Distance/ Online Teaching Techniques

Our College is designed for in-person education. However, we may need to temporarily migrate our teaching online in the event of a natural disaster, infrastructural damage, or widespread disease. In such an event, our Educational Technology team will help provide relevant technical assistance. Below are some considerations and resources regarding pedagogy when transitioning to online teaching.


  •  Re-Think “Class Time” and Consider Asynchronous Formats: Instead of thinking in terms of “class time” vs. “homework” reorganize the course in terms of “learning time.” This may involve adopting a somewhat asynchronous format, meaning you set certain tasks or deliverables for students but they do not necessarily engage with the class in a uniform format at the same time each week. To maintain a sense of community among students and personalize the experience, you will probably want to keep some synchronous ‘class time’ using Zoom, where the whole class gathers with the professor online simultaneously. But this could be every other week, with more asynchronous learning in-between. One option would be to reduce the amount of time reserved for ‘class’ and instead give students 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. You could adopt an almost entirely asynchronous approach, where rather than hosting a 80 minute discussion session every Tuesday and Friday afternoon, students would instead be tasked with uploading a reflective writing submission 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 writing prompts, provide feedback, and stir any online discussions that ensue.


  • Consider a role adjustment from ‘instructor’ to ‘facilitator’: Online teaching puts you at a greater distance from your students. It may be easier to think creatively about how to get them learning if you reframe your role and focus on facilitating learning, rather than instructing in particular content.

For more on this theme see:


  • Widen the range of sources you use. You can record mini-lectures or longer lectures on Zoom but you can also use videos online (e.g. Ted Talks, interviews with assigned authors) instead of your own lectures to complement assigned readings. Then ask students to write reflective responses on those materials, and respond to each other on the Canvas discussion page.



  • Avoid Domination By a Few Voices. This kind of a forum can be easily dominated by a few voices because there is less ability to read body language or and use non-verbal cues to elicit student contributions. You can have students raise their ‘hands’ using the chat page or you may want invite specific voices in to the conversation and invite students by name to contribute.
  • Create and Communicate Expectations re: Microphones. It can get too loud and garbled if everyone has their microphones on simultaneously. It might be better to have students unmute themselves when they have questions only, or to use the hand-raising function and have the professor call on students and then they would unmute themselves.
  • Use the Chat Function which might be a more comfortable option for students to share ideas and ask questions rather than everyone speaking potentially over each other.
  • Use the Whiteboard function. You can even have whiteboards for each breakout room.
  • Small Group Work: During class you can create break-out groups using Zoom. Outside of class-time students can do ‘group work’ via WhatsApp groups or you can create Discussion Groups on Canvas. During “class-time” you can give students prompts to address and have then report out their responses on the Canvas discussion page or by posting videos of their presentations, which peers can then comment on. Give some guidance as to what constitutes good/ productive commentary.
  • Discussion in Writing: Use a GoogleDoc or the Canvas discussion page to host a written discussion. Encourage students to name themselves and respond to each other by name.
  • Student-Led Discussion: Have students prepare provocative questions for a discussion board on Canvas. Have student facilitators responsible for keeping the conversation on track and rigorous.
  • Tips on Facilitating Online Discussions: https://www.purdue.edu/innovativelearning/supporting-instruction/portal/files/8_Discussion_Board_Facilitation.pdf
  • Suggestions for Varied Online Discussion Prompts: https://www.purdue.edu/innovativelearning/supporting-instruction/portal/files/8.1_Varying_your_Discussion_Prompts_as_an_Instructional_Strategy.pdf



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 expectatins, and have a rich learning experience. (See the “Inclusive Grading and Assessment chapter here: https://teaching.yale-nus.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2019/03/Diversity-and-Inclusion-Booklet_02.4.19-Online.pdf)

Here are some options to consider specific to online assessment.

Exams and Quizzes: You can use Canvas to administer timed or untimed exams 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.

  1. 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


  1. 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 Wikipaedia! 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.


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


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


  1. 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.


  1. 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.



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.



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 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.



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.






Catherine Shea Sanger, Interim Director, CTL