Frequently Asked Questions About Remote Teaching
Below are some common questions and answers about transitioning your course to teach remotely.
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:
For students needing a laptop or other software to assist in completing schoolwork remotely, contact Student Intervention Services at email@example.com or contact Penn First Plus at firstname.lastname@example.org
Students who need assistance for internet access at home contact Student Financial Services at sfsmail.pobox.upenn.edu OR they should contact 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.
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, 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 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.
In light of the current public health emergency and Penn’s decision to move all of this semester’s courses online, you may have greater than normal latitude to copy and make key educational materials available to your students on your Canvas course site. See this statement by university librarians https://tinyurl.com/tvnty3a. The crisis may have made books or other readings that are required for course completion unavailable or inaccessible to students because, for example, they have been unable to retrieve their copies from their dorms. If the library is not able to provide timely digital access to the materials, posting pedagogically appropriate sections for use only by your students this semester is likely permissible under the fair use doctrine. If you choose to place such materials on your course site, please notify your students that the materials are being made available solely to facilitate their completion of the course and that the materials may not be copied or distributed to others.
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 Tutoring, Learning Resources, 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.
Should I make changes to my attendance/participation policy?
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.
Can I require attendance during a live session?
Instructors may NOT require attendance at a set time except during assigned course meeting times.
Since classes are still in session, you can take the lead in setting expectations for 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.
How can I keep track of who is attending and keep in touch with those that are not?
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.
Given the uncertainty of this time, how do I encourage students to participate in the course? What do I do about students who are feeling particularly anxious?
For some students, their class may be the only source of stability they have and being involved in the course may be a source of comfort . Others will find themselves distracted and struggling to engage, or frustrated with the changes. These are valid and should be validated. Even for students who are not feeling anxious, they may have a different set of responses.
Consider a flexible participation policy that allows students from varying circumstances to engage in the course. If your course requires participation for credit or a grade, be clear about how your expectations have shifted now that you are teaching remotely, what policy changes you are making, and why.
Also consider these options:
- Send students a message acknowledging the uncertainty and rapid change.
- Do an activity at the beginning of class to help lower anxiety. If students’ minds are elsewhere it’s hard to stay focused on “the task.” For example, spend 5-10 minutes of your first class debriefing (reminding students of class goals and how those are going to be met from this moment on), checking in (for example, reminding students that this is hectic, here’s how to keep in touch with you), or giving students the option to share with you what will help them learn in a remote format.
For questions about labs, refer to this page.
Can I change the schedule of my midterm and/or final? What about take-home exams?
The schedule of your midterms can change, and you should warn students now that this may happen. Additionally, you will likely want to change the format of exams to allow for students to take them at different times (given the possibilities of illness, technology problems and other life disruptions) and open-book. See Exams and Quizzes when Teaching Remotely for more information.
Before you message your students, have a concrete plan in place that considers: 1) how much time you and your students will have to learn/work with new material given the new course structure and 2) if your preferred way of assessment requires that everyone take the exam at the same time, or if you can provide flexibility (accounting for inevitable illness, difficulties with technology, and other life disruptions students are experiencing).
Please note that final exams are scheduled by the registrar and cannot be moved. See the university’s policy on final exams. You may extend the window for completing the exam and turning in answers, but you may not schedule the actual exam at another timeslot.
Can I change the syllabus to reflect different allocation of percentage points for exams vs other assignments?
Yes. However, before changing how much different assignments are worth, consider if those adjustments will change the skills and knowledge that students are asked to demonstrate. This will help you maintain the same learning objectives as your in-person course. Additionally, do not change the weight of past assignments.
Some reasons that you may want to weigh assignments differently include:
- You are replacing exams with multiple-choice quizzes and another form of assessment that is harder for students to share answers, in which case you might want to split the value of your exam into two parts
- You may want to add one large assignment to replace multiple exams, in which case you might want to split the assignment into smaller tasks (e.g., drafts of papers, components of a project, etc.) that are due at particular times and are worth at least a small percentage of the grade
- You are asking students to do an assignment that requires a different skill- such as writing or making videos- and you don’t want that new skill to be overly weighted in the final grade (note: you can also try to mitigate this by creating a grading rubric that does not overly emphasize the new skill)
- You want to reduce the weight of attendance, since you know you might have more absences, perhaps by making small shifts in the weighting of all the other components of the class, but perhaps instead by changing it to “participation” and widening the definition to include participation on a discussion board or other components of the course
Once you feel comfortable that any alternative assignments and/or any new course weightings are as true to the original course design as possible, be sure to communicate these changes with your students along with why you are making the changes that you are, which may help students feel more comfortable with the changes and understand the purpose of any new assignments
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.
Should I change the format of my midterms and finals?
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 Exams and quizzes when teaching remotely.
Does going to remote teaching change any deadlines for students?
- The last day to change a grade type is now March 27.
- The advance registration period for Fall 2020 has been moved to March 30 through April 12.
- The last day to withdraw from a course is now April 13.
What options do I have for changing deadlines and assignments?
You are allowed to change assessment and rubrics for grading with students, but you will need to share with students what you are changing.
Consider transparent flexibility for your deadlines, to accommodate illnesses and technology failure. This entails being clear about where and how you are being flexible (for example, if students need to complete a quiz or post in an online forum, provide a deadline, but allow late submissions if the student needs that.) Communicate a reasonable timeframe for late work, and how students should reach out to you in case they are not able to meet the timeframe.
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.
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:
- Be sure to note the name of your current semester’s Canvas page.
- 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.
- Hover over the video that you want to copy until you see the buttons to the right of the video
- Click on the “Settings” button, which will bring up a new window
- On the left of the new window there is a menu, click on “Manage”
- 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.
- Click on “Copy” below the new file name. Do not close the widow.
- Go back to the menu on the left of the window, click on “Overview”
- To the far right of the “Folder” section, there is a link called “edit”, click on it
- 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.
- Once you have the correct folder in the dropdown menu, click on “Save”, which should be a link right below the folder name.
- 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.
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: email@example.com. 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, 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.
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.
What are ‘Panopto Captions’ and do I need to turn them on?
Captioning your videos will make them more accessible for all of your students and Panopto makes it easy to do with automatic voice recognition-generated captions. To do so, click the edit button to the right of the video you want to caption. Once the video opens in the editing screen, you can follow the steps described on Panopto’s website.
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.
How can I protect videos that I might post (in Canvas)?
Copyright notices will be automatically inserted into videos. 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with the name of the course and number of seats.
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, ‘recording lectures’ on this page.
Can I still have students work in small groups/discussions online?
Both BlueJeans and Zoom allow group work, and students will not need an account to do this, 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 Remotely.
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. Otherwise, it is recommended that students turn them off in general.
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.
If you need further help beyond the resources here, contact the instructional technology support for your school.
Upcoming workshops on teaching.
Recordings and notes from prior Workshops on Teaching Remotely.
You can also contact the Center for Teaching & Learning for questions about how to meet your course goals using the available technologies.