The University Center for Teaching and Learning advises faculty to consider activities that enable continuity of instruction in the event of high student/faculty absenteeism or changes to normal campus operations due to pandemic illness, natural disaster, unsafe conditions, or unforeseen emergencies. During such an event, it is prudent to minimize disruption to the essential processes of teaching and learning, while maintaining the health and safety of the campus community. The following resources will assist faculty in continuing instruction in the event of an extended disruption to standard University operations.
The Teaching Center will deliver remote office hours and specialized instructional continuity programming via Zoom starting on Sunday, March 15. Please expand the accordions below to see a specific list of programming. The two series will be:
These are drop-in style, question-and-answer discussions via Zoom.
- Sunday, March 15, 11 a.m. – noon: Open Q &A
- Monday, March 16, 3 – 4 p.m.: General Considerations for Moving Materials Online
- Tuesday, March 17, 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.: Open Q & A
- Wednesday, March 18, 10 – 11 a.m.: Assignments
- Wednesday, March 18, 6 -7 p.m.: Open Q & A
- Thursday, March 19, noon – 1 p.m.: Tests and Quizzes
- Friday, March 20, 9 – 10 a.m.: Academic Integrity/Anti-Cheating
These are just-in-time, hyper-focused discussions on a specific topic via Zoom.
- Programming will be announced very soon.
Please note that dates and times are subject to change and we will update this list daily.
Stay informed: Gather information to inform and guide your course modification plans and to stay abreast of changing information, guidelines and recommendations. You will need to know if groups of students or faculty members have been asked to voluntarily self-quarantine or if face-to-face class meetings have been temporarily suspended.
- Monitor national, local and university information.
- Locate and review relevant policy
- University of Pittsburgh Course Cancellation Policy [PDF]
- University of Pittsburgh Grading Policy
- University of Pittsburgh Work from Home Policy
- US Department of Education memo from March 05, 2020 regarding Guidance for Interruptions of Study Related to COVID-19
- Consult with:
- Your School and department regarding plans to best continue with classes in the event of changes to normal campus operations
- The University Center for Teaching and Learning for instructional strategies to inform instructional continuity and assistance with CourseWeb/Blackboard, Canvas, and other educational technologies to support online education
- Your instructional team, including co-instructors, TA’s, course coordinators, etc.
Assess and Plan: In the event of alternations to normal campus operations, large numbers of student absences, or the suspension of face-to-face classes, you are encouraged establish and maintain instructional continuity and minimize disruption to course progression and completion. In most instances, this will involve transitioning your course to a temporary online/remote delivery format. To accomplish this, you will need to consider your familiarity with and current use of relevant instructional technologies (e.g., Blackboard, Canvas, Panopto, Skype, etc.), the structure and level of your course, the requirements of your discipline, the assignments and assessments you will need to deliver, and the particular needs of your students. It will be important to identify reasonable expectations given the point of the semester at which you are transitioning, and the limitations imposed by resource availability, scalability, and time-frame.
- Given the size of your class, where you are in the semester, and the nature of your content, determine realistic goals regarding what can be accomplished.
- What learning outcomes need to be accomplished? What knowledge, skill or abilities do student still need to develop?
- What aspects of your original syllabus can you maintain in an online version of the course?
- Which assignments should you keep, and which should you modify or omit?
- What assessments or exams will you need to administer? How will you administer them?
- Determine your familiarity with the University’s LMS platforms. (Blackboard/CourseWeb and Canvas)
- How do you currently use Blackboard/CourseWeb or Canvas?
- Will you need support in setting up or putting your course materials into the LMS?
- What access do you have to the internet and to necessary educational technologies?
- What new technologies do you need to learn?
- Do you know where to get support and assistance with educational technologies?
- Evaluate your students’ access to technology.
- Do your students have access to the internet?
- Do your students have access to the devices necessary to participate in online/remote class activities, assignments and assessments?
- Determine how your course will be delivered.
- How will content best be delivered (synchronous vs asynchronous)?
- What technologies will you use (e.g., live video, web conferencing, Panopto recorded lectures, readings, discussion boards)?
- Can you use existing resources (e.g., Open Educational Resources (OER), YouTube Videos, Lynda.com, Kahn Academy, Ted Talks)?
- What new materials do you need to develop or create?
- Can you make any of your remaining assignments optional?
- Determine how you will assess your students?
- Will you need to administer quizzes, tests, final exams?
- Will students be completing final projects or presentations?
- Will you need to change your grading structure?
- Should you consider alternative weighting for assessments and grades?
- Should you adjust the timelines for assignments, exams and other course deliverables?
Communicate with Students: To reduce student anxiety, confusion, and misinformation, communicate with students early and often. Highlight changes to the University’s status, policies, and specific details about your course.
- Let your students know how they will hear from you (e.g., email, LMS announcements, text messages) and how often (e.g., daily, weekly) they will hear from you.
- Tell students how best to communicate with you (e.g., email, LMS inbox, text message, phone).
- Advise students of the expectations for attendance and participation under your modified teaching plan.
- Outline for students how the class will operate during the period of instructional modification.
- Direct students to appropriate campus resources for technology-related questions or problems.
- Direct students to appropriate campus resources for non-instructional needs (e.g., health and wellness, transportation).
- Encourage students to monitor official campus communication resources for updates: University of Pittsburgh Office of Public Safety & Emergency Management.
- Urge students, teaching assistants, and colleagues to practice preventative care: Wash/disinfect hands frequently. Avoid touching face, mouth, nose, or eyes. Disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work, and school.
Basic Considerations for Teaching Online
These items identify the fundamental issues you will need to consider in order to deliver your course(s) from home or an off-campus location.
|Access your CourseWeb (Blackboard) or Canvas course shell||
Blackboard course shells can be accessed through MyPitt using your University email and password
Canvas course shells can be accessed at the Pitt Canvas site using your University email and password
|Have you posted course content on your CourseWeb (Blackboard) or Canvas sites?|
|Establish a mode of communication|
|Decide how to deliver your course content in the online environment||Synchronous/Asynchronous
Description: Learning that takes place when the instructor and students interact in real-time (at a scheduled time) using video conferencing, audio conference calling, or other web-based technologies.
Useful contexts: Courses that are smaller, use discussion-based formats, and have content that is more complex in nature
Relevant Tools: Telephone, Audio Conferences, Web-based video sessions, and chats
Description: Learning takes place through instruction and activities that are delivered through the University’s LMS. Students interact with content and complete assignments independently, at a time and pace of their choosing.
Useful contexts: Courses that are larger, use lecture-based formats, and have content that is less complex in nature
Relevant Tools: Blackboard, Canvas, Email, Video lectures, Discussion boards, Voice-annotated PowerPoint, Social Networking, Podcasts
|Communicate expectations to students regarding class requirements during an emergency||Emergency Preparedness for the University of Pittsburgh|
|Confirm technical capacity to deliver your course from home or a location outside the classroom|
|Accessibility||Instructional Accessibility at Pitt|
Course Delivery Options
These items provide pointers to help you prepare course content and activities that align with the type of course you teach.
|Consider how you will deliver content in a lecture-based course||1. Post documents, presentations, readings, and assignments the Learning Management System
2. Provide alternative activities such as additional readings or viewing online resources that cover relevant course content
3. Record and post class lectures for students to view
4. Use the Assignments tool in the Learning Management System to have students submit reports, papers or projects
|Consider how you will deliver content in a discussion-based course||1. Use the Learning Management System’s discussions boards
2. Use web conferencing to hold online real-time meetings
3. Use the Assignments tool in the Learning Management System to have students submit reports, papers or projects
4. Use telephone audio conferencing
|Consider how you will administer assessments and assignments|
|Consider how to conduct lab-based activities||1. Record and post class demonstrations for students to view
2. Consider alternate lab activities that can be performed at home
3. Locate virtual labs online for students to complete
4. Use the Assignments tool in the Learning Management System to have students submit reports, papers or projects
|Holding virtual office hours|
|Learn how to make video content for your course|
|Learn how to make digital copies of course materials and documents|
|Learn how to conduct an audio conference call|
|Learn how to conduct a web-based conference session|
Assessments, Exams, and Finals in the Online Environment
As you consider ways to ensure instructional continuity in your courses, you may be contemplating if and how you might need to modify your finals, exams, and other assessments as you move to a temporary online/remote delivery format. Many assessments (e.g., research papers, written projects, essays) can be administered through one of the University’s LMS (CourseWeb/Blackboard or Canvas) or other web-based technologies (e.g., email). Often, these may need little or no modification.
However, some assessments (e.g., multiple-choice exams, finals) often require the instructor, TAs or a proctor to be present. If that is the case, it may be helpful for you to think about alternative ways to assess your students in the event that traditional face-to-face administration of exams is not available. Below are some key considerations for thinking about course-level assessments (particularly, multiple-choice exams) in a modified instructional environment and some alternative formats for assessing student learning that may be helpful if you suddenly have to move your class online.
Remote administration and proctoring of exams. Social distancing and the avoidance of gathering in groups is an important directive in the current disruptive context. Therefore, remote administration and proctoring of exams will not be available.
Set realistic expectations to help both you and your students. If circumstances are such that you need to move your course to an online or remote delivery format, it may be helpful to remind students that the situation may require some flexibility on everyone’s part. Let students know that you may need to make changes that will help them continue to learn, and that these changes may require some adjustment from instructors, TAs and students. Communicate with your students early and often about any changes you may make and reassure students that you are taking into account any unusual external circumstances in assessing their work in the class.
Recognize that learning can be demonstrated in many ways. Multiple-choice exams are a common method of assessing student learning in higher education, and they have many advantages. It may be helpful, however, to explore other assessments you can assign to allow students to demonstrate their learning. Multiple-choice exams tend to be very effective for committing key concepts to memory and for prompting recall, both of which are fundamental to learning. However, assessments that call on students to analyze, synthesize, evaluate and apply information are also very effective, though they may require more time from instructors to plan and evaluate.
Evaluate course changes for impacts on equity and inclusivity. Changes made to your teaching should not adversely impact students. When considering a possible change, ask yourself if the change has the potential to disadvantage any particular group of students in your class.
Recognize that each assessment method has both advantages and disadvantages. Each of the methods identified below has strengths and weaknesses that you will need to determine and assess based on your instructional context. Weigh your concerns about integrity of the testing process against the possible consequences for students from changing your tests/assessments. You may also want to consider the amount of time you and your TAs (as relevant) will need to modify the tests/assessments and to grade or give feedback on them.
Is a Final Examination required or necessary?
The first question to consider is whether or not a final examination is required or necessary. It may be that students have produced sufficient content to demonstrate the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities for your course. In such instances, a final exam may not be necessary. Check with your department chair or dean to identify appropriate policies and guidelines regarding the administration of final exams.
What alternatives exist to face-to-face finals and exams?
The following suggestions assume that a face-to-face administration of exams is not available. These suggestions are designed to address issues of academic integrity that can arise when exams are administered outside of the classroom.
Shift to an Open Book exam format. This format promotes student learning and can help to neutralize the possibility that students will inappropriately rely on other resources to complete the exam by allowing them to consult other resources. The following elements can be added to the exam (alone or in combination) to help ensure that students maintain academic integrity when course assessments happen outside of the classroom.
- Add a section to the exam that requires students to give the course-related sources they used to answer each question (including page numbers, where appropriate), as well as the citation information of any other resources they used. Consider telling students they can use outside sources if they also give a well-considered recommendation as to whether the outside sources should be incorporated into the class in future quarters.
- Add a question that asks students to write a short reflection on what they learned either about the content or about their own learning processes from the process of researching the questions.
- Have students choose one question or problem on the exam that was difficult and explain the process they went through to find the answer and/or to solve it.
- Have students choose the most interesting question or section on the exam and write a short paragraph explaining why they think it was interesting. A variation on this: Have students choose the question or section of the exam that targets information they feel is most applicable to their future careers and explain why they feel it is valuable for them to know this information.
Using the Closed-Book format, you may find the following suggestions helpful. Consider reducing the number of single-choice answers (e.g., multiple-choice questions) in order to add:
- Short answer questions. Adding several short answer questions that have been tailored to information presented in lectures gives students a chance to display what they have learned. It also encourages students to maintain academic integrity by tying their responses to what they learned by attending your class.
- A metacognition task. Insert a section where students look at errors on a past exam and explain the correct answer to earn a certain number of points determined in advance by the instructor. This develops metacognition, helps students improve their learning, and makes connections to students’ past class performance.
- A transformative reflection. Provide a question asking students to write a short reflection on how the course has changed their thinking about the course topic or about a course sub-topic. This helps students to become more aware of the effect your class has had on them intellectually.
- Resource recommendations. Have students give a recommendation for two scholarly articles, news articles, videos, or other instructional media that the students have researched by writing a short (1-2 paragraph) explanation of how these pieces could help future students understand the course material.
- An application task. Have students choose a question from the exam and explain how the knowledge it tests is important when applied to the field. Make sure you have discussed applications in class, and if not, it may be helpful to let students know that you encourage innovation on this task. If application is something you have not discussed in class, you may want to modify your grading criteria to reflect this.
- Move to an entirely short-essay exam format. If possible, convert your multiple-choice questions to a series of questions that require students to write one-to-two-paragraph responses synthesizing course content. Tailor the questions to your course’s specific content to encourage students to produce their own work and to discourage inappropriate reliance on outside sources (i.e., plagiarism). Be sure to let students know the criteria you’ll use to evaluate their responses (e.g., a rubric) before they take the exam. If students have been expecting a multiple-choice test throughout the quarter, you may want to be mindful of the effect a sudden change in format can have on students’ ability to be successful on the exam, and weigh this against any changes you might make. If you feel the change is warranted, explain to students the reason for the change, and reassure them of your concern for their learning.
- Assign an annotated bibliography. If a traditional exam is not possible, and it serves your learning outcomes for your students, you might consider having students write an annotated bibliography in which they choose 5-10 key scholarly articles from the course readings and write a short critical summary for each, explaining what the article is about and then giving their assessment of the article’s value to the field. Initially, students may think this is a difficult task, especially if they have never encountered such an assignment. Giving students a model for the task can be helpful and reminding students that it builds on skills they likely already possess (writing summaries, for example) can go a long way to ease their anxiety. If this is a novel task for students that is being introduced, due to external circumstances affecting your course, you may want to adjust your grading criteria accordingly.
- Assign an application task. Give students a real-world problem-based application of the concepts (or just a single key concept) from your course and ask them to explain they would use the information learned in your class to solve the problem. This would require students to analyze the problem and then synthesize a response to it by revisiting the concepts learned in your course and applying them to the scenario you have described. This, again, could be difficult for some students. If application is something you have not discussed in class, you may want to modify your grading criteria to reflect this.
If I decide to administer a multiple-choice exam, how do I do it online?
|Consider how you will administer tests and assessments online.|
Common Educational Technology Tools
These items guide you in selecting the appropriate tools to support instructional continuity through the use of educational technology.
|Archiving Your Course||
Exporting or Archiving a Blackboard Course (use Archive)
|Portable Document Files (PDFs)|
|SensusAccess||SensusAccess File Converter Tool|
|VPN||PittNet VPN (Pulse Secure Client)|
|Description||Learning takes place when the instructor and students interact in real-time, usually at a scheduled time, using audio conference calling, video conferencing, or other web-based technologies.||Learning takes place through instruction and activities that are delivered through the University’s LMS. Students interact with content and complete assignments independently, at a time and pace of their choosing.|
Less complex content
Web-based video sessions
Pitt Information Technology maintains a list of IT resources to support remote work.
Important information and updates relevant to the University community will be posted at the Office of Public Safety & Emergency Management.
For student health concerns: Pitt Student Health Service
For those traveling or abroad: Pitt Global Operations Support
U.S. Department of State travel advisories