Teaching online? Don’t panic. Seriously.

Dear Reader,

For this morning’s post, I am addressing it to my fellow academics. My fellow friends in arms who have suddenly been told they will have to take their class online.

And they are in panic mode.

So for them, I have thoughts and ideas. Also some advice. So Reader, all of you, if you wanted to read something bookish I will have something soon. I’m working on something from AWP. But for today, let us sooth the panic.

Dear Professors, Instructors, and other Academics who have to put an online class together almost overnight,

Let me start off by saying your panic is warranted. This sucks. OMG! But, trust me when I say this, it will be okay. Completely okay. Some background:

It was 2017 and the fall semester was days away from starting. Off the coast of Texas Hurricane Harvey brewed like a tumor. When it came on to the coast, it dumped water for days.

It also damaged the sewage treatment plant up stream from my campus.

Seven of our nine buildings were down, washed with the toxic sluge from floodwater plus sewage treatment plant water. So many of my fellow coworkers were flooded out. And a large population of our students were living with their families in hotel rooms.

We went online instantly. We had three weeks (a luxury I know) to get ready including certification and learning a management system that few of us even knew existed.

So hear me when I say…I get it.

Let me also say, there is nothing like a face to face class. And I will argue that you can’t directly translate a face to face class to online. Both are different animals. Similarities? Some. But not not enough to replace one with the other.

Also, two different types of students and learning modalities. So keep that in mind.

Here is how you get started. Kamikaze designing 101. Let’s go!

Take Inventory

What are you actually working on? What is your learning management system? What bells and whistles do they have? How long does administration expect to be online? A couple of weeks? Months? The rest of the semester? Which students have access to internet, computers, phone/tablets? Which don’t? What is the plan for them? Does email work better for them?

What resources do YOU have access to that can make the work easier?

The answer to these questions and so many more will help you immensely when designing your course.

Here’s an example:

The learning management system (LMS) we use on my campus is Brightspace/D2L. Embedded in the LMS is WebEx. It allows us to have a livestream class or do virtual office hours with students all from their LMS so they don’t have to go anywhere.

Here’s another example:

I needed to learn what students had access to after the flood. I did a Google Form to learn things about my students (You can do this with OneDrive as well). What was surprising and what I learned by doing this was that most of them had what they needed to be successful in class (in terms of equipment) and what online form they thought they best learned in. That helped me with deciding what to do going forward.

Another thing that you want to know: Does your LMS have an app for both Apple and Android? If yes, tell your students to download it. Give them bonus points for it. That’s the best and quickest way to get them information. For the Brightspace/D2L LMS, when you post an announcement they get notified just like a text. That’s huge if you want to, I don’t know, remind them they actually have work to do.

Buy yourself some time and organize

So the quickest turn around to convert to online I saw was three days. The longest was two weeks.

There is a big difference between two weeks and three days.

Huge! But not in the way you think.

If you have a quick turn around time, here is how you buy yourself time. Post a quick assignment for the students can do. It can be a quick survey or a writing assignment or a discussion board assignment. Something low stakes. Maybe do an online scavenger hunt! Have that due by the end of the week (whatever your week is). While they are completing that assignment(s), you are designing the next two weeks worth of work.


Here’s the thing, you’re going to lose a week of instruction (depending on the assignment) but doing this does a couple of things.

1.) Gives you some breathing room to make more decisions on what you’re going to do going forward. Hey, you maybe able to make up for the lost week.

2.) Gets students familiar with the LMS which should avoid problems later (some problems).

You’ll need this time to decide how you want to organize the class. By this I mean, how do you want the modules to be organized and how long you want them to be. What are modules? Here’s a good video that can explain it especially for you Blackboard folks.

For example: I organize my modules with weekly deadlines. Everything is due on the same day for consistency — Sunday 11:59 p.m. My weekly modules opens on Mondays at midnight. I do this for several reasons:

  1. Based on my survey I know students work so they need that extra time.
  2. Based on past classes and when students sign in (you can check this in your LMS), they do their work late at night (probably because they work)
  3. Based on past classes, there will always be some who turn in things early. They usually get graded first.
  4. This helps my grading schedule (For me, discussion boards are generally graded Monday mornings.)

I’ve seen others put things due through out the week. There are some advantages to that as well. It depends how you want to handle things like grading and interactions. Look at how many of your classes will be going online. Think about how you want to stagger your grading. In this aspect, online is no different than face to face.

Design your module

Listen, it doesn’t matter if you are math or English or whatever, design your module. Seriously, design it.

By design, I don’t mean what it looks like. We can talk about that in a second. By design I mean what are you actually going to put in it for instruction.

If you’re doing instructional videos, a good rule of thumb is to keep them between 10 to 15 minutes. So if you have a 30 minute lecture, that’s two videos. Do you want them to take a quick quiz on the video? (quick and easy grade)

Here’s an example of how I’ve done a lesson for the Proposal Essay. Super easy, with a Powerpoint. This is the first of four videos. Each one is about 10 minutes each.

Here’s some things you want to think about:

1.) Each module should have a lesson (whether video(s), powerpoint, or audio)

2.) Each module should have a “reading” (from the textbook or from the notes you upload).

3.) A formative assessment or activity (discussion boards/ videos etc).

4.) A summative assessment (discussion boards, etc).

5.) A list of some sort that tells students what is due and when.

6.) Since you’re putting things online last minute, keep it short! Really focus on what you want them to learn and do. If you had more time, you could have them do more but since designing is a quick turn around and the learning curve is so steep, keep it simple.

Don’t worry about the toys…

Listen, when I started, I wanted to play with all the toys. All of them!

I wanted a list of websites that can help me be stronger, faster, and awesome online.

Don’t play with toys for a bit. Focus on the basics while you are learning this new world.

…but play with the toys.

Okay, but toys are fun. And when you feel you are ready and your students are ready, introduce them one at a time. Remember, there will be learning curve with each of these as well.

Here are some things I play with in my online classes. This is only a couple. There are more but don’t get bogged down with this. Use it as you need them.


It allows you to record your lecture and screen-share from the comfort of your own home. You can sign up for and record 15 minutes at a time for free. You can upload your videos to Youtube.

During the hurricane, I went ahead and paid for it. It was around the $30 mark for three years. With that you can record longer videos and have some cloud space for the videos. I also use this tool for when I’m teaching creative writing classes online.

If you want more dazzle, you can actually save videos to your desktop and use editing software like Adobe Primer or iMovie to do fade in/out and things. Note: if you don’t want to you don’t have to. This isn’t necessary, really.


Livestreaming and live webconferncing website. Listen, my campus uses WebEx but I use Zoom. Paid for a year myself I love this so much. It does screen-sharing (both the host and the participates can do this.) It also allows you to plug in your tablet to your laptop and screen share that! So, if I’m doing a live revision, I can write something on my tablet with the Apple Pencil and it will show!

This has an app and I’ve done office hours from the Cheescake Factory on the app. It’s super handy.

And for my creative writing classes, I’ve used this to do workshopping and it worked GREAT!

Another cool feature is that it records so if you’re doing a live stream or “live” class, you can post the recording to your LMS for students who missed it.

Google Hangout:

It’s been awhile since I used it but when I did I loved it. It has similar capabilities to Zoom. I did end up switching to Zoom because it was more stable but that was a couple of years ago and it may have been upgraded.

Last time I used it, it was attached to Youtube in someway. If this has changed, please let me know!

Here’s me doing a live class using Google Hangout when I went to conference. I scheduled a live stream and then put the link in the LMS for students to use. It recorded so they can access the same link to see the replay.


I LOVE this thing! A friend introduced me to this way of doing discussion boards with video and I instantly put it in my classes. You can post questions and such online and have the students answer it with a short (no more than 5 minutes) video. So if you’re doing any group critiquing or feedback, this will work. And it’s free. And it has an app. And students can use their phones.

I’ve also used this with my creative writing classes for students to read their pieces online or to give general feedback.


Another thing I love and a way to break up discussion boards. For this one, it’s better to show you using video.

I like this tool to give back really quick feedback like for thesis statements and such. Or students can post their presentations there and get feedback from other students.

Here’s what I’ll say. If you are comfortable with the discussion boards, stay there. Padlet, I suggest, can be used as formative assessment and/or a way to critique things.

Adobe Spark

Spark is free to use and allows the student to create videos with voice overs to create a presentation. Each “slide” is limited to 20 seconds and the presentation can’t be more than five minutes-ish long.

I’ve used this part of the website to create directions: https://spark.adobe.com/video/cWLrT3Ujgw2dA

I’ve use this part to introduce myself in the class as well: https://spark.adobe.com/video/u27l0NTlRY1de

Students can also use it to do a page. I’ve used the page feature to create entire lessons. Here’s some examples:

Teatro Campesino

Corridos: The Poetry of the People

And, of course, to make some visuals.


I have a love/ like relationship with EdPuzzle. This site allows you to insert questions for students to answer in any Youtube video.

Hint: a formative assessment for your lessons!

It’s great because it’s embed-able to the LMS and you receive feedback on how the students did on the questions. It’s helpful to see if they saw the entire lesson and what they don’t understand because, as we all know, they don’t usually tell us.

What does irk me though is that students have to sign up for an account or use their Google email. It’s not a big thing but it can cause some confusion sometimes.

Google Voice

I used this to talk to students and to text students if need be. This is a good way to contact them without giving them your number. Some students will not feel comfortable with virtual office hours. This is a good alternative. And yes, there’s an app. And yes, get the app.

Consider the student

You probably haven’t noticed how I’ve organized this blog post. Go back and take a look.

I have subheds, lists, short-ish paragraphs, embedded links, Youtube videos, etc..

I do this because it’s easier to take in information in chunks. When you are designing and putting together directions, you want to look at how it’s laid out and keep information in smaller chunks.

Listen, students are going to speed read through things. They are. BUT if you have things in subhead and lists, they will get the big things and follow directions.

And, you’ll want to do a video where you show them the online class! Here’s an example of an old one from one of my comp classes.

When I redo this video next year, I’ll do it smaller chunks and by topic.

You’ll also want to do a part of your online course where you show students how to be an online student.

There are TONS of videos on Youtube about this subject. And they are done but actual online students. Here’s one.

Call in reinforcements

Listen, you’re not going to get this all right away. There is help and I have a recommendation!

Jasminne Mendez has helped teachers and professors make the switch to online for five years. She’s an instructional designer (I am not. At least not yet. Talk to me next year as I am pursuing this.) She helped me to get my online class together during the hurricane. And I go to her even now.

Click here to contact her.

And heck, she may read this and have a completely different take. Like with everything else, there is more than one way to do things. The best advice for this is to go for what you can do and then grow from there.

Listen, how I designed my first class is NOTHING to how my classes are now. Give yourself credit for growing and be curious about things.

How does it all come together? Check out this video.

Cheering you on!


2 thoughts on “Teaching online? Don’t panic. Seriously.

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