2F session.  If you are working with an embedded tutor or librarian in your course, reach out to them now about ideas for how your work can continue during this emergency.  Depending on the type of closure, campus tutoring centers may or may not continue in-person hours.  At present the district is in the pilot states of a state-wide online tutoring portal, STAR-CA.  More information will be shared on the viability for that pilot to support our existing work.


Collaboration; i.e., What does group work look like in an online course?

The internet is an excellent environment for group work, combining communication technologies with ample databases of knowledge.  The key to group work is organization - students need to know the expected outcome of the group work, so a basic rubric outlining the objective and steps on how to reach it will be helpful.   Providing particular roles to fill is also helpful, as well as a checklist of steps to meet in a successful group project.

To run the group work,  Google docs andZoom breakout rooms are excellent platforms for constructing and creating knowledge. Google docs can be used at any time by students, while Zoom rooms require you to host a Zoom session. To do that, choose “Breakout Rooms” in the Zoom screen toolbar at the bottom of the screen and choose the number of rooms to break the class into (you can do this manually or automatically). Once the rooms are live identify how long you’d like the rooms to be open using the Options menu. You can also create  a “breakout room is ending soon” timer warning for participants.

Presentations; i.e., How do students present their projects or findings?

Group and individual presentations are available during regular Zoom sessions. For a group project, one student should be identified to share the presentation visuals or PowerPoint. That person will share their screen when the time comes (available on the bottom of their screen). Partners of the presenter (or the presenter if this is an individual project) can share links to any supporting materials in the session chat. Remember, members of the course not participating should have their accounts muted during the presentation. Students may take questions via audio afterward, or through session chat or even an external Google Doc. It is also possible for a presenter to access the room early and record the presentation in advance.

Reporting; i.e., How do I use the Gradebook feature?

Canvas has a built-in Gradebook feature that allows you to link Canvas-based assignments to a repository you can keep track of for grading and students can reference to see their progress.  The key to the system working is providing all information into the Gradebook; if you are interested in applying Gradebook to your class there are tutorials on manually entering grades done  earlier in the semester as well as how to link future assignments through Gradebook.  If you do not have the capacity to enter earlier data into Gradebook, it is best to not use the feature.


Attendance; i.e., How do I track student attendance?

The most important aspect of student participation to track is their engagement.  Given the extraordinary circumstances of an emergency, there are many reasons a student may not attend an online session and thoughtfulness is key in our approach to emergency instruction. Regular contact through email or announcements can keep the class on the radar of your students, and requesting student check-ins as part of your class policy can help keep students engaged.  You can also view student logins through Canvas, and if students have not engaged in five days it is important to reach out  directly to the student as well as alert your Dean. 

Rigor; i.e., How can I ensure my students are doing the work?

The best assessment practice for authenticating students are ones that require an authentic engagement from the student, such as a reflection, essay, video or other created learning artifact.  Finding ways to utilize these assessments within your emergency instruction keeps engagement up and is shown to directly relate to positive knowledge transfer.  In areas where particular equations need to be   solved or definitions captured, creating an examination in Canvas that can be timed is shown to produce similar assessment scores as that of examinations proctored using online software.

Many institutions are handing assessment through take-home testing on the honor code as part of their emergency instruction, such as Stanford and San Jose State University.  With significant barriers due to the emergency, this approach may not only be the most thoughtful but also the most time-effective.

Medium; i.e., How do I turn a paper quiz/exam into an electronic quiz/exam?

Canvas offers quiz options within the course; you can manually enter questions of various types into the system and . You may also ask students to upload documents in Canvas or email them to you. You may also want to consider changing assessments slightly, for example in a science course, create an increased emphasis on reading the literature as opposed to lab assessments.

Changing; i.e., How can I adapt particular assignments (labs, field work, etc.)?

Some course assignments require more adjustments than others. Consider substituting research-based assignments (like literature reviews or data analysis) or group projects for other kinds of hands-on work. There may also be an opportunity to have students work in groups to examine how your particular field might help society respond to emergencies such as this one.


Access; i.e., How do I account for the varying degree of technology available to my students?

Not all of our students have access to laptop computers, broadband internet or computing devices such as tablets or smart phones. In the same way this emergency affects faculty who have not been through Canvas training, it affects students who have not signed up for online education. We must be thoughtful about the varying technology devices our students can access materials with, their access to broadband, and the manner in which students will interact with the course. Significant video engagement can be a problem, as well as entering significant text online.  Communication through tools like Zoom and email are more readily available. 

Aptitude; i.e., How do I account for the varying degree technology knowledge of my students?

Students are not digital natives; the introduction of technology does not mean students have a particular aptitude towards utility. If a technology is not currently required as part of your course, adding it into your emergency online course can add an obstacle to student success and get in the way of your course objectives. Unless there is a substantial need for engaging a unique technology, sticking to district-supported technology is ideal.