Modes of Engagement


Class activities serve a range of purposes: some emphasize conveying content while others emphasize discussion, application, and practice of key course concepts. In designing a resilient course, consider the mix of activities you plan on using in your course. Prioritize synchronous engagement (in-person or online) for activities that benefit most from interaction. If your course will have a significant in-person component, make sure that you have considered and are prepared to use alternative activities if circumstances make meeting in the physical classroom undesirable.

The course activity matrix below shows the range of activities you might use in your course, including both in-person activities (top half) and online activities (bottom half). The activities in the red shaded top portion of the matrix are most susceptible to disruption. The online activities in the yellow shaded portion require synchronous online engagement, which can be challenging if there are significant timezone differences.

Matrix showing modes of online and in person engagement with a range or purposes from content delivery to application/practice/discussion

Begin by considering the mix of activities you would have used in your course pre-pandemic, and then consider how you might swap out some activities in the top half of the matrix with alternatives in the bottom half so you are prepared if the public health circumstances reduce your ability to meet with students, either because students are in quarantine or because there is a second wave of the virus. Doug Foxgrover has created a version of the course activity matrix that includes information about the type of tech tools that allow you to engage in some of the activities, as well as a blank course activity matrix that you can fill out for your own course.



For examples of different implementations of the above course design principles (at Carleton and at other institutions), please see the Examples page.


I want to be flexible and accommodating of students’ circumstances, but I don’t want students to fall through the cracks.

Direct communication with students should be a priority. However, if you are not able to get a response from students when you email, you might consider looking at the Moodle logs to see if the student has been regularly accessing the course Moodle site. To access the Moodle logs, go to the gear icon in the upper right hand corner of the Moodle page where you would turn editing on and go to More. Select the Reports tab of the Course Administration page, and select the logs for the student you are concerned about. If the student has not accessed the Moodle site recently, you might consider connecting with the student’s Class Dean to see if there are known issues with internet connectivity or other challenges that might be getting in the way of the student engaging with the course.

What are the options for managing culminating projects or presentations in an online environment?

In a face-to-face setting, you might have a poster session, a series of talks, a show or exhibition, with goals of:

  • Showcasing student work
  • Q&A or discussion around student work
  • Providing feedback on student work
  • Celebrating the students & their efforts

Think about combining asynchronous/synchronous components:

  • Showcase student work in an asynchronous manner
  • Q&A, discussion, and some types of feedback occur synchronously 
  • Organize multiple shorter synchronous events, rather than a marathon event
  • Identify the audience that you want to be able to access these events

What should I do for office hours?

We are encouraging faculty to think about two types of office hours:

  1. Drop-in office hours that allow for discussion of course content by anyone and build community, and
  2. Sign-up appointments to discuss personal situations around engagement with the course.

You will need to let your students know the difference between these two situations so that students don’t get into personal discussions when engaging in a Google Hangout Meet or Zoom meeting where others might drop in.

We are encouraging faculty to schedule drop-in office hours through a Google calendar invite to the entire class that includes a link to a Google Hangout Meet or Zoom session. Any member of the class can join the meeting at any time during the designated period. We encourage you to consider at least a few drop-in hours that are available to everyone. This is a great way for students in the class to build connections with you and each other. Sign-up appointments are better arranged using Google calendar appointment slots. Once a student has signed up, you can invite them to a Google Hangout Meet or Zoom meeting at that time. That ensures the meeting is just between you and the student.

What are the recommendations with regards to recording class activities?

There are three significant factors at play when considering under what circumstances one might allow recording of class activities:

  1. Accommodations for students with disabilities, 
  2. Equitable access for students who cannot participate in synchronous sessions, and 
  3. Concerns about privacy of the instructor and students. 

In compliance with Federal law, qualified students with disabilities may record classroom activities as a legitimate academic adjustment once verified by the Office of Accessibility Resources. In these situations, the OAR will reach out to the instructor and work with you to determine if classroom recording is an appropriate and reasonable accommodation given the individual student’s documentation and the particulars of your course.

When there is not a disability accommodation that includes recording, the key factor in deciding whether or not to record the session is to consider whether your session includes core content that is essential for student success in the course.

  • If your synchronous session includes essential content intended for the entire class, and students are not able to attend, either because of personal circumstances or because of tech issues, we recommend that you record the session. In this situation, you would want to make students aware that you will be recording the session and what aspects of the session will be recorded (e.g. the first half of the session). If a student has concerns about being recorded, the student could remove themselves from the videoconference and watch the recorded session at a later time. 
  • If your synchronous session enriches the course but does not include core content that is essential for success in the course, we recommend that you do not record the session. This is true whether the session involves the full class or small groups. 
  • If you are having students meet in small groups for essential engagement without the instructor present (e.g. practicing a language), you may ask students to record the session and share the recording with you. 

For any course recordings that are made, we encourage that the class comes to agreement on how the recordings can be used. This topic is often included in the development of a social contract for a course. In general, class members should not share, replicate, or publish the recording, in whole or in part, or use the recording for any other purpose than for class-related studying. Recordings of class sessions that include student participants should not be saved or used past the end of the term.

For technical information about recording options in both Google Hangouts and Zoom, please see the Tools and Software page.