Guidance for virtual classes summer 2020

Iowa State University nameplate in red with Office of the Associate Provost for Academic Programs written in black below it

(May 1, 2020) As virtual instruction evolves from the spring semester to summer, it is appropriate to review the best practices for delivering online education, in particular how faculty interact with students. Students’ relationships with instructors is a hallmark of the Iowa State academic experience. This document shares new federal guidelines regarding interaction between instructors and students, and offers tips and resources to help students achieve course outcomes. Updated guidance will be provided for Fall 2020 virtual courses prior to the start of fall semester.

What are some ways in which faculty can meet these requirements?

  • Hold online office hours during different, regularly scheduled time periods in which you have an open Zoom, Webex, etc. video conference tool that students can join. (Use the Virtual Student (Office) Hours guide)
  • Activate ‘Canvas Chat’ for immediate feedback. Use it to provide quick, text-based consultations, as well as to post course-wide announcements, give feedback on cumulative test results, or explain a confusing concept students are struggling with.
  • Ask students to comment on a subject-related video using the commenting feature in ‘Studio’.
  • Use the PIAZZA app in Canvas to easily set up a Q&A format.
  • Create peer-review assignments and monitor the quality of peer feedback.
  • Use the ‘Message Students Who’ feature in Gradebook to give substantive feedback to groups of students who performed at different levels. Students included in the groups will not be able to tell who else is receiving the message.
  • Create multiple practice quizzes and example problem sets that students can complete in their own time, then spend part of your synchronous time demonstrating problems students had the most difficulties solving, as determined by the Canvas Quiz Statistics. (Use the Quizzes and Exams strategies guide).

Do simple adjustments to traditional teaching methods qualify as “substantive interaction” between the student and instructor?

  • No. Posting a video of pre-recorded lectures or providing lecture materials online does not count as substantive interaction. To be considered as such, the instructor might:
    • Require students to watch the lecture ahead of time and then participate in a live text or video chat.
    • Include self-assessment questions for a set of pre-recorded lectures. Use these assessments to guide content covered in an office hour session based on students’ performances.
  • Simply assigning a grade to an assignment does not constitute interactive feedback. The instructor should also do one or more of the following:
    • Provide each student with comments unique to their submission and which refer back to the specific materials contributing to this concept;
    • Utilize mastery paths in Canvas to help students explore additional materials related to the topic;
    • Summarize common issues students are experiencing using a video, announcement, email or discussion, and distribute to the whole class.

Best Practices for Online Course Design

  • In an online format, students lack the structure of “going to class.” You can help structure the student learning process by ensuring that your course learning objectives, content delivery, and assignments are aligned and all assignment due dates are posted at the start of the semester.
  • Ensure that your course layout contains clear and consistent navigation.
  • Make sure that your course is accessible.
  • Structure your course content in a Module Format and ensure that each module starts by introducing students to the module learning objectives and ends with an assessment to help students gauge their understanding of concepts covered.
  • Use a variety of methods to deliver course content including: mixing short discussions, collaboration exercises, video clips, and hands-on exercises with text or brief video lectures. To get started, use CELT’s Teaching with Technology page.
  • Be mindful of the amount of work you assign to students. Sometimes, efforts to increase engagement inadvertently significantly add to students’ workload. (CELT suggests that One way to determine the workload is to use the Rice University Course Workload Estimator web tool.)
  • CELT has detailed a number of online instructional strategies and engagement strategies to help you involve students in the learning process.
  • Create a feeling of community through acknowledging student contributions, providing positive reinforcement, sharing personal experiences, helping students share ideas with peers, encourage networking.
Questions about the Guidance for virtual classes? Contact your Department Chair.
Need support implementing these practices? Find support via the Where to go for help page or email

Teaching Tip: Midterms, plus/delta, document your teaching series, and more!

Karri Haen Whitmer, Associate Department Chair for Teaching, Teaching Professor, Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology (by Christopher Gannon)

A semester’s midpoint is an essential opportunity for your students to examine their progress in a course and for us to do a check-in on teaching our course.

Midterm grades

As an instructor, you can help students become aware of their standing through the midterm grade submission. Midterm grades are due on Friday, October 14, by 2:15 p.m. and are submitted electronically via Canvas or AccessPlus. Read about grading policies on the ISU Catalog Grading website. Review the Grade Submission in Canvas guide and follow the step-by-step guide to submit grades for any midterms. For additional tips, join the Grade submission using Canvas workshop on October 5 (9-10 a.m., via Webex or 2030 Morrill)

Plus/Delta: A course check-in

The Plus/Delta tool, also known as the Midterm Assessment Technique, helps students reflect on their responsibility to your course, what they should continue doing to learn (PLUS), and what they need to change for the course to improve for them (DELTA) (Helminski & Koberna, 1995). It also gives feedback on what changes could help them within the course by asking these four open-ended questions:


  • What is helping me to learn in this class?
  • What changes are needed in this course to improve learning?


  • What am I doing to improve my learning in the course?
  • What do I need to do to improve my learning in this course?

Students complete the plus delta using paper or online (Canvas Classic quizzes, TopHat, Qualtrics, etc.) during the fourth through the eighth week of the semester. Then, you summarize the results and share themes back with the class. This feedback process sends a powerful message to students that they have responsibility for their learning. It also demonstrates that you, as the instructor, are willing to receive feedback and specify what modifications will (or will not) be implemented. To get started, review CELT’s Use formative course feedback guide.

With a joy for teaching,

Sara Marcketti, Assistant Provost and Executive Director
Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Pictured above: Karri Haen Whitmer, Associate Department Chair for Teaching, Teaching Professor, Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology (by Christopher Gannon)

Full Teaching Tip

View the published CELT Teaching Tip: Midterms: How are you and your students doing? (September 29, 2022)

Prefer a Print Version?

To view the Teaching Tip as a printable document with web addresses, download the CELT Teaching Tip for September 29, 2022 (PDF).

Why don’t they attend? 12 ways to boost student participation in synchronous sessions

Why don’t they attend? (Teaching Tip)

12 ways to boost student participation in synchronous sessions

Attendance expectations continue to be challenging due to Covid-19. In the fall semester, we heard from students that they needed and appreciated the flexibility in accessing lecture material; however, they sought more in-real-time experiences. We also heard from instructors that offered many synchronous opportunities but that students sparsely attended these. We gathered the following strategies for encouraging participation and attendance from the CELT Advisory Board, CELT Staff, and colleagues across campus. 

Before each synchronous class session — connect with your students.

During the synchronous session — encourage attention.

  • Check-in with your students. Start each session with an agenda slide to know what is coming and have a moment to gather necessary materials. As they log in, ask students a question of the day via the polling function in Webex or Zoom. Or share a Word Cloud that changes shape in front of their eyes. Create a one-question survey in Qualtrics, focus the question on the content, such as one word to describe the most recent class reading or a check-in regarding their current mood. Display the word cloud results in real-time or share them during the next class session using the Engage students with a Qualtrics word cloud in your course guide.
  • Make it meaningful. Why just read class notes or review the textbook material during a live session? Provide an experience that necessitates their attendance. Perhaps this is case-based learning, small group discussions in breakout rooms, or working on challenging problems.
  • Clarify. Identify common mistakes or errors from homework problems and offer a mini-lesson with a similar situation that students can take then-and-there. This step can provide valuable feedback to both students and you as the instructor – what are they still not understanding? 
  • Motivate. Start the session with a mini quiz drawn from the last session’s material. If for points, this can provide a small incentive to attend and provide valuable information regarding their current knowledge.
  • Engage. Share a document to take collaborative notes and emphasize these notes could be used for open-book exams by all, so the more attendees, the better and more precise the notes. 
  • Invite guest speakers. Both Evrim Baran, School of Education, and Elizabeth Stegemoller, Kinesiology, invite guest speakers to the synchronous sessions to connect students with professionals working in various settings (e.g., industry, academia, schools, etc.). They both carefully aligned the speakers with the current week’s focus and activities.
  • Incentivize proactiveness. Melissa Tropf, Veterinary Clinical Sciences, taught a class with all asynchronous lectures (pre-recorded) and weekly virtual synchronous review sessions and labs. Weekly quizzes incentivized students to stay current with the asynchronous material and come prepared for the live sessions. When Tropf reached out to students who struggled in the synchronous sessions, they shared that they were behind in their asynchronous material, inhibiting their ability/willingness to engage in the synchronous sessions. Students appreciated the accountability measures.

Closing a synchronous session — share highlights.

  • Finish a session with an exit ticket. Ask students to share one thing they have a better understanding of today’s class meeting. Save the chat transcript in Webex for tracking purposes. Sharing the chat and increasing student clarity encourage other students to attend future sessions (see the Save a meeting chat guide). 
  • To record or not record? Some faculty shared that they upload a recorded version of the live synchronous session. Others stated that they synchronize sessions so engaging and tailored to the specific experience they do not record and upload. Instead, they provide a synopsis document or short video sharing content, clarifying questions, reminders, and highlighting positive trends (e.g., lots of students submitted work on time, the discussion board is very active, etc.). 

As we continue to endure the pandemic, flexibility is vital (see the Be Flexible page). However, finding ways to ensure the students are aware of the sessions, making them interactive, collaborative, and timely, can go a long way towards encouraging participation. For more ideas, tips, and strategies, check out CELT’s Engaging students online page.

With a joy for teaching,

Sara Marcketti, Director

Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Full Teaching Tip

View the published CELT Teaching Tip: Why don’t they attend? 12 ways to boost student participation in synchronous sessions (January 28, 2021 – Constant Contact) page.

Prefer a Print version?

To view the Teaching Tip as a printable document with web addresses, download the CELT Teaching Tip for January 28, 2020 (PDF).

Encouraging Flexibility and Spring Instruction Resources (Teaching News)

Two people wearing face protection using a laptop and a smart phone

With the Spring 2022 semester underway, we want to ensure that you have access to resources to prepare for a variety of different scenarios. Remember, you can stay up-to-date with the latest news on the COVID-19 Moving Forward webpage.

During the Spring 2022 semester, we hope these resources will help you along the way:

The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching will have Canvas Open Labs. The days and times will be announced the week of January 24. These Open Labs will be available for faculty to drop by (an online option will be available) at their convenience to meet with a member of our Instructional Design team. Fill out this Qualtrics survey by January 21 and let CELT know what day(s)/time(s) work best for you! 

You can also email if you need assistance with your course this semester. This will start a ServiceNow ticket and one of our team members will help you as soon as possible. 

Take a moment to celebrate the end of this semester! (Teaching Tip)

Congratulations on the end of this historic semester in which we shifted from face-to-face to virtual teaching this spring semester!
To guide you through the grade submission process, follow the seven steps outlined on the End of Semester Checklist page. As a reminder, grades are due Tuesday, May 12 at 2:15 p.m. (Note: Due to the COVID-19 Temporary Pass/Not Pass policy, timely submission of final grades is essential.)
For summer session courses or future semesters, consider how to make your classes even more engaging for yourself and your students:
It’s never too early to prepare for the next semester. Use the Start of Semester Checklist to get a head start on your future courses.
Best wishes on the end of the semester,
Sara Marcketti, Director
Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Full Teaching Tip

View the published CELT Teaching Tip: Take a moment (April 30, 2020 – Constant Contact) website.

Prefer a Print version?

To view the Teaching Tip as a printable document with web addresses, download the CELT Teaching Tip for April 30, 2020 (PDF).

Winter Health and Wellness (Teaching Tip)

Iowa State campanile in the early stages of winter. The clock tower is feature with some trees and a light dusting of snow.

The first day of Winter is quickly approaching. As we wrap up the Fall 2021 semester and prepare to enter the Winter season, we want to remind you of the resources available to support you and your students.

  • ISU WellBeing: ISU WellBeing provides resources to help faculty and staff with a range of topics. They include mental health resources available to employees, financial well-being, and mindfulness. If you will be on campus or in the area, consider doing the Strolls for Well-Being at ISU. Keep an eye out for the upcoming Winter Strolls for Well-Being at ISU which will feature online and in-person options.
  • Student Wellness: Student Wellness supports the holistic health, wellbeing, and safety of students on campus. They provide various programs and services, including information about the Campus Food Pantry, a wellbeing assessment tool, and a myriad of other topics.
  • Student Counseling Services: Student Counseling Services offers clinical and campus-based services to help students achieve goals. As we navigate the pandemic, we have witnessed mental health needs for the entire campus community, and supporting students’ mental health is another way to support their wellbeing.
  • Campus Resources to Support Students (general): An extensive list of resources available to students and different ways of supporting your students can be found on the CELT website.

We wish you all a restful break and look forward to reconnecting for Spring 2022. Best wishes for the remainder of the Fall semester.

Full Teaching Tip

View the published CELT Teaching Tip: Resources for Success (December 16, 2021 – Constant Contact) page.

Prefer a Print Version?

To view the Teaching Tip as a printable document with web addresses, download the CELT Teaching Tip for December 16, 2021 (PDF).

Important Semester Reminders

End of Semester

Grades are due by 2:15 p.m. on December 21.

Review the End of Semester Checklist and the Course Conclusion in Canvas webpage for helpful guides to wrap up your semester.

CELT will be closed the week of December 27-December 31. We will reopen January 3 with hours of 7:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Normal business hours resume Tuesday, January 18.

Start of Semester

Winter term runs from December 20-January 14. Grades will be due January 19 by 2:15 p.m.

Spring semester will begin Tuesday, January 18.

Review the Start of Semester Checklist for resources to help you begin your Spring course setup.

Watch for info about Teaching and Learning Academy, Teaching Partners Program, and SoTL Scholars!

We will be sharing the 2021-2022 information for the following programs in the upcoming weeks:
  • SoTL Scholars is a year-long program that provides a framework and mentorship to help a faculty member (term, tenure-track, tenure) complete a scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) research project.
  • Teaching and Learning Academy is a year-long program that addresses course design, evidence-based teaching strategies, inclusive classroom practices, peer-review of teaching, and documentation of teaching effectiveness. Local experts on college teaching and learning will lead sessions during the academy. Instructors from all disciplines are encouraged to apply for this cohort-based teaching and learning community.
  • Teaching Partners Program matches two or three second- or third-year tenure-track faculty or term faculty with a senior faculty member (a successful, experienced teacher) from another discipline.

These programs are led by CELT Faculty Fellows and provide important professional development opportunities related to teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Add a line on your curriculum vita, new knowledge, and new connections!

Follow-up: Tips, tricks & opportunities for grading in Canvas (ISU Online Learning Community)

Below please see the notes from the ISU OLC meeting on grading in Canvas which took place on Friday, March 12:

Grading in Canvas

Drs. Amani Elobeid (Economics) and Cristina Bonaccorsi (Chemistry) shared their tips on grading in Canvas:

Stay on top of your grading:

Know how Canvas calculates student grades:

Grade Submission via ISU Admin Tools in Canvas

CELT and ITS collaborated to bring very useful changes to the midterm submission process via ISU AdminTools inside your Canvas courses. Please review the ISU AdminTools: Submit Grades resource on the CELT website.

Canvas Updates

  • Spring 2021 midterms are due Mar. 19 by 2:15 p.m.
  • Math questions in quizzes: math formulas are now rounded correctly.
  • Numerical questions with precise answers in quizzes: no more autogenerated decimal places in precision answers.
  • New Quizzes: CELT continues monitoring this new feature before it is implemented in ISU’s Canvas instance.
  • For more updates, please check out the CELT Instructional Tools News and Updates page on the CELT website.

Have a suggestion for the next OLC meeting?

Please email Lesya Hassall at

Subscribe to or unsubscribe from the ISU OLC list

New required syllabus statement on free expression

Iowa State has adopted a new required syllabus statement to affirm the university’s commitment to free expression. The statement, available on the Required & Recommended ISU Syllabus Statements page (and below), was developed in consultation with the Faculty Senate executive board and is to be used verbatim for all Iowa State University courses beginning with the upcoming winter session.

Iowa State University supports and upholds the First Amendment protection of freedom of speech and the principle of academic freedom in order to foster a learning environment where open inquiry and the vigorous debate of a diversity of ideas are encouraged. Students will not be penalized for the content or viewpoints of their speech as long as student expression in a class context is germane to the subject matter of the class and conveyed in an appropriate manner. 

Strengthen scholarship & energize your pedagogy (Teaching Tip)

While CELT provides various resources to support your teaching, we hope to help strengthen your scholarship. The scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) involves faculty framing and systematically investigating student learning questions to improve their classroom and advance practice beyond it (See the Faculty Handbook covers SoTL under Promotion and Tenure Evaluation and Review, section The essentials shared in this Tip focus on SoTL, publishing in the new CELT Teaching Brief, funding opportunities, and upcoming winter session professional development programs.

  • Discover how Dr. Jessica Ward, Early Achievement in Teaching Award-winning Associate Professor, Phyllis M. Clark Professorship in Veterinary Cardiology, motivated and engaged students in implementing innovative teaching techniques in a very content-dense field. Attend Ward’s webinar: Implementing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in your classroom, Oct. 13 (12:10-1 p.m.) via this Webex registration form.
  • Authors at any stage of their academic and teaching careers are welcome to submit to the CELT Call for Teaching Briefs: Teaching through the Pandemic, effective practices from Iowa State University’s instructors, and online and hybrid course modalities. The collection focuses on practical advice, solutions, and implementations, exploring the topic from a broad array of academic disciplines and perspectives. Learn more about the process, CELT’s ISU Digital Press site (Submissions are due on Oct. 30)
  • Miller Faculty Fellowship Program: Are you interested in scholarly work to develop innovative approaches to enhance student learning? Consider submitting a Miller Faculty Fellowship Program proposals (Due on Dec. 18).
  • Do you teach large enrollment courses (50 students or more) and want to learn more about building community, effective assessment, active learning techniques, and course design? Apply for the CELT Winter Course Design Institute (CDI) 2021. The CDI is an online interactive, hands-on, and collaborative opportunity for ISU instructors to build skills and have time and space to design or substantially revise their courses in the online or hybrid environment. The CELT Winter CDI includes four 75-min sessions (held on January 4, 6, 11, and 13 from 9-10:15 a.m., followed by an optional 30-minute guided discussion and scheduled consultations).
  • Plan your winter session (Dec. 14, 2020-Jan. 21, 2021), download the CELT 2020-2021 Winter Session Programming (PDF).

With a joy for teaching,

Sara Marcketti, Director
Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Full Teaching Tip

View the published CELT Teaching Tip: Strengthen scholarship & energize your pedagogy (October 1, 2020 – Constant Contact) page.

Prefer a Print version?

To view the Teaching Tip as a printable document with web addresses, download the CELT Teaching Tip for October 1, 2020 (PDF).