Strategies for Promoting Positive Learning Environments

Strategies for Promoting Positive Learning Environments

Promoting positive virtual and face-to-face learning environments is everyone’s responsibility. This resource includes strategies that can be used in course planning and design, delivery, and facilitation, and addressing issues in learning environments as they happen.  

If you are struggling with the learning environment in your online courses, reach out for help. A starting point can be resources from the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, Student Conduct Office, and Mental Health and Wellness, as well as the associate deans in your Faculty or School that help with teaching, learning and student experience. 

Strategies for Promoting Inclusive and Accessible Learning Experiences

  • Consider sharing a welcome note in which you introduce yourself, the course, what students can expect from both you and the learning activities, and what you expect from students.
  • Record a welcome video using Zoom or Yuja in which you share your screen and walk students through the D2L course. This will familiarize students with D2L and show them how to navigate your course shell, such as:
    • Where they can find course announcements,
    • How to engage with weekly course content,
    • Where they can find assignment details, and
    • What discussion boards and spaces are available for peer-to-peer interaction.
  • Familiarize yourself with the tools you will be using when you are teaching remotely, online, and in blended contexts.

TIP: How you present yourself to your students influences the way that students engage in your class, so take the time to prepare the different aspects of your course (adding content to D2L, setting up Zoom sessions, using Top Hat, etc.).

TIP: Use formative feedback to hear from students about their experience in the course. Formative feedback is an egalitarian approach that fosters responsiveness, adaptability, and student-centered learning.

TIP: Stay up to date with policy changes, mental health and wellbeing supports, and relevant research so that you are proactive in your approach to normalizing mental health and wellbeing.

  • Use the communication tools in D2L:
  • Set up discussion boards for general course-related questions so that you only have to answer the question once and all students can see your answer.
  • Create group spaces for peer-engagement and social interaction, such as group projects or study groups, or consider replacing individual discussion posts with group posts.

TIP: Use D2L Awards and Leaderboard to recognize student achievement and milestones that can be seen by students when they access the course.

TIP: Explore different learning technologies and decide what would work best for your course, pedagogy, and student needs.

  • Create checklists for weekly modules and assignments. Consider including details such as:
    • Required readings
    • Learning activities with instructions, dates/times, deadlines, etc.
    • Links to Discussion Topics and Dropbox folders
    • Assignment deadlines for that week
  • Create written and visual content to improve course navigation 
  • Create short video notes (1-2 minutes) in which you explain the purpose of an assignment and what you are looking for in students’ submissions. 

TIP: Emphasize deadlines here, there, and everywhere. Add deadlines to drobox folders, discussion topics, and other areas where students are submitting their assignments.

  • Welcome student questions and know how to connect them with the appropriate resources:
    • When students ask IT or student support questions that you cannot answer, respond to them and cc the appropriate resource so that they know where to go next time.
  • Explicitly state the time-zone for all deadlines and due dates and consider offering flexibility for students experiencing barriers to meeting deadlines.
  • Set expectations for communication. Some examples include:
    • "I will do my best to respond to emails within 48 hours of receipt. Due to receiving a considerable number of emails each day, I may miss your note unintentionally. If I do not respond in 48 hours, please email me again or, if it is a general course-related question, post it to the discussion board and I will respond there."
    • “I will do my best to return assessments and feedback within 10 days of the deadline. However, this will vary based on the nature of the submissions.”
    • “Concise and clear communication is appreciated. Please be sure to think about your question and what exactly you need to know before sending me an email. This will help me answer your question directly and allow you to continue working on the assignment/lab/other learning activity.”

TIP: Create a discussion topic where students can post course-related questions. You can answer questions there and other students can see your response, which promotes transparency and teaching presence.

  • Review the current institutional guidelines for timed online assessments .
    • Check with your faculty's Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning to determine alternative assessment strategies to respond to emergent barriers that prevent students from completing activities by the deadline.
    • Designing online assessments? Consider reviewing the COVID-19 FAQ for Academic Staff, which reviews considerations such as timing, technology support, grading options, course scheduling, and other helpful topics.
  • Offer extensions for compassionate reasons, provided that an extension is possible given course constraints such as grading deadlines and scaffolded assessments.
    • Consider modifying one of the following statements to share with students so that they are aware of the process they need to go through to request an extension:
      • "If you require an extension for an assignment or assessment, please email me within 12 hours of the assessment to make arrangements. For students studying in rural and remote areas and outside of Canada, please email me within 24 hours of the scheduled assessment time to make arrangements."
      • "I will do my best to support last minute requests within reason. If I do not hear from you prior to a deadline or assessment, I will assume that you have what you need to complete the assignment or exam."
  • Check in with students a few days before the deadline or assessment to see where students are at and if they anticipate any barriers to completing the requirements.

TIP: Lean into your expertise and discretion for making these decisions. Try to be aware of students’ workload in other courses, listen for indicators of stress or anxiety related to meeting the course requirements, and reflect on what type of flexibility has worked well in previous courses that you have taught.

Strategies for Addressing Issues

Academic staff, teaching assistants and teaching support staff play an important role in setting expectations and maintaining a positive, inclusive learning environment. At times that may include addressing challenging behaviors that arise during a class, lab or tutorial. Planning ahead is key to prevention and de-escalation of situations. As with any other classroom management issue, if challenging circumstances arise that substantially disrupt the learning environment, or pose health and safety concerns, you may request assistance from Campus Security. 

Academic staff, teaching assistants and teaching support staff are not responsible for enforcing compliance of the mask requirements and/or procedures related to COVID-19 rapid testing or vaccines. If a situation of concern arises, contact the course instructor (for GAT and support staff) or academic leader (program director, department head, associate dean, dean).  

  • Ensure all members of the teaching team understand safety regulations and protocols, and have strategies for addressing safety concerns. 
  • Ensure students understand classroom and lab safety requirements including mask requirements and understand how safety concerns or disruptive behaviors will be addressed. 
  • Provide regular reminders of the need follow safety procedures including wearing a mask when physical distancing cannot be maintained. Also remind students that some individuals may be exempt and will need to maintain physical distancing at all times. 
  • Let students know that if any member of the teaching team (course instructors, GATs, support staff) believes that the health and safety of the class is at risk for any reason, they may choose to pause or cancel the class, tutorial or lab. 

If a disruptive situation emerges during a class, tutorial or lab including, disrespectful or confrontational behavior or non-compliance with health and safety measures we advise: 

  • Take a moment to collect yourself so you can respond to the situation thoughtfully and use strategies planned out ahead of time. 
  • Invite the disruptive student(s) to speak with you privately to discuss the situation. This might require pausing the learning activity or stepping outside of the room with the student(s). 
  • Start a conversation from a place of wanting to learn more about cause of disruptive or confrontational behavior and how it can be resolved. 
  • Avoid calling out an individual student or group of students in front of the class 
  • Avoid making judgements and assumptions about the cause of the behavior. Beginning with this premise can help de-escalate situations in the moment. 
  • If the situation is disruptive to other students’ learning you may ask the student to leave the learning environment. 
  • If the situation is immediately threatening to the safety of others, you may pause or cancel the learning activity, and call Campus Security (403-220-5333) if needed. Please note that this should be a last resort measure.  
  • If there is a disruptive or confrontational situation, please reach out afterward to the course instructor (GATs, instructional support staff) or academic leaders for support. 

UCalgary is committed to establishing an equitable, diverse, inclusive and accessible campus that is free from harassment, bullying and discrimination. It is important to acknowledge that discriminatory behaviours towards members of our community may be present when perceptions of non-compliance are addressed.  We encourage members of the University community to remove barriers for equity-deserving groups, including women, Indigenous peoples, visible/racialized minorities, persons with disabilities and LGBTQ2S+, and to reinforce actions that reflect our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.  


For further information, visit:

Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Office of Indigenous Engagement

Protected Disclosure and Research Integrity Office


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