Resources for Transitioning Online (COVID-19)

All instructors, working with their departmental colleagues, should think creatively of ways to deliver curriculum in alternative modalities should the need arise. For example, can your course be moved online, are there alternative assignments you can use in place of things like labs, etc., or in the case where this is not possible, can we determine how to work with students to complete the semester in the event of an interruption? We hope this will not be the case and have no indication currently that we will need to do this, but we should be prepared. The Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning (CATL) has prepared collections of resources in regards to moving courses online and insuring that we are teaching as part of a safe and inclusive environment for all students.

Course Continuity Resources

Inclement weather, natural disasters, or other emergencies may lead to an extended loss of class time. CATL has put together some resources that may help you in planning for the inability to meet in person, and how you may continue to speak with students, guide their learning, and collect assignments and assessments.

First Week of Class

As the first week of class draws nigh, instructors naturally turn their thoughts to those first moments that form a new community. These initial interactions offer instructors and learners an opportunity to set the tone for learning for the semester. We searched our library and reached out to UW-Green Bay faculty who have presented on their methods for building community and transparency in the first week to share their insights once again. Many thanks to Dr. Jenell Holstead for inspiring our objectives for the first day, and to Drs. Katia Levintova and Carly Kibbe for example icebreakers for building community in large lecture courses.

What are the objectives for the first day:

  • Clarify all reasonable questions students might have about the course (course objectives, assignments, pre-requisites, when you’ll provide feedback, and how and when students should seek help); spotlight important parts of your syllabus and consider asking students to annotate the syllabus either before class or while you’re all meeting for the first time. Suggestions for how to do this are below.
  • Build community and set the tone for the course environment with an introductory activity. Whether you’re teaching online or face-to-face, students are more likely to succeed when they have a greater sense of belonging not only to each other but also to the course design.
  • Convince students of your competence to teach the course, predict the nature of your instruction, and know what is required of them (your expectations about performance in class). When appropriate, consider asking students to generate a class charter for participation so that they have a stake in shaping how and when they will be prepared to come to class. Giving your students some agency encourages them to hold themselves and their peers accountable for their preparedness.
  • Give you an understanding of who is taking your course and what their expectations are and whatever you plan to do during the semester, do it on the first day. Some instructors ask students to do some “predicting” on the first day of class in order to gauge their expectations and learning goals. Suggestions for how to accomplish this are here.

Man with ice pick chipping away at frozen lakeExamples of Ice Breaker Activities

  1. Sharing Course Trepidations.* Some students have high anxiety about beginning a new course, especially in some courses, such as math or writing, which may be associated with high student anxiety and expectations. Have your students pair up or work in groups to share some of their fears and concerns about starting your course. Groups can share with the larger class if they feel comfortable; this provides validation for the students and an opportunity for the instructor to address student concerns.
  2. Simple Self-Introductions.* Have students introduce themselves to the rest of the class, including their names, majors, and year in school. You can even have them include a “fun fact” about themselves. This also may help you remember them a little bit better. This is a particularly useful exercise in a course where student speaking, in the form of speeches, oral presentations, or regular discussions, are expected.
  3. Getting to Know Each Other through Writing.* Instead of asking students to interview one another verbally, have your students write down the information that is traditionally shared in an introduction. Students can write their names, majors, reasons for enrolling in your course, “fun facts” about themselves, etc. Have your students swap papers with one another and learn about their partners without speaking. This is especially useful in a writing-intensive course.
  4. The M&M Icebreaker. Each student should be given an M&M (or a Lifesaver, or other multicolored candy). They can be given this piece of candy either as they walk in to the room or while they are already sitting in their seats. Develop a few questions or ideas about what students can share with the rest of the class.  Then ask the students to introduce themselves to either a small group of other students or to the whole class, depending on the size of your course.  When they introduce themselves, what they share or say is dependent on the color of their piece of candy.  For example, a red one might mean they share why they decided to take the course or what they did over the school break.
  5. Syllabus Icebreaker.* Before distributing syllabi, have students get into small groups (3-5 students depending on the size of your course) and introduce themselves to one another. In their groups, students write a list of questions they have about the class. After their questions are written down, hand out the syllabus and have the students find answers to their questions using the syllabus. This is not only an icebreaker, but can also show students that many of their questions can be answered by reading the syllabus. Afterward, the class “debriefs” as a large group and discusses any questions that were not answered in the syllabus. 
  6. Syllabus Jigsaw.* Divide your syllabus into a few major sections. Have your students get into groups and distribute one major section to each group (for example, Group A gets “homework assignments”). Each group studies the section of the syllabus until they are confident about the information in it; groups then present that section of the syllabus to the rest of the class.
  7. Common Sense Inventory.* Make a list of true or false statements pertaining to content in your course (for example, in a Biology course, one might read, “Evolution is simply change over time”). Have students get into groups and decide whether each statement is true or false. As a large group, “debrief” by going over the answers and clarifying misconceptions.
  8. Anonymous Classroom Survey.* Write 2 or 3 open-ended questions pertaining to course content. Consider including at least one question that most students will be able to answer and at least one question that students will find challenging. Have your students respond anonymously on note cards; collect the answers to get a general sense of your students’ starting point.
  9. Choose your Thread:* ask students to read the poem “The Way It Is” by William Stafford, and reflect on what their “thread” is and how it sustains them.
  10. Draw* a picture or create a PowerPoint Slide where students can express why they are taking the class.
  11. Bingo: Make a 5×5 grid to use as a Bingo sheet. In each box, write a “fun fact,” or something that at least one of your students will probably relate to. Some examples might be: has traveled to Europe; plays a sport; is left-handed, but they can also be related to your discipline. Have your students walk around and talk to others until they find matches; the first to find all of them “wins.”
  12. Shoes Activity: This activity comes from Dr. Katia Levintova, which she uses in a large lecture class to develop community on the first day. Take a look to see how students’ shoes, a few minutes of silence, and shuffling groups helps her to do this.

(* = suitable for Online or Face-to-Face environments)

Why do an Ice Breaker?

Research around the first weeks of a course indicates that it is not just content expertise that matters to student experience and learning: it is also the environment that the instructor creates–ideally engaging students as active participants (Deluse, 310-312). First impressions are important—from the first time you greet your students to the built or virtual environments in which you teach. Sara Rose Cavanagh shows how students’ first impressions heavily influence their evaluation of courses at the end of the semester. (Cavanagh, 63) 

Email if you have an activity for the first week that you would like to share!


“!2 Icebreakers for the College Classroom” Center for Advancement of Teaching, Ohio State University

Angelo, T. A., and Cross, K. P. Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.

Cavanagh, Sarah Rose. The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion. First edition. Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 1. Morgantown, West Virginia: West Virginia University Press, 2016. [E-book requires UWGB login]

Deluse, Stephanie. “First Impressions: Using a Flexible First Day Activity to Enhance Student Learning and Classroom Management.” International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 30, no. 2 (2018): 308–21.

“First Day of Class – Design & Teach a Course.” Carnegie Mellon University. Teaching Excellence & Education Innovation – Eberly Center, 2019.

“First Day of Class Guide.” Vanderbilt University. Center for Teaching, 2010.

Holstead, Jenell. “Do’s and Don’ts for the First Day of Class.” Presentation Session presented at the Instructional Development Institute, University of Wisconsin – Green Bay, January 17, 2018.

Jaggars, Shanna Smith, and Di Xu. “How Do Online Course Design Features Influence Student Performance?” Computers & Education 95 (April 2016): 270–84.

Kibbe, Carly, and Katia Levintova. “Building Community in Large Lecture Classes.” University of Wisconsin – Green Bay, January 28, 2018.

Samudra, Preeti G., Inah Min, Kai S. Cortina, and Kevin F. Miller. “No Second Chance to Make a First Impression: The ‘Thin‐Slice’ Effect on Instructor Ratings and Learning Outcomes in Higher Education.” Journal of Educational Measurement 53, no. 3 (2016): 313–331.






Class Cancellations Resources

Did a wintry mix of snow and bone-chilling temperatures unravel your plans for the first week of class? You’re certainly not alone, and CATL is here to help us think through this teaching challenge. While your instinct may be to cut ice-breakers or community-building activities that aren’t tied directly to your assessments, we encourage you to find other ways to tackle the issue at hand. These introductory activities promote students’ sense of belonging, which is closely linked with their academic achievement. Below you will find ideas for how you might move some of common elements of first week classes into the digital environment, along with off-line suggestions for how you might condense your face-to-face course in the wake of the winter storm. 

For a quick article on the importance of engaging students on the first day, including ideas for online icebreakers, see James M. Lang’s “How to Teach a First Day of Class Advice Guide” on the Chronicle of Higher Education Website.

How are you surmounting the challenge of lost class time? Feel free to contribute to the community of knowledge by commenting below!

When in doubt, look to your outcomes…

Losing one or two days of in-class meeting time likely means culling something from your course. As you weigh what to condense or cull, consider what content, activities, and assessments are absolutely essential to those outcomes. Trying to cram everything in will be stressful for you and your students. Clearly no one has unnecessary fluff filling valuable course time, but it may be possible to still help students meet those outcomes:  

  • With less content (e.g. are there slides, content knowledge, readings, in-class activities that are less vital to the course?). 
  • With online assessments (e.g. moving face-to-face exams to D2L or Canvas). 
  • Abbreviated assignments or activities that meet the same outcomes.  
  • By moving learning into the online environment (see below for strategies and caveats).

Consider involving your students:

If you will have to adjust your course because you can’t condense your plan easily, perhaps this is a perfect opportunity to engage students in a conversation about the learning outcomes and goals for the class. Engaging students in course design fosters an environment of respect, reciprocity, and responsibility that supports deeper levels of engagement. Whether you’re struggling to find ways to cut content, re-think assessments or activities, or move course work online, asking students to help you decide what may work best can deepen their motivation to engage in your shared solutions. 

For example, you may ask students if they think you should consider: 

  • Moving a face-to-face exam to D2L or Canvas to use class time for learning over individual assessments. 
  • What content you might cull and still meet your learning outcomes/program outcomes. 
  • How they might be able to help you summarize missed content.  
  • How learning outside of class may tie into your course’s objectives. 

For example, if you ask students to review, comment on, or annotate your syllabus as suggested above, you could also ask them where they see room to condense or cull materials.

Moving materials online?

If you’re thinking about moving some content online to help orient your students to the course, or even facilitate some of that very-important community building that normally happens during the first week of classes, you have several tools at your disposal for conducting class interactions online: 

Syllabus Review:

One way to use time efficiently is to turn your syllabus overview into an activity. 

Syllabus Annotations

Consider making a copy of your syllabus available for comments via Office 365 (One Drive at UWGB) (Here’s how to do so in Canvas and how to do so directly from OneDrive if you don’t use Canvas) so that students can add comments and questions to the draft; or provide a link that allows students to annotate a Google Document

Syllabus scavenger hunt 

You may wish to create a scavenger hunt quiz that encourages students to comb through your syllabus for important pieces of information. (Create a quiz in Canvas or D2L). 

Syllabus discussion 

This is a variation on the “muddiest point” style of discussion where the instructor places a link to the syllabus in a discussion thread and asks students to post their questions about the syllabus. (Discussions in Canvas or D2L) is a web annotation tool that allows instructors to upload a document – such as a syllabus – and have students annotate it with their questions. This would be used best if both the instructor and students are comfortable with technology.

Syllabus quiz:

instructors might choose to create a short syllabus quiz for students, that students can take multiple times to ensure they know what is expected of them. Check out how to make a quiz in D2L or Canvas.


Building community in your courses is paramount to providing an environment in which students feel welcome. In online classes, some instructors offer a few techniques for engaging students early.

Not sure how to create a discussion? Here’s how to do so in D2L and Canvas

A few ideas for Ice-Breaker activities are available below…


Fun Self-Introduction Discussion

Topic: Write a brief self-introduction to be posted to our class discussion forum. In your introduction message, please include:

  • Your major and year at UWGB.
  • Answer one of the following icebreaker questions (choose one of the following):
  • If you were a superhero, what would your superhero name be? Describe your superpower.
  • Write an original Japanese Haiku about any subject you’d like. (Of course, use good judgment please.)
  • Tell us about your dream vacation.

To earn the 10 possible points in this forum, please answer each of the questions. (You only have to do one of the icebreaker options.)

Caveats: Students will be looking to see an example of your own post—start the discussion!

PowerPoint Slide about Yourself

Topic: Create a PowerPoint slide that exemplifies “you” and then add an audio comment explaining your slide.

Caveats: Students (especially those who traditionally take face-to-face courses) might not feel comfortable adding an audio comment—you could suggest that they write out a paragraph instead. Students also will want a sample to know what kind of information to share—so you might model this for them. Students will also need access to a web cam in order to record audio.

Video Self-Introduction

Topic: Introduce yourself – video option

Instructors: you may ask your students to introduce themselves via video using the Kaltura recorder

Kaltura in Canvas:

Kaltura in D2L:


“Flipping” Materials

When you want to “flip” some of your course lecture, think about chunking up your lecture into about 10-minute chunks so that students will be able to space out the material. It is also good practice to consider the “drop-off” rate for students watching videos, which is about at 6-7 minutes.  

Synchronous Sessions

Consider too, making an optional “synchronous session” that allows you and your students to communicate and view materials at the same time. This is possible via the Blackboard Collaborate Ultra tool, available via D2L, Canvas, or the MyUW System Portal. 

Scale the ePortfolio

    • Low stakes means that students and instructors have less pressure on an assignment that involves some work towards an eportfolio.
    • Medium stakes means that either instructors of students have some pressure from the eportfolio
    • High stakes means that both instructors and students have the most pressure on this version of an eportfolio

Low Stakes

Medium Stakes

High Stakes


Students are asked to identify and store an assignment that they’re proud of.

Students are asked to identify and store an assignment that meets a course or programmatic outcome.

Students are asked to identify and store all assignments that meet a course or programmatic outcome.


Students are asked to consider making changes to an assignment for future use.

Students are encouraged to make changes to their work to better represent their academic progress through a course or program.

Students must post a final, revised, polished version of their work.


Students are asked to think about what kinds of skills they are developing in completing an assignment.

Students are asked to document the skills they are developing while they are completing an assignment in some written form.

Students are asked to reflect on the skills that they developed while completing an assignment and then consider how those skills can help them with future goals.


Students are asked to consider how skills from an assignment might transfer from that original assignment to a new one within the same course.

Students are asked to consider how skills from an assignment transfer from one assignment to a different course assignment in the same program. This can take many different forms: paper, presentation, matrix, video etc.

Students are asked to analyze and synthesize how their skills transfer from one course to another in a different program; or how those skills transfer into a professional setting. This can take many different forms: paper, presentation, matrix, video etc.


Instructors can ask students to submit materials that are germane to the course, and then ask them to hold onto it for when they have a medium/high stakes eportfolio assignment.

Instructors can ask students to submit materials that are pass/fail, where they turn in assignments germane to the course, and then ask them to include it in a course portfolio with the final project.

Instructors can ask students to submit drafts, remediated assignments, and edited versions in order to offer multiple opportunities for students to submit their best work to a final portfolio, which is also assessed for points rather than completeness.


Instructors can ask students to participate in a peer review activity where students review materials that might be included in a portfolio at another time.

Instructors can ask students to participate in peer review in order to post a remediated version of the assignment to the final portfolio.

Instructors can ask students to review and provide feedback to their peers while they review a final draft of the eportfolio with all artifacts, and framing language included.


Students can collect drafts of their work as handwritten artifacts, photographs of those artifacts, or they can keep track of born digital documents that they created for course work. They can store those assignments on a flash drive, or within an eportfolio system to frame at a later date.

Students can showcase their work within a course by providing a PDF of all of their work they hoped to include in their portfolio to their classmates. This could also be included in an eportfolio building tool that allows students to attach reflections about that specific artifact.

Students can claim a domain where they store their work across their academic career and then build a website that showcases the work stored on their own server. This is the most sophisticated way to maintain access to the actual artifacts, and the most difficult to learn how to use.


Students can keep their work private between themselves and the instructor within the course.

Students can keep their work private within the course, but have peers comment, and provide feedback separate from the portfolio

Students can make their work public and available by hosting their work on a content management system, and building a social network to build social capital in a professional setting.