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

Final exams and projects

  • The Spring Final Exam Schedule on Cornell’s website has not been updated to the new dates. Rather, you need to add seven calendar days to the listed date for your exam, and I suggest prominently posting the correct date.
  • It is important to try to stay with the assigned exam date unless there are truly compelling reasons otherwise. Students have multiple classes and the exam schedule’s goal of minimizing conflicts between courses remains important.
  • Students remain anxious about unfamiliar online exams which can generate significant stress; overlapping exams can make this bad situation worse. I would ask you to be even more flexible than usual with students who approach you looking for accommodations to exams schedules.
  • Remember those students who are in unusual time zones, even though the numbers are small. The 24-hour window for taking the exam is critical.
  • Continue to think about the tradeoff between time flexibility (giving up to 24 hours to complete an exam) with the challenge of students that will over commit time to the exam.


  • Students can drop courses through the end of classes without a W, and will be able to drop classes with a W through the end of finals. They can also change from letter grades to S/U (and vice-versa) through end of classes, and can petition to do so as well through the end of finals.
  • Because of the late date for course enrollment changes, students may be looking for early indications of their grades in the course.
  • With the challenges of on-line instruction and, in many cases, new forms of assessment, students may be less aware of their actual performance in the course and may approach you to understand their final grades (more than normal).

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:

Reminders Based on Student Feedback

  • Class duration: While we are in a virtual mode, class is still supposed to be only 50 (or 75) minutes long. Maybe we run a bit long as they don’t need to physically move to another class, but it is probably prudent to set an alarm so you know when you start going overtime. Going substantially over is unfair to students and fellow instructors.
  • Don’t try to complete the entire syllabus: There are numerous comments that faculty are trying to cover everything in these last weeks. Recognize that many are really struggling and it is likely more valuable to ensure effective assimilation of a subset of the remaining content.
  • Recognize time differences: Encouraging class participation is important and giving credit for attendance is a useful mechanism. There should, however, also be a mechanism for students with conflicts (8:40 a.m. may be 5:40 a.m. for them) to be able to benefit from participation points. Required participation is really not appropriate given the various challenges faced by students in this environment.
  • Quantitative Assessment: We continue to look at assessment methodologies. Here are a set of slides that provide some ideas and guidance as you continue to evolve your plans. Faculty have generally moved to multiple lower-stake assessments; but be careful not to overload students since everyone else is doing the same.
  • Student Survey: We sent a survey to students and there were also roughly 1,000 open-ended comments that we are currently curating; I will summarize those in another message. Some of the interesting results:
    • While most students are adapting well, 14% continue to see significant challenges.
    • They recognize and appreciate your, and your colleagues’, efforts.
    • Internet access remains a concern for 1 out of 8.
    • 30% of the students are still in the Ithaca area (may include some graduate students).
    • They miss both the campus environment and their friends/project teams.
    • They are concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on the nation and world, how they will succeed in classes, and what they are going to do this summer.
    • Binge watching Netflix remains the favored escape.