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Keep Teaching at CSUSM

A variety of circumstances might require you to temporarily move to alternative (e.g. virtual) methods of instruction: a campus decision to suspend in-person instruction, increased absenteeism during a flu outbreak, a family emergency requiring your presence elsewhere, etc. This guide will provide you with some actions to take when making that shift quickly.     

If you need assistance with your course, or have general questions, please email and we'll connect you with someone as soon as possible.

  • Start Here

    Be kind to yourself and your students. Everyone is stressed, even if they’re playing cool. That includes faculty. And that’s OK.

    Let’s acknowledge that the quality of education will not be as good in alternative formats as it is in the pedagogical model we’ve actually planned for. You will not recreate your classroom, and you cannot hold yourself to that standard. That’s OK as well—we’re just trying to survive.

    Do not read on best practices for distance learning. That’s not the situation we’re in. We’re in triage. Distance learning, when planned, can be really excellent. That’s not what this is. Do what you absolutely have to and ditch what you can. Thinking you can manage best practices in a day or a week will lead to feeling like you’ve failed. Additionally, now may not be the best time to try new technology. Stick with what you know and use it well.

    Prioritize: what do students really need to know for the next few weeks? This is really difficult, and, once again, it means that the quality of teaching and learning will suffer. But these are not normal circumstances.

    • Review upcoming course assignments - are they already available online? Are they clear without any in-person explanation? Are the deadlines realistic without class time to prepare?
    • What content will students need that is currently not provided in Cougar Courses? This includes course readings, Course or Media Reserves, films, etc. Please contact for any Media Reserves requests and for any questions regarding Electronic and/or Physical Reserves.

    Communicate, early and often. Stay in contact with students and stay transparent. Talk to them about why you’re prioritizing certain things or asking them to read or do certain things. Most of us do that in our face-to-face teaching anyway, and it improves student buy-in because they know content and delivery are purposeful. It is helpful to tell students that you recognize that this is a difficult and confusing transition and that you are going to make an effort to make your expectations for the remaining course as clear and concise as possible.

    If you’re making videos, student viewership drops off precipitously at five minutes. Make them capsule videos if you make them and consider uploading it to YouTube because it transcribes for you. At the same time, of course, think about intellectual property and what you’re willing to release to a wide audience. An alternative is to write your lectures so all students can access them. Use a conversational style and infuse it with your personality.

    Consider making your assignment lower or no stakes if you’re unsure about how your assessment will be completed remotely. Get students used to remote assessments with some low- or no-stakes assessments. Then you can do something higher stakes.

    Be particularly kind to your graduating seniors. They're already panicking, and this isn't going to help. If you teach a class where they need to have completed something for certification, to apply to grad school, or whatever, figure out plan B. But talk to them. Radio silence, even if you're working, is not an option.

    ** Adapted from an email from Amy Long, Professor of Communication, Pacific Lutheran University, and Going Online in a Hurry, Chronicle of Higher Ed

    Check out Matt Atherton's quick guide on using backwards design to move to virtual instruction. This guide offers a framework to use when considering how to present your content in a virtual environment.

  • Communicate With Students

    Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your class(es)—whether a planned absence on your part, or because of a crisis impacting all or part of campus. You'll want to let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations. Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and save you dealing with individual questions.

    Keep these principles in mind:

    • Communicate early and often: Let students know about changes or disruptions as early as possible, even if all the details aren't in place yet, and let them know when they can expect more specific information. Don't swamp them with email, but consider matching the frequency of your messages with that of changes in class activities and/or updates to the broader crisis at hand (for example, the campus closure is extended for two more days; what will students need to know related to your course?).
    • Set expectations: Let students know how you plan to communicate with them, and how often. Tell students both how often you expect them to check their email, and how quickly they can expect your response.
    • Manage your communications load: You will likely receive some individual requests for information that could be useful to all your students, so consider keeping a Frequently Asked Questions page or forum in Cougar Courses. Encourage students to check the FAQ before emailing you directly.
  • Distribute Course Materials and Readings

    You will likely need to provide additional course materials to support your changing plans, from updated schedules to readings that allow you to shift more instruction online. In a pinch, providing some new readings and related assignments may be your best bet for keeping the intellectual momentum of the course moving.

    Considerations when posting new course materials:

    • Make sure students know when new material is posted: If you post new materials in Cougar Courses, be sure to let students know what you posted and where.
    • Keep things phone friendly: In a crisis, many students may only have a phone available, so make sure you are using mobile-friendly formats, PDFs being the most common. Consider saving other files (for example, PowerPoint presentations) to PDFs, which are easier to read on phones and tablets, and keep the file size small. It is fairly easy to reduce the size of PDF files using Adobe Acrobat, and there are online tools that do the same thing (for example, search Google for "PDF file size"). Videos take lots of bandwidth, so only require them if you are confident students will have access to them during a crisis.


    The majority of Library resources and services are available electronically using the Library website ( as a portal, including collections, course reserves, and research assistance. Additional virtual research assistance services and contacts during this time will be posted at

  • Deliver Lectures

    An alternative way to record your voice as you present content on your computer is to record a lecture using Zoom.

    Recording a Zoom meeting can be another lightweight and easy way of getting lectures recorded quickly with no editing required. Check out our page about Zoom best practices for some tips that will help make your recordings the best quality possible. To ensure accessibility,

    Consider writing out your lectures, and posting them online, in lieu of a video lecture. A word doc, or slides with notes could offer a higher degree of accessibility for all students.

    New to Zoom, and looking for some basics? Check out this video from Mizzou.

  • Run Lab Activities

    One of the biggest challenges of teaching during a building or campus closure is sustaining the lab components of classes. Since many labs require specific equipment, they are hard to reproduce outside of that physical space.

    Considerations as you plan to address lab activities:

    • Take part of the lab online: Many lab activities require students to become familiar with certain procedures, and only physical practice of those processes will do. In such cases, consider if there are other parts of the lab experience you could take online (for example, video demonstrations of techniques, online simulations, analysis of data, other pre- or post-lab work), and save the physical practice parts of the labs until access is restored. The semester might get disjointed by splitting up lab experiences, but it might get you through a short campus closure.
    • Investigate virtual labs: Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some labs (for example, virtual dissection, night sky apps, video demonstrations of labs, simulations). Those vary widely by discipline, but check with your textbook publisher, or sites such as Merlot for materials that might help replace parts of your lab during an emergency.
    • Provide raw data for analysis: In cases where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected, and then provide some raw sets of data for students to analyze. This approach is not as comprehensive as having students collect and analyze their own data, but it might keep them engaged with parts of the lab experience during the closure.
    • Increase interaction in other ways: Sometimes labs are more about having time for direct student interaction, so consider other ways to replicate that level of contact if it is only your lab that is out of commission.
  • Foster Communication and Cooperation Among Students

    Fostering communication among students is important because it allows you to reproduce any cooperation you build into your course, and maintains a sense of community that can help keep students motivated to participate and learn. It helps if you already had some sort of student-to-student online activity (for example, Cougar Course Forums) since students will be used to both the process and the tool.

     Consider these suggestions when planning activities:

    • Use asynchronous tools when possible: Having students participate in live Zoom conversations can be useful, but scheduling can be a problem, and only a few students will actively participate (just like in your classroom). In such cases, using asynchronous tools like a Cougar Course Forum allows students to participate on their own schedules. In addition, bandwidth requirements for discussion boards are far lower than for live video tools.
    • Link to clear goals and outcomes: Make sure there are clear purposes and outcomes for any student-to-student interaction. How does this activity help them meet course outcomes or prepare for other assignments?
    • Build in simple accountability: Find ways to make sure students are accountable for the work they do in any online discussions or collaborations. Assigning points for online discussion posts can be tedious, so some instructors ask for reflective statements where students detail their contributions and reflect on what they learned from the conversation.
    • Balance newness and need: As with any changed activities, you will need to balance the needs and benefits of online collaboration with the additional effort such collaboration will require on everyone else's part. Learning new technologies and procedures might be counterproductive, particularly in the short term, unless there is clear benefit.

    Zoom Meeting Breakouts can be a great way to have students work in group, if you are already familiar with Zoom. Stephen Tsui, Associate Professor of Physics, has created a short video explaining how he does it: Tsui Zoom Breakouts Example

  • Collect Assignments

    Collecting assignments during a campus closure is fairly straightforward, since many instructors already collect work electronically. The main challenge during a campus disruption is whether students have access to computers, as anyone needing a campus computer lab may be unable to access necessary technologies. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

    • Avoid emailed attachments: It may be easy to collect assignments in small classes via email, but larger classes might swamp your email inbox. Balance what is simplest for students with what is easiest for you to manage.
    • State expectations, but be ready to allow extensions: In the case of a campus closure or other crisis, some students will undoubtedly have difficulties meeting deadlines. Make expectations clear, but be ready to provide more flexibility than you normally would in your class.
    • Require specific filenames: It may sound trivial, but anyone who collects papers electronically knows the pain of getting 20 files named Essay1.docx. Give your students a simple file naming convention, for example, FirstnameLastname-Essay1.docx.

Adapted from CSU Channel Islands and Indiana University