An event of disaster or emergency can be stressful for you and your students. At the University of Montana, our utmost priority is supporting students and faculty with their success. We want you to be fully prepared, here are a few ideas you should start considering.

Identify plans ahead of time

Address emergencies and expectations up front in your course syllabus. Include detailed information such as procedures, resources and tools you will utilize in the event that the campus is closed. Your students will know exactly what to do and can prepare accordingly. Consider doing this each semester so you are prepared and can engage quickly in the event of an emergency.

How will you communicate?

If you are currently using Moodle, please use the Announcement sections of your course shell to communicate with students. You may also want to communicate with students through your UM email. 

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 of the changes to come and provide direction for your expectations for checking email or Moodle so you can provide them with future updates and developments. 

Professor Doug Emlen has provided an example of his COVID-19 contingency plan. 

Clarify new expectations. Keep in mind this situation may have on students' ability to meet those expectations including; illness, lacking power, no Internet connection or needing to care for family members. You may need to reconsider some of your previous expectations for students including participation, communication and deadlines. Be ready to handle requests for extensions or accommodations equitably. 

Provide detailed communication. Your students may have a lot of questions so consider how you will manage their requests. Once you have more details about changes to the class communicate them to students along with information about how to contact you. A useful communication plan lets students know how soon they can expect a reply. 



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 want students to keep up with the readings and assignments?

Review your syllabus for points that must change. What will have to temporarily change in your syllabus; policies, due dates and assignments? Since students will also be thrown off by the changes they will appreciate details whenever you can provide them. Avoid busy work and keep your learning outcomes at the center of your course. 

Rearrange course activities. Consider delaying activities where face-to-face interaction is most crucial. Convert synchronous activities into asynchronous activities to ease scheduling challenges as long as the new activities promote the same learning outcomes. 

Don’t require students to print information unless absolutely necessary. Many students don’t have a printer at home and may experience difficulty in finding a location to print due to the current circumstances. UMOnline recommends using the Assignment Activity in Moodle where uploading and downloading materials is made simple. We also recommend using UM Box for course materials. Please review our Moodle Basics for Faculty course for instruction on how to use the Assignment Activity in Moodle.

Maintain normal course scheduling. It is ideal to schedule activities during the normal class time to avoid disruption of your students' commitments outside of class time or interference with other courses in which they are enrolled. Additionally, please consider not penalizing students who cannot participate due to lack of or poor Internet access or factors relating to accessibility. Our FAQ section provides more detail.

Select familiar tools and methods. Rely on tools and workflow that are familiar to you and your students. Utilize new tools or methods only when absolutely necessary. Introducing new tools and processes may leave your students with heightened mental or emotional stress resulting in a lack of energy and attention for learning. 

How will you deliver content?

There are two options for instructors to facilitate class sessions remotely, synchronous and asynchronous.

Synchronous: Instructors and students gather at the same time and interact in "real-time" with a very short or "near-real-time" exchange between instructors and students. 

Asynchronous: Instructors prepare course materials for students in advance of students' access. Students may access the course materials at a time of their choosing and will interact with each over a longer period of time. 

Labs, Recitation and Fieldwork

One of the more challenging parts of teaching a course when there is a building or campus closure is the outside course components, such as labs, recitations, fieldwork, and site visits. To mitigate the effects of losing the in-person interaction and hands-on experience afforded through outside class components, consider establishing alternate, but equivalent activities by having an emergency plan for your outside class components. We also recommend that you review The Chronicle of Higher Education's article on How to Quickly (and Safely) Move a Lab Course Online.

  • Putting components online. Labs often require specific procedures or hands-on work. When that is not possible, find online videos or video-record your own demonstrations and post to Moodle. Connect students with online simulations. Provide analysis break-downs of data, etc. and save what is necessary for when students can return to the physical space. 
  • Use virtual labs or simulations. Online simulations can provide a similar experience to the hands-on experience. Provide students with a structure for engagement with the simulations and what to submit via Moodle. The PhET website provides simulations for online engagement in Biology, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Mathematics, and Physics. For construction or civil engineering-specific simulations, where you might normally conduct field site visits, there are online simulations to walk students through various processes. For example, has examples of construction simulation games, and construction simulations are located on InteliBuild’s YouTube channel. MERLOT, the California State University, and other partners have joined together to provide you a "one-stop-shop" for free and low-cost online virtual labs.
  • Providing raw data for students to analyze themselves. In a case where students collect and analyze data, you can demonstrate how to collect the data and provide students with the raw set of data to analyze on their own. This allows them to practice the data collection phase themselves until they return to class.
  • Exploring alternate software access. It is not always possible to have access to specific software on all of your students’ personal computers, tablets, or phones. In the event a separate lab space cannot be set up for students to engage with the software, consider finding an equivalent that is accessible to all students.


Exams pose a particular challenge in a situation where participants are on their own. The online format does not allow instructors the same ability to proctor exams as they have in class. In order to minimize incidents of academic integrity violations for online exams while still ensuring they accurately reflect student learning, consider the following principles in creating and modifying exams: 

  • Allowing exams to be open-book/source. Assume students will use resources while taking an exam, and even encourage them to do so. Try to ask questions that probe deeper levels of knowledge and understanding, enabling students to apply, assess, and evaluate concepts and facts in meaningful ways. Encourage students to share and cite where they get information from and what resources they use.
  • Encourage students to collaborate/share questions and ideas. Students will likely work together when they are stuck or confused. You can encourage working in small teams and ask them to include who they work with and in what ways.
  • Focus on solving problems while showing work and explanations. In many cases, students may get the same answer, but showing their work reveals meaningful differences in understanding. Sometimes there may only be a few ways to show work, so you may ask for brief prose explanations, or have students record a video of them talking through the process to solve a question.
  • Use question pools. If you have short-answer or multiple-choice questions, create pools in Moodle so that students receive different sets of questions (this can also be done with essays and more complex questions).
  • Use student-generated questions with explanations. Instead of trying to ensure everyone answers your limited number of questions on their own, ask every student to create their own question with an explanation of how it would assess a certain topic or skill in a meaningful way. You can also assign students to answer each other’s questions and state whether those questions actually do assess these skills in the appropriate ways.
  • Ensure clarity in questions and prompts. Especially if your test is timed, your students may not have a chance to ask a question and get a response. It is vital that questions and prompts are clear to novices so your assessment measures what you want it to. Even if not timed, you do not want to be spending your limited time answering clarifying questions.
  • Consider question formats leading to essays, videos, pictures, and other personal responses. If your class lends itself to it, having students express their learning through essays, videos, pictures, or other personalized forms of writing/speaking/communicating means that everyone needs to create their own. You can also have students post their responses for each other and assess each other’s work through peer grading. Rubrics can help guide students as they develop such work, give each other feedback, and, of course, allow your teaching assistants and you a consistent method of assessment.
  • Respect your own time. Most of these ideas take time to grade. Try to determine what is feasible in your situation, and use feedback-based or hand-grading intensive assessments sparingly. Also consider how much feedback students actually need/will use. Many times feedback can be created for the whole group based on common challenges or problems, as opposed to individual responses.

There are three options for shifting your classes temporarily online.

Option 1: Run Your Classes Live with Zoom


Create your live session on Zoom and share your session link with students. 

We recommend watching the Zoom Tutorial below by Jeff Meese, UM College of Business, to get you started with basic Zoom functions.

Session Prep Essentials

  • Share technical guides with your audience. It might be someone’s first time in Zoom, so consider sending a short tutorial on testing audio/video in advance, or directing them to the Keep on Learning page for assistance. Include this in your reminder email along with other information that your students need in order to come prepared (assignments, readings, etc.)
  • Review Zoom's System Requirements for PC, Mac and Linux based systems to ensure that your devices are in line with the basic requirements needed for running Zoom.
  • Use a headset and a microphone. This provides a clear way to capture your voice and allows you to more clearly hear conversations. Encourage your participants to do the same. Basic ear buds that include a microphone also work very well.
  • Position your webcam and light source. An external (USB) camera such as the Logitech C920 might provide a better visual experience for your audience than your built-in laptop webcam, but use what you’ve got. Position your webcam at eye-level (a stack of textbooks works well as a “booster seat”). Position your light source directly in front of you to illuminate your face. To see this in action, watch this short (2 minute) video.
  • Run a tech check. Test your computer, camera and microphone in the video conferencing platform at least 24 hours before your scheduled meeting by logging into your session. Use all the equipment (including headset or ear buds) that you plan to use during your session. 
  • Join from a location with a strong and stable Internet connection. Reduce background noise by going to a private space. A wired connection is best. If you are using WiFi, then connect from your home or office. Public locations can be spotty. We recommend checking your Internet speed as well. 
  • Be on time. Plan to arrive at least ten minutes before your scheduled meeting. Do another tech check and prepare your desktop for screen-sharing. You can also start interacting with your learners in the chat. Lots of great conversations happen before sessions even begin.
  • Appearance matters. Clean up your background (what is visible behind you in your physical location) to ensure that it’s appropriate/not distracting. Check your lighting conditions. Lastly, be aware of your behavior. When you are on video, people can see what you are doing at all times. It can be easy to forget you’re on camera, so just be mindful.
  • Consider recording the meeting. Recording allows you to share with learners who weren't able to attend (or who had to call in from a land line). Make sure that everyone consents before proceeding. If you might forget to record, set an alarm to nudge you.


  • Download our Online Lesson Planning Template for Faculty.
  • Send Reminders, to remind students of your session start date/time. 
  • Consider making discussion questions available in advance in Moodle so that students can access the questions if screen sharing does not work. If sharing slides in advance to Moodle, share as PDFs, as students will be able to access the material on their phones.
  • Display an agenda on your first slide, at the start of the class session so that students know what to expect of the shared time together.
  • Use slides and screen sharing within Zoom to make sure discussion questions are visible to students who may have a slow Internet connection or may not hear the audio for the initial question. (Look for “Share Screen” at the bottom of your Zoom call.)
  • Use the chat located at the bottom of your screen. Moderate discussion, “call on” a student with a comment to speak, to help them break into the conversation. 
    • For large classes, assign a Fellow or TA to moderate the chat and ensure important questions or comments are addressed. Smaller classes may find it worthwhile to ask a student to take on "chat monitor" roles to voice any questions that the instructor may have missed while teaching.
    • Chat can also be used to troubleshoot technical problems. For example, if a student is having trouble connecting, the chat might be a space for you as the instructor or for fellow students to work together to problem-solve. If you have a TA or a fellow who can support the class instruction with technical help, this would also be a good person to respond to troubleshooting tips in the chat.
    • Review In-Meeting Chat for more.
  • Use Zoom Breakout Rooms to help students talk in smaller groups (just as they would do break-out groups in a larger class environment). See Managing Video Breakout Rooms below.
  • Rethink classroom activities to make them interactive even if Zoom students don’t have ideal connections and aren’t able to hear and see everything perfectly. Have students write and comment together on a shared Google Doc. Try using Poll Everywhere or Google Forms to collect student responses, and then share results with both in-person and online students.


  • Check the Zoom Help Center.
  • If your microphone is not working, use the phone number listed in the Zoom invitation when you set up a Zoom call. You can use your phone's microphone and audio source for your call rather than your computer’s built-in microphone if necessary.
  • If your Internet connection is slow or lagging, consider temporarily turning off your video stream and only using the audio stream. Sometimes, running the web camera on your computer uses the Internet’s bandwidth in a way that might make communication challenging. Turning off the video should improve communication quality.
  • If you have ear buds or a headphone set, wear them! Wearing ear buds or headphones reduces the amount of noise that your computer will pick up, which will make it easier for your students to hear you. You may want to advise your students to wear ear buds or headphones during the call.
  • Check the “chat” space for student questions and contributions. Some students may not have working microphones and may be unable to contribute via voice. The chat room is a good place for students to contribute, ask questions, and be involved.


  • Review the Disability Services for Students Resources page.
  • For students who are blind or have low visibility, narrate material you’re displaying on the screen. Just as you might read materials aloud in class, read screen material that you share on-screen just in case students are not able to see essential text.
  • Automatic live captioning is not available in Zoom (automatic captions are visible if you record a Zoom session). You may wish to use Google Slides and enable the live captioning feature within Google Slides. If you screen-share using Google Slides your voice will be captured and live captions will appear. Review Present Slides with Captions (via Google Drive support) for more information.

Option 2: Pre-Record your Lectures


If you are not comfortable presenting live another good option is to pre-record any lecture material and upload it to Moodle or share the link by email. We recommend that you pre-record lectures using Zoom, as this will generate automatic closed-captions that are needed for accessibility reasons.

Pedagogical Recommendations

  • Test your microphone to make sure that you have good sound quality. Consider using a headset with an external microphone to capture better audio.


Consider ADA compliance. Automatic closed-captioning is not perfect. Speak clearly and not too quickly to make the content as accurate as possible. If using a tool other than Zoom for recording your lecture, consider uploading your videos to YouTube to take advantage of their automatic (though not perfect) closed-captioning. Integrate interaction with the lecture material. You might consider setting up a Canvas discussion board with some specific questions, using a quiz, or setting up a chat session for a text-based live discussion. Make sure to review the Disability Services for Students Resources page for more information. 

Option 3: Skip the Video


Many online courses do not have a video component at all. If you are not sure you have the right equipment and are uncomfortable with the tech setup, this might be a good option, at least for the short-term.

Pedagogical Recommendations

  • Annotate your slideshow with notes and share this with students using Moodle or email.
  • Set up a discussion for students in Moodle. Use specific, structured questions, and let students know expectations for their responses. See our recommendations on Written Discussions.
  • Share links to outside resources. Encourage students to watch videos, read articles, etc.
  • Use Chat to have a live, text-based chat session with students.

Office Hours

Set up virtual office hours to meet with students using your webcam, share your computer screen or collaborate using Zoom's whiteboard feature. 

Pedagogical Recommendations

  • Keep the link to the Zoom room you’re using for your students in a central place on your course Moodle site. The main factor to consider when holding office hours or conferences with students via Zoom is your accessibility as an instructor. Make sure they know how to find your “office” (just as you might offer them directions to your office on-campus).
  • Encourage students to share their screen with you. Screen sharing is possible not just for the instructor in Zoom, but for students too. Help your students navigate towards a screen sharing option so that they can show you their written work on their screen.

Keep on Teaching strategy inspiration was acquired from Pepperdine Community, Stanford, OLC’s Making the Shift to Online Learning: Emergency Preparedness & Instructional Continuity, Purdue University and Indiana University pages.