Course Continuity: Making a Rapid Transition to Online Teaching

In the event of a scenario that prevents instructors and students from meeting face to face, St. Thomas Aquinas College instructors are advised to adopt an online teaching approach. The purpose of this page is to help instructors quickly learn and apply the fundamentals of online teaching and learning.

Read on to learn how to:

  1. Use Google Classroom or Moodlerooms as your core online learning platform
  2. Communicate with students
  3. Post course materials
  4. Deliver lectures
  5. Interact with students through online course activities
  6. Assess student learning online
  7. Going Live

First Steps: If online teaching is new to you and you are creating an online course in response to an emergency situation, focus on the “First Steps” in each section below. You don’t need to build a whole course at once or use every online tool from the start. Instead, design core course activities for your first day, then gradually explore other elements.


Use Google Classroom or Moodlerooms as Your Core Online Learning Platform

Google Classroom will be the core learning platform for instructors who are new to using technology to conduct classes online.  Google Classroom should be your primary means of communicating with students, delivering content, enabling interaction, creating assessments, and keeping a gradebook.  Think of Google Classroom not just as a suite of instructional tools but also as a way for you to visually communicate to students how your course is organized, what they are supposed to do, and when they are supposed to do it.

For those who are currently using Moodlerooms (or have in the past) and would like to have additional courses set up in Moodlerooms, click on the link below and complete the form (you must be signed in to your STAC e-mail account):


First Steps: Visit the Google Classroom Training Site and start learning how to use the product!

Communicate with Students

Consistent, clear, reliable communication from instructors is a crucial element of successful online teaching, especially in an emergency scenario. Good communication builds course community, creates a sense of presence, and helps students understand that this is a real course with expectations that are fundamentally not much different from your face-to-face course. Bear in mind that online learning will be new for most of your students, too, so they will rely on you to communicate expectations, explain course logistics, and provide updates in a regular, predictable way.

Always post announcements in the Google Classroom Stream for course-wide communications. Since the Stream is the first thing students see when entering a course in Google Classroom, it is the best place to communicate with students.

Why use the Stream? Doing so ensures that all students know where to go for information, assignments, and updates, while also making it easy for instructors and students to access a record of past announcements. If you use email instead, you will likely find yourself sending the same email multiple times if students delete or lose track of the emails they have received.

First Steps: Take a look at the training videos concerning the Stream in the Google Classroom Training Site.

Post Course Materials

In an online environment, instructors have multiple ways of sharing course materials with students but the simplest approach is to upload documents or create links under the Classwork tab in Google Classroom.

First Steps: Watch the Classwork training video on the Google Classroom Training Site and then start setting up Topics, adding links, and uploading documents.

Deliver Course Lectures 

Now that you have prepared your course material, it is time to create and deliver lectures.

Option 1: Post Your Course Lectures as Written Documents

The most straightforward, low-tech way to deliver course lecture material is to type out in a document what you would have said during your lecture and then post this document in Google Classroom. Since these notes are meant to be read by students rather than heard during class, compose them so they are clear and easy to understand.

First Steps: Review the Classwork training video in the Google Classroom Training Site and start adding the documents to the Topics you have created.


Option 2: Pre-Record Video Lectures for Students

Using Quicktime on a Mac, Flashback Express on a Windows machine, or Screencast-O-Matic on a Chromebook to record your webcam and/or screen.

Teaching Tips:

  • Keep recorded lectures brief (ideally 15-25 minutes). If your typical lecture is longer than that, break it into smaller sections of this length. These approaches will help keep students’ attention and will make it easier if, later, you or your students wish to find and reference specific course content. Alternatively, you can ask students to pause the video every 15-20 minutes to complete some task that applies or extends the content of what you just lectured about. Done well, this approach will reinforce learning, increase retention, and create connections between lecture and the homework, essays, projects, etc. you ask students to do later.
  • Separate content-heavy lectures from more personalized or semester-specific communications. That is, create one video that explains a difficult concept, and create a separate video to give feedback to students, provide instructions on an assignment, offer reflections on current events, etc. This approach will make it easier for you to reuse content-specific lecture videos and will also make it easier for students to know where they need to go for which material.

Technical Tips:

  • Use headphones or earbuds with a microphone to minimize surrounding noise and maximize your voice.
  • Give your lectures descriptive names so your students can easily find the correct lecture.

Option 3: Create Live Interactive Lectures

This approach is best if you want to create teaching sessions where you shift frequently between short lectures and synchronous interactions with students. With this approach, you and your students will need to log in to Google Hangouts Meet during your designated course meeting time, unless all students agree to a change of schedule.

Getting Started with Hangouts Meet:  Schedule a Hangouts Meet with a friend or colleague to become familiar with how to create a session and how to use the software.

Technical tips:

  • Hangouts Meet is a web-based conferencing tool that instructors can use to hold classes online, communicate with students, hold office hours, or host review sessions.
  • Instructors have the option of sharing screens, visibly annotating on shared documents, and creating opportunities for student-student collaboration through breakout rooms.
  • Instructors can choose to record sessions to Google Drive and make them available for the class to watch again later. 
  • Hangouts Meet can be used with video or with audio-only; with screen sharing or without.  Students can also join by calling into a number provided when the Meet is scheduled on Google Calendar.
  • Use headphones or earbuds to reduce feedback.
  • As the host of the meeting, instructors are able to mute and unmute participants at any point. Unmute only when you wish to create opportunities for discussion.


Delivering Course Lectures: Selecting the Best Approach

So, should you use Lecture documents, videos, or Hangouts Meet sessions? There is no right answer.

Some instructors prefer to have everyone online together at the same time and find value in lecturing “live” while simultaneously interacting with students, posing questions, soliciting responses from students, engaging in Socratic dialogue, etc. If that’s you, use Hangouts Meet.

Other instructors prefer having time to write out or record their lectures in advance rather than lecture live, especially if they find it challenging to lecture while also facilitating a live Hangouts Meet session. Writing or pre-recording lectures also has the advantage of creating documents or videos you can repurpose in future classes. If that’s you, go with lecture documents or pre-recorded videos.

You can also combine the three approaches. For example, you could create some lecture documents, supplement them with pre-recorded lectures and class activities to be completed within a certain timeframe, and then hold discussion sessions or office hours synchronously using Hangouts Meet. This combination approach has the advantage of letting you carefully construct re-usable lecture material while also creating opportunities for the spontaneity and interactivity of a live online discussion. But bear in mind that there is no clock on the wall in an online class to tell us when the class period is over, so be careful not to assign an excessive amount of coursework.

Interact with students through online course activities

In addition to sharing course material and delivering lectures, instructors also need to provide feedback to students and create opportunities for instructor-student and student-student interaction. The most effective online activities require students to intellectually engage with the course content and to receive formative feedback from their instructors.

Hangout Meet sessions can be used for discussion sessions or office hours in which instructors pose questions, give immediate feedback on answers, respond to student questions, etc.

A lower-tech, lower bandwidth alternative is to use Create a Question.

First Steps: Create a Question under one of your Topics or in the Stream.

Teaching Tips:

  • Discussions work best when instructors post open-ended prompts that direct students to engage with the course material, producing work that the instructor can review. 
  • Encourage students to respond to one another. One method to do this is to require each student to post one response to the prompt and at least one post in response to another student.  
  • Give students feedback by responding to their posts or by responding to a separate writing assignment that builds on the online discussion.  Instructors do not need to respond to every student post, but should be aware of and involved in the discussion.
  • Promote productive discussions by posting discussion guidelines and making participation part of the course grade.

Assess Student Learning Online 

When students cannot take a quiz or an exam in a traditional physical classroom, instructors will need to create online assessments.

Create a Quiz:

First Steps: Watch How to Create a Quiz in the Classroom found on the Google Classroom Training Site.


Assigning essays and papers

First Steps: Watch Create an Assignment and Add a Topic found on the Google Classroom Training Site.


Going Live

Last of the First Steps:

  • After you have prepared for the start of your first online course session, make sure you have added your students to the course.  Please watch How to Add Students to Classroom found on the Google Classroom Training Site.


  • Posting in the Stream an important way to humanize an online course. Give students regular course-wide feedback about how the class is doing and encourage them to keep up with the work. 
  • Because it is easy for students to lose track of the things they are expected to do, give your Posts a clear title (e.g., “Coursework for Thursday, 4/23/2020”) and include a quick checklist for students to follow.

Sample Post:

Subject: Check-in... and Coursework for Thursday, 3/17/2020

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

In general, students did well on the Chapter 3 quiz and everyone had thoughtful contributions to the ongoing discussion. Please check your grades and feedback. Bring any questions on the reading or the quiz to our Hangout Meet Office Hours on Wednesday at 4 pm EDT.

Our next class session is now available on Google Classroom.  Be sure to complete all of the following before midnight EDT, Wednesday, 3/18/2020:

  •  Log in for Hangout Meet Office Hours on Wednesday at 4 pm EDT.
  •  Read Adams, Chapter 4
  •  Watch Lecture 4
  •  Post a response to the “Week 4 Question"
  •  Take Quiz 4

Keep up the good work!

See you Wednesday,

Professor _________

Additional St. Thomas Aquinas Resources

Select articles on moving online in emergency situations