Teaching Continuity at Caltech  /  Advice & Guidance  /  Online Course Structures

Online Course Structures for Lecture, Recitation, and Discussion-based Courses

Partially Online:

As in-person instruction resumes in as many cases as possible, the Institute encourages continued use of helpful online tools that many instructors adopted during the pandemic. Doing so may also help with contingency planning. Continued use of the following online methods have been reported as especially helpful:

  • At minimum, please populate Canvas with the following course information:
    • Syllabus with course policies
    • Course schedule with due dates (may be part of the syllabus)
    • links to other websites or resources students will need to use.
  • Continue to use Canvas tools, digital course reserves, and other online applications detailed in this site.
  • Online tools such as Canvas and discussion forums can assist students with group formation, discussing the Honor Code, and sharing collaboration and study strategies, as well as engaging with course material.
  • Whenever possible, recording synchronous class meetings (in person or online) tends to support student learning and accessibility. Recording options can be found here.
  • In some courses, instructors and TAs may decide to hold some office hours via Zoom, as well as in person.
  • If certain lectures must be held online due to COVID-19 precautions (e.g., limited classroom capacity due to social distancing), as determined by the Division and Institute, synchronous engagement tools can support intentional, meaningful, challenging, and supportive interactions via online video conferencing.
  • NOTE: Caltech recommends against synchronous dual delivery instruction (in which some students participate live and in person, while others participate live and online) due to numerous challenges with equity, technology, facilities, and methods.

Fully Remote:

While Caltech instruction is largely returning to in-person teaching and learning, as long as the pandemic continues, courses should prepare to move to fully remote instruction if it is deemed necessary by the Institute. In that case, the following models for fully online/remote courses may be helpful.

  • Model 1: Mainly pre-record lecture material; offer flexible synchronous options (flipped model)
    • Lectures: Instructors pre-record using Zoom, Canvas Studio, or a tool of their choice. Shorter segments of video are best. Videos are placed in Canvas. Students can demonstrate completion of their asynchronous engagement with pre-recorded materials via online quiz, discussion post, or other submission.
    • Flexible synchronous options: Zoom can be used for live discussion, guided problem-solving, or other active sessions with instructors. To avoid scheduling conflicts, it is recommended to have synchronous class meetings during the published course meeting time(s). If courses must move to fully online/remote formats, students should still have opportunities for substantial live interaction with instructors and TAs, comparable to the amount and quality of interaction they would have in person.
    • Recitations and Office Hours: These may also be held using Zoom. For office hours, some Caltech courses have found it helpful to have options for students to join via Zoom and/or to submit questions and receive responses via chat or discussion forum.
  • Model 2: Mainly synchronous classes; offer recordings and alternative interaction as back-up
    • Lectures, discussions, and/or recitations are held synchronously, typically via Zoom. Zoom polls, Zoom chat, and facilitated discussion via voice/video are used to engage students during class time. To avoid scheduling conflicts, it is recommended to have synchronous class meetings during the published course meeting times.
    • Synchronous sessions are recorded to provide back-up for students who are prevented from joining (e.g., connection issue, illness). If there are participation requirements for class, alternatives can be provided (e.g., students submit a short summary of their ideas about the in-class discussion, responses to poll questions, etc.).
  • Assignments and online discussion for either model:
    • Assignment distribution: assignments are typically posted in Canvas.
    • Assignment submission: students typically hand in work and receive feedback via Canvas or Gradescope, which are both FERPA-compliant and allow for private communication with students.
    • Online discussion: A Canvas discussion forum can be used to support assigned, threaded student discussions, and/or to document answers to student questions, between other interactions. Piazza is also available for this purpose.
  • Combining models:
    • It is possible to combine Models 1 and 2: e.g., pre-record some material, and also hold some synchronous class sessions. If taking this approach, setting up a consistent weekly schedule will help students gain clarity about the expectations. Articulating your goals and why you are choosing to pre-record some material and work with students synchronously on other material will also help students appreciate and make the most of your approach.