Digital Learning & Design

Course Design

Online Learning*: is an instructional approach conducted via the computer and/or the Internet in which neither the students nor the instructors meet in-person at any point during the course. Therefore, no Brown classroom is needed for face-to-face course sessions. Instructors and students may meet virtually at a scheduled time using Zoom.

There are two main types of online learning:

  • Remote Learning (or Synchronous Learning): a learning approach in which learning occurs in different locations, but at the same time for all students.  This approach allows students to engage live with the instructor and other class participants through web conferencing software such as Zoom.
  • Asynchronous Learning: an instructional approach conducted via the Internet in which neither the students nor the instructors meet in-person or remotely for class sessions at any point during the course. Participation is conducted asynchronously via Canvas, so students can complete work when it suits their schedule. For example, instructors can use Canvas Discussions to foster student interaction. Though the class as a whole will not meet for synchronous sessions, instructors and students may meet virtually for office hours.

*Brown’s definition for Online Learning is aligned with the U.S. Department of Education’s definition of distance education.

Hybrid Learning (or Blended Learning): an instructional approach that includes a combination of online and in-person activities. In a hybrid learning environment, the online and the in-person components of the course integrate with one another in a cohesive manner. The activities completed online complement those undertaken in the classroom.  A Brown classroom is needed for face-to-face sessions with an instructor or teaching assistant.

When designing a hybrid course, please keep the following in mind: 

  • Remote students should be able to participate in in-person activities; this often means the addition of Zoom web conferencing to classroom activities.  
  • Not all remote students will be able to participate in in-person activities. It is therefore important to add asynchronous online activities, such as Canvas Discussions, as an alternative means of meeting learning objectives. This is preferable to distributing discussion recordings. 

Examples of Hybrid Learning include: 

  • The use of the “flipped classroom” model, in which students read texts, watch videos, or complete online assignments before attending a face-to-face session.
  • The instructor (or teaching assistant) meets students face-to-face and then supplements those sessions with online asynchronous activities.
  • The instructor builds in online components to supplement the face-to-face component as circumstance necessitates. 

There are a number of ways you can increase student engagement. Please see this guide for facilitating online lectures. There you’ll find advice on how to engage students during a small seminar. These guides from Sheridan on inclusive teaching through active learning and fostering and assessing equitable classroom participation can also be helpful.

Canvas discussions are the perfect place to create casual, low-stakes discussions. Faculty have used them to great effect when they wish to continue the conversation beyond a Zoom session. Canvas Discussions also ensure students in different time zones can contribute to the class discussion.

Start by rethinking content delivery. The online environment is not analogous to a face-to-face setting when it comes to lectures—a multimedia online book may be a more helpful model. Break content up into concise chunks related to engagement activities that follow. Ensure active learning by keeping video segments short and engagement frequent. Research on online learner behavior shows a precipitous drop in attention after 6 minutes of video, or less. Add visual interest to recordings, such as video, images, illustrations, whiteboarding, etc., to maintain interest, or add quiz questions into a Panopto recording for further engagement. To see how Panopto quizzes can be used with the Canvas gradebook, see this guide on Panopto video quizzes for Canvas assignment grades

See our guide on creating course videos for more tips.

Panopto Personal Recorder enables you to edit your pre-recorded lectures however you wish. For more information on how to edit already existing lecture footage, please see our introduction to creating course videos.

Panopto Personal Recorder offers the best way to record and share videos. For information on installing and using Panopto Personal Recorder, please see our article on the topic. Our guide on creating course videos includes best practices for recording lecture videos and helpful presentation tips.

To further increase student engagement, consider pairing the pre-recorded video with a quiz or an assignment. Please see our guide on moving large lecture courses online for more information.

Please remember to keep accessibility in mind when creating pre-recorded lectures. See this guide on digital inclusion and accessible learning design.

We’ve developed a checklist you can use to make sure your course is ready for students.

For more information on copyright and ownership of instructional materials, please see the Office of the Provost’s FAQ on Course Materials Ownership.


Please see this guide on administering exams online. Please note that we cannot offer proctored exams. But there are many ways you can create challenging and effective quizzes and exams through Canvas and other online tools. Please see Sheridan’s guide on inclusive approaches to support student assignments during times of disruption for more ideas on creating rigorous yet inclusive assessments. Also, if you are teaching a large course, our guide on rethinking exams will also prove helpful.

Appeal to students’ sense of integrity: Remind them of the Academic Code of Conduct to which they are bound. Explain answers: If a test includes a question or problem whose answer or solution could be found online or shared, have them explain their answer in writing or in a virtual office meeting. Design questions that require more complicated answers that are difficult to simply look up online. Use online testing settings in Canvas or Gradescope to limit the test availability, set a maximum time, randomize questions and answers, randomly draw from larger question banks, show one question at a time, lock questions after answering, etc.
See the our guide on rethinking exams for large online courses for a wider discussion of assessment choices and online testing options. (Much of the advice applies to smaller courses as well.) For more information on quiz options, in general, read this article on Canvas quiz settings.

Teaching Online

Managing discussions in a large lecture course takes a special approach. Please see this guide for moving large courses online. There you will find advice on how to manage online discussions for a large lecture course, including how to break large sections into smaller groups and how to use students to foster discussion among their peers.

You can demonstrate problem solving and model solutions by using the Zoom whiteboard, which allows you to draw and write out formulas. Please see this guide on digital whiteboarding for more information on how to use Zoom to whiteboard. 

For more information on how to better integrate problem solving into your pedagogy, please see Sheridan’s guide on teaching problem solving.

You can use digital whiteboarding to increase student involvement. Allow students to post to the whiteboard and then give them a prompt. Stipulate that they must respond within a certain number of words. For example: “Is Count Fosco wholly evil? Respond to the whiteboard stating ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and ‘why’ in under ten words.” Then use the rest of the class period to discuss the results.

Using breakout rooms with the whiteboard can be especially effective. Instructors have combined breakout groups with creative whiteboard tasks for each group (such as making collective drawings of the core ideas in certain texts; students have to explicate these images to the whole seminar when the class comes back together). Such an approach allows students the freedom to engage creatively with analytic materials at a time when their abilities to concentrate on more traditional forms of analysis are under considerable strain.

When lecturing remotely you’ll want to establish rules of engagement at the beginning of the class. Some instructors ask students to wait until the last twenty minutes of class to ask questions; others refer them to the Zoom chat function and then answer those questions throughout the lecture. TAs can monitor the chat as well, calling the instructor’s attention to any questions that are particularly pertinent to the lecture.

Above all, avoid having students talk all at once. By setting out how and when questions should be asked, you’ll avoid the confusion that can often attend remote lectures.

There is! Canvas allows you to easily add a rubric to any assignment. You’ll be able to determine criteria and points, ensuring students have a clear idea of expectations.

What kind of rubric you develop depends on the nature of the assignment. Please see Sheridan’s guide on designing different kinds of grading rubrics. Sheridan also has a comprehensive page on resources for developing rubrics for different assignments and disciplines.

You can use groups in both Canvas and Zoom to foster student participation and engagement. In Canvas, you can make use of groups in both discussions and assignments. For more information on how to make and use group discussions, see this article on using Canvas groups for discussions

Canvas assignments too provide ample opportunity for group work. For example, you can have students work on a project together and then present it in a Zoom session or Canvas discussion. Please see this guide on creating and managing students groups in Canvas for more information on using groups. 

For group activities within Zoom, try the breakout rooms function. Breakout rooms are a great way to foster collaboration. You can assign students to breakout rooms during the Zoom session, or beforehand. Please see our guide on pre-assigning students to breakout rooms should you wish to assign students to groups beforehand.

Each platform affords ample opportunity for group work. Canvas is better for asynchronous group work, ensuring students across time zones can collaborate and share ideas, while Zoom excels at encouraging synchronous sharing of ideas. Which one you choose depends on the nature of the assignment. Please see our guide on designing effective group work for more information.

If you use Panopto Personal Recorder for your asynchronous lectures, then consider using the quiz function to embed answers in the lecture. Panopto can also communicate with the Canvas gradebook.

Student Engagement & Community Building

Librarians can work with you to identify multimodal and varied sources to help all students develop their information literacy, paying particular attention to diverse and inclusive learning experiences, including hard to find materials and visual and audio content that supports course goals. Please see this libguide on library resources and course support to get started.

There are a number of ways you can increase student engagement. Please see this guide for facilitating online lectures. There you’ll find advice on how to engage students during a small seminar. These guides from Sheridan on inclusive teaching through active learning and fostering and assessing equitable classroom participation can also be helpful.

Please read through our guide on digital inclusion and accessible learning design. It highlights the most important accessibility concerns and outlines how to best address them in your online course.

A sense of community develops when a course is accessible, engaging, and ensures all students feel comfortable contributing. Consider building in Canvas discussions to supplement Zoom sessions and encourage participation. When hosting a Zoom session, asks that students use virtual backgrounds to maintain privacy and a sense of equity. Encourage participation via the chat function as well. And, above all, ensure that you include a number of diverse assessments and activities in your course so that no one activity favors students learning under particular circumstances.

For more ideas on virtual community building please see our virtual community building guide.

With English language learners, make sure to provide content in multiple ways. That is, do not rely solely on Zoom lectures; include Canvas discussions, as well as pre-recorded lectures. Avoid using software that is complicated or challenging; stick to tried-and-true online methods to ensure students can quickly understand assignment expectations.

Student Resources

The IT Service Center can help students with various technical problems.

The Library is providing virtual services, including research consultations, online reserves requests, and workshops. For more information on Library services, please visit their Research Support site.

We’ve outlined technology expectations on our Online Learning Guide page. There you’ll see that students are expected to have reliable internet, an up-to-date browser, camera and headphones, and software. Of course, technical problems are inevitable, and therefore it is good to give students some leeway should they be experiencing internet problems or other technical malfunctions.

Still didn’t find what you were looking for? We are here to assist you:

  • Schedule a consultation about online pedagogy and learning tools or media by visiting Digital Learning & Design’s instructor consultation calendar or email
  • For questions about how to make pedagogical shifts to your course content or assignments, contact the Sheridan Center by emailing
  • To digitize materials that currently are not electronic, email the Library at 
  • For questions regarding academic policies, email the College at
  • For curricular support integrating primary sources, digital projects, curated resource lists, and live and recorded instruction at