Instructional Continuity: First Steps


As you begin planning to teach your courses in an online format for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester, please be aware that faculty and instructors are being asked by the university to submit a Course Plan for Instructional Continuity by Friday, April 3, at 5:00pm (see a PDF preview of this form) for each class that they teach in compliance with SACSCOC and U.S. Department of Education requirements.  The UT deadline to distribute a revised syllabus and inform students of plans for the remainder of the semester is Friday, March 27, at 12:00pm.

The Center for Teaching and Learning and Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services are here to help!  We offer the following advice as you develop your course:

Identify realistic changes.  Remember that we are transitioning for a limited time at the end of a semester.  Start with manageable alterations that you can easily communicate to students and implement using familiar tools.

  • Consult your chair or dean as needed about any specific departmental, school, or college requirements.

  • When making alterations, give special consideration for students in their final semester who intend to graduate in May.

  • If you have Teaching Assistants, share your course plan with them and if, possible, bring them in to the planning process. Consider using the TA Agreement framework to facilitate a shared understanding of new roles and responsibilities and refer them to the Graduate Student Instructor page, and other UT resources, as needed.

  • Evaluate and revise the current syllabus.

    • Update any instructions around participation, assignments/deadlines, and other topics.  

    • Consider postponing high-stakes assessments.

    • Consider written take-home-style exams if assessments must go forward.

    • Find alternatives for activities, materials, or assignments that cannot be moved online.

  • Focus on learning outcomes even if you need to adjust the specific activities that contribute to those outcomes. Keep students moving toward those goals with course completion in mind.

  • Use digital resources instead of physical resources.  Student may no longer have access to any of the physical materials associated with your class.  Which materials or assignments could be adjusted to be more effective in this context, and which might require an alternative format? What do those alternative formats entail?  In your adjustments, avoid creating a workload for students that is greater than what was originally planned. The University Co-op has partnered with their digital course materials provider, VitalSource, and leading publishers, to launch VitalSource Helps, a program that provides free access to ebooks to all University students through May 25th. Students may begin accessing these materials today at

  • If you create course materials, ensure that they are accessible to all students in your course. There are a number of steps faculty can incorporate to ensure their course continues to be accessible to students with disabilities

  • Identify technology and wellness support contacts for you, your TA(s) and your students and include them in your syllabus or course site. What do my students and I need to meet the challenges we are facing? How can my communications and instructional choices help to provide a sense of continuity and compassion for myself and students, even as the next few weeks may be imperfect?  Reference the Toolbox, School/College Support and “UT Resources” sidebar of this page for more information for you, your TA(s) and your students.

  • Upload your revised syllabus to Canvas, and send an announcement to your class notifying them of the changes and pointing them to the updated syllabus.  The UT deadline to distribute a revised syllabus and inform students of plans for the remainder of the semester is Friday, March 27, at 12:00pm.

Adopt teaching strategies that will help you make and communicate adjustments. Transitioning to online teaching at this point in the semester will be more effective if you can keep regular communication channels open with your students. Consider the following questions:    

  • How will you share course materials and guide students through their understanding of these materials?  Use tools that are already very familiar to you and your students when possible.

  • How will you provide students with opportunities to practice and apply their understanding in online formats that are reliable and manageable to grade? 

  • How will you engage students in conversation and reflection on how this new experience is progressing?

Create asynchronous activities.  While synchronous, "live" teaching through videoconferencing tools like Zoom provides students with an opportunity to connect with you in a way that mirrors your class's original schedule, remember that students are facing significant life disruptions and may not have reliable internet access at these times.  Consider employing more asynchronous work with online resources that can be accessed reliably online and can be accomplished over longer durations with opportunities to ask you questions.

Create an expanded communication plan for how you will share updates with students and address their questions. Canvas Announcements is a great way to keep students informed.

  • For large classes, devise a reliable communication plan with TAs or Graders and seek to keep their workloads within balance in these new formats, as graduate students are facing the same disruptions to their own studies and research.  

Reconsider final assessment and projects.  Students are facing disruptions in their living situations and access to resources. A high-stakes exam or group presentations may present barriers to student performance in a new modality. If you proceed with final projects and other high-stakes exams, be thoughtful about how you guide students through project development and exam preparation.  Consider postponing high-stakes assessments and implementing written take-home-style exams if assessments must go forward. Adjust the course grade scheme for final projects or exams as appropriate and make sure to communicate these adjustments to students as early as possible.

Contact online-teaching champions in your department or college for advice on tried-and-true solutions, available support, and opportunities for training.  There is a wealth of information available to you as you prepare for the transition.