Published: April 6, 2020

The past few weeks have been stressful and disruptive for everyone. Our students are especially vulnerable as they may be facing any number of challenges, such as financial stress, housing and food insecurity, and additional demands related to caring for family members and themselves. What is more, some students may be in a different time zone, need to miss regularly scheduled class meetings because of unforeseen demands, have to find alternate ways to submit assignments depending on their technology/internet access, or request an extension for an assignment or exam.

Kirk Ambrose

Under these circumstances, it is important that we prioritize compassion, kindness and flexibility. Communicating that we care about our students and their success can make a big difference in student motivation, persistence and ultimate success in course completion. The Chronicle of Higher Education has produced a helpful guide on supporting students during disruptive periods, which, along with a number of other campus and external resources, is posted on the Center for Teaching & Learning’s resource page. Additionally, CTL is hosting an ongoing series of online events related to remote teaching, as well as sharing effective practices and resources.  

CU’s faculty and staff have taken heroic steps during the transition to remote teaching. Below are resources and practices to help throughout the remaining portion of the semester:

Communicate expectations: Clear communication regarding course expectations is fundamental to promoting student learning, but doubly important during periods of disruption. Some of our students have reported increased anxiety because they do not know their current course grades and are uncertain about grading criteria and standards for assignments and exams. During this time, students may need extra feedback, guidance and reassurance.

Synchronous vs. asynchronous: Some faculty prefer to hold live class sessions (synchronous). Others choose to post recorded lectures and other content online (asynchronous), allowing students to access material on their own time.

There are pros and cons to both models. If you choose the synchronous model, it is wise to record and post class sessions for students who are unable to attend (Zoom includes a recording feature). If you choose the asynchronous model, make sure to maintain regular contact with students, such as discussions during regularly scheduled class times and/or office hours.

Actively solicit feedback: Because it is not always possible in a remote setting to “read” an audience, you may need to proactively assess students' learning. Anonymous polls (Zoom includes this feature), soliciting feedback via email, Canvas chat, and Zoom chat afford you the opportunity to gauge student learning, as well as offer students the opportunity to tell you what is working—and what is not—in your remote teaching. This process also presents a teaching opportunity and a chance to model skills of adaptability and collaboration.  

Establish clear classroom norms: Regardless of modality, establishing classroom or meeting norms is important to maintain a respectful learning environment. Displaying a slide at the beginning of any remote meeting that articulates behavioral norms can be helpful. When using Zoom, should students use the raise hand feature? The chat feature? Or, should they simply unmute? In general, provide explicit guidance to students regarding the use of technologies that you employ. 

Prevent Zoom disruptions: There are reports of disruptions during classes on Zoom. Class sessions have experienced intruders from outside the CU community being disruptive and inappropriate, including the posting of racist, sexist, and pornographic images. Adding a Domain Based Authentication can restrict meetings to individuals with a CU IdentiKey. OIT has provided a step-by-step guide, as well as additional Zoom security information. If you make this switch, you will need to inform your students.      

Manage disruptive behaviors: The Student Classroom and Course-Related Behavior Policy is still in effect for remote teaching. However, even with controls in place to minimize disruption, students may still find ways to disrupt the teaching environment. Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution is your CU Boulder resource for enforcing the Student Classroom and Course-Related Behavior Policy, consulting on responding to disruptive behaviors, and setting course behavioral expectations. If you would like to consult about how to respond to any disruptions, please email them at

If a student disrupts Zoom sessions, the faculty member should take the following steps:

  1. Mute the student’s mic and turn off the student’s camera as needed to address the disruption. Information on how to do these actions in Zoom can be found here.
  2. Follow up with that student via email detailing how their behavior is disruptive and reaffirming your expectations for future behaviors.
  3. If the student’s disruptive behavior continues or if a single instance of disruption is egregious enough to warrant it, remove them from the Zoom meeting and file a report with Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (SCCR) here.

Upon receipt of the report, SCCR will work with you in setting further behavioral expectations and holding the student accountable for the disruption. If the disruptive incident includes sexual misconduct (including sexual assault, exploitation and harassment), intimate partner abuse (including dating and domestic violence), stalking, discrimination, harassment, or related retaliation, you must report it to the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance. Instructional faculty, including GPTIs and TAs, are required to report such incidents to OIEC.

Report academic misconduct: While teaching remotely, maintaining the academic integrity of your courses is important. If you have concerns about academic misconduct in your courses or would like to consult on issues related to academic integrity, please file a report here or email

Create community: Students have been isolated from their peers and may be experiencing loneliness. As a teacher, it is a good idea to create an online community for your students, such as study groups or working groups, using the breakout room feature in Zoom, or discussion boards on Canvas. Feeling connected increases student motivation and also promotes persistence and retention.

Encourage good study habits: Because our students’ lives are now filled with additional distractions, finding time for coursework will likely be challenging. It may prove helpful to give students tips, starting from what can make them more comfortable. You might suggest something like choosing the right location (not too noisy, not too bright, not too full of movement), having water and a snack handy, and to stretch from time to time. Their mind will focus more effectively if their body is comfortable enough. You can further suggest time management techniques, including creating schedules (including self-care time) or the pomodoro technique.  

Testing: Canvas offers a good platform for quizzes and testing, and OIT offers trainings on this feature. For proctoring of exams, the campus now subscribes to Examity. Interested faculty can register online.

Additional guides for online assessment include materials from Boise State UniversityGeorge Washington UniversityNew York University, and Rutgers University

Virtual simulations and labs: OIT provides links to a number of remote teaching resources, including labsAdditional lab resources include InSpark and a list maintained by the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education. 

Student Wellness: For students having difficulties coping, CU offers robust services that can assist. Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) and Student Support and Case Management are continuing services remotely for local students and can help out-of-state students find support in their area. There is also an emergency fund for students with critical needs. 

Self-care: Finally, it’s likewise important for faculty to care for themselves and to realize that there are negative impacts on them with this new remote environment. The Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) is currently offering TeleHealth videoconferencing. The Office of Faculty Affairs offers mentoring and support, and The Center for Humanities and the Arts provides support as well online.

Kirk Ambrose, PhD, is the founding director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at CU Boulder.