Quick Start Guide (Instructors)

Apply the strategies in this Quick Start Guide to help you prioritize and communicate. Additionally, download and use this Rule of 2’s: Quick Start Guide Plan (PDF) to focus on what most matters.

Table of Contents

To receive one-to-one assistance, contact the CELT Response Team

Our ISU Campus Partners are here to help,

Call us through the CELT Response Team 515-294-5357 (Monday-Friday, 8-5 p.m.). We have staff across campus willing to assist. If needed, the campus partners will meet with you virtually using WebEx.

Additionally, you may wish to contact one of the support units directly. Please note which program, department, or college each unit serves and contact the unit for your area.

Call CELT Response Team at 515-294-5357

Internet access

Internet access is a prerequisite of successfully working remotely. Contact your local internet provider if you are having issues, and have your students do the same. If it is unresolved, follow suggestions on ISU’s Working Remotely site.

It is vitally important to recognize that our students may not have internet access at their location – consider how you will accommodate them during this disruption.

1. Use Canvas

Canvas is the primary learning management system (LMS) at the university. It gives you the ability to quickly share course materials, provide easy-to-use tools to communicate and collaborate with students, co-instructors, and Teaching Assistants (TAs).

There are a few checks you will want to perform to ensure success in your course(s):

Extend your learning in 6 or 30 minutes

How to access Canvas at ISU

Step One: Login credentials

You will need to have your ISU Net-ID and password to log into Canvas. If you do not, please visit the IT Accounts and Passwords website or contact The Solution Center at 515-294-4000.

Step Two: Choose how to interact with Canvas

There are three options for finding the Canvas login page:

Step Three: Logging into Canvas

Use your Net-ID and password to login to Canvas. Once logged in, you should see your Canvas Dashboard. If you have an issue logging in, contact The Solution Center at 515-294-4000.

Note: You have access to the MyCanvas Teacher at ISU course that contains information on how to use Canvas.

  1. To see if you already have a course, log in to Canvas.
  2. If the course doesn’t appear in your Dashboard – check if your course is on the list in Courses > All Courses, and you should ensure to mark it as a favorite in All Courses.
  3. If any of your classes do not have a Canvas course, create one now using step  one in this checklist guide.

If you still cannot locate the course, contact the ISU Solution Center.

Now that you located (or created) your course using the Start of Semester Checklist page (found in Canvas). It is essential for you to complete the next four tasks:

  • Specify course settings
  • Set the homepage
  • Enroll students
  • Publish the course

For more helpful information on building your course in Canvas, see Build Your Course.

The Syllabus in Canvas makes it easy to communicate to your students exactly what will be required of them throughout the course in chronological order. You can also set the syllabus as your course home page. Follow the How do I use the Syllabus as an instructor? guide.


2. Communicate with your students

You need to communicate with your students promptly, even if you do not have a full semester plan in place. Inform them that changes are coming and what your expectations are for checking email or Canvas (ISU’s learning management system), so you can get them more details soon.

Utilize Canvas and Iowa State University email. Do not use non-ISU email or social media for communication with students.

  • Webex – online conferencing tool in Canvas, use the how-to connect Webex to your course guide
  • Conferences (ISU no longer recommends this Canvas tool)
  • Inbox (Canvas) – used to send questions, answers and information to your students
  • Discussion Board (Canvas) – communication tool for class assignments and collaboration
  • CyBox – is the FERPA compliant file storage system at ISU
  • Google Suite – used to create documents, papers by individual students or groups

3. Deliver course content

Instruct your students about how and when you will deliver course content along with hosting meetings, holding their office “student” hours, and more.

Students may not have ready Internet access. Consider the best way to communicate information to students and the best ways for them to interact with course content.

Examples of In-Person Class Sessions Transformed to Online

Use Case

Tool and Description

Best Practices


Communicate with students

Outlook or CyMail email

Canvas Announcements or Inbox

Choose one form of communication, and communicate weekly with students. This communication can include an update or feedback on assignments.


Studio and Panopto can be used to record short lectures.

YouTube or existing resources from your discipline or other online sites.

PowerPoint slides with notes coupled with low-stakes quizzes

Asynchronous (not at the same time) short videos are best for delivering complex material or setting the stage for active learning.

Ensure you watch the entirety of the YouTube or other video to ensure the correct information is presented.

Short lectures can also be posted in the form of PowerPoint slides with notes or PowerPoint file and a PDF of notes in the document. To ensure accountability, couple the PowerPoint with low-stake quizzes or student reflections.

In-Class Assignments

Canvas Assignments and Quizzes

Transfer in-class assignments to virtual assignments. This can include a file upload, problem set, student reflection, or quiz.

Group work

Canvas Groups

Learn more about Canvas student groups. Assign students to groups randomly or manually in Canvas, so they can use a group space inside your course. Size is limited to 2-7 people per group.


Canvas Assignments and Quizzes

LockDown Browser locks down the testing environment within Canvas

Respondus Monitor supplements the LockDown Browser with a fully automated process that uses student webcams.

Transfer in-class exams to virtual ones. This can include a file upload, problem set, student reflection, or quiz. 

Follow the guidance in the Exams section on this page.


Canvas Discussions

Here is a great guide on discussions from the Chronicle of Higher Education that has some info in online discussions.

Office and Student Hours

Webex and Zoom for live meetings.

Maintain office/student hours. Communicate with students the days and times that you will be online (include time zone) and how to access you.

Share Files

Canvas Files, G-Suite or CyBox to share files with students

File sharing can accommodate written work, drawings, photos, written assessments, and reflections.


Webex for live collaboration, G-Suite or CyBox for document collaboration, Canvas Collaborations, One Note is part of MS Office 360 available to all students and faculty.

Assign different problems to groups to examine and come up with solutions.

Have the group create and post a presentation/video/chart/infographic in the course’s discussion area. Other groups could share their thoughts, questions and opinions.

Student Presentations

Canvas Studio

Written scripts of presentation

Ask students to record their presentation using a cell phone or their computer to upload to Canvas.

A lower-tech option is to ask students to submit a written script of their presentation to assess content knowledge and other skills like persuasive thinking.


Canvas Gradebook

See information below for Grading in Canvas.

4. Establish methods for collecting assignments/submissions

You will likely need to provide additional course materials to support your changing plans, from updated schedules to readings that allow you to shift more instruction online. In a pinch, providing some new readings and related assignments may be your best bet for keeping the intellectual momentum of the course moving.

  • Require only common software: Students may not have access to specialty software located in on-campus computer labs. Some of that software may be available via the ISU Software for Students page, but unless the students have permissions to load software onto a computer they can access, they may be unable to use these tools. Be ready with a backup plan for such students.
  • Make sure students know when new material is posted: If you post new materials in Canvas or CyBox, be sure to let students know what you posted and where. Encourage your students to change their Canvas or Box notification preferences to alert them when new materials are posted. Refer them to How do I set my Canvas notification preferences as a student? or CyBox email notifications.
  • Keep things smart phone and device friendly: In a crisis, many students may only have a phone available, so make sure you are using mobile-friendly formats, PDFs being the most common. Consider saving other files (for example, PowerPoint presentations) to PDFs, which are easier to read on phones and tablets, and keep the file size small. It is fairly easy to reduce the size of PDF files using Adobe Acrobat, and there are online tools that do the same thing (for example, search Google for “PDF file size”). Videos take lots of bandwidth, so only require them if you are confident students will have access to them during a crisis.
  • Activate ISU Library Resources: To populate your course with discipline-specific resources and databases, enable a chat with subject librarians and use discipline-specific FAQs using Step-by-step instructions web guide.

Collecting assignments during a campus closure is fairly straightforward since many instructors already collect work electronically. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Avoid email for assignment collection: It may be easy to collect assignments in small classes via email but it doesn’t meet FERPA requirements and student data is at risk. Consider using Canvas Assignments, CyBox, or Google Suite instead. Balance what is simplest for students with what is easiest for you to manage.
  • State expectations, but be ready to allow extensions: In the case of a campus closure or other crisis, some students will undoubtedly have difficulties meeting deadlines. Make expectations clear, but be ready to provide more flexibility than you normally would in your class.
  • Consider altering the assignment: In many ways, papers are the ideal assignment during times of disruption because they require fewer adjustments compared to other types of assignments. Consider using Peer Reviews so that students receive feedback from their classmates while you focus on modifying more challenging assignments to an online format.
  • Require specific filenames: It may sound trivial, but anyone who collects papers electronically knows the pain of getting 20 files named Essay1.docx. Give your students a simple file naming convention, for example, FirstnameLastname-Essay1.docx.
  • Assignment in Canvas – submit online Assignments using several submission types. Instructors can choose what kind of online submissions they want you to use.
  • Canvas Quizzes – posted grades for class assignments
  • CyBox – is the FERPA compliant file storage system at ISU
  • Google Suite – used to create documents, papers by individual students or groups, used for peer review and assessment
  • Top Hat – online polling and quizzing tool

5. Exams

You have many options for online activities, assignments, and assessments (quizzes).

Steps to create a quiz in Canvas is available on the Quizzes and Exams Instructional Strategies page.

  • Accommodations for quizzes: Canvas makes it easy to incorporate extended time accommodations on timed assignments, by adding students with such accommodations to a group within Canvas and specifying exceptions in the assessment settings (See the How-to Guide for Student Accommodations in Canvas web guide).
  • Canvas quizzes: A meaningful and purposeful assessment paired with constructive feedback can help learners understand and address their achievement gaps and organize future learning. Canvas quizzes provide a way for instructors to deliver helpful feedback, assess and accommodate learning. View the Low and High-Stakes Quizzes in Canvas web guide.
  • Replicate bubble sheet tests: Use the multiple-choice exam in Canvas. Create a Canvas quiz with multiple versions of the same question to increase exam integrity. For already scheduled ISU Online Testing Center exams, consider:
  • Essay exams: Use Canvas Assignments for essay exams (recommend File Upload option). Do not ask multiple graders to enter grades at the same time in SpeedGrader, or they will overwrite each other’s work; download all files and have one person submit the scores in Gradebook.
Exams pose a particular challenge in a situation where everyone is on their own. The online format does not allow instructors the same ability to proctor exams as they have in face-to-face classes. To minimize incidents of academic integrity violations while ensuring that your online exams accurately capture student learning, consider the following suggestions: 
  • Start with a practice exam. If this is the first time using an online exam in your course (referred to as a quiz in Canvas), consider providing a practice, non-graded Canvas quiz so students can become familiar with the process
  • Allow open-book/source exams and quizzes. Assume students will use resources while taking an exam/quiz and encourage them to do so. Ask questions that probe deeper levels of knowledge and understanding, enabling students to apply, assess, and evaluate concepts and facts in meaningful ways. Encourage students to identify where they get information and what resources they use. Encourage students to cite sources and critique sources for credibility. Focus on solving problems while showing work and explanations: Having students show/articulate their thinking reveals the depth of their understanding. Sometimes there may only be a few ways to demonstrate work, so you may ask for brief prose explanations or have students record a video talking through the process to solve a question. You could also ask scenario-based questions and require short and concrete answers, which allow students to demonstrate their application of key course concepts. For additional insight, read Tips for Creating Open Book Exams (Indiana University-Bloomington) post.
  • Ask students to generate their questions and explain their answers. Invite each student to create one or two questions along with explanations of how these would assess a specific topic or skill in a meaningful way. You might also assign students to answer each other’s questions to evaluate whether those questions assess identified items in essential ways. This assignment may work best on a discussion board. 
  • Consider question formats leading to essays, videos, pictures, and other personal responses. If your class lends itself to creative and personalized forms of writing/speaking/communicating, encourage students to create essays and use videos, pictures, and other media in Canvas discussion boards. You could also have students post their responses and critique each other’s work through peer review in Canvas assignments and discussions. Rubrics can help guide students as they develop such work, give each other feedback, and allow for a consistent method of assessment.
  • Use question banks and question groups. If you have short-answer or multiple-choice questions, create question banks, or use question groups in your Canvas quizzes. This step ensures that students receive different sets of questions or the same questions displayed in random order. Alternatively, use essay questions in this same manner.
  • Ensure clarity in questions. Your quizzes should measure student achievement of the stated skills, knowledge, and attitudes and be appropriate to the level of the course. Use precise language and avoid jargon unless the latter is discipline-specific and necessary for assessing the depth of student knowledge. 
  • Ensure clarity in exam directions. Identify any time limitations, due dates/times (including time zone), and how the assessment links to learning objectives for the course. Give specific directions on how to answer a question or complete a task.
  • Allow multiple attempts and use short and frequent quizzes in Canvas. These work well for long-term knowledge retrieval and retention and serve numerous purposes. In essence, students can quickly gauge where they are in their learning, and instructors can seize the opportunity for early intervention and feedback.
  • Provide feedback for quizzes. In Canvas, it is easy to add comments for each correct and incorrect answer or give general feedback on the entire exam. This step will allow students to see their responses upon quiz completion and also receive automated corrections.
  • Promote academic integrity. If relevant, consider putting a statement in the directions for the exam and include a multiple-choice question asking students to abide by the Iowa State University Academic Misconduct guidelines. Include a reference to these policies in the quiz directions and course-wide announcements to remind students of the importance of honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and their responsibility inside and outside of academic life. Invite students to contribute to the creation of an academic integrity statement or have those who work in teams/groups create a Team Code of Ethics so they can hold each other accountable.
  • Respect your own time. Implementing these ideas and grading, resulting in student work, takes time. Determine what is feasible in your situation and use intensive grading assessments sparingly. Consider how much feedback students need or will use. Many times, feedback can be created for the whole group based on common challenges or problems, as opposed to individual responses, and distributed via course-wide announcements in Canvas. Grading rubrics are also helpful.
This information along with steps to create an assessment in Canvas is available on the Quizzes and Exams Instructional Strategies page.

6. Grading in Canvas

The Grades function within Canvas allows you to maintain all of your grades online. It provides a robust tool for tasks typically done in a spreadsheet application, making it possible to keep all grading online.

The fantastic part? You can submit your midterm and end of term grades through the ISU Admin Tools in Canvas.

  • If you are using Canvas to distribute grades to students throughout the semester, carefully read through each section of the Key Concepts for Grading in Canvas guide to ensure that you are using the gradebook appropriately.
  • It is important to note that Canvas uses a grading scheme to assign letters to percentages. Once this is in place, the score is calculated based on all points accumulated in the course or on a weighted total of the assignment groups.
  • Additionally, specific how -to information on the sections below may be found in the Canvas Instructor Guide.

If anything is unclear or confusing, please contact Canvas Support – Canvas offers 24/7 support options listed in the ? Help  icon on the Global Navigation to the far left or call the Canvas Support Line (call 515-294-4000 then follow the prompts to connect to Canvas).

As an instructor, SpeedGrader allows you to view and grade student assignment submissions in one place using a simple point scale or complex rubric. Canvas accepts a variety of document formats and even URLs as assignment submissions. Some document assignments can be marked up for feedback directly within the submission. You may also provide feedback to your students with text or media comments.

Watch a video about SpeedGrader (2m 58s)

7. Other experiential learning

* “Laboratories, studios, performance instruction, computer labs, and other experiential learning sections will not be held in person through the rest of the spring semester. Substitute assignments or makeup activities will be at the discretion of the academic program” President’s March 18, 2020 message (PDF).

One of the biggest challenges of teaching online from anywhere is sustaining the lab components of classes. Since many labs require specific equipment, they are hard to reproduce outside of that physical space. Considerations as you plan to address lab activities:

  • Take part of the lab online: Many lab activities require students to become familiar with certain procedures, and only physical practice of those processes will do. In such cases, consider if there are other parts of the lab experience you (or your TA) could take online (for example, video demonstrations of techniques, online simulations, analysis of data, other pre- or post-lab work). Review the “Deliver course content” information shared above on this page.
  • Investigate virtual labs: Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some labs (for example, virtual dissection, night sky apps, video demonstrations of labs, simulations). Those vary widely by discipline, but check with your textbook publisher, or sites such as Merlot Virtual Labs for materials that might help replace parts of your lab during an emergency. Investigate virtual labs such as those provided by the ChemCollective. In some circumstances, a virtual lab experience might be sub-optimal but adequate.
  • Provide raw data for analysis: In cases where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected, and then provide some raw sets of data (calculations & graphs) for students to analyze (independently or in groups). This approach is not as comprehensive as having students collect and analyze their own data, but it might keep them engaged with parts of the lab experience during the closure.
  • Increase interaction in other ways: Sometimes labs are about providing time for direct student interaction; consider other ways to replicate that type of interaction or create new online interaction opportunities, including using lecture capture or online collaboration tools.

Additional resources

  • “I’d recommend making sure everything you do is *asynchronous*. You don’t know when/how/if students have broadband access. You don’t know their home responsibilities (care-giving duties, etc.). Best not to assume everyone can call in/zoom/skype for a synchronous meeting.” —Kristina Killgrove, check out this Twitter thread on pivoting to teach a science class (biological anthropology) online 
  • Check out this crowdsourced Google Doc on teaching a pottery class online (lots of ideas for other “hands-on” classes/disciplines)
  • Check out LabXchange for online molecular biology labs (free account required) 
  • Check out Middlebury University’s resource on teaching lab classes. Some of this advice is specific to their campus, but there are links to online lab resources. 
  • Check out this Website from a presentation by Keegan Long-Wheeler and Chuck Pearson on online science classes at OLCInnovate 2018.

Adapted from Plymouth State University’s Continuity with Care page.

  • Investigate virtual studio: Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some studios, demonstrations, etc.
  • Modify the assignments and projects to allow students to work from home.
  • For an online critique, have students upload a photo or video recording of their work.
  • Rework your studio schedule to focus on an alternate assignment.

Two tools that College of Design will be using include:

  • Zoom Whiteboard feature allows screen share, draw on the board, and of course has the chat feature.
  • Large format drawings will need to be scanned and uploaded to canvas. Google Scan app should be relatively easy to work with.
  • Investigate virtual studio or rehearsals: Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some studios, demonstrations, etc.
  • Modify the assignments and projects to allow students to work from home.
  • For an online critique, have students upload a photo or video recording of their work.
  • Rework your studio schedule to focus on an alternate assignment.

Review this amazing resource, Theatre, dance and performance pedagogy – moving online webpage. We will work on updating it with ISU information.

8. Accessibility

Providing multiple ways for students to gain knowledge, demonstrate knowledge, and interact goes a long way toward making a course accessible to all students, including those with disabilities. Shifting courses online is an opportunity to build in accessibility from the beginning.

To find out how best to help our students with disabilities during a disruption, review ISU’s Student Accessibility Service’s Message Regarding COVID-19 page.

Below are recent posts, and basic accessible teaching strategies:

Shifting courses online is an opportunity to build in accessibility from the beginning. This resource provides tips for basic accessible teaching strategies and ways of checking in with your students. In addition to the tips provided, consider encouraging students to use text-to-speech apps if there are concerns about so much “screen time”. Accessible Teaching in the Time of COVID-19 (Mapping Access)

Additional resources:

9. Promote a sense of belonging

During this unprecedented time, it is helpful to survey your students about their needs, challenges, and concerns moving face-to-face instruction online. Your questions can include those related to course materials, as well as factors that may influence students’ participation.

Survey distribution options include: Qualtrics, Canvas Quiz, Email, or importing the quiz from Canvas Commons, preview the Check-in Survey in Canvas (PDF).

Note: Some students may receive a version of this survey from multiple sources. Therefore, recognize that you may not receive a high response rate, but rather that you will hear from students that need to communicate with you.  

To import from Canvas Commons:

  1. Log in to Canvas site
  2. Locate the ISU “survey” (quiz) in Canvas Commons, via the Check -in for the shift to online course delivery Canvas Commons link.
  3. Then follow the steps in the How do I import and view a Commons resource in Canvas? guide.
  4. Once it is imported in your course, set it up using the What options can I set in a quiz? web guide.
  5. Publish it for your students, How do I publish or unpublish a quiz as an instructor? guide.
  6. Once you receive responses, use the How do I view survey results in a course? guide.  Pay particular attention to the View Student Analysis Report area of that document.  The results will download into a .csv file that you can open up in your spreadsheet.

If you become aware of a student’s specific needs,

This resource is an adaptation of the extensive work of Lauren Cagle’s COVID-19 Online Teaching Contingency Planning along with the Mapping Access website with input from Megan Myers (World Languages and Cultures) and Jeremy Best (History), ISU Student Accessibility Services, and ISU Student Assistance.

10. Additional resources

ISU Library Digital Content

The ISU Library makes it possible for faculty teaching remote classes to connect seamlessly through direct engagement with library staff, access to digital content, and collaboration across the University.

  • Discipline-Specific Resources: Populate your course with discipline-specific resources and databases, enable a chat with subject librarians and use discipline-specific FAQs.
  • Streaming Media: Explore ISU’s streaming media collections of documentaries, news programs and news clips, instructional material, and selected feature films on many subjects.
  • To determine the best options for your course, use the Ask a Librarian page.

For assistance with digital course material needs, conversion from print to digital, or additional support with the RedShelf platform or publisher content during the Spring 2020 online instruction period, contact Iowa State University Book Store team via:

Read the most up-to-date information about publishers, access, and more on the Digital Course Materials ISU Book Store webpage.

Find out how you can best advise your students remotely; as well as, additional resources on the SVPP’s Academic Advising COVID-19 page.

24/7 Canvas Support (Students)

All 24/7 support options may be found by clicking the ? Help Help Button in Canvas on the far left navigation bar icon (found on the left-hand navigation bar in Canvas) to access the support available to you:

Know where to go for help at ISU

Our ISU Campus Partners are here to help, call us through the CELT Response Team 515-294-5357 (Monday-Friday, 8-5 p.m.). We have staff across campus willing to assist. If needed, the campus partners will meet with you virtually using WebEx.

Additionally, you may wish to contact one of the support units directly. Please note which program, department, or college each unit serves and contact the unit for your area.

Call CELT Response Team 515-294-5357