Flexibility in Teaching Modalities


The College remains committed to ensuring continuity of learning for students who cannot attend class due to pandemic-related circumstances, including delays related to eligibility to be on campus vis-à-vis vaccination requirements (should they emerge), and the need to quarantine or go home due to COVID-19 exposure or infection. Instructors should plan their method(s) for engaging students who may need to make recourse to the College’s Excused Absence Policy for pandemic-related absences. This guide provides some resources to assist with alternative course delivery methods.

An excellent place to start if you have little to no experience using Blackboard is the Level 1 Blackboard Training for Faculty. All faculty are currently enrolled in this self-paced course. A brief navigation through the first three modules will provide you with a good introduction to Blackboard and how it works. You may follow the link above or find the course on the Blackboard Home Page (my.oneonta.edu) under “My Organizations”. You can also view the posts in our Tips for Instruction blog which contains various ways SUNY Oneonta faculty have used different tools and technics when changing course modalities.

We also provide a Student Orientation to Blackboard. All current Oneonta students have been enrolled in this self-paced course. If you feel that any of your classes or individual students require instruction on utilizing Blackboard, please direct them to this resource. They can find the course on the Blackboard Home Page (my.oneonta.edu) under “My Organizations”.

For more information and suggestions, you can contact the TLTC by submitting a request through the IT Service Portal.

Articles of interest: Going online in a hurry: what to do and where to start (2020, Chronicle of Higher Education), How to be a better online teacher (2020, Chronicle of Higher Education).

Specific strategies to meet your teaching goals

When you realize you have to change the delivery of course content for a subset of your students, consider the following right away.

  • 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, informing them that changes are coming and what your expectations are for checking email or using Blackboard in order to provide them with more details as soon as possible.
  • 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.
  • Review your syllabus for points that must change: What will have to temporarily change in your syllabus (policies, due dates, assignments, etc.)? Since students will also be thrown off by the changes, they will appreciate details whenever you can provide them.
  • 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. Because the transition might be quick, 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.
  • Identify your new expectations for students: You will have to reconsider some of your expectations for your affected 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, and stress. Be ready to handle requests for extensions or accommodations equitably.
  • Create a more detailed communications plan: Once you have more details about changes in the class, communicate them to students, along with more information about how they can contact you (email, online office hours, etc.). A useful communication plan also lets students know how soon they can expect a reply. They will have many questions, so try to figure out how you want to manage that.

For more information and suggestions, you can contact the TLTC by submitting a request through the IT Service Portal.


Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your class(es). You'll want to let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations. Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and save you dealing with individual questions.

Principles to keep in mind when communicating with students:

  • Communicate early and often: Let students know about changes as early as possible, even if all the details aren't in place yet, and let them know when they can expect more specific information.
  • Set expectations: Let students know how you plan to communicate with them, and how often. Tell students both how often you expect them to check their email, and how quickly they can expect your response. Let them know, too, if you are using Blackboard as part of your communication, since they may need to update their notification preferences or change their habits(details in the next section).
  • Manage your communications load: You will likely receive some individual requests for information that could be useful to all your students, so consider keeping track of frequently asked questions and sending those replies out to everyone. This way, students know they might get a group reply in a day versus a personal reply within an hour. Also, consider creating an information page in Blackboard, and then encourage students to check there first for answers before emailing you.

Tools for communicating with students


Email in Blackboard: Email can be an effective tool for communicating with individuals and groups, especially when you want recipients to have the opportunity to reply to your messages. The easiest way to send email to your students is to initiate the message using the email tool in Blackboard. By starting from within Blackboard, you don't need to keep track of email addresses, and you can choose to contact individuals, groups, or the entire class. You can access this tool by doing the following: Go to your course in Blackboard > Click on Course Tools > Click on Send Email.

Email through Outlook: If you prefer to directly use Outlook for email, you can look up your students' email addresses in Active Directory within any Microsoft Outlook web, mobile or desktop app.

Blackboard Announcements

The Blackboard Announcements tool is useful for posting information that you want to share with the entire class. Whether students receive email notifications for new announcements depends on their personal Blackboard notification settings, however if you select "email announcement" and "send a copy of this announcement immediately" students will always be copied an email to their SUNY Oneonta email. To make announcements more prominent when they access your course, consider adding recent announcements to your course home page; see How do I show recent announcements in the Course Home Page?

Microsoft Teams for live audio or videoconferencing

On occasion, you may need to communicate with an individual or a group of students in real time. The videoconferencing tool Microsoft Teams, which is a part of Microsoft Office 365, is available for every course and you can run it from a tablet, smartphone, or computer. You'll need a headset, or a microphone and speakers for audio, and a webcam for video.

For more information and suggestions, you can contact the TLTC by submitting a request through the IT Service Portal.


You will likely need to provide additional course materials to support your changing plans, from updated schedules to readings that allow you to shift more instruction online. In a pinch, providing some new readings and related assignments may be your best bet for keeping the intellectual momentum of the course moving. In Blackboard, the best tool to use to post content is the Blackboard Item tool. You can login to Blackboard and review the Blackboard Level 1 Training for more information.

Considerations when posting new course materials:

  • Make sure students know when new material is posted: If you post new materials in Blackboard, be sure to let students know what you posted and where. You might even ask that they change their Blackboard notification preferences to alert them when new materials are posted. Refer them to How do I set my Blackboard notification preferences as a student?
  • Keep things phone friendly: Many students may only have a phone available, so make sure you are using mobile-friendly formats, PDFs being the most common. Consider saving other files (for example, PowerPoint presentations) to PDFs, which are easier to read on phones and tablets, and keep the file size small. Videos take lots of bandwidth, so only require them if you are confident students will have access to them.

For more information and suggestions, you can contact the TLTC by submitting a request through the IT Service Portal.


Depending on your course, you may need to deliver some lectures to keep the course moving along. For any of these you will need the following equipment:

  • Device with good internet connection, preferably Wi-Fi (laptop. tablet, smartphone)
  • Headphones or earbuds (optional)
  • Microphone (if possible; a separate microphone can be better than your device's build-in mic)
  • Web camera (optional, preferred for face-to-face contact)

Be aware, though, that a 45-minute live lecture sprinkled with questions and activities can become grueling when delivered online without intellectual breaks. Here are a few suggestions to improve online lectures:

Principles to keep in mind when creating Online Lectures

  • Record in small chunks: Even the best online speakers keep it brief; think of the brevity of TED talks. We learn better with breaks to process and apply new information. To aid student learning, record any lectures in shorter (5-10 minute) chunks, and intersperse them with small activities that give students opportunities to process the new knowledge, make connections to other concepts, apply an idea, or make some notes in response to prompts. Smaller chunks also lead to smaller files, especially when using voiced-over PowerPoint presentations.
  • Be flexible with live video: Lecturing live with Blackboard Collaborate of Microsoft Teams is certainly possible, and it best approximates a classroom setting, since students can ask questions. However, a crisis might mean some students won't have access to fast internet connections, and others may have their schedules disrupted. So, record any live classroom session, and be flexible about how students can attend and participate.
  • It's not just about content: Lectures can mean more than just providing course content; they also establish a sense of normalcy and a personal connection. In online courses, we talk about the importance of "instructor presence", and that's just as true during short-term online stints. So, consider ways that you can use lectures to make students feel connected and cared about: acknowledgement of current challenges, praise for good work, and reminders about the class being a community. This effective work can help their learning during a difficult time.

Tools for delivering or recording lectures

Microsoft Teams / Screencast-o-matic

We have access to different tools that can be either used for video conferencing or recording video lectures.

  1. The college has access to a tool called Microsoft Teams which is a part of Microsoft Office 365. Here is how you can record your meeting in Microsoft Teams.

  1. Screencast-o-matic records your screen and is free for videos less than 15 minutes.

PowerPoint for recording lectures

If the content of your lecture is exclusively in PowerPoint, and you would like to be able to add, delete, or edit slides after your initial recording—or perhaps change the voice-over for one slide—you may want to consider the Recording tab . This option requires the most recent version of PowerPoint (Office 365), unless you already have the now-retired Office Mix installed on your computer.

This option is best for longer recordings, or for ones that you would like to be able to refine in the future. Unlike Screencast-o-matic recordings, PowerPoint recordings can be changed in small ways, like editing a typo in a slide, without losing access to the audio that you previously made. This is also helpful if you decide to delete selected content, or add slides with new audio, at some point in the future.

Posting Videos to Blackboard

Video files are large and can quickly take up all the space in a course in Blackboard. The best practice is to post your video to either YouTube or Microsoft Stream. You are then able to either link to the video from Blackboard or embed the video in the course. Here are videos to help with this process:

For more information and suggestions, you can contact the TLTC by submitting a request through the IT Service Portal.


Considerations as you plan to address lab activities:

  • Provide raw data for analysis: In cases where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected, and then provide some raw sets of data for students to analyze. This approach is not as comprehensive as having students collect and analyze their own data, but it might keep them engaged with parts of the lab experience.
  • Explore alternate software access: Some labs require access to specialized software that students cannot install on their own computers. The IT Service Desk might be able to help set up alternate computer labs that have the software your students need.
  • Increase interaction in other ways: Sometimes labs are more about having time for direct student interaction, so consider other ways to replicate that level of contact if it is only your lab that is out of commission.
  • Take part of the lab online: Many lab activities require students to become familiar with certain procedures, and only physical practice of those processes will do. In such cases, consider if there are other parts of the lab experience you could take online (for example, video demonstrations of techniques, online simulations, analysis of data, other pre- or post-lab work), and save the physical practice parts of the labs until access is restored.
  • Investigate virtual labs: Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some labs (for example, virtual dissection, night sky apps, video demonstrations of labs, simulations). Those vary widely by discipline, but check with your textbook publisher, or sites such as Merlot for materials that might help replace parts of your lab during an emergency.

For more information and suggestions, you can contact the TLTC by submitting a request through the IT Service Portal.


Fostering communication among students is important because it allows you to reproduce any collaboration you build into your course, and maintains a sense of community that can help keep students motivated to participate and learn. It helps if you already had some sort of student-to-student online activity (for example, Blackboard Discussions) since students will be used to both the process and the tool.

Consider these suggestions when planning activities:

  • Use asynchronous tools when possible: Having students participate in live Collaborate or Microsoft Teams conversations can be useful, but scheduling can be a problem, and only a few students will actively participate (just like in your classroom). In such cases, using asynchronous tools like Blackboard Discussions allows students to participate on their own schedules. In addition, bandwidth requirements for discussion boards are far lower than for live video tools.
  • Link to clear goals and outcomes: Make sure there are clear purposes and outcomes for any student-to-student interaction. How does this activity help them meet course outcomes or prepare for other assignments?
  • Build in simple accountability: Find ways to make sure students are accountable for the work they do in any online discussions or collaborations. Assigning points for online discussion posts can be tedious, so some instructors ask for reflective statements where students detail their contributions and reflect on what they learned from the conversation.
  • Balance newness and need: As with any changed activities, you will need to balance the needs and benefits of online collaboration with the additional effort such collaboration will require on everyone else's part. Learning new technologies and procedures might be counterproductive, particularly in the short term, unless there is clear benefit.

Tools for fostering collaboration

Blackboard Discussions

If you haven't used the Discussions tool in Blackboard, it's not difficult to begin. Once you come up with a topic, you can create a discussion and invite students to respond. Settings allow you to use threaded replies (helping students track their replies to each other's posts), make the discussion a graded assignment, and assign discussion to everyone or within groups. One particularly helpful option is to require students to post before seeing replies, which requires students to refine their own thoughts before seeing others'. Consider allowing students to "like" posts to encourage them to read posts and provide quick feedback to each other, in addition to posting replies.

You can assign discussion grades in a forum or thread. You can assign grades based on student participation, on the quality of their posts, or a combination of the two. Each student's posts (including original posts and replies to others) are displayed for easy review.

For more information and suggestions, you can contact the TLTC by submitting a request through the IT Service Portal.

Collecting student submissions can be done through Blackboard by using the Blackboard Assignments tool. This allows students to have one place to submit their work and one place for instructors to grade that work. Here are directions for using Assignments in Blackboard if you are interested.

Consider these suggestions when planning activities:

  • State expectations, but be ready to allow extensions: Make expectations clear, but be ready to provide more flexibility than you normally would in your class.
  • Avoid emailed attachments: It may be easy to collect assignments in small classes via email, but larger classes might swamp your email inbox. Consider using the tools below instead. Balance what is simplest for students with what is easiest for you to manage.
  • Require specific filenames: It may sound trivial, but anyone who collects papers electronically knows the pain of getting 20 files named Essay1.docx. Give your students a simple file naming convention, for example, FirstnameLastname-Essay1.docx.
  • Blackboard assignments: With the Assignments tool in Blackboard, you can create coursework and manage the grades and feedback for each student separately. You can create assignments in content areas, learning modules, lesson plans, and folders.

For more information and suggestions, you can contact the TLTC by submitting a request through the IT Service Portal.


It is fairly easy to give small quizzes to hold students accountable or do spot-checks on their learning, and this might be ideal to keep students on track during class disruptions. Providing high-stakes tests online can be challenging, however; they place extra stress on students, and test integrity is difficult to ensure. If you know there is a date for resuming on-campus classes, consider delaying exams until you return, if possible.

Consider these suggestions when planning activities:

  • Embrace short quizzes: Short quizzes can be a great way to keep students engaged with course concepts, particularly if they are interspersed with small chunks of video lecture. Consider using very-low-stakes quizzes to give students practice at applying concepts—just enough points to hold them accountable, but not so many that the activity becomes all about points.
  • Move beyond simple facts: It is good to reinforce concepts through practice on a quiz, but generally it is best to move beyond factual answers that students can quickly look up. Instead, write questions that prompt students to apply concepts to new scenarios, or ask them to identify the best of multiple correct answers.
  • Check for publishers' test banks: Look to see if your textbook publisher has question banks that can be loaded into Blackboard. The TLTC can provide further assistance with this. Even if you don't use these questions for your exams, they can be useful for simple quizzes. Some textbooks also have their own online quizzing tools that can help keep students engaged with the material.
  • Update expectations for projects: Changes may limit students' access to resources they need to complete papers or other projects, and team projects may be harmed by a team's inability to meet. Be ready to change assignment expectations based on the limitations a change in course delivery may impose. Possible options include allowing individual rather than group projects, having groups record presentations with Screencast-O-Matic, or adjusting the types of resources needed for research papers.
  • Consider alternate exams: Delivering a secure exam online can be difficult without a good deal of preparation and support, so consider giving open-book exams or other types of exams. They can be harder to grade, but you have fewer worries about test security.

Tools for online student assessment

Blackboard Tests

The Test tool in Blackboard, despite its name, can be used for both low-stakes assessments (for example, quizzes, practice quizzes, or surveys) and high-stakes assessments (tests or exams). Its strength lies in the ability of Blackboard to automatically grade many question types, including multiple-choice, true/false, matching, numeric, and fill-in-the-blank. You can also include short-answer and essay questions, and grade those manually using the Ready-to-Grade area. The quiz questions themselves can easily incorporate images, in addition to text.

Other useful test options include the ability to scramble answers for multiple-choice questions, allowing multiple attempts (and keeping only the high score, or average score of all attempts), and showing one question at a time. Blackboard can also randomize questions for you, so each students doesn't access exactly the same test.

For more information and suggestions, you can contact the TLTC by submitting a request through the IT Service Portal.

In response to the current situation, the TLTC has prepared a simplified version of OSCQR, that combines many requirements. Our hope is to give a streamlined checklist for our faculty to look at as they tried to prepare for the upcoming semester. Much of the TLTC’s professional development this summer is going to use this simplified checklist as a framing device.

The Open SUNY Course Quality Rubric (OSCQR) was created by SUNY and the Online Learning Consortium as a set of best practices to use when building, updating, or maintaining online courses and hybrid courses. The OSCQR process is designed in a way that an instructor can self-assess their course, look at it with another content expert, or work with an instructional designer. The idea is that by going through a list of best practices, an instructor can get ideas of ways to update their course.

SUNY Oneonta adopted OSCQR as its official course quality rubric in the Distance Learning Policy that was endorsed by the College Senate and adopted by the college.

We hope that as you build your courses, a checklist is helpful. Some of points on the checklist are simple and mechanical, and some are deeper and explore how a course is designed and how students will be evaluated.

Full OSCQR (50 criteria, used for Distance Education Courses and will be used for faculty that want to teach fully online when we return to F2F instruction)

For more information and suggestions, you can contact the TLTC by submitting a request through the IT Service Portal.

Back to top