Designing for Online

The resource for designing online provided here assumes that while most students have some familiarity with online learning, many have not yet mastered learning online. It recognizes our students’ varied prior experiences, and the affordances and limitations that our technological tools for teaching allow. This resource is aligned with ITDS’s guidance on preparing for online, and with the most frequently cited teaching and learning principles (including evidence-based principles of learning from Robert Gagne, Arthur Chickering & Zelda Gamson, Peralta Online Equity Initiative, and the How Learning Works Applied Neuroscience partnership with Digital Promise).

Consult the drawers for more information.

Understand Your Course Modality

Particularly for faculty new to Montclair, understanding the expectations of each modality – for instructors and students – can be daunting. Instructors are advised to check the details of their modality through NEST and to communicate directly with students before the first meeting to clarify and underscore key components of non-traditional modalities. Students often have ideas about how a hybrid or online course will be conducted that is out of sync with instructor intentions; thus clear communication through a pre-semester survey and a pre-semester announcement is advisable. (For examples you can import and adapt for your course, log into Canvas, click on “Commons” [far left navigation] and search “OFE” and “Survey.”)

Red Hawk Central Registrar: Course Modalities — a review of our major modalities and the expectations for each.

Instructors teaching online and hybrid modalities can find more information on these pages:

Organize Your Course for Online Learners
  • Use Canvas.
  • Organize your Canvas course clearly so that students know what to do. Consider a welcome video that presents an overview of Canvas as well.
    • Use modules that chunk course content into smaller units, organized by learning objective(s), content, time period, or major assessments.
    • Strategically use repetition within modules, enabling students to learn your system for providing instruction and engagement, and for assessing student learning.
    • If you think recorded lectures will be beneficial, learn techniques to record video lectures.
  • Have a clear class communication plan, addressing questions like:
    • Where students should send questions
      • How quickly you will respond to emails; how quickly you will respond to discussion posts
      • How to reach you with any urgent needs or questions
      • What sort of regular communications you will send out to the class (e.g. weekly reviews, announcements, and/or updates)
      • Other plans you have for how you will be available to students and how you will send out regular information and updates
  • Align assessments with course learning objective(s) and module content and activities.
  • For long synchronous classes, consider building in breaks to limit Zoom fatigue. Design a mix of synchronous and asynchronous activities and assignments to break up long classes rather than simply cutting them short.
    • Consider using InSpace as an alternative to Zoom.
  • Have clear deadlines.
  • Rethink time: particularly with asynchronous courses, the distinction between homework and class time is blurry. Consider “time on task” in determining how much work is reasonable.
  • Make a detailed class schedule: Using a spreadsheet or other calendar-based app, schedule your course assignments and day-to-day meeting plan. See Canvas Commons for samples.
  • Assignment clarity tips
      • Include due dates for all activities and assignments.
      • Write clear instructions on how to access, complete, and submit all assignments. Provide a step-by-step list or record a short video demonstrating how they should complete each assignment.
      • Space out assignment due dates to support consistent, manageable pacing.
      • Provide rubrics or other methods for students to understand evaluative criteria.
      • Complete assessment grading within a defined and announced period of time to ensure student awareness of progress.
  • Clarify expectations around presence if teaching synchronously. Distribute the Montclair Zoom Etiquette guidelines, which are also available on Canvas Commons.
Foster Engagement and Active Learning
  • Record a class “Welcome” video and consider video course tutorials (i.e. for completing assignments, logging in, or accessing course technology)
  • Use an opening introductory discussion board so that students can connect with each other and with you. Respond to their posts individually.
  • Vary the ways content is delivered: readings, demonstrations, videos, presentations, podcasts, etc. Active learning = doing.
  • Draw connections between course content and the real world; encourage authentic learning; encourage students to identify applications to their own contexts.
  • Follow content delivery with engagement activities and assignments (doing/applying).
  • Have students practice or apply course content to gain facility, improve skills, and/or achieve learning objectives.
  • Support peer-to-peer communication. Casual but valuable peer-to-peer communication needs to be deliberately supported in online classes. Try:
    • Stable student groups. Set up peer groups of 4-5 students who can share contact information in a Zoom room and then work regularly together to facilitate communication among peers. Having stable student groups work together on low-stakes assignments and engagement activities fosters community and helps keep everyone on track.
    • A discussion board for open chat, questions, and peer-to-peer engagement.
  • Require frequent peer-to-peer interaction in more than one modality.
  • Demonstrate faculty presence by engaging with students in multiple ways (for example, offering
  • Timely feedback, contributing to discussion boards.
  • Include frequent formative assessments for engagement and to enable students to gain an understanding of their own learning progress
  • Emphasize and reward time on task — time plus energy equals learning.
Considerations for Hybrid

Hybrid courses require additional thought. See Planning for Hybrid Courses for tips and considerations.

Check That You Have the Technological Capabilities for Engagement and Motivation of Students
  • Create video lessons, or post professional, carefully curated videos.
  • Run synchronous video conferencing, using break-out rooms, polls, and other tools to enhance engagement, as well as recording and re-posting.
  • Communicate through Canvas Announcements and email.
  • Design online assessments appropriate to the course.
  • Provide discipline-specific engagement — through a disciplinary organization, nonprofit educational associations, and/or publisher-provided online content.
  • Facilitate peer-to-peer interaction and collaboration through such tools as Google Suite collaboration tools, Canvas discussion boards, Wikis, digital whiteboard, Padlet, Perusall,, student-student video conferencing, Groupme, or other group text service.
  • Explain or provide technical support or resources for all tools used.
Support Diverse Learners and Ensure Accessibility
  • Design for accessibility: provide course content and activities in multiple formats, and allow students to demonstrate learning and engagement in multiple formats.
  • Magnify text displayed live (14pt font or larger).
  • Use captions and/or transcripts for all videos.
  • Create PDFs with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) for screen reader access.
  • Check for screen reader accessibility with a tool such as WebAIM.
  • Ensure that course materials are accessible to screen readers and other assistive technologies.
  • Learn more about universal design for learning.
Professionalize Course Design
  • Review Canvas Gradebook set-up to ensure it provides accurate grade-to-date information
  • Provide a consistent, uncomplicated aesthetic design that communicates course information clearly and demonstrates professionalism.
  • Check that links work.
  • Make sure Canvas left navigation items visible to students are populated; remove access to ones that are not.
  • Publish modules, assignments, and assessments in a timely fashion
  • Review the “student view” of each section of your Canvas course.

Resources and references

For more support on design and teaching online, we suggest:

For more information or help, please email the Office for Faculty Excellence or make an appointment with a consultant.

[last updated] CK

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