Face-to-Face Teaching During the Pandemic

Our professors at Saint Mary’s have worked hard to be excellent classroom educators, and we know many of them can’t wait to get back in the classroom. But doing so safely requires taking a slightly different approach to face-to-face teaching. We may not be able to have all of our students in the classroom at once to allow social distancing, but we also know that we don’t want to ask students to watch hour-long recordings of lectures and discussions they can’t be a part of. And if conditions change, we may have to transition to fully online teaching. CardinalFlex is one model that tries to thread a needle through these concerns.

CardinalFlex is a modified version of the HyFlex model that is designed to respond to the challenges of teaching face-to-face during the pandemic. It emphasizes a flipped classroom approach, use of online tools for all assignments and assessments, and class participation for students attending both face-to-face and virtually. Additionally, it allows for a rapid pivot to online teaching if the need arises.

Flexing all the way to Remote Teaching or Online Teaching?

It’s part of the CardinalFlex model that the University might need to move courses out of face-to-face instruction altogether. If we go down this road and you are organizing the activities in your course via the LMS, then you may not have much more work to do. But you do need to decide how you are going to finish the semester and you have a couple of options:

  1. Remote teaching (synchronous): Carry on with face-to-face sessions via Zoom or Google Meet at the same time you would normally conduct class. Collect assignments and administer exams via the LMS. Assign grades via the LMS.
  2. Online teaching (asynchronous): Limit face-to-face sessions via Zoom and conduct most discussions asynchronously on discussion boards in the LMS. Collect assignments, administer exams, and assign grades in the LMS as well.
  3. Mix it up: Hold some face-to-face sessions via Zoom, but not as many as you have class sessions, assigning discussion board work to replace that.

It’s hard to say there is one right choice. Students do appreciate still being able to see each other’s faces via Zoom — we have lots of reports of that. However, it may not be the most equitable solution to hold only or mostly Zoom sessions. Students are often going to be competing with others for internet and computer time, especially students with limited means. If students are attending from home, they may be facing many different challenges that limit their ability to engage via Zoom. Asynchronous work tends to allow these students to meet expectations on their own time, at the cost of limiting valuable time for people to see each others’ faces.

If you do decide to make Zoom a major feature of your teaching, there is a wonderful resource at Vanderbilt University (by Derek Bruff, author of Intentional Tech) on many creative ways to keep active learning alive in the Zoom classroom.

You can also review the original slide presentation for the discussion sections on CardinalFlex.


Video Lectures and Content

Seeing someone face-to-face is a fundamental point of human connection. But that connection can’t happen if instructors can’t upload huge video files because they have a lower bandwidth connection at home. And that connection can’t happen if students can’t download and watch those videos. Plus, psychological studies tell us students have about a 6-7 minute ability to focus strongly on one idea or point.

Being flexible with this in mind pushes us to recommend that instructor consider giving students lectures and/or other content to watch outside of class, on their own time, but to construct them in 4-7 minute “chunks” of video. These can easily be recorded during down-time, and upload more easily than larger videos. Plus, if you say something you don’t want to, you only have to go back and re-record a little bit.

Ed Tech recommends using our new Panopto lecture capture system to record these shorter videos. Panopto will integrate with both Blackboard and Canvas, delivering your videos right to your course shell. You can even use Zoom to do cloud recordings and they will show up in your Panopto account. If you need help learning the tool, check out our training schedule, which will include more Panopto trainings.

LMS Assignments and Assessments

One of the biggest struggles faculty had with remote teaching in Spring 2020 was moving assignments online and figuring out how to assess whether students had really learned what they were supposed to learn. Having your assignments in the LMS means you don’t have to do as much work in the middle of the semester if we have to transition to online courses.

But we also know that collecting paper assignments could be less safe than it was before COVID. Papers can transmit droplets from one space to another. It might be safe to collect papers online through Blackboard or Canvas. That’s a decent reason to start making the assignments that you would normally collect on paper into assignments in the LMS while you sip lemonade on your socially-distanced deck this summer.

Finally, since you may not be able to give proctored tests, you may want to rethink using tests to assess learning. There may be other ways to see if students are learning what they need to learn. We’re looking forward to brainstorming some of these ways in our CardinalFlex workshops this summer.

Flipping the Classroom

Flipped classrooms have been around for a long time, and we know many of our instructors at Saint Mary’s already use this teaching method. But it might be worth doubling-down on it to teach face-to-face during a pandemic.

Lecturing in-class may be better accomplished with the shorter videos mentioned earlier, freeing up class time for more in-depth discussion, or activities that can be accomplished in small, socially-distanced groups or even wholly online. A good recommendation could be to break up the time you have in-class with your students into five segments, with activities they are familiar with (and maybe one that is new every once in a while). Give them some short writing to do, ask them to summarize an argument that they have read, try out a new technology tool, or try to formulate examples and analogies for the content they took in outside of class time.

Don’t forget, if you’re worried about students skipping lectures they should watch before class, Panopto has an option to insert a quiz question into the middle of a video. Very handy!

It’s not necessarily as easy as it sounds. but we’d love to help you brainstorm ideas during our upcoming workshops.

Being Prepared to Teach Online

In Spring of 2020, we said “we’re taking classes online” a lot. And to some degree that was true — without the internet we would not have been able to continue teaching. But what we did really didn’t always capture the best practices connected to online learning. It was really a quick attempt to set up “remote teaching”.

This semester, if we end up having to go online, we want to urge you to capture some of the best practices in online teaching. While students can hide from participating in regularly scheduled Zoom meetings, that’s a lot easier than hiding from a required online discussion. And it also means students whose family situation doesn’t allow them to turn on video at all times of the day can contribute as well.

Plus, if you are running a flipped face-to-face classroom in the first place, the transition to online teaching becomes much easier if you can simply start up a discussion board to replace your in-class activities.

There is nothing wrong with occasional class meetings on Zoom. And in our survey, students reported wanting to see their classmates’ faces. But online education seems to be most effective when it is asynchronous. Students need deadlines, but asynchronous discussions, announcements, peer review, and even group work might be best as more central parts of your course. And you can always discuss your discussions in a weekly Zoom call as well!

Taking your face-to-face course online
  • Review and practice the essential features of Blackboard. Log into your Blackboard course. Make sure your syllabus is updated in Blackboard. Make sure any assignment links are working.
  • Set up a free Zoom account and log into Zoom. Create and participate in a test Zoom call. Practice using your camera and microphone and how to record meetings to the cloud. (Note that the free Zoom account supports one-on-one meetings of any length. Meetings of more than two are limited to 40 minutes. This limitation is lifted on licensed accounts. If you need a licensed account and greater capacity for your course, please fill out this form from IT.)
  • Set up a free Flipgrid account.
  • Create a test recording using the Panopto account provided by the university in your Blackboard course.
  • Communicate with your students right away: Even if you don’t have a plan in place yet, communicate with your students as soon as possible. Inform them that changes are probably coming and where they can expect to find out about those changes: E-mail, Blackboard, and/or Engage so you can get them more details soon.
  • Consider realistic goals for continuing instruction: What do you think you can realistically accomplish during this time period? Do you think you can maintain your original syllabus and schedule? Do you hope students will keep up with the reading with some assignments to add structure and accountability? Do you just want to keep them engaged with the course content somehow?
  • Review your course schedule to determine priorities: Identify your priorities during the disruption — providing lectures, structuring new opportunities for discussion or group work, collecting assignments, etc. What activities are better rescheduled, and what can or must be done online? Give yourself a little flexibility in that schedule, just in case the situation takes longer to resolve than you think.
  • Identify your new expectations for students: You will have to reconsider some of your expectations for students, including participation, communication, and deadlines. As you think through those changes, keep in mind the impact this situation may have on students’ ability to meet those expectations, including illness, lacking power or internet connections, or needing to care for family members. Be ready to handle requests for extensions or accommodations equitably.
  • Pick tools and approaches familiar to you and your students: Try to rely on tools and workflows that are familiar to you and your students, and roll out new tools only when absolutely necessary. If a closure is caused by a local crisis, it may be already taxing everyone’s mental and emotional energy; introducing a lot of new tools and approaches may leave even less energy and attention for learning. 
  • During the next 1-2 weeks, plan to test specific technology tools in each of your courses that will help support remote class learning experiences. It is okay to tell students you are testing these tools or strategies in preparation for the potential of remote classes.
  • When possible, use low-bandwidth options, and limit lengthy videos when possible. Students may have limited data plans. Emphasize that group Zoom meetings, for instance, have a call-in option.
  • Reach out to the Writing Studio (Winona Campus) or Writing Center (Twin Cities Campus) for help in adapting writing assignments. Any faculty member whose courses involve writing projects will be supported as they transition into online teaching.  The Winona Writing Studio has compiled “Five Things to Remember About Writing” (in an online course).  A variety of supports will be available, including, but not limited to: developing peer review guides for students; providing targeted writing feedback to students; reviewing writing projects; creating resources specific to the course assignment; and discussing specific writing topics with students.
  • Fitzgerald Library (Winona) will provide services and resources online for scholarly support to our faculty, staff, and students. We have created a guide to our Remote Access Resources to aid you in using library materials while away from campus. Liaison librarians will be available for consultations via phone or email for those with questions and concerns. Interlibrary loan may have delays and/or spotty availability due to library closures. 
  • Twin Cities librarians are available to support your research needs. Contact Twin Cities Library for help with finding and integrating electronic resources into your course.
Remote Teaching vs. Online Teaching

In the event of a physical campus closure, Saint Mary’s is committed to helping students continue and complete classes through online learning with as little impact as possible to their educational plans. Instructors should pay close attention to university communications and attempt to connect with students at regularly scheduled class-times or through asynchronous methods online.

Don’t expect your efforts to move online to be perfect. Typically online courses take weeks to build with an instructional designer.

Some classes will be more difficult to emulate online than others. For some tougher cases — like music, labs, and performance-based classes, check below for some beginning ideas. For a more advanced set of tutorials, consider checking into the ACUE’s online teaching toolkit, which is quite good.

In general, for a short-term closure, try using synchronous online methods to hold class meetings online and require students to hand in assignments, receive feedback, and receive grades online. For more extended closures involving whole classes online, asynchronous methods are worth investigating.


  • If one or more Saint Mary’s locations have to close due to an emergency for a prolonged period of time, instructors will be asked to continue instruction in existing classes online (as long as the faculty or students are well enough to instruct).
  • It is understood that face-to-face instructors have varying levels of skill in teaching online, and moving instruction online in the event of an emergency will be a challenge to both students and faculty. No one expects parity between emergency online learning and face-to-face learning, but we expect instructors to do the best they can using the resources provided — as well as using each other as resources.
  • Expect that you will be supported by the university in delivering classes online. See the list of support contacts on the right hand side of this page. They will be dedicated to helping you conduct your courses online and will be available during any physical campus closure.
  • If you have not taught much in Blackboard, familiarize yourself with basic Blackboard functions.


Online communication

  • Have a consistent communication strategy to avoid confusion. We recommend using email and the Announcement tool within Blackboard. 
  • Inform your students where to locate course information on your Blackboard course site and provide detailed instructions for assignments, online meetings, and technologies.
  • As much as possible, try to create and confirm new content is accessible. For students who may need screen readers, use SnapVerter to convert PDFs to a readable format.
  • Post your syllabus on your course site  and update it with course changes as needed. Here’s how to post content on Blackboard. 
  • Follow best practices to build community and hold online discussions.
    • Add an image to your Google and Blackboard profiles, if you have not already done so. 

Substitutes for class meetings

Distributing, collecting, and grading student work

Think about how you could incorporate alternative course materials and adapt assignments to suit online learning in case of an extended emergency.

Suggestions for labs and music courses and other experiential learning activities

Basic Blackboard Functions


Zoom Resources

Blackboard and Zoom Basics
Ensuring Access

In an emergency, you often need to get your class, and materials, online as soon as possible. Students will be supportive of these efforts. As soon as you can, however, you should also make sure that the materials you put online are accessible to everyone in your course. It is also our legal responsibility, according to the Office of Civil Rights. This page provides some instructions, tips, and ideas for ensuring everyone has access to succeeding in your course.

Please know how to provide extended time for students with accommodations through Access Services (text, video).




Read&Write Resources