Distanced Teaching and Learning / COVID-19 Resources

Whether you are teaching in a classroom or online, for the foreseeable future we are all operating at a greater distance from each other than before. When teaching in the classroom, we are wearing masks or shields and having to keep a meter or more apart. When teaching online, our interactions are mediated through technologies that open up interesting possibilities for student engagement, but can also feel clunky and awkward. And this virus is likely to rear and recede over time, which could result in us having to adapt our approach to a shifting situation.

This web page is designed to curate advice and concrete strategies for adapting pedagogy and course design to this new and shifting reality. Before learning how to use new technologies, it helps to think about the way we want to teach, how we want to interact with our students, how much to emphasize student-to-student learning, and a host of other pedagogical issues. Technology will be an essential ingredient for all of us moving forward, but before we know what technologies we need and how we want to use them, we first want to think carefully about a few foundational questions.

  1. Learning Objectives: What are we most committed to having our students learn and do given this new context? In this turbulent environment, we might need to scale back to the absolute essentials. What skills, content knowledge, and perspectives do we want students to have by the end of our class?
  2. Learning Experiences: What experiences and activities will enable students to acquire those skills/ that knowledge/ those perspectives? What readings, videos, lectures, learning activities, writing exercises, peer review exercises, presentations, problem sets, and group assignments will help them acquire this knowledge?
  3. Pedagogy: What kind of learning environment do you want to foster given your learning objectives and planned experiences? How do you want to structure class time to cultivate that environment? What norms of engagement, whether in-class or netiquette, can you convey to promote the kind of learning you envision from your students?
  4. In-Class vs. Outside-Class: What elements of the learning journey should happen during class – all together at the same time in a distanced classroom or online – and what elements can or should occur independently, individually or in smaller student groupings on students’ own time? In other words, what belongs in ‘class time’ and what belongs as ‘homework’?
  5. Technology:What technologies will help you achieve the goals set out above? Thankfully our Education Technology colleagues have that covered! Visit the EdTech Teaching and Learning Continuity web page for extensive information and contact the EdTech (edtech@yale-nus.edu.sg) for personalised assistance using distance learning technology like Zoom and Canvas. NUS CDTL has created the “Quick Guide to Online Teaching“. The brief guide is organised as a temporal sequence, focusing on what you need to do before teaching online, during such teaching, and afterwards. It thus focuses on reflecting and making a plan, then deciding on an approach and selecting tools, and finally revising class assignments.

This web page is designed to aid you as your work through these questions and offer advice on some of the advantages and limitations of different approaches. Please contact the CTL (teaching@yale-nus.edu.sg) if you would like to discuss a specific course or particular pedagogical issue in greater depth, or if you would like to suggest additional resources for inclusion on this page.

CTL’s Five Resource Recommendations

Videos/ Webinars To Prepare For Online Teaching

  1. “’ It’s All About Connecting:’ Welcoming Students to Your Online Environment” Webinar hosted by Associating of College and University Educators and American Council on Education with Flower Darby of “Small Teaching Online” (Start at minute 2:30): https://community.acue.org/blog/its-about-connecting-welcoming-students-to-your-online-environment
  2. “Planning and Facilitating Quality Discussions” with Flower Darby, Wiji Sathy, and Ludwika Goodson, hosted by Association of College and University Educators. Webinar available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7me751l54wM&feature=youtu.be / Transcript here: https://acue.org/webinars/online-discussions/
  3. “The Key to Teaching Online? Rapport” with Heidi Skurat Harris and Rebecca Glazier. Webinar: https://go.macmillanlearning.com/20040914-The-Key-to-Teaching-Online-Rapport-view.html
    Slides: https://go.macmillanlearning.com/rs/122-CFG-317/images/ML.FILE-PRE.MMWBRTE20040914_The%20key%20to%20teaching%20online.Rapport..pptx.pdf 
  4. “Organizing Your Online Courses” Webinar from the Association of College and University Educators: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqtQwgO6gsI&feature=youtu.be
  5. “Recording Effective Microlectures” Webinar from the Association of College and University Educators: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twuxpMTjxUI

Online Teaching Resources

  1. Association of College and University Educators “Online Teaching Toolkit” https://acue.org/online-teaching-toolkit/
  2. Association of College and University Educators free webinars on all the relevant topics that come in video or transcript format: https://acue.org/webinars/
  3. Higher Ed Learning Collective (a Facebook group with lots of searchable advice and materials on online teaching) https://www.facebook.com/groups/onlinelearningcollective
  4. Online Learning Consortium “Delivering High-Quality Instruction Online in Response to Covid-19: Faculty Playbook” https://www.skidmore.edu/cltl/documents/Faculty-Playbook_Final-1.pdf
  5. Chronicle of Higher Ed: Coping With Coronavirus: How Faculty Members Can Help Support Students in Traumatic Times: https://connect.chronicle.com/rs/931-EKA-218/images/CopingwithCoronavirus_Collection.pdf

Free Courses Online

Added bonus: if you are going to be teaching online, it might be helpful to have the experience of taking a course online to see what works and what doesn’t!

  1. “Foundations for Excellence in Teaching Online” https://www.edx.org/course/foundations-for-excellence-in-teaching-online
  2. “Learning to Teach Online”: https://www.coursera.org/learn/teach-online
  3. “e-Learning Ecologies: Innovative Approaches to Teaching and Learning for the Digital Age” https://www.coursera.org/learn/elearning#syllabus
  4. “Virtual Teacher Specialization” https://www.coursera.org/specializations/virtual-teacher
  5. “Get Interactive: Practical Teaching with Technology”: https://www.coursera.org/learn/getinmooc


Mixing Interactive (Synchronous) and Independent (Asynchronous) Modes

In the online education literature, we often read about the pros and cons of synchronous (real-time) versus asynchronous learning. But in most of our classes, we are likely to be drawing from both kinds of formats. Instead of thinking in terms of “class time” vs. “homework”, it might be more productive to think about the course in terms of “independent learning time” and “interactive learning time.”

If you are teaching for shorter periods in a distanced classroom you may want to prioritise interactive learning during those periods (e.g. question-and-answer sessions, student-to-student conversation, group diagramming, debates) and move content-delivery (lectures, presentations) and assessment (exams, essays, problem sets) to ‘independent learning’ time. This approach of prioritising interaction during class time and moving more content to independent learning may even be desirable if you are teaching for a standard duration, but with social distancing measures such as masks and shields in place. Speaking, and listening, while wearing a mask can become uncomfortable and draining. Additionally, in socially distanced classrooms it may be harder to have a dynamic classroom environment as you and your students will not be able to move much around the room. As a result, you may want to use your time together differently than you have in the past.

If you are teaching online, you may want to adopt a more asynchronous format, meaning you set certain tasks or deliverables for students that they do across a given time frame, but without mandatory, uniform class times each week. This will be even more important if and when students are operating on a variety of time zones. If you reduce the amount of time reserved for synchronous ‘class,’ students will have more time for independent or group learning activities like online discussion, writing exercises, problem sets, or creating visual representations of knowledge acquired from reading materials. It is likely that students will need more time to do these activities than they would under normal circumstances for at least two reasons. 1) Their access to resources and internet connectivity might not be as strong as it is on campus and 2) They are distracted and potentially exhausted by the global pandemic.

If needed, you could adopt an almost entirely asynchronous approach. For example, rather than hosting an 80-minute discussion session every Tuesday and Friday, students could instead be tasked with doing some reading and uploading a writing submission or short audio essay by Tuesday at noon and then be responsible for giving feedback on two peers’ submissions by Thursday at noon. The professors’ job would then be to design the prompts, provide feedback, and stir online discussions that ensue. This approach might make the most sense to keep learning going at a distance. However, as described below, ideally we would complement asynchronous, online teaching with opportunities for some synchronous student-professor and student-to-student contact.

Here are some examples, opportunities, and limitations associated with Synchronous and Asynchronous approaches


Synchronous Asynchronous
  • Live lectures
  • Discussions
  • Collective problem solving
  • Exam taken together
  • Pre-recorded lectures
  • Sequential group work/ projects
  • Independent learning (reading, watching videos, interviewing subjects, problem sets)
  • Writing exercises, blogging, journaling
  • Discussion boards
  • Exams/ assessments taken independently
Synchronous Asynchronous
  • Most similar to traditional course structure.
  • Creates a sense of community and accountability among students.
  • Efficient – allows faculty to check in with the whole class or large subsets in one session.
  • Participation can be incentivised and monitored.
  • Creates opportunities for spontaneous co-construction of knowledge among students.
  • Can record sessions for those who cannot attend to review.
  • Students can work at times that make sense for them given their time-zone, when they have privacy and quiet, etc.
  • Students have more time to reflect on tasks and concepts. May promote critical reflections.
  • More equitable – doesn’t depend as heavily on students having sophisticated technology at home
  • Necessitates the development of time management and independent work ethic.
Synchronous Asynchronous
  • Engagement can wither if formats are not engaging.
  • Creates imbalance – difficult for students who do not have access to good wifi/ technology or those who are in different time zones.
  • Technology glitches and malfunctions can be very disruptive.
  • To maintain accountability requires frequent feedback from the instructor, and extremely explicit instructions.
  • Can be isolating, students don’t get full advantage of the community of students.
  • Can take longer for faculty to realise when some students are not engaged/have fallen-off.


Additional Resources on Using Synchronous and Asynchronous Methods:

Prioritise Connection and Community Among Students

* * * Watch this short video with Maha Bali on “Bringing Community to Online Teaching (Synchronous and Asynchronous)* * *

One of the risks of online learning is that students do not have the same motivation and sense of accountability as when learning face-to-face, leading them to lose focus and drive. Research on online learning shows that rapport and a sense of community are very important for successful completion and learning for online classes. Additionally, as we are teaching during a period of global crisis, creating a sense of community and comradery also has emotional and psychological value.

There are many ways to maintain a strong sense of professor-student connection and community.

  1. Humanise the Experience. Make it personal, human, and fun. Call students by name. Humanise yourself – show them your pets, introduce them to your kids, tell them what you are making for dinner. Gradually invite students to reciprocate. Do this to the extent you feel comfortable. If sharing personal information feels uncomfortable or unprofessional, consider sharing an occasional article or movie that might be somewhat related to your course. Create a friendly, welcoming introductory video for the course. Integrate meaningful ‘ice breakers’ that build in intellectual depth and emotional connection as the semester unfolds. It is even better if the ice breaker somehow connects to the course subject or somehow prepares students for your pedagogy. You can see some examples of online ice breakers here:
  2. Spend Time Together in Ways that Promote Community. When you do have time together, think about how you can use it in ways that build a sense of community and mutual accountability among students. Even if you are teaching online, you maintain a connection with and among students through Zoom-based seminars, online ‘office hours,’ email correspondence, or by hosting smaller group Zoom conversations with students perhaps organized by time zone. This could be once a week or every-other week, with more asynchronous learning in-between. For example, you could host one or two 120 minute conversations for the whole class each week, or organise the class into smaller teams (perhaps organised by time zone to facilitate synchronous discussions) and meet with them in smaller groups throughout the term.
  3. Show You Care and See Their Work. Send short personalised emails or include notes in assignment feedback that acknowledge the effort and encourage progress.

Additional Resources on Promoting Community in Online and Distanced Learning:

Re-Consider Your Role: ‘Instructor,’ ‘Facilitator’, Both, Neither?

Online teaching puts you at a greater distance from your students. This might require a role adjustment for how you interact with them and how you teach. Freeing yourself to consider new roles might make it easier to think creatively about how to get students learning in the online context.

Similarly, teaching in a socially distanced classroom may also prompt you to reconsider your in-class persona. Whereas you may have previously emphasised small group work and a physically dynamic classroom, you may now be operating in a more stationary environment. What will be the ramifications for your role in the class?

From Instructor to Facilitator?

For those of us who embody an instructor persona – e.g. leading and lecturing – it may be freeing to focus on facilitating and even curating learning, rather than instructing in particular content. For example, rather than recording your own 45-minute lectures or trying to master interactive online lecturing technology, it might be more efficient – and more engaging for your students – to curate videos already available online that cover similar content. Ted Talks, recorded interviews with assigned authors, MIT OpenCourse videos all offer a way to get content to your students without having to lecture to them on Zoom or pre-record a lecture. You can then ask students to write summaries or reflections on those materials, respond to each other on the Canvas discussion page, and/or host Zoom conversations and Q&A sessions about those materials.

From Facilitator to Instructor?

On the other hand, many of us are accustomed to a facilitator persona: ‘leading from behind,’ ‘stirring the pot’ of a student-led conversation, or nudging forward team-based learning. Faculty who embrace a ‘facilitator’ persona often rely on students to co-create knowledge and generate content in group conversations or problem-solving activities. But in the current context, our students may not be able to meet these high expectations. If courses move online, students will potentially be in different time zones, and may not be able to meet and collaborate in teams the same way they do when living on campus. If you are in a socially distanced classroom, the presence of masks and inability to move around the room may interfere with your traditional methods of galvanising student-led learning and active participation.

For these reasons, faculty who typically see themselves as facilitators of learning may want to experiment with a more instructor-led model. If there is certain knowledge or content that you feel students absolutely need to command before the end of the semester, you may want to temporarily adopt a ‘content provider’ role for yourself. Instead of relying so heavily on informal classroom conversation or even team-based activities to generate knowledge, you may need to consider more structured peer-review assignments and assign students more concrete deliverables.

Additional Resources:

Online, Everything Has To Be More Explicit

Whether teaching online or distanced in-person, clarity regarding expectations is key.

At Yale-NUS we have established norms – even if unspoken – about how students and professors typically behave during class. But we don’t have clear norms for online courses or distanced classrooms. You will likely feel more confident, as will your students if there are clearly articulated guidelines regarding schedule, expectations, and engagement in these new formats. It may take some trial and error before you figure out what works best, but try to make your expectations clear to students even as they evolve.

For example, Kara Gardner from the Minerva Project (a fully online liberal arts college) offers some practical issues to consider, such as “Do you want the students to use chat to ask questions? How would you like them to indicate that they want to make a contribution to the conversation? Will you ask them to collaborate in small groups? If so, when will you do this, and why? Do you expect them to come prepared? If so, what work will you require, and how will you ask them to show they have completed it? Students will feel reassured if you clearly communicate your expectations.”

This video from “Online Teaching in a Hurry” offers particularly concrete and helpful ideas for how to be clear in expectations and prepare for online discussions/ live facilitation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01WyMTVMI3U&list=PLmDVsIquELJbjbK76F_ZcyQ4-7EizD_cT&index=6

What Online Learners Want (drawn from Rena M. Palloff and Keith Pratt, Lessons from the Virtual Classroom: The Realities of Online Teaching Wiley and Sons, 2013): https://slideplayer.com/slide/7241651/)

  • Clear instructions about course expectations and for completing assignments
  • A high level of instructor interaction
  • A reasonable load in terms of the amount of reading, posting, and emails required
  • Reassurance that the ideas they are posting are on track
  • Prompt, unambiguous feedback
  • An orientation to the technology in use
  • Technical support

Instructional Techniques to Support Online Learners


  • Use only technology that serves the learning objectives
  • Keep it simple
  • Web pages designed with one screen of text and graphics
  • Limited use of audio and video
  • Post guidelines for communication, including netiquette
  • Post clear expectations about posting requirements, timelines, and assignments
  • Include the Internet as a teaching tool and resource

While Teaching:

  • Model good communication
  • Ask open-ended questions to stimulate discussion and encourage reflection
  • Vary course activities to address multiple learning styles, to keep things interesting, and to vary the approach to the topic
  • Include case studies, small group work, jigsaw activities, simulations, and rotated facilitation
  • Follow-up with non-participants

Instructional Techniques to Support Online Learners

  • Judicious use of synchronous media
  • Use of introductions, profiles, and bios
  • Use of ice-beaker activities at the beginning
  • Use of experience-based exercises and activities

Additional Resources on Explicit Expectations and Directions :

Hold Yourself And Students To Reasonable Expectations

Many of us work at Yale-NUS because we value face-to-face, small class instruction, and we find more distant ways of interacting with students unfamiliar and dissatisfying. But here we are, so we will do the best we can without driving ourselves crazy!

One way to get through this is to rely on resources that are already online, rather than trying to record or upload your own content. There are so many resources we can lean on. Here are just a few:

You can also think about how to pivot your learning objectives and content to make it more suitable to the online environment. On this approach, see “Teaching Online in a Hurry: Web Based Curriculum”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7UoksmD1Io&list=PLmDVsIquELJbjbK76F_ZcyQ4-7EizD_cT&index=10

On this topic, listen to Catherine Sanger on the Duck of Minerva Podcast: https://duckofminerva.com/2020/03/duck-podcast-episode-3-catherine-sanger.html

Another way to make this transition manageable for your students and for yourself is to scale back to essentials. We are going to face some technical difficulties and adjustment costs. You are unlikely to cover as much content as you intended. You are unlikely to inculcate all the intellectual skills to the degree you had hoped. Here are some ideas for scaling back.

  • Lower expectations around all learning outcomes (e.g. identify 4 main learning goals and bring them all down by 50%).
  • Jettison most learning outcomes and focus exclusively on one major goal (e.g. focus primarily on 1 of those 4 learning goals for the rest of the term). As Deborah J. Cohan writes “A crisis should not prompt us to add more; it should encourage us to distil things to the essence and to model for students how and what to prioritize.”https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/03/20/beyond-focusing-educational-delivery-models-faculty-should-prioritize-essential
  • Reduce the scope, length, and demands of assignments. Look closely at assignments and ratchet down to essentials. For courses that serve as prerequisites for other modules, what must students know to move forward? For electives, what are the most essential take away lessons or skills? For example, perhaps a research paper could become a research proposal or an annotated bibliography. Perhaps timed in-class exams can become untimed take-home exams. Could closed book become open book assessments?
  • If you practice frequent/ continuous assessment, offer to drop the lowest one or two scores.
  • Cut reading assignments and the number of assessments. Loosen expectations around participation.
  • Cut a few classes and instead assign flexible independent learning activities
  • Extend deadlines to a new, specific date but one that gives students more time.

Some other strategies to keep your workload manageable are found here:

Netiquette And Planning For Things To Go Wrong

Suggested Netiquette Guidelines:

Before class starts and throughout the semester, it will be helpful to explicitly share guidelines for behaviour and interaction. Consider want to communicate to students in advance about how you expect them to behave, and what actions you will take if certain lines are crossed (e.g. nasty comments in the chat, students speaking over each other, etc.). Here are some possible guidelines:

  • Manage Noise and Distraction: Keep your microphone muted unless you are speaking. This will minimise noise and make it easier for everyone to hear. If you can, try to attend class from a quiet space. Please hydrate but do not eat during class.
  • Be Present, Not Just in Attendance: Mute your cell phone and close other applications on your computer (this will also help with connectivity). You wouldn’t pass notes in a classroom – so don’t use the chat or WhatsApp to ‘pass notes’ digitally during the online class. It will undermine your focus, that of your peers, and is disrespectful to the class. Be ready to listen and engage with your peers.
  • Manage Appearance: We are not a collection of screens. We are a learning community. For that reason, we will show our faces during class. You are all encouraged to use virtual backgrounds (pick ones relevant to course themes!) and to attend class online dressed as you would for an in-person class.
  • Be Attentive to Tone: Sometimes we are more hostile or cutting online than we would be in a face-to-face environment. It is ok to be critical or to get angry, and to voice those reactions. At the same time, consider your tone and how you express yourself in ways that get your point across but also maintain health in the learning community. This might mean waiting to express your disagreement after class, or to give people an opportunity to clarify what they meant before assuming the worst.
  • Voice Questions and Concerns: If you have a question, ask it! Chances are, someone else has the same question so your asking is not just an act of self-help, its an act of intellectual generosity to your class. Similarly, if you have a concern or disagreement, share it either during class or after.
  • How do you want students to ask questions/ make comments?
  • Are they encouraged to use the chat function and speak verbally?
  • Alert students to circumstances where you would intervene/ shut down the conversation.

Additional Resources:

Planning for Things to Go Wrong:

Take some time to consider the most likely difficulties, hot moments, or challenges that could surface given the context of your class, your content, how you plan to teach it. This could be Zoombombing. But you might also find that people are a bit more openly confrontational or hostile in an online setting than they would be in class.

  • Technical Disruptions: you lose internet access, your students lose internet access, breakout rooms stop working on a day when you planned a small group activity, the ‘share screen’ function stops working, you are Zoombombed. These things can happen, which is why high stakes assessments should probably not be conducted during synchronous online sessions.
  • Hot Moments/ Conflicts: Are there circumstances where you would ‘turn off’ the class? For example, if so many students were upset that you felt you could not productively continue? Or if two students won’t stop arguing/ dominating the discussion? What if no one is talking, if the students are all unengaged or unprepared for class? These incidents will be less stressful if you have a plan, for example to pause the discussion, mute everyone, and do a two minute individual reflection. Or ask students to pause, turn off their video, and take a 5 minute break to have some water, stretch, and calm down before returning to class.
  • Individual Student Disruption: It may be harder to send subtle signals when teaching online, or from behind a mask. Are there circumstances where you would ‘mute’ a student? Or explicitly tell them to stop talking? Would you remove a student from a Zoom session? If so, communicate those to students in advance and try to repair any damaged relationships that may result.

Social Distancing Violations: For those teaching in classrooms, there may be a day when a student is coughing in class or is not respecting the 1-meter distancing regulations. Practice the language you will use to address this. What will you say if they insist they want to stay? “I’m very sorry Li, but if you are coughing I need you to leave the class now. I’ll send you notes following class.”

Teaching Interactive Seminars Using Zoom

The CTL and EdTech team organised a Zoom workshop for faculty on 5 June 2020 to share some techniques for online instruction. Links to the slides from the workshop can be found here.

Additional Resources on Facilitating Online Discussions

Assessing Student Learning in Online Courses

Moving our courses online is an impetus to think creatively and strategically about how we assess student learning. As with all assessment, you are encouraged to align assessments closely with your intended learning goals and help students develop the skills to do these assessments successfully. Additionally, you are encouraged to be as transparent as possible about what you are assessing, why you are assessing it, and how you will assess it. This information will help students meet your high expectations and have a rich learning experience.

Here are some options to consider specific to online assessment.

Open-Book Exams and Quizzes – You can use Canvas to administer timed or untimed exams online. These can be multiple-choice, short essay, long essay, and a mixture. It can be helpful to implement exams through Canvas because they can be anonymised and you can use TurnitIn to deter plagiarism/ cheating. Here are instructions on how to proctor a Canvas-based exam using Zoom: http://cei.ust.hk/files/public/good_practices_for_conducting_live_proctored_online_exams_using_zoom.pdf

However, it might be more sensible to design Open Book Exams for online courses given the limitations involved in trying to proctor remotely. Here is some guidance and encouragement for writing open-book exams:

Essays and Written Submissions – You can have students upload essays on Canvas using the Assignments function or in more of a blog-post style using the Discussion function. You can use Turnitin function if you are concerned about students copying-off each other or other sources. You can incorporate Peer Review using Canvas as well. Contact Edtech@yale-nus.edu.sg for instructions on setting up Peer Review via Canvas, and the CTL for resources on designing successful peer review exercises.

Oral Exams and Video Presentations – Writing is not the only way to assess student work. Consider integrating oral exams and/or have students do video presentations using Zoom.

Visual Assignments – Assign students to create a visual representation of course material, ranging from the highly interpretive and artistic to a more traditional Prezi or Powerpoint presentation. For example, you could assign them to produce a concept map and either upload it or take a photograph of something they’ve produced using pen and paper. For more on concept map assignments visit: https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/assessment/assesslearning/conceptmaps.html

Assign Online and Social Media Deliverables – If you are moving assignments online, you could have students produce online content as their assignment. This could be a video for YouTube or a Podcast that explains a key course concept for a general audience, an Instagram account that brings together diverse imagery to demonstrate the multi-faceted nature of a course theme, or a library resource page or Wikipedia entry with annotated bibliographic material. For an example of how to use Wikipedia as a powerful learning exercise see: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/ps-political-science-and-politics/article/subversive-potential-of-wikipedia-a-resource-for-diversifying-political-science-content-online/350EFD45B47257C1D03ED3870C3A5FD8

Here are some creative assignments for humanities courses operating on remote instruction: https://eh.bard.edu/covid-19/

Additional Resources for Online-Oriented Assignments:

Consider Audio Feedback – Written feedback can sometimes come across as harsh and unfeeling, which can in turn dampen a student’s receptivity and eagerness to improve in the future. To make online teaching and feedback more personal, you can use Zoom to record audio feedback on students’ work, to complement written feedback.

Participation – If you continue to host synchronous classes online where you expect students to participate verbally as they might in a seminar, you will want to have a way of providing feedback and assessment. Similarly, you may be unfamiliar with how to offer feedback and assessment if you move ‘discussion’ to an online board or blog-type format. Here are some rubrics for online verbal and written discussion participation: https://topr.online.ucf.edu/discussion-rubrics/

Academic Integrity and Online Assessment

On this topic, see Catherine Sanger’s article in Times Higher Ed: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/career/teaching-intelligence-how-take-your-classes-online

Some faculty may be concerned about students taking exams from their own computer, in their own room may be more likely to copy material from the internet or copy each other’s work. There are a few strategies that address this concern.

Design Less Cheat-able Assessments

Avoid easy-to-cheat formats like multiple choice or objective (simple definitional or right or wrong answer) questions. Instead, ask more synthetic, complex, nuanced questions that require critical thinking and creativity. Also, design assignments that are specific to your course material such that answers are unlikely to be found online. E.g., instead of asking a student to “define the Collective Action Problem”, instead ask them to “define and describe a collective action problem specific to the Yale-NUS context.” That isn’t something they are likely to find on Wikipedia! If you must conduct assignments that are relatively easy to cheat on, add a reflective writing component at the end where students have to discuss their process and reflect on the experience of the exam. Together these strategies will make it harder for students to simply copy and paste from online sources or copy each other’s work.

Use the Technology

Use Timed Exams on Canvas, which will force students to work efficiently and reduces the amount of time they can use searching online.

Use TurnitIn, which is already built-into Canvas. Contact Edtech@yale-nus.edu.sg for assistance.

Activate Honour

Have students sign an integrity statement on a cover page using a digital signature or by typing their name in full. You can use language like this:

Academic Integrity is a central tenant of the Yale-NUS College experience. College regulations state that “Yale-NUS College upholds the highest standards of integrity common to the academy. Honesty and academic integrity are foundational to our intellectual mission.” (https://studentlife.yale-nus.edu.sg/policies/academic-integrity/) As such, I expect all students to complete this work with integrity and forgo any of the following: [detail most relevant breaches given your course/ assignment/ discipline such as copying from internet sources, discussing answers with peers, etc.].


Please sign below affirming that your work is your own and has been conducted with full integrity.


___________                          _____________

Signature                                Date


Lean into It

Rather than designing a ‘cheat-proof’ test, instead deliberately design open-book, open-source, or even collaborative assignments. Instead of creating structures that prevent students from using their reading or notes, or that forbid collaboration, build assignments that encourage collaboration. In most post-college endeavours students will not be told to produce work in total isolation. Similarly, we can design assignments that mirror the ‘real world,’ where you have access to books, internet, and colleagues for help.

Let it Go

Sometimes we spend more time thinking about how to minimize cheating than thinking about how to enhance learning. Assessment activities can ideally also be learning activities – opportunities for students to solidify and deepen their knowledge. If assessment design promotes learning, but creates some small opportunity for cheating, sometimes that is unavoidable. So one option is to just let it go. Start from a position of trust in your students and tell them that you hold them in high regard and expect them to act honourably. Then design your assignments focused on learning and worry less on preventing cheating.

Here are some arguments on the futility and danger of remote proctoring tools:

Additional Resources for Online Assessment:

Teaching During Trauma or Crisis

Whether we are teaching online or in-person or both, we are teaching in a time of global pandemic and upheaval. Especially as a highly internationalised institution, these are precarious and unstable times. And for many students, these are traumatic times as they worry about loved ones, their own health, their family’s economic security, and what all this change means for their future. In this situation, it will be important to balance 1) giving ourselves time and space to respond to changing conditions here in Singapore and 2) continuing to provide our core teaching functions. Here are some resources and thoughts on how we can meet this moment in our teaching practices.

#1. Acknowledegment

Just acknowledging that this is a time of difficulty and change can help alleviate unnecessary pressure on your students to act as though everything is fine. Signalling you understand that students are not at 100% can be reassuring, which in turn can help sustain a trusting and productive – if changed – learning environment. Keep track of where your students are from and where they have family. If the virus escalates in their home country, sending them an email simply acknowledging this fact may help.

That said, it might not be helpful to make everything about Covid-19. As academics, it might be tempting to turn everything into a learning moment. But you may also want the class to be a respite from the constant COVID anxiety. One way to strike this balance is to create options in assignments and during office hours for students to discuss the relationship between course material and Covid-19 on a voluntary basis rather than making it mandatory.

If you do want to bring Covid-19 into your teaching, here are some resources:

#2. Adaptation

Being willing to make changes in recognition of students’ emotional drain and lack of focus may make it possible to salvage the most important learning outcomes from your course. This adaptive approach is reflected in “Trauma Informed Teaching.”

Trauma-Informed Teaching:

#3. Action

Empower students by soliciting and offering suggestions on how the class can continue to learn while taking care of themselves. Here is some language I have used during a particularly distressing phase of the pandemic to convey sensitivity while helping students move forward.

As I mentioned in class today and last week, I not only recognise but empathise with the distraction and in some cases anxiety that is riling many of you right now. To that end, I’ve been thinking about how we can adjust some of our expectations for the next few weeks. Here are a few ideas about how we can move forward together. I invite you to share your thoughts with me on what would help you continue to learn and engage with the course during these difficult times.

  1. We can hold ourselves to a more flexible standard. For example, I am going to lower expectations regarding your reading comprehension and attention to detail, in recognition that you might be distracted and exhausted from the collective anxiety and uncertainty. I hope you’ll cut yourselves and your peers similar slack. When we are stressed and stretched, people tend to be quicker to anger and insult. Especially in times like these, I like to remind myself to ‘assume positive intent’ rather than taking offence or assuming the worst motives in others. I hope you will show me that generosity of spirit as well.  
  1. We should continue to learn and we should continue to engage in intellectually interesting issues. Continuing to engage with this material is valuable long-term to be equipped with important knowledge and analytical skills.  But I also want us to keep learning and conversing because it is good for us in the short term to stay mentally active. We probably shouldn’t spend all day every day thinking about covid19. My hope is that this class can be a place for us to use our brains for something intellectually stimulating, but perhaps less emotionally taxing.
  1. We should rethink class-prep, in keeping with the need for flexibility mentioned above. To that end, I am going to try to find videos that cover some of the information contained in the assigned readings because for some of you learning through videos might be easier than learning from reading right now. I am also going to go through the reading assignments and make substantial cuts.
  1. We could rethink class-time too. If you all would like, I can also do a bit more of something I don’t really like to do: lecture. I can do this because you may not be quite as prepared for class as you are typically. So rather than my normal approach of having you generate the most important take-aways from our reading, I can start class with a lecture that will cover some of the important features of the topic/ reading. I know that many of you were just coming into your stride in terms of verbal participation, and I am sad that this situation may derail that somewhat. But do know that I’ve seen your effort and your progress.
  1. We could re-think assessment. I am thinking about ways to ratchet down the burden of assignments without giving up on our most important learning objectives. I will take this situation into account in terms of “participation” assessment. Instead of a final research essay, your end of semester “deliverable” will be an annotated bibliography and brief summary of findings. I’ll give more instructions later in the week that will hopefully make this assignment very clear, and very manageable. If you have any concerns about your ability to do these assignments, or anticipate any future issues, please let me know.
  1. We should keep ourselves and each other healthy: Please continue to self-isolate (including not coming to class) if you have any respiratory symptoms (coughing, sniffles, etc.) and to monitor your temperature. You can notify me if you need to Zoom to class and take the time you need to take care of yourself.   

Please let me know how this all sounds to you and if there are other ideas you have that might help us maintain a productive learning environment and feel a sense of intellectual accomplishment while balancing the need to take care of ourselves during a time of tremendous global hardship.

Prof. Sanger

Additional Resources re: How To Manage Crisis And Trauma In Class

Accessibility And Inclusivity In Remote Teaching

Whether operating in a distanced classroom or online, this is a new environment for us and new for our students. Even the hardest working students may encounter barriers to learning online or in a distanced classroom. For students with a mild hearing impairment, for example, they may not have needed any additional accommodations in a standard classroom, but may struggle to understand discussion when everyone is wearing a mask. Meanwhile, online courses will be very hard for students with weak internet connectivity or a malfunctioning computer they cannot afford to fix. To serve all students well we need to be mindful of these obstacles to learning, to get their input on what is working and what isn’t. Here are some strategies to make your online classes as accessible and inclusive as possible.

#1. Ask: Pre-Course and Mid-Course Anonymous Surveys

Instead of assuming or guessing at what students need to thrive, we can ask about students’ technological access, potential obstacles to learning, and whether course expectations are clear. We can do this via a simple survey before the beginning of the semester that asks about any possible obstacles or requests students have for online or distanced-classroom learning. Additionally, you may want to release the mid-semester feedback exercise earlier than you normally would to get prompt student feedback.

Sample In-Take Survey (to gather information about learning needs, online connectivity, etc.)

Sample Mid-Semester Survey (specifically focused on students experience with online instruction)

#2. Proactively Teach to Different Abilities and Technological Access

  • Present information in multiple formats – visual, audio, text.
  • Share slides/ notes with students in advance of class in case they cannot hear well in a distanced classroom or experience connectivity disruptions. When possible use materials that have been captioned/ have transcripts.
  • Create netiquette expectations that protect students privacy and respect (e.g. encouraging virtual backgrounds, discouraging students from sending messages to each other during class/cyber bullying).
  • Acknowledge and adapt to possible obstacles to student engagement such as different time zones, home environment, internet connectivity.
  • Allow different forms of participation and engagement (verbal, chat, discussion forum, etc.)
  • Use free, open resources that all students can access without payment.
  • Integrate breaks.
  • Create opportunities for 1-1 check-ins with your students, whether in office hours or email correspondence.
  • Encourage students to enter their preferred name and pronoun into Zoom settings or to have that as their virtual background.

For Additional Action Steps See:

#3. Share Important Information Across Different Formats

  • If you record a lecture/ video, also post the transcript so that students who cannot access the video (e.g. those with low connectivity) can still get the main content of the lesson. If you are comfortable posting the video to YouTube there is an automated captioning option but it will probably not be as accurate as your own transcription. See https://designrr.io/closed-captions-on-youtube
  • If you use videos from other sources (e.g. TED Talks, YouTube, Channel News Asia interviews, etc.) try to use materials that have already been captioned.

#4. Keep It Simple

#5. Be Flexible, and Let Students Know You Are Flexible

  • Sometimes we assume students will come to us if they have problems or face obstacles to meeting our expectations. But students may often feel shame or embarrassment or not realize they are entitled to ask for help. So while being flexible about how students access and share knowledge in the class, make sure to tell them and reiterate that they can and should come to you if they need assistance or adjustment.

Additional Resources for Supporting Different Learning Styles, Abilities, and Cultural Contexts in Online Teaching:


Course Design For Online Instruction

It is possible that some degree of online instruction may endure. Given that, here are some resources on deliberately designing courses for online instruction from the bottom up (as opposed to pivoting a course that was originally designed for face-to-face instruction to online delivery). Note: many of these resources are geared towards faculty who are intentionally designing online courses. As such, some of these recommendations and strategies go beyond our current context of adapting to unexpected remote instruction. The CTL is sharing these resources in case they are useful, not to create added pressure.

Technologies For Online Teaching

The Yale-NUS EdTech website has a number of resources and “how-to” guides for teaching online using Canvas, Zoom, and other technologies available here: https://edtech.yale-nus.edu.sg/teaching-and-learning-continuity/

Here are some additional resources:

Teaching with Blogs:

How to Use Videos Effectively:

How to Create a Voice-over PowerPoint:

Creating Engaging Presentations Online:

Student Collaboration Online:

Discipline-Specific Resources

Discipline-Specific Online Learning Repositories:

Arts Studios, Performance, Design Courses Online

Economics Online:

Experiential Learning Online

Environmental/ Geo-Science

Humanities Online: 

Languages Online: 

Science Labs and Remote Simulations Online:

Writing Instruction Online:

Teaching Writing Across Disciplines from University of Vermont: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1bETUv-mk1R3zLhiGCCPw8s9ahGvVUKje4kjHY6CkXgE/edit?pli=1

Catherine Shea Sanger, Director, CTL