Communicating Expectations

What can students expect in your online class environment? How can they show they are participating, and how can they expect to receive feedback? What if they have to be late or can’t join the online session at all? We have compiled some suggestions for how to make sure both you and your students are clear on what to expect from the class. As with all teaching, the clearer you can be about what is expected and why, the more successful you and your students will be.

You may wish to record a short video in Zoom, which you could distribute to your students before your first online course meeting, in which you talk them through any new features or expectations of the course, and encourage them to join a Canvas or Zoom discussion during which time they can test their hardware and software and ask you and/or your TFs purely logistical questions.

In the meantime, consider the following things as you work on this transition:

  1. Revise your syllabus with the information students will need to complete the course remotely. Indicate where the syllabus has changed from its original form, what assignments have been altered, and how students will be expected to complete the work. Which aspects of the course require logging on at a specified time, and which can be completed asynchronously? (This is especially important given that your students may be distributed across many different timezones.) Having a clear idea of the learning objectives for the rest of the term will make it easier for you to figure out how to best make the transition and what parts of the syllabus need to be altered. 
  2. Communicate classroom expectations. It may not always be obvious to students that joining a Zoom meeting is functionally equivalent to walking into a classroom. It’s a good idea to remind your students that the same principles apply to online courses as to on-campus meetings: they should behave professionally, treat others with courtesy and respect, use language thoughtfully, and wear appropriate clothing (and avoid inappropriate surroundings). Ideally they will join class from a suitable, quiet location, with a device that permits full participation in the class activities. They should NOT join a class while driving or riding in a car.
  3. Set participation norms. Participation plays several roles in a course.
    • It is a mechanism for feedback, for you and your students. To make sure students' questions are acknowledged and answered, let them know when and how to ask them. In Zoom, you could guide students to use the chat function or to show a "raised hand"; you can then designate moments throughout the lecture to address those questions with the group, or you could ask a TF to monitor the chat and "raised hands" and correspond with students in the chat as questions come up. You can also create discussion boards on Canvas or a Google Doc, where students can ask and answer each other's questions, as well as receive feedback from instructors. Whatever venues you establish for students to share their questions, be sure to monitor them routinely and respond to students promptly, to help them stay connected to the material and the class as a whole.
    • It is often an important piece of how you assess students and their engagement with your course. Many of the methods listed below may help to gauge student involvement, but given the changing circumstances and disruptions, it is a good time to think through multiple ways in which you might measure participation. For more thoughts on assessing class participation equitably, see our page on Assessing Online Participation.
  4. Give feedback, and provide a mechanism for students to give you feedback.
    • Maintain a two-way channel for communication. Checking in on how things are going in this new remote terrain will help make sure you and your students are on the same page. Let them know how you will be providing feedback on how they are doing, and give them a chance to give you feedback.
    • Plan quick ways to check in on how students are doing. While you might not have given many quizzes in a traditional classroom environment, these kinds of shorter assessments could be helpful in the online environment to gauge how students are keeping up with the material (and make sure they feel incentivized to keep up with it). Utilize the quiz feature in Canvas, or online polling software, such as Poll Everywhere.
    • Utilize classroom assessment techniques, which can be modified for the online environment. At the end of each session, give students a chance to answer a few questions about how things went, responding to a few short prompts such as: what have I learned, what am I confused about, what do I want to learn more about? You could ask them to provide specific feedback on the tools you are using and what support they may need, if anything isn’t working well. You could do this via PollEverywhere or an anonymous Google Form.

Academic Technology for the FAS / HUIT

Your starting place for learning about and accessing many of the technological tools you may need, such as Zoom, Canvas, and related plug-ins.

The Vice Provost for Advances in Learning (VPAL)

VPAL convenes university-wide conversations about teaching and pedagogical research, particularly in the online space.

The Office of Undergraduate Education (OUE)

OUE oversees, and stewards resources devoted to, the undergraduate curriculum at Harvard College..

The Division of Continuing Education (DCE)

DCE offers a mix of in-person, hybrid, and online courses, and their staff are experienced in thinking about multiple ways to achieve your goals through different mediums.

SEAS and the Division of Science

Advice on teaching in the sciences.

The Harvard Libraries

Request help modifying/troubleshooting your research-based assignments.

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Schedule a consultation with the Bok Center's Senior Staff. (Please note that consultations are available only for Faculty and Teaching Fellows in the FAS.)

Faculty can attend our online faculty meet-ups, register for ride-along Zoom help, and share your feedback on remote teaching.

View the schedule and register  |  Request a ride along  |  Share feedback

Teaching Fellows can attend a Zoom workshop designed to help you explore and become more comfortable using Zoom and other remote teaching resources, and request that a Pedagogy Fellow or other teaching consultant attend their section and debrief afterwards.

View the schedule and register  |  Request an observation

The media production staff of the Bok Center's Learning Lab can provide consultations for faculty teaching Harvard College courses using Zoom and other modes of media capture. We can provide suggestions for setting up remote video capture environments in your home or office, and on ways to integrate media into your courses.  Please contact us if you would like to discuss your needs with our staff.

Email the Learning Lab