Preparing to Go Online: How-To Guide


Instructors must be ready to “take courses online” by April 1, 2020. This advice has been tailored in recognition of the abbreviated timeline, the specific resources currently in common use on our campus, and the workshops and tutorials we have planned. This page is designed to help you think through the initial phase of preparing to go online. Future pages will be more narrowly directed toward implementing your online vision.



I. First Considerations

At this early stage, please recognize that “going online” . . .

  • is a posture or a mindset, not a product.
  • entails a number of options and implementations, large and small. A fully-elaborated online course may be the goal, but the current moment will demand an incremental approach to expanding your capacities gradually before and into the term.
  • will result in a different course. Online environments render many typical in-class experiences difficult. But entirely new possibilities await. Moreover, technology used on campus may be difficult to employ in the remote learning environment in which we must operate.

This general advice for using instructional technologies is worth remembering:

  1. Be clear. Students should know precisely how you will communicate, share resources, receive assignments, and so on.
  2. Be guided by your learning goals. As with any instructional technology, need must dictate application, not the other way around. The availability of an online tool is not sufficient reason to adopt it.
  3. Impact is a function of preparation. Build student capabilities over time. In other words, do not expect the magic to just happen because there is a new online tool.
  4. Keep it simple and think in the short term.

Last and most important, keep the student at the center.

  • Building community in an online environment is frequently cited as the most important task.
  • Assess students’ capabilities and comfort levels. Follow the student lead on which tools work.
  • Create exercises whose main goal is to build student skills.
  • “Scaffold” assignments and incorporate stages for the progress of complex projects. (The TILT framework for transparent assignments can help.)
  • Keep accessibility in mind.
  • Academic integrity is still part of the equation, but you will approach it in new ways.


II. How to Do It: The Basics

As you think about your courses for spring, here is some general advice for all instructors.

  1. Plan to use both synchronous and asynchronous approaches, but probably more asynchronicity. (Click here to find out what that means and why it matters.) We will have students distributed across the U.S.’s time zones and around the world. Large live class meetings online will be a challenge, but not impossible.

  2. Anticipate the unpredictable and organize the course accordingly. Techniques for insulating your course against disruptions of internet service, illness, and different responses to the online environment should include:
    1. dividing your course into distinct and manageable segments. Even distinct, one-week segments make sense.
    2. emphasize frequent, low-stakes papers, quizzes, activities rather than a single, large summative project.
    3. making sure students have access to course resources early and that there is an asynchronous fallback option.
    4. leaning on traditional resource, like the continuity of a textbook, can still work online.

  3. Find friends. Create communities of like-minded instructors teaching similar courses who can share their experiences. Join a listserv in your discipline. Not just many faculty, but many liberal arts college faculty, are doing the same thing.

Ready? OK, let’s hit the links!

There is a surplus of information out there. Below we aim to curate and share the most insightful links that align with the technology we use.

"Going Online in a Hurry: What to Do and Where to Start", Michelle D. Miller (Chronicle)
A high level overview from a leading scholar.

John Dooley, The Big Picture
Sage advice from our colleague. Starts with the big picture and then discusses implmentation strategies.

Building and Sustaining Community (Dartmouth)
An excellent summary of why building community is so important for online courses.

Think About Accessibility for Everything You Do
Many links here, but solid advice on how to design with accessibility in mind.

Association of College and University Educators’ Online Teaching Toolkit
An overview of six key topics for remote instruction.


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III. The Knox Toolkit

First, here is a quick summary of the resources ITS has ready and available:

Follow this link to a summary of tasks and tools for online instruction.

Instructors should expect to use four basic tools:

  1. A learning management platform: Moodle or Google Classroom.

  2. A videoconferencing/video meeting platform: Google Meet or WebEx.

  3. A direct communication tool: Email or Moodle Announcements.

  4. Google Drive and associated applications.

How comfortable are you with these four basic tools?

Here is a quick Checklist of Basic Tasks you want to be able to do from both home and office:

  • Use Google Meet

    • send a Google Meet invitation to others via Google calendar.

    • send a Google Meet invitation via email, Moodle announcement, etc.

  • Scan a document and create a pdf, even if you don’t have a scanner (Adobe Scan app, Scanner Pro app, etc.).

  • Log in to Moodle, upload documents to the course Moodle page, and set up student assignment submission in Moodle.

  • Read, edit, and share files in Google Drive.

  • Create and edit Google Calendar events (you can schedule Meet there).

If you want to delve deeper, take this quiz on your capabilities (Substitute “Moodle” for Canvas and “Google Meet” for Zoom).

Of course, there are many other options available, as discussed in the links below. Please bear in mind that ITS User Services will be overwhelmed with everyone moving online simultaneously. They must limit their support to our existing software. Please use the Submission Portal if you have questions about tools not listed here.

Please remember to keep it simple for students’ sake. Students will be operating remotely and won’t necessarily have access to robust internet or expensive software (like MS Office). As John Dooley says in the link above, be ready to “embrace your Google-ness.” That is a nice way of saying that, if you have been slow to use Google apps before now, time to shift. Google apps allow for robust and comparatively seamless integration of all parts of the online course experience, and students always have access to it. For example, Google Meet creates live closed captioning if used within Chrome or Firefox. Google Drive and Moodle have good video integration. On and on. Pretty powerful stuff.


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IV. Moving toward Implementation

We will have many more resources to help you with specific implementation tasks. These few links should give you an initial glimpse of the range of implementation possibilities.

Four Different Online Course Types (Harvard)
This article does a great job of exploring the online course options. Use this article to outline how you might transition your course to the online environment.

List of Tasks and How to Achieve Them (Kenyon College)
This chart draws a straight line from a particular course task to how one might accomplish it in Moodle.

Tips for Online Discussions (Waterloo).

Four Types of Online Discussions (ACUE).

Thinking about Labs Online (Bowdoin)
Provides an overview of the problem.

A Huge List of STEM-oriented virtual labs and simulations


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This page has depended on enormous contributions from the work of others, including the Small College POD, ACM and GLCA colleagues, and your suggestions. Please use the Submission Portal to keep the suggestions flowing.  


March 15, 2020