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Increasing Access During Times of Disruption: Instructor Strategies

By Sreyasi Biswas, Patrick Kelly, Brenda McDermott, Roxanne Ross, Johanne Tottle and Alysia Wright

Teaching and learning during a pandemic are complex, with a high degree of uncertainty that may impact everyone at one point during the semester, including instructors, instructional staff, graduate assistants (teaching) and students. As we navigate and learn together in this difficult environment, we remind ourselves to continue to demonstrate kindness, respect and compassion for each other. We anticipate that students may experience unexpected challenges during the semester that impact their learning and ability to engage in course learning activities and assessments. It is also possible that you or members of your teaching team may also face temporary disruptions to your teaching activities. In times of these unique and unforeseen circumstances, it is critical to support students in accessing learning materials and assessments. 

We recommend that teaching teams (including course instructors, graduate teaching assistants and instructional support staff) engage in conversations around how to ensure a healthy, safe and inclusive learning environment with students throughout the semester. Below are some strategies that can help you adapt your course content in ways that maintain accessibility during times of disruption.

    Instructional strategies

    Intentionally identifying where in your courses you can prepare ahead of time can help with mitigating disruptions to both student learning and instruction during the semester. Although disruptions can be unpredictable, the following instructional strategies can help you to think ahead in case you and your students are faced with disruptions.


    • Use the D2L email and the News tools to broadcast course-wide updates.
    • Use consistent communication tools and strategies that can be done in both face-to-face and online environments, such as weekly emails or D2L news item posts. 
    • Create a schedule or plan for posting course content to D2L regularly so that students have access to course materials as needed. When creating and posting course content consider the following:
      • Create comprehensive presentations that are self-explanatory and link directly to additional content as needed.
      • Include in-class activities and instructions within presentations (e.g. PowerPoint) so remote students can engage in the activities on their own time.
      • Ensure remote students have access to in-class content such as videos, data sets, websites and readings.
      • Post a summary of each class with highlights, links to additional content, key learnings and next steps.

    See: Communication Tools

    See: Maintaining Communication With Students


    • Review course learning outcomes and assessments to identify essential content and areas of focus.
    • Focus on the task, not the content, and what students will be able to accomplish by the end of the activity or course.
    • Consider deadlines and expectations for student engagement, such as which content and assessments could be dropped or modified in the event of a change to the teaching modality.


    • Identify which learning content, activities and assessments require technology and how changing the learning environment will impact the use of this technology.
    • Set up Zoom meetings for your synchronous classes so that students can attend the session remotely.

    See: Zoom Resources on eLearn


    • Identify opportunities to promote student-to-student interaction through course content and learning activities.
    • Use collaborative note-taking and create study groups in D2L so that students can connect with each other and review course materials from sessions that they may have missed.

    See: Learning with Others: Study Group Strategies

    The following table provides examples of common assessments that could be adapted for use in either a face-to-face or online context, depending on your needs.

    See: Consider using alternative forms of assessment

    1. Quizzes and tests

      In-class: Short answer questions that require critical thinking or higher-order skills.

      Online: Open-book or take-home assessments which involve more conceptual or applied questions that are not easily found in a textbook. 

    2. Presentations

      In-class: Oral presentations are created in a visual format while the students narrate their topic.

      Online: Presentations are created in an infographic format, video recording or PowerPoint, and are uploaded online. 

    3. Group project

      In-class: Students role-play or perform a simulation in front of the class.

      Online: Students submit a group video narrating the topic.

    4. Non-traditional paper or project

      In-class: Students complete research, gather credible evidence and debate each side of a topic.

      Online: Students compile some of their best work from the semester into a digital portfolio and include a critical reflection.

    How to transition your course online

    There may be situations where an immediate change in course modality is needed to maintain teaching and learning (e.g. a course instructor teaching an in-person course is required to self-isolate). These scenarios may include the instructor being absent for a day to teaching the course remotely for its entire duration. 

    When adapting courses for on-line delivery, there are two key factors to consider:

    1. How long will your class be online?

    2. Which course materials, activities, and assessments need to be adapted for online delivery?

    I need to move my entire course online right away


    • Focus on D2L to share your material with students and to allow them to submit assignments and write quizzes.
    • Use Zoom to hold your lectures.

    See: Leveraging technology to support student learning experiences 

    I have some content and activities online and in-person

    • Focus on D2L as the core place students access your course.
    • Consider Yuja to host mini-lectures and other types of videos to give students more flexibility.
    • Consider Zoom to provide more interactive sessions.  

    My course is online. How can I enhance the experience?

    • Focus on D2L as the core place where your students access your course and find community.
    • Use TopHat and other third-party tools to allow students to engage with material in different and authentic ways. 
    • Use Yuja to supplement student learning with videos and Zoom to provide synchronous times for students to interact. 

    These resources have been curated from the Adaptable Course Design Module. They are also based on the lived experiences that students and instructors have shared through the following campus resources:

    Related content 

    Increasing Access During Times of Disruption: Supporting Students During Absences 


    Increasing Access During Times of Disruption: Working With Graduate Assistants (Teaching)