Teaching Guidelines During COVID-19

Purpose: To assist faculty teaching in AY20-21 during the pandemic.

Reminder: Faculty members own the intellectual property of their original contributions (see Emerson’s intellectual property policy.) Emerson retains the right to archive the course and to allow read-only access to NECHE accreditors, but faculty own everything in the course (including but not limited to: syllabus, lecture notes, discussion questions, topic notes, presentations, screencasts, videos, assignments, grade feedback or images used in the course).

Support: The Instructional Technology Group, Information Technology, and the Library are resources for faculty.

Baseline Requirements: As we transition to new models for teaching and learning, there are three core areas to which all classes should adhere, based on previous experience and best practices: Accessibility; Consistent and Robust Use of Canvas; and Engagement.


In an effort to engage all the students in classes, the course should be accessible. The baseline for accessibility is:

  • Use of captioned videos: faculty should look for versions of media with captions when uploaded or linked. Faculty delivering lectures (material that you might use again and again from semester to semester) will need those lectures captioned. This does not include student work nor video you would only use once (for example, a video comment made in the speedgrader or a discussion thread about a student's work or comment).
  • Use of clear, easily readable electronic texts, so that Optical Character Recognition can read them. For faculty-created content (assignment handouts, lecture notes, etc), Canvas Pages are more accessible than PDFs and Powerpoints; consider converting them. NB: PDFs of articles, etc, are fine. If you need help finding electronic versions of resources, contact the library.
  • Addition of alternative descriptive text to photos or graphics wherever possible.
  • Use of Canvas’s accessibility checker to review anything you’ve typed into Canvas.
  • If you sense that students studying remotely need help with computers or internet connection, you can contact Student Success. Staff there and in financial aid have been helping students this past spring and will continue to do so.


Courses should use Canvas robustly (please see ITG's Teaching Remotely guide as well as Build Your Canvas Course in 5 Steps), using best practices as described below. This will provide a consistent environment for students, who benefit from having everything in one place.

  • Use Canvas assignments
  • Use Modules to articulate course structure. A Canvas Module should correspond to each week of class, but a given course unit can span multiple Modules. Use Modules for:
    • linking files and documents
    • discussions
    • topic notes
  • Use Gradebook to centralize and keep student grades up to date
  • Use Announcements to communicate with the whole class; you can also use this to communicate with individual students. Announcements do get sent as emails, but students can access all course-related communication in Canvas if you communicate via Announcements.


All courses regardless of delivery modality should emphasize student engagement. Two primary methods of accomplishing this are by making students feel connected and providing frequent, immediate, and supportive feedback based on clear criteria or standards.  These can be accomplished either in person or through synchronous mediums such as Zoom (full class and smaller group break-out rooms), Canvas chat, Twitter, Slack, individual phone or Skype calls, or even chats in Google docs. These can also be accomplished through asynchronous mediums. To help students feel connected in traditional face-to-face courses, we emphasize interpersonal connectedness: providing frequent, rapid, and informative feedback is a hallmark of any course--online or on-site.

The College’s Attendance Policy applies to asynchronous course components as well as synchronous ones. Faculty need to define what constitutes weekly asynchronous attendance in terms of participation, such as timely discussion posts, updates to the class, etc. Participation, not attendance, should be graded.

Students who may become quarantined should be included in-class activities as their health enables them. This could include attending live sessions virtually. 

Guiding Principles

Understanding that excellent teaching is our goal at all times, we have sought to align these guidelines with our agreed-upon understanding of the five dimensions of excellent teaching: content expertise, intellectual engagement, instructional delivery, instructional design, and course operation (Faculty Handbook 8.1.2). Expecting that content expertise is a demonstrable given for our faculty, we have structured this guide in terms of the four remaining dimensions. We have also sought to adopt and adapt existing principles of best practices for online teaching that ITG has developed.

Intellectual Engagement

  • One of the distinguishing characteristics of an Emerson education is that students are engaged in the material, regardless of discipline.
  • Student-to-student and student-to-instructor interactions are an integral part of the engagement. These interactions should happen both asynchronously and synchronously. Synchronous interaction may include face-to-face experiences. Zoom breakout rooms are a helpful tool.
  • Establish a community of trust by creating ground rules for engaging in the classroom. Clarify expectations for synchronous and asynchronous discussion.

Instructional Delivery

  • In asynchronous modes, have students respond to lectures, viewings, readings, etc. either in writing or in short videos.
  • Make some kind of a connection with each student at least weekly. This can be through submitted assignments, responses, email, attendance to a synchronous class, etcetera. Establishing an individual time for each student to come to office hours on a weekly basis is a good way to maintain dialogue and connection.
  • A good rule-of-thumb for participation (broadly defined) is 30% of the semester grade. Discussion thread comments, video responses, and synchronous discussion would all count.
  • Record lectures and demonstrations. A 2-hour Zoom lecture is difficult to pull off, so break the lecture into smaller video components. Shorter is generally better; 15-minutes is the recommended upper-time limit, and shorter modules with embedded questions can be very effective.
  • Ask students for feedback during the semester so you can make adjustments to the course in progress.
  • Please discourage students from printing: campus printers see heavy traffic and are difficult to sanitize. 

Instructional Design

  • Students will appreciate consistency in their lives and in their learning. A consistent learning environment will lower anxiety and allow students to focus on the material, rather than the mechanism. The Canvas course template helps students locate key elements of the course and navigate multiple online courses more easily.
  • Make the grading rubrics readily apparent and available.
  • Use the assignment feature and schedule due dates in the assignment pages. This will help students keep all of their assignments on one calendar.
  • Schedule meeting times throughout the semester if there are synchronous components.
  • Include the Student Learning Outcomes, and create assessments to meet those outcomes.
  • We encourage you to develop scaffolded, lower-stakes assignments that can be used by an instructor to provide regular and helpful feedback to your students.
  • Divide major assignments into their component parts, and assess each part.
  • Use pre-tests, polling, as well as creative and reflective assignments, to help you and your students gauge where they are with the material.

Course Operation

 [Last updated July 1, 2020] 

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