You are here

This resource is offered to help instructors quickly learn and apply the fundamentals of online teaching and learning in the context of Summer Online Courses at Lehigh.  

The guidance on this page is based on work we have done over the past twenty years helping Lehigh faculty develop online courses. The approaches we offer are recommended by educational research, validated by practice, and and enhanced by innovative approaches developed by Lehigh faculty and CITL staff.

At present, this page is in DRAFT form.

Looking for workshops on Summer Online Teaching?  The Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, LTS staff, and others have put together a workshop series for Lehigh instructors covering topics outlined in this guide. Visit the workshop series website to register for upcoming workshops or to view previous live session recordings.

Read on to learn how to:

  1. Use Course Site as your online learning platform
  2. Design your online course
  3. Communicate with students
  4. Post course materials
  5. Deliver lectures
  6. Interact with students
  7. Assess student learning online
  8. Go live

Need Help?
If at any point in this process, you need technical support or help with the teaching approaches recommended here contact the LTS Help Desk.
610-758-4357 (8-HELP)  |  Text 610-616-5910  |  |  Chat

1. Use Course Site as Your Online Learning Platform

Course Site will be your primary means of communicating with students, delivering content, enabling interaction, creating assessments, and keeping a gradebook. Instructors may link to other tools and sites from within Course Site, but Course Site will be students’ first stop.

Think of Course Site not just as a suite of instructional tools but also as a way for you to visually communicate to students how your course is organized, what they are supposed to do, and when they are supposed to do it.  As you work through this guide, we will advise you on where to place elements within Course Site to make it easy for your students to know where to find course materials, lectures, activities, and assignments.  

First Steps: If you have not already done so, request a Course Site for your course; then create an “Introductions” Discussion Forum in which students can introduce themselves.  When class starts, kick it off with a self introduction and pose specific questions for students to address in their response. We also recommend that you create second discussion form called “Post Here Any Questions You Have about Course Logistics” in which students can pose questions about how the course functions, deadlines for coursework, etc. (Doing this will allow you to address general questions to the full class rather than one-by-one.)

2. Design your Online Course

Let's start with an example of a course that meets live via Zoom on M,T,W, Th 10:00- 11:35 am.

When learning online, students will need guidance on what to do before each Zoom class meeting and what to do after each Zoom class meeting.  

For that reason, we recommend you and your students think of each week as being broken up into five "Course Sessions" according to the something like following schedule:


  • By having 'course sessions' instead of 'class meetings,' you can structure the work you expect students to do, presenting a clear sequence of steps so students know what they are supposed to do and when they are supposed to do it.  
  • This approach optimizes student time on task, gives students flexibility, accommodates varied timezones, work/internship, and other obligations, while also keeping everyone moving through the course together. 
  • This structure also allows you to quickly detect if a student is falling behind or has misunderstood assignments, duedates, etc.
  • If you include the weekends, be sure the weekend sessions overlap with Friday or Monday (some students prefer to work on the weekends, but they should not be required to do so)

The one scheduling constraint all instructors must follow is that synchronous class meetings (e.g., a Zoom session that requires you and all of your students to be online at the same time) must be held during your scheduled class meeting times, unless all students have agreed to a time change.

Once you establish this model or something similar, you can then begin planning the coursework (readings, assignments, assessments, etc.) that will take place within each of these Course Sessions, knowing that students will complete the work within the range of time you have given. this schedule in mind

As an example of what the coursework might look like, consider the following example of Week Two of an online course. As you read, begin imagining how you would modify the specific elements of your course in a way that accommodates your schedule and availability while retaining the core course elements: delivery of content, direct instruction, active learning, and assessment of student learning. (Note: the example starts with Week Two because Lehigh summer sessions often start on a Tuesday, so the second week better represents a typical week.)

As the example above suggests, the key to a successful course is to intentionally structure and communicate the key elements of teaching and learning: course content, direct instruction, opportunities for active learning, formative and summative assessment.

With this structure in mind, you can now begin to build out the specific steps of each course session. As you do so, keep the following design tips in mind:

  • First, keep the major learning outcomes for the course in mind (i.e., what knowledge and skills do you expect students to have gained when the course is over?).
  • With these learning outcomes in mind, determine which assignments, projects, or exams will put your students in a situation where they can demonstrate that they have met these main course objectives.  These are the major assessments for the course.
  • Then, begin determining what specific coursework you will ask students to do that will enable them to acquire the knowledge and develop the abilities that they will need to succeed in the major assessments you just sketched out. 

Instructors in fast-paced summer courses often ask how frequently students should receive feedback on their work. Here are some guidelines: 

(in a 6 wk course)
Forms of Feedback 
office hoursscheduled office hours or office hours by appointmenttwo to four hours per week
  • Students have the opportunity to ask questions of the instructor or TA.
regular coursework and active learninghomework; short quiz; discussion forum posts; student-student discussions; Q&A sessionstwo to four times per week
  • Students should receive feedback either immediately (i.e. during Q&A or through automated quizzes or graded Perusall posts) or within one or two days (on homework, forum posts, or short written work).
  • Ideally, all student writing should get a response; however, that response can be student-to-student for some of this type of work (e.g., in a forum post, in a Perusal annotation, in a Google doc, etc.).
minor assignmentsshort essay, exam, short video, project update once per week
  • Students should receive feedback before they begin work on next assignment, ideally within a week;
  • The best feedback is formative and forward-focused, emphasizing how students can improve.
papers, take-home exams, 'common-hour' exams, final projectstwo or three a semester
  • Feedback should be substantial and, ideally, given within a week.
  • Prioritize feedback on work done earlier in the semester where it can be formative and forward-focused, emphasizing how students can improve.
  • At end of semester, feedback can be more brief and more summative.

You may at this point be wondering how many hours per week students should be expected to work on the class and how many hours per week you as an instructor should plan on dedicating to the class. Here are suggested targets (assumes a 6-week summer session):

Instructional ModelDirect Instruction
(e.g., recorded lecture, instructor commentary, expert guidance, etc.)
Interactive Instruction
(e.g., Q&A sessions, interactive lectures, discussion forums,
office hours, etc.)
Add'l Student Coursework 
(e.g. reading, homework, assignments, etc.)
Add'l Instructor Effort (e.g., planning, feedback,
grading, etc.)
15-18  hours/week2-8 
15-18 hours/week2-8

You have only six weeks--the pace will be fast and many students will need guidance and motivation to keep up with the work. Most instructors have found that they cannot do absolutely everything that they do in a 14-week semester, so you will need to make strategic choices. As you finalize your course design, select the most important topics and the highest-quality activities.  Then, select assignments and assessment that play an important role but do not overwhelm students given a short summer semester.

Note: If you plan ahead, you can prepare the 'direct instruction' lecture videos ahead of time, so that during the six weeks of the summer session, you can dedicate your time to "Interactive Instruction" and the "Add'l Instructor Effort" aspects. 

If you'd like help mapping this into a weekly workflow for yourself, consult these documents:

All these details are important because students learn more and report higher satisfaction with online courses when the instructor's design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes contribute positively to the students' sense of belonging and sense of connection to the subject, to other students, and to their instructor. All this is known as "Teacher Presence": Students want to know you are there, that you care, and that you are being thoughtful and intentional in all aspects of the course.

In short, your course as a whole will be more successful and enjoyable for both you and your students when you

  • are intentional in how you present information,
  • create meaningful and educationally worthwhile experiences,
  • attend to the social and emotional aspects of the students' experience, 
  • give regular formative feedback,
  • establish a schedule, then stick to it and expect students to do the same,
  • create assessments that are challenging but fair,
  • are available, responsive, friendly, and connected.

With all this in mind, let's look at some specific actions you will take and the instructional technologies you will use.

3. Communicate with Students

Consistent, clear, reliable communication from instructors is a crucial element of successful online teaching. Good communication builds course community, creates a sense of presence, and helps students understand that this is a real course with expectations that are fundamentally not much different from a face-to-face course. Bear in mind that online learning will be new for most of your students, too, so they will rely on you to communicate expectations, explain course logistics, and provide updates in a regular, predictable way.

    As a general rule, over-explain everything, especially at the beginning. As you establish a pattern, students will need less guidance on the day-to-day workflow but, in the beginning, you should provide instructions for everything and make explicit things you might normally take for granted in a face-to-face class. Students will appreciate your level of organization because they will be able to put their time and attention into coursework rather than trying to figure out what to do when.

    Always use the Announcement feature in Course Site as your primary tool for course-wide communications. When you post an Announcement, all students enrolled in the class will receive it as an email, after a short delay (or, with the "Advanced" settings, you can send it out immediately). Why use Announcements? Doing so ensures that all students know where to go for information, assignments, and updates, while also making it easy for instructors and students to access a record of past announcements. If you use email instead, you will likely find yourself sending the same email multiple times if students delete or lose track of the emails they have received.

    First Steps: Create a "Getting Started" page at the very top of your Course Site, just Above "Announcements".    [Instructions creating a page in Course Site]
    Include on that page each of the following:

    • A personalized written welcome message and/or a link to a video welcome.
    • A description of your course learning objectives.
    • A description and a visual representation of the course session schedule you will be using, with clear guidance on when coursework will be assigned and when it is due.
    • A description of other expectations you have regarding quality of work, academic integrity, timeliness of work, etc.
    • Consequences for missing class, incomplete work, late work, and academic integrity violations.
    • Any grading rubrics, discussion forum guidelines, or other guidance that helps students know what high-quality work looks like.
    • An outline of all major assignments, together with the percentage each will count toward your final grade.
    • Some call to action: For example, you could have students complete a pre-course readiness questionnaire, take a knowledge survey, complete a short writing assignment, write brief introduction in an "Introductions" discussion forum. The key idea is that they take action of some kind--doing so will help them begin to connect to you, to each other, and to the course.  It will also alert you right away if a student has not gotten started with the course so you can reach out to make sure they know action is expected.

    Then, post your syllabus online, under the Announcements link at the top of your Course Site main page. [Instructions for uploading a document in Course Site]

    Be sure to send students a Course Site Announcement before the first class day to let them know any course materials they need and when they are expected to log in to Course Site to get started with the class .

    4. Post Course Materials

    In an online environment, instructors have multiple ways of sharing course materials with students but the simplest approach is to upload documents or create links in Course Site.

    First Steps: If students are relying on you for access to course documents, readings, etc., prepare now to get those materials into a digital format.

    First Steps: Learn about Perusall and decide whether you would like to use it to organize course readings, create assignments, and promote shared student commentary on the readings.

    First Steps: Upload course materials, content, or add links.

    Deliver Course Lectures 

    Now that you have prepared your course material, it is time to plan for how you will create and deliver lectures.   The best approach will likely be some thoughtful combination of all three of the following options.

    Option 1: Post Your Course Lectures as Written Documents

    The most straightforward, low-tech way to deliver course lecture material is to type out in a document what you would have said during lecture and then post this document in Course Site. Since these notes are meant to be read by students rather than heard during class, compose them so they are clear and easy to understand. Note that this should not be your only method of offering instruction; however, if technology challenges keep you from doing more, you can temporarily fall back on this approach.

    First Steps: Upload your Course Lecture documents or create a 'Page' in your Course Site. If you create a 'Page' in Course Site, type in some draft lecture notes now so you can see how they will appear to students and so you are familiar with how to add, edit, and post content. You can add images to your page. If you often write equations or diagrams on the board during class, one way to replicate this for students is to upload the image into your Course Lecture page together with your commentary. Continue adding lecture material when you are ready to do so. Give your lecture documents descriptive names so your students can easily find the correct lecture when they need to do so.As an alternative to placing your Course Lectures in Course Site, you could create a shared Google folder with your Course Lecture documents as Google Docs. In the folder sharing settings, select "viewable by anyone at Lehigh with the link," then "get sharable link," and add that link in Course Site so students know where to find this shared Google folder.  These Course Lecture documents can be helpful but if they are your only approach, students will likely feel disconnected from you and from the subject so we recommend you also use one or both of the video lecture options.

    Option 2: Pre-Record Video Lectures for Students

    Panopto is a video-creation tool available through Course Site. You can use Panopto to create Video Lectures that present content, explain difficult concepts, etc., just as you would when lecturing in a face-to-face class. Instructors record themselves by using their computer's built-in camera and microphone or a webcam. Recordings can be audio-only, if instructors prefer. Panopto also allows simultaneous capture of the contents of an instructor's screen (i.e., to show lecture slides or other material).

    Getting Started with Panopto: Follow these steps to provision Panopto and record a brief "Introduction" video as a way to learn how to use the system. The introduction need not cover all the content, but should rather be a chance to introduce yourself, let student see that there is a human being orchestrating things in Course Site, and to get to see your personality and your passion for your subject.

    Teaching Tips:

    • Keep recorded lectures brief (ideally 15-25 minutes). If your typical lecture is longer than that, break it into smaller videos of this length. These approaches will help keep students’ attention and will make it easier if, later, you or your students wish to find and reference specific course content. Alternatively, you can ask students to pause the video every 15-20 minutes to complete some task that applies or extends the content of what you just lectured about. Done well, this approach will reinforce learning, increase retention, and create connections between lecture and the homework, essays, projects, etc. you ask students to do later.
    • Separate content-heavy lectures from more personalized or semester-specific communications. That is, create one video that explains a difficult concept, and create a separate video to give feedback to students, provide instructions on an assignment, offer reflections on current events, etc. This approach will make it easier for you to reuse content-specific lecture videos and will also make it easier for students to know where they need to go for which material.
    • Use compelling images to help illustrate ideas and keep attention high.
    • Sample Panopto-produced Video 

    Technical Tips:

    Option 3: Create Live Interactive Lectures

    This approach is best if you want to create teaching sessions where you shift frequently between short lectures and synchronous interactions with students. With this approach, you and your students will need to log in to Course Site during your designated course meeting time, unless all students agree to a change of schedule.

    Getting Started with Zoom: Create a Zoom session with a friend or colleague to become familiar with how to create a session and how to use the software.

    Teaching Tips:

    • Review this CITL document on structuring and planning Interactive Zoom Lectures
    • Zoom is meant to be interactive but it is not a great tool for wide open, free-ranging discussions, so it is not a great idea to pose a question to the class without a structure in place for how that will work.
    • After lecturing for 15-20 minutes, pose a question and have everyone post an answer in the Chat room; then, as the answers come in, you can then ask them to raise a hand, or you can call on someone to say more, or you can use a random number generator to call on students and engage them in a brief one-on-one discussion.
    • In larger classes, it is a good idea to periodically put students into Breakout Room. The key to making Breakout Rooms work is (a) give clear instructions on what they are to do during the time they are in breakout rooms; (b) give clear instructions on what will happen when they return from the Breakout Room (suggestion: assign one person to report on what was discussed, or tell them you will randomly select one person to present the group's answer when they return); and (c) give them a set amount of time (5-20 minutes depending on how complex the problem and how good the groups are at working together).  

    Technical tips:

    Delivering Course Lectures: Selecting the Best Approach

    Some instructors prefer to have everyone online together at the same time and find value in lecturing “live” while simultaneously interacting with students, posing questions, soliciting responses from students, engaging in Socratic dialogue, etc. If that’s you, use Zoom.

    Other instructors prefer having time to write out or record their lectures in advance rather than lecture live, especially if they find it challenging to lecture while also facilitating a live Zoom session. Writing or Pre-recording lectures also has the advantage of creating documents or videos you can repurpose in future classes. If that’s you, go with Lecture documents or Panopto.

    The best approach is likely some intentional combination of all three. For example, you could create some lecture documents, supplement them with well-organized pre-recorded lectures and class activities to be completed within a certain timeframe, and then hold discussion sessions or office hours synchronously using Zoom. This combination approach has the advantage of letting you carefully construct re-usable lectures material while also creating opportunities for the spontaneity and interactivity of a live online discussion. But bear in mind that there is no clock on the wall in an on online class to tell us when the class period is over, so be careful not to assign an excessive amount of coursework.

    5. Interact with students through online course activities

    In addition to sharing course material and delivering lectures, instructors also need to provide feedback to students, pose questions, answer questions, and  create rich opportunities for instructor-student and student-student interaction. The most effective online activities require students to intellectually engage with the course content and to receive formative feedback from their instructors.

    Zoom sessions can be used for discussion sessions or office hours in which instructors pose questions, give immediate feedback on answers, respond to student questions, etc.  For "live" online sessions, please bear in mind that, because you may have students living in a wide range of time zones, students may be logging into your course in the middle of the night.  You may wish to find out which timezone your students are in and, if you see that some are facing this challenge, please make it clear whether or not they are required to be present during your live sessions--or if they are permitted to watch recorded videos later.  Also, if you plan to hold synchronous office hours, please do what you can to do so at times that accommodate the timezones where your students are.

    A lower-tech, lower bandwidth alternative is to use an online discussion forum.

    First Steps: Create a Course Site Discussion Forum for your first Class Session, Week or Unit.

    Teaching Tips for using Course Site Discussion Forum:

    • Discussions work best when instructors post open-ended prompts that direct students to engage with the course material, producing work that the instructor can review. 
    • If you have a large class, create groups to make student discussions more manageable. To enable Group Mode in your Forum, edit your Forum settings. Under "Common Module Settings" change Group Mode to 'visible groups or 'separate groups.'
    • Encourage students to respond to one another. One method to do this is to require each student to post one response to the prompt and at least one post in response to another student.  
    • If you want students to post their own response before seeing other students’ responses, select “Q & A Forum” under Forum Type. To deepen student-student interaction, give students a deadline to post their response, a second deadline to post a response to three classmates, and a third deadline for the original poster to post a follow-up summary that addresses the three responses.
    • You don't need to respond to every student's post but you should be aware of the discussion and give some kind of feedback. For example, you can refer to and respond to select discussion posts in your Lecture. Or you can respond once-a-week to each student's summary post. Or, if you prefer not to post in the discussion forum, you can  assign a separate writing assignment that challenges students to build on the online discussion--then give feedback on that assignment as you would on an essay or paper. 
    • Promote productive discussions by posting discussion forum guidelines and making participation part of the course grade.
    • Students have been provided with this guide: Preparing for Remote Learning: Ten Crucial Steps for Students. You may wish to familiarize yourself with what they are reading, and remind them to consult it as they begin your online class.  
    • If you are teaching a discussion-intensive course, you may find this resource helpful: Discussion-based Online Classes - Sample Weekly Workflow for Instructors and Students.

    Other approaches that foster student-student and faculty-student interaction:

    • Perusall is a powerful tool built into Course Site that lets you combine student readings with student annotation, inquiry, and discussion about course readings. Done well, student discussion take place in the margins of their reading.  Tip: Have each student post one comment or question and reply to one comment or question for each posted reading assignment. Give them tips on what kind of posts you are looking for. Spot check their posts.  At first, give general feedback regarding quality, then after a week or two, give individual feedback to students who are falling short in terms of quality and quantity of posts.
    • Watch a recording of CITL's "Interacting with Students through Online Course Activities" 


    6. Assess Student Learning Online 

    When students cannot take a quiz or an exam in a traditional physical classroom, instructors will need to create online assessments.

    A first stop for faculty:  Promoting Academic Integrity During Remote Learning and Online Assessment Best Practices, including methods for promoting academic integrity during online testing

    Creating quizzes or exams:

    First Steps: Use Course Site Quizzes, a robust quiz feature that allows you to create a variety of different types of quizzes (e.g., multiple choice, essay, etc). 

    Other options:

    Assigning essays and papers

    First Steps: Set up a Course Site Assignment or Google Assignment in Course Site to collect student essays/papers. Both allow you to assign, collect and give feedback on student papers.

    Other options:


    8. Going Live

    Last of the First Steps:

    • After you have prepared for the start of your first online course session, make sure your Course Site is available (sites are not available by default), then send an Announcement telling students the site is ready and giving them instructions on what they are supposed to do next.


    • Announcements are an important way to humanize an online course. Give students regular course-wide feedback about how the class is doing and encourage them to keep up with the work. 
    • Because it is easy for students to lose track of the things they are expected to do, give your Announcement a clear subject heading (e.g., “Coursework for Thursday, 6/4/2020”) and include a quick checklist for students to follow.

    Sample Course Site Announcement:

    Subject: Check-in... and Coursework for Thursday, 6/4/2020

    In general, students did well on the Chapter 3 quiz and everyone had thoughtful contributions to the ongoing Forum discussion. Please check your grades and my feedback. Bring any questions on the reading or the quiz to our Zoom Office Hours on Wednesday at 4pm ET.

    Our next class session is now available in Course Site.  Be sure to complete all of the following before midnight ET, Thursday, 6/4/2020:

    •  Log in for Zoom Office Hours on Wednesday at 4pm EDT.
    •  Read Simon, Chapter 4
    •  Watch Lecture 3
    •  Post a response to the “Week 3 Forum” prompt
    •  Take Quiz 4

    Keep up the good work.

    See you Wednesday,

    Professor _________

    Additional Lehigh Resources


    Prepared by Lehigh's Center for Innovation on Teaching and Learning (Primary author: G. Reihman, posted 4/15/2020, updated 4/22/2020)