Organizing course materials and communicating with students

Optimizing your Learning Management System (LMS)

When considering the organization of your course, think of the key learning outcomes/objectives you already have in place. Drill down to the most critical and essential learning outcomes and use these as your guide. It is easy to focus on how to deliver the content but don’t lose sight of the larger goals for your students — the outcomes you’ve already created when designing your course. Take the “backward design” approach, starting with the outcomes, how you want to cover this, then think about the technology that will help you achieve these goals.

Use your existing syllabus to pinpoint and create content areas that are readily identifiable to students. For example, if your syllabus indicates that the next three lectures are focused on Lipid Metabolism, then create a content area with that same title, and keep all resources associated with those lessons together. Providing the students with a guide for where to find everything within the Learning Management System in a “Navigating this Online Course” section is helpful. This can be sent to students as an email, or placed in a “Start Here” content area on the LMS. If you have screen recording software, you could even walk your students through the course setup and post a welcome video.

Communicating with students

Encourage your students to enable notifications from your LMS, or to check for new announcements and course materials daily. Some students will opt out of LMS notifications to keep their inbox from being flooded. Make it very clear how you will communicate: a Monday announcement summarizing the week’s activities can be useful.

Communication will be very important, both from faculty and students. Consider surveying students about their access to technology and the most effective ways to communicate from a distance. This will help you understand the potential barriers faced by students in your course and devise strategies to mitigate them. For example, for students who anticipate having unstable internet connections, it may be advisable to provide access via text messaging for rapid real-time communication when other modes of communication fail. This can be done without sacrificing privacy by using various apps (e.g., Remind, Slack, Google chat, GroupMe). Faculty can often forward office calls to their cell phone instead of giving students their cell phone number. Let students know in advance the multiple ways they can reach you if they are facing challenges in meeting course expectations. Remember that you and your students are navigating unanticipated and uncharted waters and unlike faculty, students likely haven’t had the benefit of peer support or tutorials to help them figure out quickly how to adapt to remote learning; they will need clear and structured guidance from you.


It is unreasonable to assume every student has access to the same tools for learning — including a textbook, computer, or high-speed Internet in a distraction-free environment. Given the likelihood that students will have variable access to necessary resources, anticipate the ways in which you may need to be flexible and the ways that your students will interact with your materials. Simplify: both for your students and for yourself, and consider using materials that students are already familiar with (i.e. can a current online homework system now be used for quizzes or exams) so that there is not a steep learning curve on software or a complicated set up. Before you invest yourself in new tools and gadgets, consider how you will grade assignments and how long it will take to get them back to students to improve their learning and understanding. There are a lot of options for online learning platforms; choose one and stick with it.

Office hours

Be varied on times but maintain control of your time. It is easy to expand to help all students one on one and find your own time has evaporated. Ideas for interaction include: 1) open LMS- (or Zoom)-facilitated live sessions, 2) a recorded test review, 3) message-based chats (e.g. through Google chat), 4) a calendar reservation application to allow students 10-20 minute one-on-one meetings.


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