You are designing an online learning environment for your students. They are your audience, so you are writing to them. The good news is that you already know them. You are not meeting them for the first time online, which means you have established a teaching presence they already know and trust.



We feel anxious, but so do our students. Many of them will wake up on March 23 and start taking their four or five f2f courses online, and this will create chaos in their already busy lives. The increase in their cognitive load will be considerable, so simplify and streamline your online course delivery so they don’t struggle to find what you want them to learn.


Ask your students to be up front about the technology they have at home before you get too far along in designing your online weeks. This is especially important if you want to hold class-size synchronous sessions that place greater demand on wifi connectivity.

There are various ways to poll students to make it easier to gather this information. If you are already using Blackboard, you can create a survey. You can also use the free version of Survey Monkey or this survey a faculty member posted to Twitter to get a sense of her students’ preparedness.

Make clear to students the technology they will need, to include whether they need an up-to-date operating system on their computer that can run virtual meeting software. If you want to use virtual meetings, will students need speakers, microphone, and a camera on their computer? Find out if they do. Remind students to use only browsers compliant with Blackboard.


Nothing helps reduce student anxiety about online learning than communicating with them regularly. The Announcement tool in Blackboard is a great way to focus student learning for the week’s work and remind them of due dates, plus it will send the announcement to students as an email to their Masonlive account.

Don’t overdo it, though. One to two announcements per week is enough; more than that, and students will stop reading them.

Here is a sample announcement/email letting students know how the course will continue. Be honest and tell students some  transitions will feel bumpy. Be transparent and positive as you engage students in a different medium.


Put due dates on everything so that students have ready reminders, including the folders/modules you create. This helps you as much as it helps them.


One of the primary ways in which you engage with your students online is through feedback. Students check the “My Grades” feature more than any other tool in Blackboard.

For composition instructors with heavy teaching loads, however, the prospect of “more feedback” is daunting. You can, however, plan how and when you will provide feedback when you design your content. Rubrics, summary discussion topic comments, announcements, and other global forms of feedback are strategies that help instructors stay engaged with their students and provide them with a sense of how well they are learning.

Take the time to decide how to provide feedback. For some activities, a brief summary of how the class did overall might be helpful. In this case, creating a discussion thread and pointing students to it via an announcement might be the best option. For other activities, individual feedback to each student might be appropriate, but we should not design all activities with this type of intensive feedback in mind. Remember that feedback should explicitly move students towards the next concept or assignment. Focusing on how the student can make progress will make feedback shorter and more focused.

For a useful overview of feedback strategies, go HERE.


Students will be overwhelmed by having all of their courses online, so be clear and firm about deadlines to avoid having your course become chaotic. Use the 11:59 pm EST deadline, if you can, and include deadlines in the work you assign. If you are not already using crisis pass days, now may be the time to implement them.

If possible, mirror the submission tempo you used for your f2f course in terms of due dates. Consistency is key here.


Mason values inclusivity, and that includes making accommodations for students with disabilities. Students who are deaf or vision-impaired need content they can access. You should also explore Mason’s excellent Assistive Technologies Initiative web resources if you need to know how to make your content accessible.