Be Flexible

Be Flexible and Open

Faculty need to be somewhat flexible if they genuinely want to support all of our students. We do not always know what our students are going through, which may be particularly true if they have to adjust from face-to-face to online learning if even for a short time. Or we shift to teaching online due to circumstances beyond our control (e.g., weather event, emergency, etc.) and lose our ability to see them in our physical learning environments regularly.

These suggestions are an essential aspect of equitable and inclusive teaching; in general, it recognizes and works with the diversity of our students and multiple dimensions. If you shift(ed) your course into a different modality, try to stay open to trying a few new things. You may find that one silver lining to this situation is that you discover new teaching methods that are both better for your students and more enjoyable for you!

Flexible policies

  • The structure is essential (see the Be Transparent section), but so is flexibility, notably if the course shifted from face-to-face to virtual. 
  • Now is also an excellent time to review your syllabus and consider what needs changing to your grading weights and other course policies to accommodate a different course modality transition.
  • What climate do your policies create for your students? Consider the following questions: Does this deadline align with my professional standards? What messages, stated or unstated, am I conveying to my students about work ethic and effective time management? And perhaps most importantly, does the policy relate to my teaching philosophy, or does it simply “promote the power and position of the professor?”
  • Offer grace periods. For a limited number of assignments in the term, and do not require students to provide an explanation for using them in order to ensure students are not forced to divulge sensitive or personal information.
  • Use low-stakes assessments. Replace large, high-stakes assignments with smaller, more frequent assignments that allow students to track their learning more consistently throughout the course, and consider dropping the lowest score at the end of the term. See the Low and High-Stakes Assessments page.
  • Recognize the technical issues that may occur. For online courses, acknowledge and provide reasonable accommodations for difficulties due to unreliable internet connections or other technological difficulties, such as allowing for one quiz or test restart in the event of a technology glitch or outage.
  • Remember the costs involved for your course. Acknowledge the financial costs associated with purchasing course texts, and choose texts that can be acquired in multiple ways (e.g., open-source, through the library, in multiple formats through the publisher) or allow students to use older editions to help ease the financial burden on economically strained students. See the Open Education Resources site and the most up-to-date information about publishers, access, and more on the Digital Course Materials ISU Book Store webpage.
  • Set deadlines for Canvas assignments so that students can still submit/complete after the due date, though you will mark them as late. Similarly, students can even complete quizzes in Canvas after a deadline (and you can also make exceptions for individual students). Both of these suggestions and more may be found in the setting up accommodations in Canvas guide.
  • Consider giving students one or two ‘free passes,’ particularly when you first get started with the virtual tools, and consider how much you want to dock them after that. Options:
    • Exempting the score for the missed item in a student’s final grade (How to excuse a gradebook item)
    • Substituting another score (e.g., final paper/project) for the missed grade item. Developing alternative assignments and activities, makeup quizzes, etc., will allow students to meet your most crucial learning objectives; see the Remote Assessments page.
  • Be flexible when requiring students to have their webcams active during synchronous sessions. 

For additional ideas, read this Faculty Focus Three Guidelines and Two Workarounds for Tackling Makeup Exam Policies Faculty Focus article, and review this Spangler (2020, September 28) Faculty Focus web post.

Flexible activities

  • Give students a variety of ways to participate is an essential component of Universal Design for Learning. Consider alternative approaches that students can engage in your course. 
  • For asynchronous course design and examples of concrete actions and assignments, use The Asynchronous Strategies page provides strategies.
  • Implement alternative ways that students can demonstrate what they have learned. To begin, read through the Remote Assessments page for ideas.
  • In addition to watching / listening to recorded lectures, you might have them respond to quiz questions, contribute to large and small discussions, write reflections, collaborate with classmates. Explore the options found on the Instructional Strategies pages and the Engaging Students Online page.

Inclusion in the Online Learning Environment, by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0. This work, Inclusion in the Online Learning Environment, is a derivative of Maintaining Equity and Inclusion in Virtual Learning Environments – Be Flexible developed by San Diego State University Diversity and Innovation (retrieved on May 13, 2020) from