Orange background with image of a person sitting at a desk with a computer

Lesson 2: Adapting course elements

Adaptable course elements

Adaptable course design involves identifying course elements that can be modified in the case of an unexpected disruption to the course. Class planning, learning activities, and assessments are examples of course elements that could be modified if an unexpected change in course delivery modality is required.

Here are some examples of when using adaptable course design may help reduce disruptions in learning:

  • Either you or your students become ill and are required to self-isolate
  • Either you or your students are unable to attend your in-person class due to ongoing travel restrictions or personal responsibilities
  • Social distancing policies come into effect, limiting the number of students who can physically be on campus

If you find yourself changing your course delivery modality, consider using some of the following strategies to streamline the transition.

Preparing for class

Preparing for classes that are delivered in a different modality involves choosing activities, content, and assessments that can be completed in different learning environments with minimal disruption to the learning experience (Joosten et al., 2021).

  1. Consider prioritizing content

    • Review course learning outcomes and assessments to identify essential content
    • Focus on the task not the content, and what students will be able to accomplish by the end of the activity or course
    • Before the course starts, prepare essential content in the learning management system to be used in either classroom or online spaces
    • Balance high bandwidth with lower bandwidth student interactions so that students can successfully engage with the course content during challenging times 
    • Consider how to best present the content to students: text, video or visuals
  2. Consider technology

    • Identify which learning content, activities and assessments require technology and how changing the learning environment will impact the use of this technology

    • Select learning technologies that add to the learning experience and will provide students with a continuous learning experience in the event the learning modality needs to change

    • Balance high bandwidth with lower bandwidth student interactions so that students are able to successfully engage with the course content during challenging times

  3. Consider the online and physical learning spaces

    • Select learning content, activities and assessments that can be used in either face-to-face or online learning environments

    • Consider having students interact with course content and activities online where possible

    • Use consistent communication tools and strategies that can be done in both face-to-face and online environments, such as weekly emails or D2L news item posts 

  4. Consider the synchronicity

    • Determine how the content, activities, and assessments could be completed either face-to-face or online

    • Consider deadlines and expectations for student engagement, such as which content and assessments could be dropped or modified in the event of a change to the teaching modality

    • Design peer-based engagement and group projects so that they could be completed either face-to-face or online depending on students’ location and other factors impacting access to face-to-face interactions

Put into practice

Try out the following Adaptable Module Template to help you create adaptable classes that consider the technology, learning spaces, and synchronicity within your content, learning activities, and assessments that best meet your course learning outcomes.

Adaptable Module Template  

Download PDF

Adaptable learning activities

In adaptable course design, learning outcomes do not change. However, the learning activities that you have planned to use might have to adjust to a change in teaching modalities. Considerations for adaptable learning activities: 

Choice – Do students have a choice in which modality they would like to complete the activity in? How is this organized? 

Interactions – Are the learning activities providing opportunities for individual, pair and group collaborations whether the students are online or face-to-face? 

Instructions – Have the instructions for the learning activities been clearly explained? Are they accessible in the learning management system? 

Communication and feedback – Do the students know where to go to ask for help or assistance with completing the learning activity? 

Here are some further examples of common learning activities that can be adapted for use in an online environment.  

  1. Online aysnchronous

    Pose an equivalent question to the asynchronous students, either in video or text, ask the students to respond in a small group discussion forum. The group reports can be shared to the larger class discussion form.

  2. Online synchronous

    Use breakout rooms in online video conferencing to simulate small group discussions.

  3. In-class

    Set up small groups of 3-5 students. Pose a question. You could also use a Zoom room or Google doc to help with communication. 

    Consider sending pairs out of class for easier socially distanced discussion elsewhere on campus with a set return time.

  1. Online aysnchronous

    Students seated inside the “fishbowl” actively participate in a discussion and share their opinions while students outside listen carefully to the ideas presented. 

    Use the polling/survey feature in D2L and share out the results in a class announcement, email or within the module.

  2. Online synchronous

    Students can take turns role playing a solution/simulation and others can watch and respond in chat or live discussion.  

    Encourage students to turn off webcams so the focus can be on the student role-playing. 

  3. In-class

    Students can take turns role-playing a situation/simulation for others to critique or watch. 

    Students in the fishbowl can be remote (participating in a chat, Google doc, or Zoom conversation as a small group), while the F2F students are outside the fishbowl listening, and then the instructor leads the whole class discussion among listeners afterwards. 

  1. Online aysnchronous

    In your recorded videos, insert points for students to pause and reflect on what was just said, or complete an activity such as answering some quick questions using a quiz function.

  2. Online synchronous

    Encourage students to identify any unclear or “muddy points”. Muddiest points can be added in the chat or on a shared screen. 

  3. In-class

    Have students use post-it notes to share their muddiest point and the instructor can discuss with the class.  

    Students can share their muddiest point using an online poll or anonymous Google doc. 

  1. Online aysnchronous

    Pose a question or two in a discussion forum and have students respond. Instructors may follow up by sharing a selection of responses with the whole class.

  2. Online synchronous

    In real-time, ask students to post an “aha” in the chat and use these to guide discussion or future instruction.

  3. In-class

    Consider placing poster boards on the wall for students to put their ideas up using post-it notes while being mindful of social distancing. Or, each student could participate with a handheld dry-erase board. 

Put into practice

See this resource for examples of student-centered learning activities.

Appendix D: Active Learning while Physical Distancing 

Download PDF

Lesson checklist

  • Identify adaptable course elements in your existing course
  • Modify class planning, learning activities and assessments in the event of an unexpected disruption
  • Develop transparent guidelines and expectations that improve communication and consistency during uncertain periods

More lessons

People standing in front of books and computer

Lesson 3: Leveraging learning technology to support student learning experiences

Computers and books

Lesson 1: Getting started with adaptable course design

Person working on a computer

Lesson 2: Adapting course elements