Asynchronous Instruction


An option for asynchronous teaching is to pre-record presentation material and make it accessible to students, such as by uploading it on Canvas. Presentation recordings can be paired with specific tasks or assignments in which students can demonstrate their understanding of the material and practice applying it. For this option, you might consider having the same deadline each time (e.g. every Sunday by 11:59pm) so that students can more easily follow a set structure.

  • Because it is often harder to focus on a video than on a person, it is recommended that you keep recordings on the shorter side. Many experts on remote teaching recommend 10-15 minutes per video, with one concept addressed per video.
  • Test your microphone to make sure that you have good sound quality. Consider using a headset with an external microphone to capture better audio. Click here for more.
  • Consider accessibility. Speak clearly and not too quickly. This will also support captioning if it is needed for student accommodations. Hosting videos on YouTube can allow you to access automatic captioning, but please note that it is imperfect.
  • Provide students with a clear timeline in which they are expected to complete the task of viewing the video and following up with any assignment that goes along with it.

Paired Assignments

You may wish for students to complete a series of assignments to engage with course material, discuss it with each other and with you or TAs in a variety of formats, and apply the concepts to new situations in a fully asynchronous mode.

For this option, having all course materials in a central place and clear instructions for submitting work or accessing discussion boards is crucial. With this in mind, the teaching team may wish to rely on the features available in Canvas.

  • When you need to present content to students and do not want to use video, consider annotating a slideshow presentation with notes and then share the file on Canvas or Google Drive for student review.
  • Set up a discussion for students in Canvas, where they can respond to specific discussion questions related to course content. Use specific, structured questions, and let students know what your expectations are for their responses.
    • Consider assigning roles to students so that they understand when and how they might respond to you, TAs, or their peers. For example, students might adopt the role of particular kinds of respondents or you might ask them to do particular tasks (e.g. be a summarizer, a respondent, a connector with outside resources).
  • To support students to apply course material to new contexts, consider sharing links to outside resources, such as videos, podcasts, and articles, etc. that students can engage with and then complete an assigned task.
  • Set up a peer review of student work, such as homework problem-sets or drafts of writing assignments, with clear and specific instructions for what to consider when reviewing each other’s work. A structured worksheet, provided to students in advance, can allow students to respond to guided questions as they review their peers’ work.

Visit and/or share the following resources with your students:


Many instructors already have formal policies as well as more tailored approaches to supporting students to continue learning when they need to miss class for a variety of reasons, and many instructors’ existing attendance policies provide some flexibility for this (e.g. allowing for X number of absences within a quarter without a negative impact on a student’s grade). Unplanned events that shift the teaching and learning landscape can amplify the need for a more formalized set of alternatives to attending class (whether class is held in person or virtually) so that students can continue to access and demonstrate learning in different formats.

Some examples of alternatives to attending class include:

  • Watching or listening to a Zoom recording of a lecture or class session, and then completing a reflection or other assignment that allows the student to check their understanding and communicate their learning for themselves and for the instructor.
  • Reviewing the materials used in class (such as lecture slides, readings, handouts, problem sets) and then seeing if they can answer a set of questions that allows them to check their understanding, such as questions listed in course slides or in an online survey or quiz.
  • Participating in class discussion online, such as by using the Discussion feature in Canvas, in which students respond to a common prompt as well as to at least one post by a peer. For additional structure, instructors can provide a list of helpful ways to respond to a discussion post, such as by reflecting back for understanding; asking a follow-up question for clarification or extension; sharing additional information or resources that amplify, extend, or complicate the content of the post.
  • Choosing from a pre-approved list of mini-assignments that align with the general learning goals of the course. The list can include accessing in-class materials and completing a task (as above) plus other forms of engagement, such as attending a talk or event related to the course goals and content and then completing a reflection; choosing from a set of external resources to engage with, such as recordings of talks, podcasts, or demos available online, and completing a relevant task to reflect on or apply one’s learning; or taking a practice exam or completing a problem-set that shows one’s learning of the pertinent material.

The flexibility of these options can also include deciding on a due date that responds to the needs of both instructors and students; for example, an expectation can be set that an alternative to attendance should be completed within a certain number of days after the missed class, depending on the situation.

More generally, when students have missed a greater number of classes (and alternatives to attendance) than an instructor’s policy has allowed, due to unplanned events and other emergencies, an instructor can consider focusing on what they can reasonably expect students to have learned in the course, rather than focusing on how many classes have been missed, and ask students to demonstrate that learning for assessment.