Frequently Asked Questions About Online Teaching

Below are some common questions and answers about transitioning your course to teach remotely. 

Overview of Contents
 

Accessibility

What happens if students don’t have access to devices or have limited internet access?

If students have mobile devices, they can join Zoom and BlueJeans and can complete many tasks in Canvas from the mobile app (they should download the Student App). Consider asynchronous (by recording snippets ahead of time, or recording your lecture) wherever possible, so that students can obtain access at various points.

You can also direct students to these resources: 

  • Students Who May Need Financial Assistance for IT Equipment: Some students may be eligible for financial support from Penn to acquire the IT equipment they need to take classes virtually (e.g, laptops, headphones, etc.). To request help, they should complete an Emergency and Opportunity Fund Application.
  • Students who need assistance for internet access at home should contact Student Financial Services at sfsmail.pobox.upenn.edu OR their assigned Financial Aid Counselor.

Do students need a Zoom or Blue Jeans account?

Students do not need an account to join a Zoom or BlueJeans class meeting, and can access the meeting through their web browser, mobile device, or application. However, creating an account through Penn offers expanded features to students, and ensures that instructors are able to pre-assign breakout rooms. Encourage your students to create an account and log in through Penn for the web conferenciugn classroom used for your class:

  • Zoom student login. To log in through the application: Click "Sign In with SSO" then enter "upenn" as the company domain.
  • BlueJeans student login

Students also do not need an account to download the application to their device. However, keep in mind that some students may not be able to access or install the application

Students will not be able to join a breakout room in Zoom if they do not have the application on their device, but can participate in the rest of the meeting. 

What can I do if I have students who have technical difficulty (any computer issues)?

For computer or other technical problems related to online learning, refer students to Student Remote IT Support

What if students are unable to access a computer lab or space with high speed internet, or are unable to borrow a device?

Consider offering alternatives as needed. Possibilities include:

  • Alternative assignment formats that limit file sizes, such as substituting written summaries in place of images, videos, or slides. 
  • Flexible due dates, to allow students to submit assignments whenever they have service.
  • While students who cannot upload large files may still be able to stream lecture videos, consider providing written notes from lectures and discussions. Students may be willing to share their notes, and TAs may be able to provide notes as well. Please note that if this is an accomodation for a disability, different protocols apply: Student Disability Services.
  • For any live lectures or discussions, record the session for students unable to join.

How can my students get access to library/course materials?

While all Penn libraries are currently closed, librarians are working to provide students and faculty with e-books and digital access where possible, and will purchase additional electronic materials as needed and available. To keep up to date on Library information, click Library Access and Information. You can also access their list of publisher-provided temporary access of online journals and e-books. Faculty should contact their subject librarian for inquiries on specific materials, which can be found under ‘Talk with a Librarian’ on the Library’s Virtual Support page.

Students can work with a reference librarian directly through Talk with a Librarian.

How do I connect my students with support resources (e.g. Tutoring Services, Student Disabilities Services, the Writing Center, Counseling Services)?

All of these resources are available remotely.

  • For general help with and tips for learning online, you may direct students to:
  • For Tutoring, Learning Resources, or Student Disabilities Services, encourage your students to contact the Weingarten Center for assistance, including consultations, tutoring, accommodations, and academic assistance. Call 215-573-9235 or visit their site.
  • For Writing Center resources, students can schedule an appointment via this link
  • For counseling services, CAPS, which are accessible 24/7.

Where do I send students who are having difficulties with Canvas or other technologies we are using?

If students are having issues with Canvas, direct them to the Library's Canvas Guides. If they are unable to find the needed information, they can also contact Canvas Support: canvas@pobox.upenn.edu. Students can also find online support for Penn+Box, Zoom, and BlueJeans. You can also make them aware of Penn's system status page to check for system-wide issues.

How do I provide captions or transcripts of video recordings?

For students with documented accommodation needs, work with Student Disability Services to determine what is necessary for those specific students. There is some central funding to accommodate needs registered through SDS.

For all other students, there are various options available either at no cost or with a fee associated that can provide video captioning. The solutions outlined below are for improving the overall accessibility of your courses, but are not substitutes for working with SDS for documented needs. These solutions will assist all students in following recorded materials by providing a written transcript or captioning. The captioning from these tools is generated by artificial intelligence (AI) and may contain mistakes. If you choose to use a service with a fee, that will need to be addressed at the department or school level.

  • Zoom: Hosts can enable audio transcripts for videos saved with Cloud Recording.
  • BlueJeans: All Penn BlueJeans users can turn on live AI-generated captioning for videos they host. Users must enable this through their profile settings.
  • Panopto: A user can elect to have videos in Panopto to have have AI-generated captioning. Processing times vary, and it must be turned on for each video.
  • 3Play Media: If there is a need for professionally-captioned recordings, Penn has a relationship with 3Play Media to provide transcriptions for a fee. Contact your program staff or school-based IT for more information about this option.

Illness, absences, and participation policies

Can I require attendance during a live session? 

Instructors may NOT require attendance at a set time except during assigned course meeting times.

Students are expected to be involved synchronously--that is, during the normal course schedule. However, it is important to recognize that there are enormous extenuating circumstances that may prevent a student from attending live sessions.

If a live session is important to your class, be sure to explain attendance expectations and understand that for reasons related to illness or technology problems, students may not always be able to attend. Flexibility in those cases and preparing for alternatives (see Accessibility above) will be helpful.

In the case of student illness or absence, medical notes cannot be made available and should not be required. Refer to your school’s policy in case of long term illness. Some of the policies for undergraduate students can be found here: College of Arts and Sciences (SAS), Engineering and Applied Science, Wharton, and Nursing. Guidelines may change as the situation evolves; please re-check any policies before making decisions about absences. 

Consider ways to be flexible with attendance, as students may be dealing with different levels of disruption in their lives. For example, you might allow a certain number of absences without any reduction in grade, without requiring an explanation for those absences.  You should also think about ways that students could do alternative work to makeup an absence.

How can I keep track of who is attending and keep in touch with those that are not?

For synchronous class sessions, consider tracking attendance by taking a screen shot of participants during the meeting. In Zoom, you can also generate a usage report after the meeting concludes, which will include a list of participants.

As much as possible, try to keep in touch with your students. If a student isn’t responsive, if you are unable to contact a student at all or only very sporadically, consider sending the student a CPN (PDF document) or contacting the advising office for the student's school.

Exams

How can I provide extended time to students that have testing accommodations?

Individual students can be granted extended time in Canvas Quizzes after the quiz has been published. All Canvas assignments can be set with unique due dates for individual students or sections. Contact Student Disabilities Services if you have questions about other accommodations.

Can I proctor mid-terms and final exams?

Currently, proctored exams will not be possible. Consider whether students can demonstrate their understanding through open-book, take-home exams or other course assignments that do not require proctoring. See Adaptiung your Exam for the Online Teaching Environment.

Please note that final exams are scheduled by the registrar and cannot be moved. See the university’s policy on final exams.

Deadlines and Assessments

How can students turn in non-written assignments, such as videos (e.g. of presentations), images, etc.?

Canvas assignments allow students to submit audio and video media files and images, which can be viewed and graded in the same way as written assignments. If you are concerned about file size or type constraints, Penn+Box is available to all instructors and students at Penn, and allows unlimited storage. Students can upload their files and share them with you. 

Can I ask students to create videos of presentations?

Yes. Videos of presentations can replace in-class presentations. Please be aware, not all students may have access to video cameras or high-bandwidth wifi, so be sure to offer alternatives if they are unable to create and upload a video. Also, keep in mind the length of videos. Canvas is not recommended for recordings longer than 15 minutes. If the presentation goes longer than that, suggest that students record in small chunks or use an alternative means for recording a video. 

  • The easiest approach is to use the video recording capability in Canvas, which is built into the text submission for assignments (and also allows students to upload a video from their own devices).
  • See “Consider offering alternatives as needed” under Accessibility above for more options.
     

Technology and Platforms for Online Teaching

What technology tools are available at Penn for teaching online?

Please look here for a basic overview of the tools available. CTL's pages on Meeting Synchronously, Engaging Asynchronously, and Setting Up Assessments and Exams explore additional options for your courses.

I want to use a technology tool not mentioned on CTL’s website. What do I need to do?

Contact your instructional technology support team before using an unsupported technology in your teaching, even (or especially) if it is free. All technology used in teaching must protect personally identifiable information and education records of students. See the Policy on Confidentiality of Student Records for more information. Further, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and University policy require technology that you use to teach must accommodate students with disabilities.

Canvas

Do I have to use Canvas for student submitted work?

If you choose to use online platforms for student work/grades other than Canvas, make sure these platforms are secure and comply with privacy laws. Penn+Box, Qualtrics, and Canvas are all secure platforms for grade-related materials, while email is not. 

I use my own website for sharing information with students. Can I still use it or do I have to move everything to Canvas?

If you’re using your own site already, there is no need to move materials to Canvas. However, keep in mind that if you intend to affix a grade/feedback on student work, it will need to be submitted in Canvas or through any other platform that complies with privacy laws such as Penn+Box. Any information to students about their individual feedback or grades should occur through Canvas or Penn+Box, rather than email. Consider whether it would make sense to have two different sites students have to work with, or if it will be most useful streamlined into one.

I have recordings from last year/last semester. How can I import them and use them for this year’s canvas site?

To share your videos on Panopto from a past semester’s lecture capture with this semester’s class:

  1. Be sure to note the name of your current semester’s Canvas page.
  2. Go to the Canvas page from the past semester and go to the “Class Recordings”, found on the course navigation menu on the left. This should open the Panotpo folder for that semester.
  3. Hover over the video that you want to copy until you see the buttons to the right of the video
  4. Click on the “Settings” button, which will bring up a new window 
  5. On the left of the new window there is a menu, click on “Manage” 
  6. Under the “Copy Session” section, there is a text box called “New Session”. Enter the name of the video that you would like this semester’s students to see.
  7. Click on “Copy” below the new file name.  Do not close the widow.
  8. Go back to the menu on the left of the window, click on “Overview”
  9. To the far right of the “Folder” section, there is a link called “edit”, click on it
  10. Click on the dropdown menu that opens up and enter in the name of the Canvas site that you would like to copy this video to. Do not close the window. Note, it only will show Canvas sites that already have a Panopto folder.  If you don’t see it, follow the alternative directions below.
  11. Once you have the correct folder in the dropdown menu, click on “Save”, which should be a link right below the folder name.
  12. Now you can close the window, and the copied file should appear in your Panopto folder in this semester’s Canvas site, which you can find under “Class Recordings”.  Note: if you don’t see “Class Recordings” in this semester’s Canvas site, go to “Settings” at the bottom of the course navigation menu, click on the “navigation” tab at the top, drag “Class Recordings” section up to the “drag and drop items to reorder them in the course navigation”, and then click on “save” at the bottom of the screen.

How do I, or my students, modify the frequency or type of notifications that I get from Canvas?

Click on the Account icon on the left-side menu and select Notifications to opt in or out of email notifications from Canvas. You can select to receive different types of communications right away, daily, weekly or not at all. Visit the guide to notifications for further information.

You may also want to steer students to the Quick Start Guide.

Video recording for your class 

What is Panopto, and how do I use it? 

Panopto records voice, sound, and on-screen activity. It can be used to record lectures ahead of time and can be posted in Canvas. See these guides on setting up Panopto or watch this video created by SAS here.

Do I need to use Panopto (versus alternatives such as voice-over in Powerpoint)?

Pantopto stores files in ways that do not take up much storage space. It is therefore ideal for students with limited internet connections and devices with limited storage.

Can I use Panopto for voice over PowerPoint? Can Panopto capture my screen?

Panopto is able to capture both the presenter (you) and your screen, if selected.

Can I record lectures using Zoom or BlueJeans?

If you prefer, you can record your lectures in Zoom or BlueJeans intsead of Panopo. Video recordings can also be uploaded to Canvas through Panopto. If you record lectures in Zoom through the Canvas integration, recordings will be automatically made available in your Canvas course. Refer to the section, ‘delivering materials, resources, and lectures’  on this page.

How can I protect videos that I might post (in Canvas)?

Copyright notices will be automatically inserted into videos created with or uploaded to Panopto. Communicate with students that they are not to download or repost these videos anywhere, and that doing so is a violation of the code of academic integrity.

How do I provide captions or transcripts of video recordings?

For students with documented accommodation needs, work with Student Disability Services to determine what is necessary for those specific students. There is some central funding to accommodate needs registered through SDS.

For all other students, there are various options available either at no cost or with a fee associated that can provide video captioning. The solutions outlined below are for improving the overall accessibility of your courses, but are not substitutes for working with SDS for documented needs. These solutions will assist all students in following recorded materials by providing a written transcript or captioning. The captioning from these tools is generated by artificial intelligence (AI) and may contain mistakes. If you choose to use a service with a fee, that will need to be addressed at the department or school level.

  • Zoom: Hosts can enable audio transcripts for videos saved with Cloud Recording.
  • BlueJeans: All Penn BlueJeans users can turn on live AI-generated captioning for videos they host. Users must enable this through their profile settings.
  • Panopto: A user can elect to have videos in Panopto to have have AI-generated captioning. Processing times vary, and it must be turned on for each video.
  • 3Play Media: If there is a need for professionally-captioned recordings, Penn has a relationship with 3Play Media to provide transcriptions for a fee. Contact your program staff or school-based IT for more information about this option.

Can I use lectures from a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in my course? 

MOOC courses should not be used in place of Penn courses. MOOCs can, however, supplement other electronic resources or be used instead of certain lectures and assignments. Students should still engage with faculty through Canvas tools.

We do not suggest faculty use this widely. Here are a few use cases where doing so would be appropriate:

A faculty member created a MOOC and can substitute lectures from her regular class by referring students to the MOOC or parts of it.

A faculty member has a colleague, either at Penn or beyond, with similar academic focus, who has created a MOOC. In this case, faculty may consider reviewing content of this MOOC and referring their students, if appropriate, to use it, or parts of it, in lieu of lectures.

If you spend an hour looking through a resource and are not sure if it will work for you, the recommendation is not to use it.

All members of the Penn community will have access to edX MOOCs created both by Penn and leading universities around the world. To obtain access to an edX MOOC for yourself or for an entire class, email onlinelearning@upenn.edu with the name of the course and number of seats.

Live Online Sessions and Virtual Office Hours

How do I troubleshoot pre-assigned breakout rooms in Zoom?

  1. Make sure both you and your students are using the correct email addresses for Penn-associated Zoom accounts, in the "pennkey@upenn.edu" format. This is not the same format as their usual email address.
    • Ask your students to check that:
      • They have updated to the latest Zoom client (application) on their computer or mobile device.
      • They are signed in through the correct Penn Zoom account, associated with their pennkey at the address: “pennkey @upenn.edu”
        • To check the account on the Zoom desktop or mobile client (application), click on your profile picture (which will be your initials if you don’t have a profile picture), and take note of the email address. If the email is pennkey@sas.upenn.edu or pennkey@seas.upenn.edu etc., sign-out of the current account and re-sign in.
        • Sign in through a browser here: http://upenn.zoom.us. Sign in through the Zoom desktop or mobile client by clicking Sign In with SSO, then entering upenn as the company domain to authenticate through pennkey. Penn faculty, staff, and students can also follow these instructions to log into the correct Penn-associated account. Students may wish to sign-out of their current account and re-sign in.
    • Ensure that you are creating breakout rooms with the correct email formats. When pre-assigning breakout rooms, use the pennkey@upenn.edu formatnot pennkey@school.upen.edu. For example, a student with the email “pennstudent@sas.upenn.edu” should be pre-assigned to a breakout room as “pennstudent@upenn.edu”. If students are having trouble using the right account, you can assign both their pennkey@upenn.edu and pennkey@school.upenn.edu emails to the same breakout room; Zoom will then sort them correctly regardless of which account they join with.
  2. If you open the breakout rooms tab during your class session and students are still not assigned correctly to rooms, select “recreate” in the lower left hand corner of the breakout room window , then select “recover to pre-assigned rooms”.

How do I record my live session in Zoom or BlueJeans, and share it in Canvas?

Recording your live online session is helpful for students who are unable to attend live sessions. Refer to the section, ‘delivering materials, resources, and lectures’  on this page.

Can I still have students work in small groups/discussions online? 

Both BlueJeans and Zoom allow group work, but they will need to download the free application ahead of time to access these options. Note that using group work on both platforms is something that may be complex for those new to the platform. For other ideas on group work, see Teaching SAIL classes Online.

Can I hold Office Hours online?

Holding virtual office hours is a good way to keep in touch with students, especially as not all students may be able to attend your live online session. You can use Zoom or Blue Jeans, but Skype is another option.  

What should I do if something doesn’t work during the session (audio or video issues) or if there are operational issues? 

Set up a practice video ahead of time and encourage students to do the same (Test your audio through Zoom and Blue Jeans). If you continue to have issues, contact Instructional Support for your school. Remember that video creates a huge demand on bandwidth, so encourage students to turn off their video (and audio) during a large, live session.

You should let students know ahead of time the procedure in the case of technological issues. For example, if you (the instructor) are kicked out of the live meeting, students can check their emails for an update from you until you are able to resolve the issue. Or, if you have a TA, allow them to take over to keep class moving until you are able to return. 

Should I require students to use their webcams during live sessions?

Webcams can be a drain on bandwidth and can slow down performance of the web conferencing system, especially for large meetings (more than 10 people). Also, it is possible that some students will not be feeling well, or in living spaces that they don’t want to be public. You can invite students to turn on their cameras and microphones when speaking and during small group meetings. 

What do I do to prevent a non-student from disrupting my Zoom/Blue Jeans meetings?

In order to prevent what is now called “zoom-bombing” -- when an unauthorized stranger enters and disrupts an online meeting -- be sure to never post the invite link in a public or open space (e.g. Twitter). Explanations for how to manage participants, including removing participants, and to enable stricter privacy features, such as adding a meeting password, can be found on this page for extra security measures for Zoom meetings, and this page for BlueJeans security features.