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Completing a Face-To-Face Course Online Following a Campus Mandate

Updated: May 26, 2023

Todd Zakrajsek, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Kathryn Smith, International Teaching Learning Cooperative

Converting a course from face-to-face to an online format is a challenging process in the best of times, and we are certainly not in the best of times at this moment. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous universities have suspended face-to-face classes, imposed temporary closures of campuses, and asked faculty members to convert face-to-face courses to an online format, all with very little time to prepare. Making this significant switch midsemester is difficult. We offer a few considerations that may make the end result smoother for both faculty and students.

Fixed Mindset Versus Growth Mindset

Don't panic. Yes, this is a challenging process, but we are capable of conquering difficult tasks. Reframe your thinking using a growth-mindset from, "I have never done this," to "I have not done this yet." Consider your past successes as an educator. This is not to minimize the work before us, but rather to recognize that we have significant skills and talents. And one of our unspoken job expectations as educators, and learners, is to figure things out. Use positive self-talk, reassure yourself, and your students that you share the common goal moving forward, learning together.

Maintain a Shared Community

Teaching includes community. Community among faculty, community among students, and most certainly, community among faculty and students within a course. When transitioning to an online format, do not drop into isolation nor let your students become isolated. Maintain human connections and support one another, particularly in times of uncertainty. Create time to share with colleagues, not to commiserate but to share tips for success and offer support as the semester moves forward.

Be Authentic

Teaching classes online requires additional expertise and planning. Given the immediacy of the situation, the level of support available to assist in making this transition will most likely be minimal. Bring to this new challenge those same skills and qualities that make you unique and successful. Even online, those same qualities can shine through. Each of us will face struggles. For many people, it's a challenge of working with the technology to make classes happen, so be authentic and tell your students when you're struggling. If you let them know that you're experiencing difficulties, it will ease pressure on both sides of the screen. At the same time, create spaces for students to let you know when they are struggling. Please encourage them to work through the process and focus on outcomes, but also to recognize we all face similar challenges. Be transparent, flexible, gentle, and supportive.

Maximize Instructional Time

It will take a significant amount of time to learn how to do just the basics of teaching students in a digital format. Avoid spending too much time trying to get something to look perfect. Instead, focus on maximizing instructional time that approximates what students would have received in the face-to-face setting.

Maintain Composure

Practice patience with yourself and your students. No one anticipated nor desired to be in the situation we now face. This will be challenging for months to come. At times it will be frustrating for all involved. If we remain focused on the challenges and potential adverse outcomes, the mountain becomes harder to climb. Consider what can be controlled in each situation, weigh options, and move forward as best as possible. Celebrate the victories. Emphasize the successes, no matter how small. Positivity is contagious. Acknowledge all the achievements rather than focusing on the deficits. Avoid the blame game.

Keep It Simple and Smart

Choose technology that works for you and keep it as simple as possible. Work smarter, not harder. Avoid getting "stuck" in place. If you find you are struggling to make one aspect "work," pause, review options, change course, and find your traction to move forward. If you are going to hold synchronous classes during scheduled in-person class time, find a technology tool to achieve that goal. If your LMS does not allow you to broadcast yourself to your students, try hosting your classes via Zoom or any of the following alternatives that might be available at your institution:

Additionally, you might want to pre-record your lectures for asynchronous meetings for students. It takes a little bit of time to get used to hearing your recorded voice, but consider these options to deliver your content.

  • ShowMe iPad App: Turn your iPad into your personal interactive whiteboard! ShowMe allows you to record voice-over whiteboard tutorials and share them online.

  • Camtasia: All-in-one screen recorder and video editor. Record your screen, add video effects, transitions, and more.

  • ScreenCast-o-Matic: Create screencast videos with our screen recorder. Free and easy to use. Capture your screen, add a webcam, and use narration to customize your video.

  • Good ol' PowerPoint: Use PowerPoint to record your animations and slides with the audio or use PowerPoint to record your screen.

Institutions often have resources that they use for Lecture Capture such as Echo360 or Panopto that can be used on an individual's computer that allows a presentation to be recorded, saved, and uploaded to your LMS. Once you have outlined your content, and selected the medium, determine where you are creating the recording and view it through the lens of the audience. Many can attest that even the most outstanding recorded piece misses the mark if the viewer is distracted by visual elements such as dirty dishes stacked on the kitchen counter as part of the background. After recording your lectures, make it a habit to view what you have recorded on the largest screen available before posting.

Emphasize Clarity

Make sure your expectations are exceptionally clear. What do students need to know, do, and complete to participate fully in your class in this new format? How can you make these expectations clear? It might be helpful to use other online tools such as VoiceThread to share your syllabus again to the class, so they know what is expected. Have students comment, text, and email asking clarifying questions.

Demonstrate Compassion

Recognize the challenges your students face. Many of our students struggle with housing and food security on a day-to-day basis. As campuses close and students are told to "go home" during this transition to online formats, our vulnerable students will face additional challenges. It is important to recognize some displaced students do not have a home to go to; students experience homelessness. Internet access may not be available for all students, or they may have limited data plans. It is helpful to survey students early in the process of moving to an online format to determine accessibility.

The pandemic is disruptive. The goal now becomes to do the best we can in light of the challenges we face. In the process of doing your best to reconfigure and deliver an educational experience for your learners, practice self-care. Take care of yourself, be mindful of the struggles your students are facing, and recognize the extensive work administrators and administrative staff must do in these uncertain times. Recognize the efforts of one another as we adapt to online teaching and support each other as we learn and teach together.

Discussion Questions

  1. Describe a teaching challenge you have faced at some point. If you were to encounter that challenge again and employ a growth-minded approach, what actions would you take and why?

  2. If you have previously taught in an online environment, what did you find most challenging and most exciting about teaching online? If you have never taught in an online environment, what would you anticipate to be the most challenging and most exciting about that format?

  3. If an entire campus were to shift to all online courses very quickly (and many did when the COVID-19 hit), what do you see as one significant challenge that administrators likely faced? What was one likely considerable challenge students faced?

Further Readings

Barnes, E., & LeDuc, E. (May 10, 2018) Food scarcity on campus affects learning in the classroom. Scholarly Teacher,

Darby, F. (2020). How to be a better online teacher: Advice Guide.  Chronicle of Higher Education:

Smith, K.W. (August 12, 2019). How to integrate technology tools into a blended learning classroom for enhanced student learning. Scholarly Teacher,

Wolfe, K.A., & Uribe, S.N. (2020) What We Wish We Would Have Known: Tips for Online Instructors, College Teaching, DOI: 10.1080/87567555.2020.1711701

About the Authors

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