As classes are moved to remote and asynchronous formats, supporting student success in these formats is vital, including addressing equity in access to technology. Those from vulnerable populations are most often those impacted by a major crisis. Knowing that you are likely feeling tremendous anxiety around “getting it right,” we’ve compiled a few practical suggestions for employing supportive practices in your remote courses. Of course, this is not an exhaustive resource, but rather a starting place.

This resource is focused on ways you can support your students, but we know that you are also likely facing additional stressors. Please reach out for support navigating your teaching

5 Things You Can Do Right Now

Have a COVID-19 statement in your syllabus that acknowledges the current challenges, resources that are available to students, and how you’ll be approaching the term. Here’s an example to get started with:

I want to acknowledge that we’re operating in unusual circumstances this term. The current COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all of us in various ways, both big and small. PSU is working to keep the community informed, and you are not alone. I’ve adjusted our course plans to accommodate remote teaching and I anticipate we may have to make additional changes as the term progresses and we learn what is working and what is not working for our course community. Please reach out if you have questions or concerns.

Use the first week of class to build community and test out technology with your students. Survey your students about their technology access and experience. Consider their responses as you plan your course. Share your course goals with students and make clear how assignments help to meet those goals.

Send a welcome message to your class that outlines where you’ll be housing the course (e.g. D2L, email, Google docs, etc.) and any information about course meetings, such as Zoom links and getting started help.

Be flexible about due dates and time limits on exams.

Remember less is more – especially right now. We’re all getting a lot of new information daily, and it might be a good time to consider paring down extraneous course content or requirements.

Additional Considerations

  • It may help to encourage a discussion of students’ experiences in the current situation while being mindful of not asking students to self-disclose information they may not be ready to share with you or classmates, 
  • Particularly during uncertain and highly stressful circumstances, some students may be more at risk for experiencing marginalization connected to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, or region/country of origin.
  • Students can complete an anonymous poll about their questions or concerns (or email you privately, if an individual response is needed). Options include anonymous google forms, D2L discussions, and survey tools. Find out whether students feel they are making progress, if they are having difficulties with the course, and if they have specific suggestions for addressing any challenges they identify. 
  • Create clear expectations for the quarter, and address any questions regarding their participation in course activities. For example, some students who previously relied on PSU computer labs or public libraries may wonder how to address access to technology. It may be helpful to know that the PSU library has a limited number of devices available for mail-order check out. Several internet service providers have announced free options for students affected by COVID-19. (See details for Comcast, Charter.)
  • Consider involving students in potential solutions for any challenges that might impede course participation.  

Particularly during uncertain and highly stressful circumstances, some students may be more at risk for experiencing marginalization connected to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, or region/country of origin.  

  • Communicate specifically in your syllabus, on D2L and/or first meeting about the technologies that will be used in the course, and what is needed to access those (i.e., email, D2L forums, preferred document format for assignment submission, web conferencing requiring audio or video, etc).
  • Share OIT’s Student Guide to Learning Remotely.
  • Let students know you are willing to work with them on solutions for technology access.  
  • Build flexibility into the course so that technology alternatives are already available.
  • Anticipate different needs for web conferencing.  If you plan to use live web conferencing, provide alternatives for student participation. 
    • For students in live sessions, ensure that those who are not comfortable with video participation are familiar with how to disable their video feed and participate via audio or chat.
    • Provide alternatives for students who cannot access or may need to miss a live session, such as submitting a reading summary.  
    • We recommend holding optional Zoom sessions, and providing multiple other ways for students to reach out.  
    • Be sure students know how to reach you via email, how to leave voice messages for you, and the days/times you plan to hold synchronous (Zoom, Hangouts or Phone) office hours, if applicable.  

Wherever possible, building flexibility into your course can provide students the pathways to address challenges that may arise.  There are three main considerations when thinking about flexibility:

  • Course design flexibility.  If students or their family members become ill, are responding to outside obligations, or are struggling with no or lower bandwidth technology, is their success in the course impacted by only one or two assignments or activities? Assess the syllabus for appropriate ways that flexibility can be offered, given the framework of your class: multiple options for demonstrating knowledge of a concept or skill, some deadline flexibility, option of re-trying a quiz, student self-assessment, etc. Consider beginning the course with as many flexible due dates as possible to alleviate unnecessary stress for students.
  • Participation flexibility.  A flexible approach to participation is one that helps students be present with instructors and students in the remote environment, while providing opportunities for self-paced learning and asynchronous, as well as synchronous participation. For example: Can asynchronous forums effectively further discussion?  Would self-paced work with occasional peer/instructor check-ins will keep students on track? Can you record some presentations that students can watch on their own time?
  • Technology flexibility.   Assume that students will have different levels of access to technology – preparing flexible technology alternatives can help this. For example, students might have the option of posting to an asynchronous discussion forum or submitting reading reactions via email. Screencasting allows students to hear your voice commenting on screen material without requiring as much bandwidth. Setting alternatives up in advance avoids potential barriers for students whose access to technology can limit full participation.


This article was last updated on Nov 12, 2020 @ 3:38 pm.

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