Teaching online during the COVID19 closure and beyond


Teaching Online

Royal Holloway aims to deliver as much teaching online as possible from Mar 23 onwards.  We have a rich portfolio of established institutional systems and third-party services, alongside a mixture of nascent and niche tools.  Crucially, we have significant expertise in these technologies within the E-Learning Team, IT Services and in the Schools.

Teaching and learning online are not easy but neither are they impossible. During the best of times they require confidence, discipline, planning, digital skills and literacies alongside a safe and connected space off-campus in which to teach and learn.  In this period of crisis, we must recognise that colleagues’ and student’s lives have been turned upside-down and that this makes our efforts in overcoming various barriers to teaching online crucial.

Here are a few observations which may help provide a context for the next few weeks:

Over-reliance on face-to-face teaching

College has previously over-relied upon a face-to-face or a tech-light blended approach to teaching.  Our staff and students are largely inexperienced in designing, delivering and participating in fully online activities.

Consider: The best mix of technologies to provide students with a quality, remote learning experience.

Moodle as a repository

Moodle has been used primarily as a repository for resources.  This has resulted in a lack of active learning activities, which may be partly offset by classroom-based interactivity.  The same approach is not appropriate in fully online teaching & learning.

Consider: The benefits of active learning and how technology can facilitate this.

The digital lens

Rather than simply talk about increasing the use of technology in teaching and learning, or introducing it because you can, consider what can technology do to improve teaching and learning.

The success of the Lecture Recording project in 2019 shows that by looking at a problem, such as the accessibility of lectures for a particular group of students, through a ‘digital lens’ and asking “How can technology help solve this problem?” we can improve the learning experience for all students.

The answers in this case were flexibility of access for all students; non-linear viewing allows supports review and revision practices; increased accessibility for hearing impaired and non-native speaking students; and that the use of recorded content supports blended and active learning approaches.

Digital Natives?

Persistent labelling of students as ‘Digital Natives’; there is no such thing and the term is both divisive and outdated.  Broad generalisations about ‘digital skills and wills’ only make it more difficult for students to succeed as we move to a fully online teaching and learning approach.

Consider: Providing onboarding and support for students; Offering differentiated access; Co-designing activities.

Pressure on the web & learners

The move to fully online teaching & learning has resulted in additional pressures, not only on internet bandwidth, but upon College-supported web services (e.g., MS Teams) and unsupported freeware (e.g., Zoom).

Consider: What is the most appropriate teaching mode, synchronous or asynchronous? Are your students able to participate fully?

Key considerations for practice

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous learning

Online teaching and learning can be divided into two broad modes: synchronous and asynchronous.

Synchronous e-learning, commonly supported by media such as live video and chat, has the potential to support e-learners in the development of learning communities. Learners and teachers experience synchronous e-learning as more social, and avoid isolation and frustration by asking and answering questions in real time. Synchronous sessions can help learners feel like members of a community.

Asynchronous e-learning typically involves engagement with textual content, pre-recorded audio & video resources, discussion fora and individual assessments, supports flexible learning while fostering learner-to-learner and learners-to-teacher communication between learners and teachers, even when participants cannot be online at the same time.  Learners can take time to refine their contributions, for example to a test-based discussion forum, and share more thoughtful responses to questions and other learning activities.

Debate about these modes has historically centred around which is best, but has now evolved to which is the most appropriate for any given learning context.  It should be noted some media, such a chat tools and discussion fora can be used both synchronously and asynchronously, regardless of their intended purpose and indicate that synchronicity is often in the hands of learners, and exists on a scale rather than a fixed point.

Academic presence

Some say content is king. Others say context is. But what about contact?

The Flexible Education initiative is not concerned with creating online degrees but instead allowing students - and teaching staff - to move seamlessly between both online and face-to-face teaching. 

One key difference between remote and face-to-face teaching is the physical separation of the teacher from learners, and the learners from each other.  In other words there is an issue of academic presence.

What is academic presence?

Now is the time to move beyond narrow defintions of what constitutes contact time.  It can no longer be defined purely by face-to-face contact and interaction, the sort facilitated by lectures, seminars, office hours and those liminal moments inbetween. 

Neither should it be measured solely by synchronous online contact, as this makes assumptions about sustainability, access and bandwidth. 

In any case, synchronous online contact alone will not help overcome the common issues associated with poorly designed online learning; isolation, frustration and attrition, and may lead to exhaustion for teachers and students alike.

A measure of presence could be the extent to which a teacher serves as a model for critical discourse, provides constructive critique, and provides timely and formative feedback.

How to promote and sustain academic presence

Physical presence is easily recognisable through observation and perception, but online presence needs to be intentionally created.  Opportunites to acheive this arise through the use of a blend of online activities such as live & recorded lectures; structured and scaffolded discussion fora; and short, regularly scheduled MCQ or short-answer tests.

Academic presence does not necessarily mean synchronous. The table below shows that the highest amount of presence and interactivity can arise from asynchronous and relatively low-cost, low-bandwidth activities, such as discussion fora and short feedback videos.


Download a high-resolution PDF of this table

With these observations and considerations in mind, the guiding principle for the next few months of teaching - and beyond - should be allowing our students to meet the learning outcomes of their modules with the most straightforward and appropriate approaches. The key message is KEEP IT SIMPLE!

What exactly does keep it simple mean?


Identify what must your students achieve in the next few weeks.

  • What should your students do to succeed?
  • What do your students need to succeed?
  • What can you do in support of your students?


Teaching online is very different from what students are used to in face-to-face or lightly blended teaching. 

Scaffolding, in the form of clear and accessible communication is crucial.

  • Be explicit in your instructions to students.  Tell them what is required of them, both in the move to remote teaching & learning, and for every activity that is undertaken online.
  • Provide clear guidance on what you are going to do, the tools you intend to use, what you expect from your students, and what they can expect from you.
  • Encourage the more able to support those who need to further develop their digital skills.
  • Use a tried and trusted online teaching approach, such as Gilly Salmon’s Five Stage Model.


Where possible, use locally-available and largely trusted College services.

  • Moodle, Turnitin and RePlay remain key to the next few weeks.
  • Staff and students already know how to access and use these services.
  • There is campus-wide expertise in using these services, in addition to dedicated support.
  • Try to maintain usual seminar/workshop times.


Affordance is what the environment offers the individual, what its possibilities are. 

You need to use the services and approaches that are most appropriate to your students.

  • Find out if your students have the digital skills, a safe space, hardware, software and bandwidth (actual and virtual) to engage with the activities you require them to complete.
  • Learn about and consider each online teaching tool/service available to you and your students.
  • Consider how each of your face-to-face teaching and learning activities can be best replicated online.
  • Identify the best tool for each of your online teaching and learning activities.
  • Consider the benefits and challenges offered by synchronous and asynchronous teaching & learning activities.
  • Avoid over-reliance on MS Teams and synchronous teaching; use a blend of asynchronous video and discussion fora and augment this with short live sessions on MS Teams


Adaptation can refer to both taking advantage of new technologies and adapting existing activities so that they work better online.

  • An example of adapting teaching & learning is to adopt a new technology, such as the well-supported albeit nascent MS Teams service, to replace classroom-based seminars; thereby adapting the environment in which the seminar takes place.
  • An example of adapting an activity is recording lectures using RePlay/Panopto to replace face-to-face teaching, and requiring students to engage with the content it a time of their choosing rather than at the scheduled time.

Moving teaching, learning & assessment online

This is a list of analogue teaching & learning and activity types and their online equivalents.  The E-Learning Team provides support and advice on the use of RePlay/Panopto in assessment, via Moodle, the  E-Learning Helpdesk and  MS Teams.


  1. RePlay/Panopto can be used to pre-record lectures.  Like all RePlay content, pre-recorded lectures are streamed via Moodle.  This maintains IP rights while providing learners with ease-of-access.
  2. RePlay/Panopto can be used to record lectures live, while also recording them for review and revision.
  3. Alternatively, PowerPoint slides can be enhanced with voiceover and then uploaded to RePlay.
  4. Some colleagues already use screen capture technology, such as Camtasia, and such content should also be uploaded to RePlay.

Lecture interactivity

  1. RePlay/Panopto can be used to record lectures live or pre-record them.  Discussion points and quizzes can be added to the recordings to provide interactivity.
  2. TurningPoint polls can be used to test knowledge, understanding, application and synthesis of material in both real-time and self-paced modes.

Seminars/Workshops/Small group meetings

  1. For in-depth discussions, use the rich features of Moodle Forums.
  2. For off-the-cuff conversations, it is possible to use Moodle Chat.
  3. We have accelerated the rollout of the MS Teams service in support of online, collaborative sessions.

One-to-one meetings

  1. For synchronous conversations, add a Moodle Chat tool to your course. This is a lightweight and therefore simple text-only communication tool in Moodle.
  2. Moodle Chats can be scheduled for specific and recurring times.
  3. For asynchronous conversations, Moodle messaging is already well used.
  4. MS Teams can be used for one-to-one meetings.


  1. Moodle has a powerful quiz tool which currently provides over 400 modules with over 2500 online tests.
  2. TurningPoint Mobile can be used to deliver tests to logged-in learners.


  1. RePlay/Panopto supports the uploading of student presentations.  This is achieved through the use of Assignment folders which provide protected access to recordings. 
  2. Audio-enhanced Powerpoint presentations can be uploaded for assessment in the same way

These are established practices at Royal Holloway and this blog post descibes the activity






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