Unexpectedly Teaching Remotely

In addition to ITG's resources, you can find the Library's resources for remote teaching here: Distance Teaching: Faculty. Both ITG's guide and the Library's guide will be updated frequently.

Switching a course’s modality is usually a careful and thoughtful process. However, if the College declares a state of emergency and you need to unexpectedly teach remotely, here are important considerations.  

Use Canvas.emerson.edu as Your Classroom Space

You may not be using Canvas in your face-to-face class, but it is essential if you are teaching online for an extended amount of time. Every Emerson course has an automatically-created Canvas course that you and your students can access. You can use it to post your syllabus, handouts, readings, assignments, and important announcements. If you’ll be shifting your teaching to online for a lengthy period, we recommend that you use Canvas Modules to structure your course content sequentially (ie, Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, etc). 

Don’t forget to publish your course so that the students can see your work!

Communicate With Your Students

Communicating frequently and clearly is the most essential thing you can do. Students can feel adrift in online classes, and they need to know that you are present, have specific expectations, and can guide them in their tasks. We recommend including a communication policy on your syllabus to set expectations. This should include:

  • how you plan to communicate to your entire class
  • how you plan to communicate with students individually
  • how frequently you will check and respond to messages
  • when you will be available for office hours via phone or video conference 

The Announcements tool in your Canvas course is the most efficient way to send messages to your entire class. Be sure to publish your course before posting Announcements. Please note students will only receive notifications if the course is published and if it is less than one week before the start of classes in Boston. 

Zoom is a great way to host online office hours and any other live meetings with your students.  

“Being an online student amplifies all the worries students have at the best of times, and these are not the best of times. We need to give students the sense there is someone out there worrying about them. Also, we need to encourage them to communicate with other students.”

- The Higher Education Whisperer

Start With Your Learning Objectives

Focus on learning outcomes even if you need to adjust the specific activities that contribute to those outcomes. Keep students moving toward those outcomes. Evaluate the course activities you had planned: what works well online? What can be postponed? Focus on delivering the ones with the most significant impact on learning outcomes. Avoid "busy work."

Asynchronous Options (Easiest)

Asynchronous options are ones where the people communicating do not have to be communicating at the exact same time. These are the most reliable options in case of emergency—you can create them ahead of time and they are less prone to technical issues.

Online Discussion in Canvas

Canvas Discussions are an easy way to shift class online, and they offer many possibilities. Here are just a few scenarios:

  • Have students respond to a reading. Require them to respond to the prompt and to at least two other classmates.
  • Post a reading, and then record a short video where you pose a question. Students can respond in writing or with their own short videos.
  • Break the class into two groups: one poses questions on the readings, the other responds. Then have groups switch the roles for another reading.

Make sure to give your students (and yourself) specific times to prepare and respond to discussions. This will keep expectations clear and help with ambiguity. Times can vary, of course, but be specific and hold yourself and your students to the schedule!

In addition to text-based discussions, you can also use video discussions: Create a discussion in Canvas for video submission.

Video Lectures (record yourself, your screen, or both!)


  • Record a quick video of you talking into your webcam directly in Canvas. Note that if you record directly in Canvas, you will not be able to re-use this video. 
  • Use Panopto to record yourself (here are instructions for Mac and instructions for PC) and/or to record your screen as you lecture. You can even include PowerPoint slides in your video.
  • We do not recommend that you record video lectures any longer than 15 minutes. The length of a lecture that works in a class setting will not work as well outside of that setting. Try breaking up a longer lecture into smaller chunks with opportunities to demonstrate comprehension mixed in. Panopto videos quizzes could help. Moving class online gives you the opportunity to be creative in new ways with your material. Can some of it be text? Text-based materials are much easier to access for students who might not have a good internet connection. 


You can create a Google Doc that is shared with all your students from within your Canvas course. Google Docs let students annotate specific parts of the document, chat about their work, and track who has made different changes.

Alternatively, you can create a google doc in your Emerson Google Drive, set it to be editable by "Anyone with the link," and post its link in a Canvas announcement, page, assignment, or discussion for your students.

Synchronous Options

Synchronous options require the people communicating to be doing so at the same time. This feels more similar to a face-to-face class, but can be difficult to implement.

Web conferencing tools can be challenging to use since many factors can get in the way of a smooth session—internet connection (wired connections are ideal, but many computers no longer support them), plugin installations and updates, microphone and camera issues, etc.

If you’d like to use video conferencing, we recommend that you keep things simple and establish guidelines for participating. We recommend setting up a practice/training session ahead of time so that you are comfortable using the platform. Since students already have your face-to-face class time blocked off in their calendars, we recommend scheduling any synchronous sessions you choose to hold during the time they otherwise would have been in your class physically. 


Zoom is a cloud-based video conferencing platform that allows you to make video calls and set up meetings quickly and easily from any web browser on any computer or mobile device. All Emerson users now have Pro accounts, which means your meetings have no time limits. Access Zoom by going to zoom.emerson.edu and clicking Sign-In, or by clicking Zoom in your Canvas course's left-hand menu.

To learn how to use Zoom and schedule meetings, see Best Practices for Teaching and Learning with Zoom.

To learn how to record, edit, and share meetings, see Zoom Recordings.

Have any questions?

Please feel free to contact ITG with questions or to schedule a training regarding any of the tools mentioned.

Portions of this guide were adapted (with permission) from Pepperdine University's Keep on Teaching Guide and Indiana University's Keep Teaching.

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