Guidance and resources for online course delivery

The shift to virtual instruction will be a significant transition for many students and faculty, and Cornell is committed to supporting our community throughout this process.

Center for Teaching Innovation Resources

The provost's office and the dean of the faculty have been actively engaged with college and school deans over the past several weeks to prepare for the shift to virtual instruction with minimal disruption. The Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI) has assembled a comprehensive set of resources to assist faculty. CTI and Cornell Information Technology (CIT) are also preparing resources to assist faculty and students in connecting to Zoom and other remote access technologies.

Cornell Engineering Resources

For Cornell Engineering faculty, including those with limited experience in online interactions, the college is developing internal training and support to complement the resources in CTI. We are developing training around online tools for faculty, and equally important, your TA, and scheduling resources for lecture capture and virtual classrooms.

Recorded Webinars:

Quick Start Resources:

The following page will be updated with Quick Start information for Remote Instruction: Remote Teaching Resources

The following information is courtesy of Mike Thompson, associate dean for undergraduate programs:

Announcements and Updates

  • Help-line for support with virtual instruction: Requests related to hardware, software or pedagogy around virtual teaching can be directed to the mailbox. These requests will be routed to the best resource to help you.
  • Want a Zoom moderator? Zoom effectiveness can be tremendously improved with a TA acting as a moderator – monitoring the Chat window, watching for students raising hands, coordinating breakout rooms, etc. If you do not have a TA and would like someone to serve as this moderator, send a request to the mailbox. We will try to accommodate requests using available staff and/or work-study students. While they are unlikely to be subject matter experts, we will provide training on Zoom functionality and moderator functions.
  • MTEI Virtual Teaching Tips Page: Kathy and her group have opened a page at to collect teaching tips and cheat sheets.  This page will be linked from the College’s Coronavirus page as well.
  • FERPA and the virtual world: A tip-sheet on FERPA and the various tools for on-line instruction (Canvas, Zoom, YouTube) is being reviewed by counsel and I hope to provide it tomorrow.
  • Impact of S/U on course and team dynamics: As you think about assessment, be aware of potential impacts from the S/U policy and the resultant “asymmetric” effort by students. This may be particularly challenging for teams with varying commitment and engagement.
  • Test your video upload strategy: Talking about asymmetry, most home internet connections are extremely asymmetric with high download rates (50-100 Mbps) but very slow upload rates (1-2 Mbps). Even a compressed 1-hr lecture (300 MB) likely requires half an hour to upload (not a good feature for those of us with a just-in-time teaching habits).
  • Zoom default changes: If you have not heard about “Zoom bombing,” I suggest Googling it. To counter this, Zoom defaults seem to have shifted to “don’t allow screen sharing.” Be aware and prepared to override this as necessary.
  • Academic Integrity in the virtual environment: Charlie van Loan spearheaded an effort to develop guidelines and expectations for students and faculty around academic integrity (AI) issues. A final version is close to completion and will be posted when available.
  • Contacting students in China: China remains a concern for remote instruction. Continue to use Canvas for notifications and be sensitive to network restrictions that may come and go.
  • Exams and Assessments: Haven’t forgotten about this. I will provide more on everything from timed exams (with 24-hour window of opportunity) to virtual poster sessions soon.
  • Emotional impacts on students: With the number of cases in NYC, you can expect most students will know someone that has contracted the virus, many will know someone hospitalized, and some have felt the impact within their close community. Many others are in families that are economically impacted through layoffs, and many never expected to be living at home again, and are now dealing with changed expectations. Be sensitive to the impact this crisis is having as you structure and work through your course.
  • Faculty emotional health: Don’t forget to also take care of yourself. Expect that your teaching will continuously evolve and improve over the next few weeks. Students are not expecting immediate perfection and will be growing with us in this brave new world. You and they all need to understand and accept that there will be glitches on your part and on theirs.
  • Teaching backup plans: Not a big issue, but it’s probably worth thinking about your backup plan in the event you fall ill. CS has implemented a “buddy system”; other alternatives might include a colleague, your TA, or even a very strong graduate student.

Planning Your Virtual Course 

College mandates on course delivery: The College is leaving most decisions regarding course delivery to individual faculty and departments, who can better evaluate needs and capabilities. The college has only 3 absolutes:

  • All content delivery must be recorded and made available to students; this is especially critical if you are planning to be primarily synchronous (highly discouraged).
  • You must have some substantial and intentional interaction with students. Recording lectures, posting homework assignments, and sitting back and relaxing is not an acceptable option.
  • You must have some structure in the course to support students with limited internet access at home; only in the most extreme cases can an Incomplete (INC) be considered.

Unless there are compelling reasons, we also ask that you use your standard meeting time, augmented by additional times as necessary to address time-zone challenges. Expect to write two short paragraphs describing how you will handle your course documentation.

Suggestions on Course Content and Interactions

Our new education model is being referred to as “virtual instruction” intentionally to distinguish it from true on-line instruction. Developing a course for effective on-line instruction is extremely challenging and a time intensive activity, typically requiring a year of full-time effort and another year to refine. This is what eCornell is good at managing, but not what we need to do now. Instead, accept that we are doing the best we can within the time and technology limits.

Key challenges:

  • Maintaining intellectual and emotional connections: Anecdotal evidence from our peers suggests that student involvement will be strong when classes first resume, but will fade very quickly if connections are not made.  It is absolutely critical that you work to maintain these connections at the student to faculty, student to student, and student to Cornell level.  Content is easy… this will be hard.
  • Managing students on the edge:  These include students limited by time zones, limited computer or internet access, and study environments.  Intentionally designing materials to address these limitations up front will reduce your time needed to mitigate them individually.

My recommendations:

  • Asynchronous delivery of lectures unless you already have a robust and effective active learning strategy in place:
    • Panopto: Panopto is designed for development of lectures with a wide range of capture capabilities. You can include low-tech to high-tech elements to encourage and monitor viewing. These can range from quizzes in Canvas (enhanced assessments) to simple informational tidbits that can be queried during class time (my dog is a German Shepherd).
    • Chunk lectures: You may want to go with 50 or 75 minute lectures, but think out of the box and go for times appropriate to the topics. If lectures get long, specifically encourage breaks at appropriate points. Students do not need to listen to it all at once.
  • Synchronous delivery of lectures only with active learning breaks and student involvement:
    • Zoom: Zoom is likely the best option. But it will be critical to use multiple engagements during the lecture (iClicker’s, break-out rooms, breaks for discussion) if you want to keep students engaged. Otherwise, you might as well just record lectures if students will ultimately choose to listen to you at 1.5x speed anyway.
  • Use class time for active engagement:
    • Initially, you may only be able to do little more than expound on critical components of the lecture and ask pointed questions. But you can easily expand to include short assignments done in break-out rooms with follow up curating of student answers.
    • Have your TA act as a moderator during sessions to monitor chat and student hands. Chat, in particular, can be extremely powerful for anonymous questions that are curated and organized for answers.
    • Consider a parallel time (maybe 6 hours time shifted) for a second session to catch students unable to meet at the normal time.
    • Even if not all your students are engaged, those that do participate will definitely remain connected to one another.
  • Monitor student engagement:
    • Use some intentional strategy to monitor the student participation in each component of the course. There are analytics in Canvas around viewing of materials. Simple clicker quizes will show timing of student involvement.
    • While I would normally discourage “attendance” based components to grading, I think it can be very effectively used in these circumstances to encourage engagement. Just be sensitive to students who may not be able to attend at lecture time (on-line quiz alternatives for instance).
  • Humanize yourself and your students
    • Devote some of the very limited interaction time to humanize yourself, and to acknowledge the challenges some of your students are facing.  While it doesn’t really fall within “engineering content,” students often express a desire to understand and acknowledge you as a person. 

A longer document from Kathy Dimiduk (MTEI) on other options and ideas is available on the MTEI webpage:

Key Considerations

  • Undergraduates are no longer allowed to engage in activities on campus. This makes some lab/project/paid work untenable. However, if the existing projects are, or can be, structured to permit remote work from home, then it is a win-win. Students continue to have the experience and we continue to see our work (or class) progress. Be creative!
  • Expect everyone to be overloaded and most to be working from home: Phone and in person visits are now probably the least effective communication paths. Use e-mail and suggest ZOOM discussions as necessary.
  • Do not imagine that you will be able to compress the remainder of the semester into the weeks after spring break. We are losing roughly 2 out of 6 weeks. Prioritize the elements remaining in your syllabus which are most critical to the success of your students. 35% of the remainder of the course is going to be left on the cutting room floor.
  • Send an e-mail to your class letting them know that you are working on viable plans for course continuity, they should expect to hear from you shortly, and that nothing will be due before April 6. I would refrain from any further specifics until you are certain of the format, structure, and timing.
  • Skip thinking about assessment (tests) for now. I am having my team explore options and best practices for assessment in distance learning. We will get back to you with resources before you face that question.
  • The enormous impact it is taking on our students’ mental state, and the stress it is creating; this is even more severe for our seniors who face a real potential for cancelled graduation ceremonies. I ask you to consider some significant “considerations" during the next few weeks to recognize and mitigate these challenges. As a reminder, information about counseling and support services can be found on the university's coronavirus website.
  • Some university decisions regarding the coronavirus were announced on a prelim day; if you had a prelim on that day, the students were almost certainly not completely focused on the exam. Consider reducing the weighting, give students an option for extra credit, or completely remove it from grading.
  • Express verbally that you understand and empathize with the challenges they are facing. It always helps to be show yourself as the warm human being you are (outside the classroom).