FAQs about Preparing to Teach

Course Design

Do students prefer synchronous or asynchronous instruction?

Asynchronous classroom instructional strategies promote significantly higher cognitive student learning outcomes than non-asynchronous instructional strategies (Cheng et al., 2019). The asynchronous classroom approach results in significant improvements in student learning compared with traditional teaching methods and more respondents reported they preferred asynchronous to traditional classrooms (Hew & Lo, 2018). The asynchronous approach was more effective when instructors used quizzes at the start of each in-class synchronous session (2018).

Higher education students can be differentiated based on their preferences for an asynchronous flipped classroom: those who embrace an asynchronous classroom environment and those who especially do not endorse the pre-learning aspects (McNally, et al., 2017).

Students may have mixed, polarized feelings about asynchronous flipped instruction. More motivated and academically well-prepared students seem to be more receptive to asynchronous flipped instruction and tend to perceive the class to be of higher quality and the instruction of greater clarity (He et al., 2016). Success of asynchronous instruction critically hinges on the success and effectiveness of students’ pre-class study and in-class active learning activities (2016):

Causes of student non-compliance with asynchronous pre-class study:

  • Students may not see the critical importance of pre-class study and regard it as “extra work” they are forced to do rather than a mere shift in workload.
  • Students have to decide when to study on their own and some may simply lack the self-discipline to do so in a timely manner.
  • Non-compliance may disproportionately affect students with low motivation, poor self-discipline, and weak time-management and academic skills.

Cheng, L., Ritzhaupt, A. D., & Antonenko, P. (2019). Effects of the flipped classroom instructional strategy on students’ learning outcomes: A meta-analysis. Educational Technology Research and Development, 67(4), 793-824.

He, W., Holton, A., Farkas, G., & Warschauer, M. (2016). The effects of flipped instruction on out-of-class study time, exam performance, and student perceptions. Learning and Instruction, 45, 61-71.

Hew, K. F., & Lo, C. K. (2018). Flipped classroom improves student learning in health professions education: a meta-analysis. BMC medical education, 18(1), 38.

McNally, B., Chipperfield, J., Dorsett, P., Del Fabbro, L., Frommolt, V., Goetz, S., ... & Roiko, A. (2017). Flipped classroom experiences: student preferences and flip strategy in a higher education context. Higher Education, 73(2), 281-298.

How can I teach asynchronous content without using video?

Asynchronous instruction should be used to engage students with the content of the course in a meaningful way. For many, this will mean uploaded videos of lectures; however, asynchronous instruction does not require videos from instructors. You might use readings to engage students with the content in the course and have asynchronous discussion forums available. Alternatively, students may read some instructor-prepared notes and then work on practice in their own time. It may be that one week students have several readings and a reflection type assignment to be completed. All of these strategies are asynchronous ways of teaching but do not require the use of video.

To discuss your specific situation, please contact the CTL to book a consultation with an educational developer.

How do I incorporate diverse resources in my course design in a meaningful way?

Answers to this question and other EDI questions can be found on the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity (EDI) page.

How do I make sure students with diverse learning needs can access (and use) my online materials?

Answers to this question and other EDI questions can be found on the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity (EDI) page.

How often should I meet with students online? Do I have to meet with students online?

The answer to this question will depend on subject matter, teaching preference, and course activities. An online course might have frequent synchronous sessions (up to 3 per week) while another course might be completely asynchronous with no required meeting times. If you do plan on having synchronous meeting times, it is suggested these are held within the allotted time on the U of A schedule to avoid conflict with other courses.

Additional resources can be found on our Synchronous and Asynchronous Teaching page.

What are best practices in design and video creation when making materials for my students?

For information about best practice for design and video creation, we recommend you review the scrolling presentation “The Importance of Design of Effective Learning.”

You may also find the article Best Practices for Using Video Online to be helpful. Additionally, the section Tips for Improving Student Learning from Videos and Slideshows provides some research-based decisions you might consider when creating videos.

What do I need to know to incorporate BIPOC perspectives & EDI into my course?

Answers to this question and other EDI questions can be found on the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity (EDI) page.

What is a good ratio between the synchronous and asynchronous parts of my course?

For an answer to this question and more, please watch the video Mixing Synchronous and Asynchronous Activities.

Will there be a timetable for fall courses? Do I have to teach within that time table if I want to break my class of 150 students into different times for class synchronously online?

Yes, most classes will receive a scheduled block of time this fall. For information about your specific course, we suggest checking Beartracks or contacting your chair. However, with remote instruction, you are not required to hold all of your class activities during those time periods. You can have a mix of synchronous and asynchronous instruction and you can arrange your synchronous sessions in a way that you feel will optimize learning. This means, you may choose to meet with 1/3 of your students on monday, 1/3 on Wednesday, and 1/3 on Friday; you would be holding the same (or similar) conversations in each class. For some tips on how to maintain some type of consistency in these contacts, see this video clip on Smaller Group Contacts.

Creating & Sharing Course Materials

How can I incorporate cost-free materials?

Answers to this question can be found on the Teaching Materials, Best Practice and Templates page.

What tools/technology can I access to help record video?

IST recommends that employees contact their employer if they do not have the appropriate technology and they may be able to explore loaning, renting, or purchasing equipment to loan.

We do have a Soundbooth and lightboard at CTL but we are unable to provide access to these tools as we are not occupying our office at this time. For now, consider making a lightboard for use at home.


How do I set up my eClass (and aspects of eClass)? Setting Up eClass | Centre for Teaching and Learning

Responses to this question (and those asking about eClass functionality) can be found on our Setting up eClass page.

How do I set-up eClass for the best online learning experience?

Answers to this question are discussed in this video titled Using eClass Effectively for Online Learning.

What should the chat feature be used for in eClass and what should it not be used for?

The eClass chat feature should be used for synchronous online discussions between students and instructors. For example, if the instructor would like to host office hours but does not have access to a webcam, the chat feature is a useful alternative (though we usually suggest that instructors use discussion forums first to maintain an ongoing record). We recommend not using chat for any online discussion lasting for more than an hour as it can be difficult to follow.

Finally, when considering the use of eClass chat, keep in mind that this technology privileges those students who are able to read, respond, and type very quickly. Chat based activities often have more than one topic of conversation occurring simultaneously and it can often be difficult to link responses to their corresponding topic. (One possible solution to this would be to use a chat function like Slack which allows conversations to be grouped by 'threads'). Chat may maintain a record of the conversation but this can be a difficult platform when more than 4 or 5 people are involved.

Intellectual Property

Are my online videos my intellectual property?

If you created all the content in the video then you likely hold the copyright in the video. Instructors at the University of Alberta usually hold the copyright in works they create in the course of their employment (for more information, see Article 10 or 11 and Appendix B in the relevant schedule in the AASUA collective agreement). If you included work created or owned by other people in the video (e.g., music, insets, images, etc.) then you might need to consider copyright issues associated with the content you do not own (similar to sharing other types of course materials with students in eClass). Contact the Copyright Office at copyright@ualberta.ca for information about working with third party content in your video.

How can I ensure materials that I create and share on eClass are protected?

Consider what type of protection is important to you. For example, if it is important to you that some or all of your materials not be shared, make that clear to your students. If some or all of your materials can be shared, assign the appropriate Creative Commons licence, so that it is clear to your students how the content can be shared and re-used. More information about Creative Commons licensing can be found on the Creative Commons Share Your Work page. In addition, it is always good practice to provide clear authorship information on all course materials.

I have questions about copyright and sharing my teaching materials online

Please see the Copyright Office Website for frequently asked questions regarding sharing teaching materials in an online course.

Student & Instructor Workload

Can I just give students more reading in the place of lecturing or pre-recording lectures?

There is nothing saying that instruction has to be in the form of lecture (either in-person or video recorded). If you feel that students can get what they need out of a reading, that may very well be what you use as instruction. However, it would be advisable to include directions regarding how students are supposed to interact with the reading; for example, what key questions should students be thinking about while reading? What are the key points of the article that students should be able to explain or apply?

Also, be aware that students can be easily overwhelmed if an instructor lectures just as much as they do with face-to-face classes AND adds extra reading. More information on managing students' workload can be found on our Engaging and Managing Your Class page.

How do I keep the marking load reasonable in an online course?

Remember that not everything needs to be graded. Sometimes, peer-assessment or self-assessment can provide just as much feedback as instructor-graded materials. For more on this, see our descriptions of summative and formative assessment in "Section 5: Assessing learning in an online course" in our teaching & learning online course.

So, what does need to be graded in a course? Instructors should have enough graded opportunities that students are able to show achievement of the course learning outcomes in several different formats. For those pieces of a course that are being summatively assessed, especially when auto-graded questions are not an effective option, instructor marking load can be lightened by using well-defined rubrics.

How far in advance can students reasonably expect to have my videos for the next week?

One benefit of online learning is that students are able to work at their own pace. However, this does not mean that you need to give them access to the entire course on week 1. Many online courses open up blocks of their course each week to ensure that students are taking the time necessary to complete each activity prior to moving on. We would recommend having a consistent schedule for releasing your videos (or weeks or modules or blocks) such as every Friday and being clear about this schedule early on in this course.

For more on managing instructor workload, please see Managing Online Instructor Workload: Strategies for Finding Balance and Success by Lehman and Conceição.

How much work should I assign in an online course?

An answer to this question can be found on our Engaging and Managing Your Class page under the section titled "Managing the Student's Workload." 

Setting Healthy Boundaries While Teaching Online

How often should instructors be responding to emails? How available should instructors be to students during online learning? How can I connect with my students without being too informal? How can I teach online without spending all of my time on one course?

These are all questions that instructors need to answer when they teach online. Hear what experts in education have to say about setting healthy boundaries while teaching online

Students are asking for my notes to accompany the videos. If I give them my script, what is the point of recording the video?

Text is the most universally accessible mode of communication. As best practice, we suggest providing a transcript (where possible) or adding captions to your videos (which can be done using YouTube or Google Drive). Many people like to have the transcript in front of them as they watch a video; they can hear the nuances in the speaker's voice but still access the words in front of them as they follow along. Providing the transcript (or script) and your video also provides multiple modalities for learning, bringing your instruction in line with equitable, diverse, and inclusive instruction.


Can I pre-assign breakout rooms in zoom with my U of A account?

Pre-organizing students into breakout rooms is an option in Zoom—but it doesn’t work because students don’t have an account linked to UofA.

If you need students to be in the same breakout room every time, ensure the students know which room they have been assigned to. When the come into the room, have them rename themselves (hover over their video square and press •••) and have them put the number of their room at the end of their name (e.g., Sam 3). Then the host can assign the rooms much faster.

Do I have to use Zoom? What if I want to use Google hangouts with my students or pre-record videos with screen-cast-o-matic?

You are not required to use Zoom to teach your courses. However, we do recommend using either Google Meet or Zoom for synchronous, video meetings since these two platforms are supported by the U of A. It should be noted that there are small differences between these platforms:

Zoom Google Meet
Ability to record Yes Yes
Max # of participants with U of A license 300 100
Breakout rooms? Yes No
Text-chat Yes Yes
Private-chat Yes No
Captioning during synchronous session Yes Must be typed by hand
Able to edit name (e.g., add pronouns) No Yes

If your course relies heavily on knowledge-transfer or best lends itself to asynchronous communications (for more on asynchronous and synchronous learning see here), we suggest recording and posting a series of short videos instead of using synchronous meetings. There are many different ways of lecture recording including free options such as screen-cast-o-matic but the platforms of Zoom, YuJa, or Google Meet are all supported by the U of A.

YuJa is an enterprise-wide media streaming service that integrates with eClass to allow recording, uploading, and embedding of videos and provides a number of advanced video capabilities for instructors including: a personal video library, video editing, in-video quizzing, in-video usage tracking, and the ability to automatically pull in Zoom meeting recordings.

Do you have specific recommendations for encouraging class discussion when the discussion is held over Zoom?

You may find the following resources helpful:

Brookfield (2005) describes many techniques or strategies such as snowballing, critical debate, conversational moves, circular response, as well as an extensive list of suggested questions that help to sustain discussion: questions that ask for more evidence, for clarification, linking or extension questions, summary and synthesis questions, to open up possibilities, and many others.

Kanuka and Rourke (2006) revised five techniques and found that “Webquest” and “debate” communication activities promoted highest phases of cognitive presence than the “nominal group technique”, “invited expert”, and “reflective deliberation” activities

Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (2012). Discussion as a way of teaching: Tools and techniques for democratic classrooms. John Wiley & Sons.

Kanuka, H., Rourke, L., & Laflamme, E. (2007). The influence of instructional methods on the quality of online discussion. British Journal of Educational Technology, 38(2), 260-271.

How can students "raise their hand in class" in a synchronous Zoom class? Especially a large class?

All participants in Zoom (except the host) have the capability to raise their hand. To see this, the instructor must open the participant panel. You can also use the gallery view to see all of the students (up to 49 participants per page) and ask students to turn on their video and wave when they want to speak.

How do I manage the chat and instruct at the same time?

Answers to this question and others about Zoom can be found on our Zoom: Set-up, Security and Solutions page.

How do I use breakout rooms (effectively) in Zoom?

A response to this question and others about Zoom can be found on our Zoom: Set-up, Security and Solutions page.

How do I use Zoom to teach my class?

A response to this question and others about Zoom can be found on our Zoom: Set-up, Security and Solutions page.

Is there a way to provide students with a set of discussion questions they can use while in breakout rooms without having them download files?

The instructor could have the discussion questions in a Google document and share this link with students in the Zoom or Google Meet chat. Using a Google document is ideal because it can be edited during the synchronous session but there is no need to send new files to students.

Questions could also be posted on eClass prior to the synchronous session.

Is Zoom secure? How can I make sure my Zoom is secure?

Answers to this question and more about Zoom can be found on our Zoom: Set-up, Security and Solutions page.

Should students be required to have their cameras on during a synchronous class?

There is evidence that video-enabled discussions are more effective at helping create social and teaching presence when compared with text-based discussion platforms (Clark et al., 2015). Synchronous video web-conference in online discussions may create higher levels of cognitive presence than asynchronous discussions (Molnar & Kearney, 2017). You can learn more on how you and your students can establish a better remote presence on our Engaging and Managing Your Class page, under the section titled "How to Create a Remote Teaching and Learning Community."

Students report feelings of “connectedness” with their classmates when they can “see their faces” and indicate lower feelings of isolation (Clarke et al., 2015) and video provides the ability to see both verbal and non-verbal social cues essential to develop trust; social presence created through video discussions aids group identity formation and the social-cohesion necessary for collaborative learning (Clark et al., 2015).

However, you might also want to be sensitive and proactive about student needs. For instance, synchronous discussions pose higher demands on executive function skills such as goal-directed behaviour, response inhibition, and problem solving (Dahlstrom-Hakki et al., 2020).You should also be aware that some students’ experience might be too uncomfortable (Clark et al., 2015), or that some students might experience issues with technology (video conferences require higher bandwidth). You can read more about this on our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity (EDI) page.

Clark, C., Strudler, N., & Grove, K. (2015). Comparing asynchronous and synchronous video vs. text based discussions in an online teacher education course. Online Learning, 19(3), 48-69.

Dahlstrom-Hakki, I., Alstad, Z., & Banerjee, M. (2020). Comparing synchronous and asynchronous online discussions for students with disabilities: the impact of social presence. Computers & Education, 150, 103842.

Molnar, A. L., & Kearney, R. C. (2017). A comparison of cognitive presence in asynchronous and synchronous discussions in an online dental hygiene course. American Dental Hygienists' Association, 91(3), 14-21.

What is an appropriate Zoom background?

Zoom's virtual background feature can be used when lecturing with zoom synchronously or when recording video with zoom. Backgrounds can be a great way to subtly add a little bit about you (such as a Star-Trek fan using the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise as their background. Some even feel that backgrounds can help engage students in lessons. However, note that your background may be distracting for students. If you opt for using a virtual background, we suggest choosing something professional that does not distract students from you as the instructor.

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