Remote Instruction for Spring 2020

Last Updated: March 27, 2020 - 4:53 pm

Northwestern has resources to help faculty and students work remotely. This article contains guidance and resources to help you modify your teaching to work in an online format while achieving your planned learning objectives. It also connects you to tools that allow you to continue facilitating courses via Canvas and other online tools

The University continues to update the Coronavirus/COVID-19 frequently asked questions (FAQ). To access answers related to school-specific questions and resources, teaching remotely, academic issues for faculty, and more, you can review the Academics section of the FAQ. You can also refer to the College and Schools Coronavirus Websites.

Please sign-up for ongoing workshops and training with Teaching and Learning Technologies as well as trainings with the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching. Please refer to the Canvas Learning Center for in-depth information on Canvas.


Remote Instruction for Spring 2020

Review Expectations

As you think through the changes to your courses discussed here, consider the impact that the circumstances may have on students’ ability to meet expectations, including illness, lack of internet connectivity, or needing to care for family members. Also, keep in mind your own planning and preparation needs in adapting to a new way of teaching.

  • Be ready to handle requests for extensions or accommodations equitably.
  • Identify your priorities, such as providing lectures, structuring new opportunities for discussion or group work, and collecting assignments.
  • Prepare for your priorities by following recommendations and best practices for a successful quarter start from the Teaching and Learning Technologies team.
  • Decide which activities are better rescheduled, and which can be done online.
  • Consider which elements of your course can be delivered synchronously and which might be more successful in an asynchronous format. Review a Teaching and Learning Technologies blog post on this topic for guidance.

Familiarize Yourself with Teaching in Canvas

If you teach face-to-face and are not familiar with Canvas, the following resources are an important place to start.


Read the Update on Course Reserves

The Libraries will continue to provide links to electronic content for courses. Scanning of book chapters and capture of video content is temporarily suspended. These services will resume upon the return to campus. Previously digitized content remains available. Read the Libraries blog for more details on updates to course reserves.

Communicate Through Announcements

Post Announcements in Canvas with written or recorded messages for your students. This is the fastest way to communicate with your entire class from within Canvas. Ask students to modify their notification settings to allow copies of Announcements to be forwarded to their email address.


Host Class Virtually through Zoom or BlueJeans

Schedule a virtual meeting through Zoom, which became available on March 9 in Canvas. For more information during the transition from BlueJeans to Zoom, please refer to Zoom information in the Canvas Learning Center. BlueJeans is also available in Canvas and can be used for class meetings. If you do not see BlueJeans listed in your course’s left navigation, follow these steps to make it available.


Set Up a Class Discussion

Setting up a Canvas discussion is an easy way to allow instructors to discuss course content or assignments with students, or for students to share work or ask questions.


Share Course Documents and Information with Files

The Files area in Canvas provides a place for storing all course materials. Add files such as documents, PDFs, slides, or spreadsheets.

Ideally, all material you add to the course will be accessible to all students. Here are some recommendations regarding accessibility: How Do I Make My Course Resources Accessible?


Share Lecture Video and Audio

To record or share large or long lecture videos or screen-share presentations, you have two options:

  • Schedule, host, and record a Zoom or BlueJeans session with or without your students. You can then share the video in your course. Zoom and BlueJeans provide video and audio capture, along with whiteboards for annotation, slides, and screen sharing. Zoom has additional features like breakout rooms and the ability to “raise your hand.”
  • Panopto is available for more complex lecture and screen captures, and it offers robust editing features and the ability to view analytics.
  • For short, simple videos, use the video recorder within the rich content editor in Canvas to record a video or audio message for students. The tool is available in several areas in Canvas and can be used when posting an Announcement.

Allow Students to Submit Assignments Online

Assignments in Canvas allows students to submit assignments online and also permits instructors to grade and provide feedback online. One point to consider when adapting your course is that some students may be depending on their phones as their primary source of internet access. Students can easily submit assignments on a mobile device by using the Canvas Student app. If you have a large class, avoid collecting assignments via email attachment; instead, use Canvas Assignments to collect submissions.


Consider Flexible Exam Options

As the University continues to adapt in response to new and changing realities, consider designing courses with flexible exam options. There are multiple ways to offer exam flexibility to your students. These include:

  • Changing the exam to another kind of assessment, such as an essay.
  • Changing the exam to a series of assessments worth fewer points, such as quizzes and presentations.
    • Use Zoom or BlueJeans to host a virtual session for your students to give their presentations to the class.
  • Offering the exam online. The University offers tools that allow instructors to lock down students’ web browsers so that they cannot leave the exam to look up information, as well as another tool that provides remote proctoring of the exam.


If an instructor chooses to offer an exam online, students with accessibility accommodations may need extra time to complete the exam. Here’s how to add extra time to quizzes and exams in Canvas. For other accommodations questions, contact AccessibleNU.

Get Support

A schedule of ongoing workshops and training with Teaching and Learning Technologies as well as trainings with the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching is available.


Zoom offers 24/7 live support, including national holidays. You will find Support in the upper-right-hand section of your account page or via the blue Help button on the bottom-right-hand side of your screen. We encourage you to bookmark Zoom Support and take advantage of the following support options.

Teaching Remotely

You may sign-up for a 45-minute consultation to get help with moving to remote instruction if you require additional assistance after using all immediately available resources.

School-Specific Support

In some cases, Northwestern schools offer individualized or supplementary support for their faculty and students through their IT organizations. This online teaching and learning support is provided in addition to the resources offered centrally by Northwestern IT and may be most useful for applications and programs that are specific to a given school. Learn more about school-specific support options.

Image Credit: Northwestern University by Jaysin Trevin