Decide on an Approach: Tools and More

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With your and your students’ resources and challenges in mind, you’ll want to decide on an approach. Will you meet synchronously with video sessions? Can students access course materials and respond to them asyncronously? Do you want to use an LMS or a course site? What can you accomplish with e-mail? These decisions will be informed by your and your students’ institutional, geographic, and social contexts as well as your familiarity with the technological options available.

In addition, evaluate your goals for students in the course. What of the course is most crucial and feasible for students to tackle in what remains of the semester, operating remotely? What kinds of activities will help students to get the information they need, practice the skills the course covers, and feel supported and part of a community?


Video conferencing, learning management systems, presentation slides, discussion boards, blogs, annotation tools, e-mail. The options may feel overwhelming. If you’ve gathered information from your students about their preferences and whether they have access to a computer and wifi, this may inform your approach. For instance, if your students are using their cellular data plans to access course materials, you may not want to rely heavily on video streaming. What is the most minimal approach you could take?

As you decide on tool(s) to use, you may want to review privacy policies and terms to consider how they handle personal data and the content shared on the platform. The Ethical EdTech wiki and Library Freedom Project’s Privacy for Online Teaching provide some guidance on privacy issues.

Whatever plan you make, try to have a backup in case students (or you!) encounter difficulties or the platform you’re using is overwhelmed and doesn’t work. If you’re planning to have a video conference but the service is glitchy, have an asynchronous activity or discussion prompt in mind to distribute by email. Have suggestions for back up plans? Comment below!

Sharing Course Material

You might share course information via a textual format, like e-mail, discussion board, or a course website.

You might also use recordings to share information with students.

Lindsey Passenger Wieck’s “An Equitable Transition to Online Learning—Flexibility, Low Bandwidth, Cell Phones, and More” recommends alternatives and accessibility features to consider if you plan to use recordings. If your students don’t have reliable access to wifi, using less bandwidth-heavy options than video (like audio) and providing transcripts can help them to access the material.

Greg Campbell’s “Digital Engagement” post includes advice about using video recordings as a component of online teaching.

On Twitter, Sara Chatfield shared a tip about using PowerPoint to record a slideshow with voiceover:

if you don’t have the time/capacity right now to learn new technology, PowerPoint allows you to record narration through the “Slide Show” menu, and then save as a video.

Catherine Holochwost tweets the suggestion to “screencast w QuickTime, keep lectures to 15 min.”

Amanda Golden notes, also on Twitter, that video recording can be helpful for demonstrating how to use new tools:

You can also make a video in advance, using share your screen, to walk through how students can navigate various applications or resources. Doing so is also useful for instructions, such as an overview to an assignment.

Lori Landay, on Twitter, describes how an instructor might use recordings that students can watch on their own time in tandem with synchronous discussions and activity to maintain a sense of community:

Teachers can record content delivery/screen share of presentations for students to watch in their own time, and use class times for learning activities that help students feel connected to each other.

Asynchronous Discussion

Asynchronous options will provide the most flexibility for students. Tools to communicate and collaborate asynchronously include things like e-mail, discussion boards, social annotation, blog posts, video or audio recordings.

For those with accounts on MLA Commons (MLA members) and/or Humanities Commons (open to anyone to join), the Educator’s Guide to Humanities Commons provides some information about teaching with  Commons groups and sites.

Recently, the MLA developed a theme to help instructors quickly set up a course site on the Commons. Explore the Learning Space Demo site and learn how to set up your own course site on the network.

If your institution provides access to a learning management system, you could use its features to facilitate discussion and collaboration. For instance, on Twitter, Melissa Dennihy writes,

It doesn’t have to be fancy. Your LMS is probably just fine. I love Blackboard’s discussion boards and wiki features. Colleagues of mine have had great success with Blackboard Collaborate and Voice Thread.

This Twitter thread by Jessie Male collects suggestions from her Disability Memoir students on a range of synchronous and asynchronous approaches. For asynchronous discussions, she notes,

Prompts to facilitate discussion. Every LMS I know has a discussion board section. You can post a prompt/class and have students post and reply to each other. Maintain a schedule for when prompts are posted/due. Posts can include a critical question to generate conversation.

For social reading—a practice in which students can comment on an online text and respond to one another’s comments—tools like and Perusall may be helpful.

Amanda Licastro created a quick guide to using the LMS plugin for instructors who would like to use an annotation tool with Blackboard or another learning management system. Her post includes information about using as a standalone tool, as well.

A member of the MLA Committee on Community Colleges suggests the social reading platform Perusall for literature, film, or cultural studies courses: “it’s free, it has the ability of grading reading comments automatically, and allows you to have collaborative conversations about texts.”

Synchronous Lectures and Discussion

Meeting synchronously requires you and students have access to technology, wifi, space (ideally private and quiet space), and availability at the specified time. Your institution may provide a video or audio conferencing tool for such meetings, or you might arrange to use another service.

This Twitter thread by Jim McGrath reflects on teaching a class with Monica Muñoz Martinez via Zoom. McGrath suggests students use background filters for privacy and notes issues including “different time zones, access to wifi and physical space.”


Consider ways you can make your course materials more accessible to students—especially as you introduce new technologies and modes of instruction and participation. Aimi Hamraie’s “Accessible Teaching in the Time of COVID-19” gathers and builds on information from their Twitter thread. The guide encourages web accessibility practices, like providing alt-text for images and transcripts for audio and time-based media, as well as flexibility to accommodate students’ needs.

Ten Steps Toward Universal Design of Online Courses (Disability Resource Center, U Arkansas Little Rock) covers a number of accessibility considerations and provides guidance on choosing tools as well as creating course materials.

Resources for Choosing Tools