Teaching with social distancing – challenges and guidance

Pandemic restrictions appear to be easing, however travel and social distancing rules will still have impacts on the Summer Semester. We hope students who have been unable to travel to Brisbane will begin returning and be able to access our campuses. We also recognise it is likely that COVID-19 will eventually be active in our local community. For Summer Semester, we are hoping to minimise changes to the way our courses and assessment run.

Please consider the Summer Semester Teaching Guidance (PDF, 212.6 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 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 struggling with self-motivation.

Open and frequent two-way 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

View the Parallel teaching page.

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Reviewing your course

In the current situation, you are required to:

  • recognise the need to be flexible in this uncertain and difficult time
  • explicitly provide ways for students to meet the learning objectives of your courses and how those objectives are 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.

View Setting expectations for students in different learning environments and delivery modes.

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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Communicating with students

Communication is essential for creating an effective learning environment and a sense of belonging. For more information, view Communicating with students.

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Motivating students

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Online lectures and videos

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Zoom lectures, tutorials and workshops

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Lecture recordings and privacy

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Preparing for staff absence including your own

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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 (see Teaching off-campus). Refer to Types of spaces and Learning space development at UQ for a range of options. 

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 learning environment and encourage interaction

Be open about the impact of COVID-19 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). See Inclusive practice for more information on equity, diversity and accessibility.

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).

Refer to Inclusive teaching and classroom management practices for more information on creating an inclusive space.

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Evaluating your course and teaching

Check-in survey

The Check-in survey is optional and runs during Teaching Week 5 and 6. It allows you to evaluate your students' course and teaching experience early in the semester. Please note: the Check-in survey responses belong to course coordinators who request them – they are not recorded institutionally. Refer to the Check-in survey web page for key dates and how to order a survey.

SECaTs and SETutors

Adjustments to the Student Evaluation of Course and Teacher (SECaT) and Student Evaluation of Tutor (SETutor) surveys were made in Semester 2, 2020 to suit different course and teaching modes. Refer to the SECaT and SETutor web pages for key dates and more information.

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Creating a sense of belonging in your courses

Fostering a sense of belonging for our students is a top priority at UQ. Please review how you can help create a sense of belonging in your courses – some ideas may be relevant for your students in your context.

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ITaLI support team

+61 7 344 31348

COVID-19 Updates

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