Teaching with social distancing – challenges and guidance

UQ has reached a point of compliance with the government advice requiring academics to teach from their residence. Further advice indicates that, while these restrictions are easing, social distancing will still have impacts in 2021. Please consider the Semester 2 Teaching Guidance (PDF, 243.7 KB).

These restrictions may continue to limit our access to:

  • on-campus teaching and work spaces
  • specialist equipment and resources in your on-campus workspace
  • support structures.

Staff have been challenged by their own poor internet connections, managing student interactions and teaching teams as well as the unfamiliar technical issues and new platforms. Nonetheless, teaching remotely has offered some advantages to students, such as greater opportunities to reflect and revise as well as a chance to develop their own learning networks online. There has been some very positive feedback from students, including:

  • flexibility in accessing learning material online and 
  • improved technical skills.

Some challenges have been highlighted by students:

  • use of old materials (including Echo360 lectures) that no longer match the redesigned course and its assessment
  • expected virtual tutorials not running; not having tutors online when expected
  • not having dedicated tutors per class
  • Zoom connectivity (this has been addressed at the systems-level but further tips are provided below)
  • communication around changes in assessment
  • students are also struggling with self-motivation.

Open and frequent communication is critical to supporting and addressing these challenges.

Some students are particularly struggling with the impacts of the pandemic. UQ offers a range of support services, many outlined in these slides (PPTX, 847.4 KB) you can share with your students. Student Services also offers support for staff helping students in crisis.

The resources below may assist with the challenges of teaching in this context.

Evaluating and promoting student engagement (HaBS) (PDF, 107.9 KB)
Switching on learning (BEL) (PDF, 130.5 KB)
Student support services slides (PPTX, 847.4 KB)

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Teaching on campus

Teaching on campus may be different this semester. Social distancing has had some impact. Some students and staff may not be able to attend classes on campus for many reasons including travel restrictions, illness or being requested to self-isolate. Classes will finish at 10-minutes to the hour to allow for safe transition in and out of learning spaces. Central teaching spaces have upgraded AV systems with microphones available in the room.

Creating a safe teaching environment

UQ academics have always had a responsibility to make their classes a safe place for students to learn. This semester, we have extra reasons and responsibilities to support our students to engage in a safe and healthy way in our classes. UQ has developed a Safe teaching checklist (PDF, 131.9 KB) to help you.

You will need to set expectations, a set of Staying healthy PowerPoint slides with speaking notes (PPTX, 0.9 MB) is available. Model the behaviours you want from your students, and if you see behaviour you don’t think is appropriate, please intervene. In classes such as labs, where physical distancing may be compromised, a risk assessment must be undertaken and additional safety measures put in place. Specific guidance is available in the Safety Note – Teaching Space (PDF, 462.1 KB).
UQ has a range of campus wide and local initiatives to make our campuses safe.

As government guidance changes, UQ will provide updated guidance and support to ensure our campuses are safe for work and study.

Parallel teaching with Zoom

Many of UQ’s teaching spaces (PDF, 34.8 KB) have been upgraded with technology to support connecting to students remotely using Zoom, or record more of your class interactions with Zoom. Technical guides will be available in all upgraded spaces. These upgrades enable you to use the microphones, document cameras and web-cameras for Zoom meetings. Collaborative spaces have ceiling microphones and cameras to enable students in the class to be seen and heard online.

Tips for parallel teaching with Zoom:

  • Practice with the technology – audio-visual guidesZoom guides, workshops and support are available.
  • Only one computer in the physical space should be connected to Zoom audio at a time to avoid feedback and echoes.
  • Be generous with time, moving students between activities, setting up and managing the extra technology and connecting to students in different modes will take more time.
  • Ask for help, a colleague or student helping monitor chat can enhance communication for all students, and let you focus on other tasks.
  • Work with your students to find which activities work best online only, asynchronous, on-campus only or done in parallel.
  • Consider student equity and be open and transparent in how you organise your class.

Recording teaching activities is generally popular with students and can create valuable support resources for students who do not attend a class. If you are sharing recordings of students, please advise your students that they are being recorded and provide them with an opportunity to not be recorded. You could do this by designating areas of your room as off-camera, and not requiring students to share their video through Zoom. You can find more details of how Zoom recordings are managed at UQ.

Blended synchronous learning with Zoom (PDF, 143.8 KB)
Slides from parallel teaching drop-in sessions (PPTX, 1.8 MB)
Lecture recording notice (PPTX, 849.9 KB)
HASS guide for teaching with Zoom (PDF, 418.6 KB)

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Review your course

In the current situation, you are required to:

  • recognise the need to be flexible in this uncertain and difficult time
  • provide ways for students to meet the core learning objectives of your courses and for those objectives to be assessed
  • provide alternatives for on-campus activities
  • ensure students have adequate and equitable access to consultation with staff
  • communicate any changes in your course to all students, including in your ECP
  • be prepared if you, or members of your course staff, need to take leave or self-isolate.

Be realistic about your goals for teaching and learning in an online space.

As you think about continuing teaching and learning online, consider what you think you can realistically accomplish.

  • Will you be able to maintain your original curriculum and timetable?
  • Will your students be in different situations or time zones? 
  • What assessment, learning activities and resources are essential in your course?
  • What do you expect your students to do?
  • How will you keep students engaged with the course content?
  • What measures can you put into place to ensure accountability and a sense of progression?

Reconsider your expectations of students.

You will need to re-think how students engage, participate, communicate, and meet assessment requirements and deadlines, as part of the continued transition process. As you work through these changes with your course team, keep in mind the impact this situation may have on your students' ability to meet those expectations, including illness, maintaining employment, access to working devices or Internet connections, digital skills, needing to care for family members and themselves and financial hardship. Be ready to handle requests for support and extensions in an equitable way. See Student support services and Exams and assessment information for students.

Use familiar tools

Consider using tools and approaches familiar to you and your students, to begin with. As you and your students become more comfortable, consider expanding your repertoire. 

When using new technologies, start simply and expand on the features and complexity of interactions as you and your students become familiar with the tools. Most students will now have a working knowledge of new technologies, including Zoom. Consider expanding your use of these platforms to further enhance teaching and learning.

ITS continues to work with vendors to expand the free student software for use at home.


Designing learning (BEL) (PDF, 156.5 KB)
Rethinking contact time (BEL) (PDF, 154.9 KB)
External resources to support your transition to online teaching (PDF, 181.7 KB)

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Communicate with students

Communication is essential for creating an effective learning environment and sense of belonging.

Good and regular communication continues to be a priority in 2021.

Many students are experiencing stress, fear and uncertainty during this time. As effective consultation with teachers is the most frequent request from students who feel isolated, providing clear and timely guidance and responses help students engage productively in your course.

Please carefully plan how you will communicate with students and create a detailed communication plan. Once you have details about how your course will operate, communicate these details to students, along with how and when they can contact you (email, online office hours, etc.). A weekly email to students setting out what they need to do and what is happening in the course can help keep students on track. You can use this email to answer common questions and to also let them know how they can best connect with you.

Some questions students may have include:

  • How will my assessment be affected?
  • How should I engage in this class?
  • What aspects will be online and on-campus?
  • How do I organise my learning online?
  • How should I be communicating with my course teams and what are their expectations?

Depending on your course and the student, you may also receive more general questions, university advice on some of these topics is available at COVID-19 (coronavirus) advice for students.

If you don’t get to see your students regularly in class, you might want to create an opportunity to check in with your students, for example, either with some dedicated time during your online class or in a separate online drop-in session. Let students know how this will work when you email them.

It can help to ask students how things are going, not just with the course and their study, but more generally. Encourage them to share their experiences and also tips and strategies that are working for them. Read updates, emails and attend meetings. 

Example email to students (DOCX, 59.4 KB)
Example Blackboard announcement (DOCX, 57.9 KB)
Communicating and connecting (BEL) (PDF, 128.2 KB)

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Motivating students

Recent student feedback has highlighted that students are finding it difficult to maintain their study motivation online. Managing student motivation can be challenging for teachers. There are a few things teachers can do to help build student motivation: 

  1. Set your students clear goals each week for what they need to do in your class. Keep the tasks concrete and provide information on how to get started. Weekly Blackboard announcements released at the same time each week have worked well for course coordinators.
  2. Provide some time for them to talk to each other in your online classes if appropriate. Break out rooms work well for this. Otherwise, encourage them to engage with each other on your class discussion board or another forum.
  3. At the start of your online class, ask your students how they are going. This works for some cohorts and not for others. Your best guide is your own knowledge of your students and the feedback they give you.
  4. Consider that students are not always going to be able to be productive and may face more technology issues now that everything relies on the internet. Be flexible where appropriate so that students can catch up.

Professor Blake McKimmie has developed a series of tips as an infographic (PDF, 154.9 KB) and short videos for students to help them stay motivated. Feel free to share these resources with them.

 Resources for students
Six (6) short video tips
Student motivation infographic (PDF, 154.9 KB)

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Online lectures and videos

On-campus lectures could be replaced with:

  • pre-recorded video using Kaltura Capture or software of your choice, or
  • online lectures using Zoom, which can also be recorded. We recommend a limit of 300 students attending a Zoom lecture (please submit an IT request if you need to increase this limit to 500),
  • written documents or audio recordings (podcasts) which can be just as effective for part or all of your lecture.

A final note: it is recommended that you do not use previous semesters’ lecture recordings. Student feedback is very negative regarding the use of last years’ Echo 360 recordings.

If you are recording lecture videos:

  • Plan each video
    • Consider breaking your video into “chunks” and presenting a question, activity or discussion point at the end of each chunk. Build feedback into the next chunk.​
    • Does each video section:
      1. Have a story arc with a beginning, middle and conclusion?
      2. Review previous knowledge and consider learning objectives?
      3. Highlight the most important information? Consider summarising this information at the end of the video.
      4. Show students why and how they should engage with the video.
    • If you have two people in your video: try having a conversation or using a question and answer format. If you are alone in your video: turn on your webcam, or write on the screen (or both) so students can see your enthusiasm.
    • Talk to your students in a friendly, enthusiastic, conversational style with suitable and consistent terminology.
  • Be concise
    • Remove any images, text and anecdotes not directly relevant to the point – shorter videos are easier to manage for you and your students.
  • Tell students how you expect them to engage with your videos
    • This could be directions on how to learn from the video (e.g. take notes, pause and check definitions) or activities like quizzes or discussions based on the video. Provide PDFs of PowerPoint notes.
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Online tutorials and workshops

Tutorials and workshops may be delivered synchronously using Zoom with active learning activities facilitated using functionality such as polls, ‘reactions’, whiteboard and PadletUQ activities, and breakout rooms for small group discussions.

If you’re running Zoom sessions for tutorials, it can be easy to slip into the pattern of doing a mini lecture. If you have a small enough class (up to 25 students), there are some easy ways to make the online experience more engaging. Consider the following tips:

  1. Explain to your students how you expect to interact with them online, and what behaviours and participation you expect from them. This website explains how to do this, and provides a sample communication you can copy and modify.
  2. Communicate to your students about the upcoming webinar. This will be new to many students, and they will need to find the link to their tutorial quickly and easily. Read an example of an effective communication.
  3. Are you using discussion boards? It can be an effective way to follow up from the live sessions, but ensure students know where to go to do the activity, and how to post. The key for effective discussion board usage is to be present. Students need to see you posting and know they will be responded to within a reasonable amount of time. Successful discussion boards provide students with reasons to engage and practice interaction on the discussion board.
  4. Active participation in live sessions is fundamental to retaining student engagement. This can range from:
    • Starting with a fun poll, based, for example, on their confidence in using the live environment;
    • Concluding with a poll or reaction emojis to gauge student comfort with the content covered;
    • Keep microphones muted, but between topics, call for questions or examples – ask students to virtually raise their hand;
    • Use the chatbox, or if you have a second moderator available, use breakout rooms to ask students to reflect on the topics discussed today, or reflect on a particular question. Collate the responses to inform the next session and feedback this to students.
  5. Provide support for online assessment – let your students know how you will be available to support them. The sample message on this page provides clear choices for students to seek support.
  6. Consider ways to build feedback loops into your online teaching practice. Let students know how well they have performed on a task (feedback), and communicate what needs to happen next (feedforward).
  7. Make time for the ‘light’ moments. In this time of uncertainty, fostering a sense of community amongst your students online can help them feel connected and provide a sense of belonging and normality. Dr Gilmore proffers three effective strategies: use pop culture, share life events, and use photos. Read more about these strategies.
  8. Don’t reinvent the wheel – it’s ok to use existing materials on YouTube and Google if they are from credible sources. Remember to keep videos around 7 minutes long, but if they are longer, focus student attention on particular parts. Let students know why they are watching and consider adding in some guided questions to foster active learning. Let the students know why you chose this video in particular – what is it about this material that makes it pertinent to their learning?
  9. Celebrate students’ achievements – this can be congratulating the cohort for their participation, to having ‘virtual coffee’ at the end of the semester or social get-togethers online. Direct them to UQ Life.
  10. Alternatively, some activities can be replicated asynchronously online using Blackboard Discussion Boards and PadletUQ to support discussion and collaboration, with in-class quizzes replaced with Blackboard tests.

Managing the Zoom classroom (BEL) (PDF, 119.1 KB)

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Lecture recordings and privacy

UQ has a long history of recording our lectures and releasing these to our student body. With the introduction of Zoom and other platforms, along with the encouragement for active learning in classes, this has meant that some recordings now include student identities. We need to ensure that students are advised that their identities may be captured as part of the recording. Please read the information and resources below to support you in protecting student privacy when recording your classes.

  • Advise students of the privacy measures in place. This slide (PPTX, 849.9 KB) provides an announcement for students that you can give at the beginning of classes along with solutions for those not wishing to be recorded. When using the Lecture Recordings slide during your classes, feel free to use language that is clear to your students (i.e. if there is a specific location where you share your recordings, adjust the wording as relevant).
  • If you want to edit something from a recording, Zoom offers a quick way to trim the start and end of recordings and you can review and edit recordings in Echo360.
  • Collaborative spaces have been fitted with ceiling microphones and room cameras to enable students in-class to connect with students online, please warn students when using these technologies and give students opportunity where possible, to not be recorded.
  • We have restricted access to Echo360. This means that students who are not enrolled in the course will not have access to recordings and learning content. If required, Blackboard users with course instructor or leader access roles can enrol a UQ student or staff member as a “Guest” on a case by case basis by following these instructions. Please note that these instructions refer to enrolment of teaching and administration staff, but the same process is followed to enrol any UQ student or staff member with the “Guest” access role. In the past, “Guest" access has had limited uptake by students.
  • Read the supporting FAQs. These FAQs (PDF, 114 KB) include answers to common questions along with guidance for managing proxy student names in Zoom sessions.
  • The following message has been posted to Blackboard and added to all ECPs:

Please be aware that teaching at UQ may be recorded for the benefit of student learning. If you would prefer not be captured either by voice or image, please advise your teacher/course coordinator before class so accommodations can be made. For further information, see PPL 3.20.06 Recording of Teaching at UQ.

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Prepare for the possibility that you may be absent

Consider the possibility that you may be unable to work because of illness or caring for others.

While this seems less pertinent now, please ensure you have a back-up plan.

It is recommended that you plan ahead and:

  • develop a contingency plan for this possibility
  • identify two or three backup staff who can teach your course if you are absent from campus
  • ensure that your backup staff are enrolled in Blackboard and any systems used in your course (e.g. Edge)
  • upload or share teaching material for the semester to a 'Staff only' folder on Blackboard, Sharepoint site or UQ shared drive
  • upload all marks to Blackboard Grade Centre as soon as they become available
  • check that the marks uploaded to Blackboard are only visible to students when appropriate.
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Alternative professional activities (labs, practicums, placements)

Consider whether these experiences are essential for accreditation or achieving learning objectives.

UQ provides access to laboratories, placements, field trips and more that add value to our students' learning and experiences. In the current situation, we need to consider which of these experiences are crucial for achieving learning outcomes and provide more authentic experiences for learning.

Can the learning objectives be met using online/remote delivery?

Some potential options may include:

  • using online resources (e.g. YouTube videos, Khan academy, Anatomy atlas or other virtual lab/practical experiences),
  • running practical sessions via Zoom, or
  • providing videos of experiments/practical examinations with supporting resources (e.g. protocols, experiment data, articles, literature, etc.). Students can then use this information to complete any related assessment (e.g. lab reports, quizzes, blogs).

Your Librarian can help you access high quality resources.

Where these experiences are essential for accreditation or achieving learning outcomes:

  • Can students catch up in a block or accelerated experience?
  • Can some of the activities be supplemented with online resources to minimise the intensive load?
  • Can booster activities be run at a later stage? (i.e. to catch students up on the desirable content/skills/knowledge that may have been dropped)
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Promote an inclusive culture and encourage interaction

Be open about the impact of coronavirus on students in your course.

Acknowledge the emotional impact on those students and call on everyone to exercise empathy and understanding.

Explain what equity and equality mean in your course. Do this to address concerns and beliefs some students might have about standards and quality in the course (i.e. perceptions of advantage or disadvantage amongst students).

Teaching Strategy 1: Ensure universal access to course materials

Universal access to all teaching materials and information underpins an inclusive course. Take care to share online materials in ways that are universally accessible to all students.

  1. At a fundamental level, ensure all students have access to the knowledge shared and discussed in classes. This is easier in the context of a lecture/workshop/seminar than laboratory/fieldwork settings.
  2. Upload transcribed recordings and invite students to discuss. Ask questions and monitor responses in the Blackboard Discussion Board within 48 hours of uploading the content to encourage students’ engagement.
  3. If a significant number of students are unable to attend your class, divert some tutor time to Discussion Boards.

Linking to resources in courses explains how to link to Library resources, videos and Open Educational Resources (OER) in your courses without breaching copyright. Contact your Liaison Librarian for help with accessing and linking to resources.

Teaching Strategy 2: Leverage informal peer-to-peer-learning to encourage interaction

Fostering informal (or even formalising) peer-to-peer learning can foster an inclusive culture in your course. It also enables students on campus feel they are supporting fellow students to keep up with their studies in a difficult time.

This is how you can incorporate peer-to-peer learning into your course:

  1. Openly address the impact of the coronavirus in your course to all students (see above).
  2. Articulate the value of peer-to-peer learning across cultures and contexts, enriching the depth of learning.
  3. Explain why you are encouraging peer-to-peer learning (i.e. to be inclusive of students who are not able to come on campus).
  4. Come up with a plan to use and organise activities (e.g. Discussions Boards by topic, day or week) either for the whole class or in groups (see the group feature in Blackboard) – assign students to smaller groups that comprise on and off-campus students.
  5. Explain your expectations on the use of Discussions Boards to students (e.g. expected response time).

Consider if you should assign some marks to encourage peer-to-peer collaboration or make it a pass/fail requirement – if it is relevant and supports your course learning objectives.

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Evaluating your course and teaching

The Check-in survey allows Course Coordinators to add self-written questions into a standard template when evaluating students’ course and teaching experience early in the semester.

Check-in survey:

The Check-in survey is a mid-semester (“pulse”) survey that allows staff to add their own self-written questions; up to 4 scales and 2 open comments questions.

Refer to the Check-in survey webpage for key dates and more information.

Adjustments to the SECaT and SETutor surveys were made in Semester 2, 2020 to suit different course and teaching modes. SECaT evaluations provide students with the opportunity to provide feedback on their experience of courses and teaching at UQ. Refer to the SECaT survey web page for key dates and more information.

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COVID-19 Updates

The coronavirus (COVID-19) situation is evolving daily. Please review: