2 Your Course

One of the first things to remember is that you’re not starting from scratch. Teaching with a digital tool is absolutely different from teaching in person, and scholarship on the topic supports the idea that it can be better to create material specifically for the digital space than to simply shoehorn an in-person activity into a different context. And that may sound like starting from scratch, but I promise that it isn’t. Your course outcomes aren’t changing. Many of your assignments may not change. Most importantly, even if you’ve never taught with technology before, your skills as an instructor and your desire to support your students are still the most important part of putting a course together.

Consider skimming the material in the sections on “Introducing” and “Utilizing” at this early stage as well, so that you can prepare for any strategies you intend to employ in those stages.

Research supporting this section. 

Inventory Your Course

You should ideally have a sense of the strengths and purposes of the technology you are using. But don’t plan your activities based solely on the strengths of the technology. Instead, look at where those affordances can fill a need in your course. How can it further one or more of your outcomes?  How might the technology make it easier for students to understand a key concept? Does it help you to communicate more effectively with your students, or your students with each other? (If, after inventorying your course, it doesn’t seem to do any of a number of useful things, skip to the section on “Advocating to Drop an Existing Tool” later in this guide.)

Most educational technology comes with a wide array of features and with the right tool you may eventually find that the technology is deeply and successfully integrated into many of the core components of your course. At this early stage, however, consider choosing a single type of usage – one sort of activity or functionality — and integrating only that one component to limit the magnitude of the change. While you want more than a single instance of using the tool throughout the term (see “Using the Technology Consistently”), asking students to engage in the same way for the same general purpose will reduce the stress and cognitive load for everyone involved.

Research supporting this section. 

Design for Instructor Presence

Instructor presence in a digital tool can take a variety of forms, but it is crucial that you feel as available and engaged digitally as you would in a face-to-face situation — even if you are also available face-to-face. The tool is an extension of your classroom and students should feel your presence, even if they are working independently. This can be done in a number of ways.

There are three key strategies that both increase instructor presence and reduce resistance to change: providing empathy and support, active and consistent communication, and inviting students to be active — instead of passive — collaborators. This third option is also an avenue for developing valuable student presence, so it is covered in more detail in the next section, “Design for Student Presence.”

As an instructor who cares about your students, empathy and support are likely second nature. However, this is a recommendation not about how you engage with students but how you can formalize and enact empathy and support within a digital tool. One great option is finding ways to make yourself literally visible — video or audio recordings, for instance, instead of written instructions or including a photo of yourself as part of a user profile. This helps you to mitigate the ‘faceless technology’ problem of using digital tools and humanize the experience for your students.

Another option is being responsive in real time. This may mean offering specific digital office hours at certain times or letting the class know when you will be available via a chat function in the technology. It may mean creating an activity in a shared document, discussion board, or creative space where you and the class participate together. While it isn’t always an option, providing synchronous digital time can make a significant difference in how ‘present’ you feel to students through the technology. (It also helps you to be an active communicator, the second of the key strategies!)

Consider what other ways the tool might facilitate empathy with your students — can you create a user bio?  Can students? Can you distribute surveys asking students about their needs in the course? Can you post links to key resources, including support that students can find on campus around food, housing, and mental health? All of these are a great way of personalizing the tool while providing additional support for your students. Further suggestions for enacting empathy and support to positively enhance your instructor presence can be found in “Disaster-Proofing” and “Appendix: Adopting Technology and Emergency Remote Teaching.

You may, however, be using an incredibly simple digital tool that doesn’t provide a lot of opportunity for providing presence within the tool itself. If that is the case, draw on the second strategy of active and consistent communication. When teaching in person, communication happens naturally, both in a formal context from the front of the classroom and in an informal way as you greet students who are arriving and catch up with students as they drift out at the end of class. With educational technology, communication is less organic and it can be easy to forget how long it has been since you have reached out.

Consider creating a plan for yourself about when and how you will communicate through and about the tool. Some messages or information you may be able to pre-build so that they share automatically either through the tool, through email, or an LMS. Even if this is possible, however, it’s a good idea to plan for a number of communications throughout the term that you compose (in part or in whole) just before sending them out. This will allow you to speak more directly and responsively to things that have happened in the course and to speak to the specific moment in which your students are once again engaging with the technology.

Once you have a plan, set up reminders for yourself in a calendar or your preferred method of keeping track of things to make sure that you hold to your good intentions to be an active and consistent communicator.

As you begin this work, consider also reviewing “For Instructional Support” in the section on “Validating” in order to help develop the methods you will use to measure the success of your efforts.

Research supporting this section. 

Design for Student Presence

Designing your technology to encourage and facilitate student presence is a best practice that derives from learning science, but there are a number of principles from organization development that can be usefully applied to support and enhance your efforts.

You always work hard to get students involved in the course itself, but it can be beneficial to involve them directly in the changes you’re making to the course as well.  Much as you may have played around with the technology before selecting it (see “Being Assigned Technology”), you may want to provide students an opportunity to explore the tool in a low-stakes setting. Scavenger hunts are a traditional way of doing this in classrooms, but depending on your students, you may consider involving them more directly as well, inviting them to point to potential pitfalls in using it or to recommend things they would like to use the tool to learn. As this guide recommends in multiple places (see, for instance, “Explain Your Choice” and “Acknowledge the Challenge”), giving students an avenue to feel heard and to influence elements of the technology — and the course as a whole — will make them more positive and more engaged throughout the process.

Another important concept is peer-to-peer support. Research makes clear that certain types of knowledge are transferred more easily between peers than from manager to team-member or instructor to student. Shared interests, contexts, and even generational worldviews can help students to learn more easily from a peer. Conversely, differences and unique lived experiences can provide insights and perspectives students may not have otherwise encountered. It is also to the benefit of students to take on a more instructional role and share their expertise, so everyone benefits if such learning opportunities can be provided. Consider what the technology might be able to provide in terms of peer-review, student presentations, mentoring, or other peer-to-peer learning opportunities.

A related best practice that derives from both business and education is the notion of a learning community. Consider whether the digital tool provides opportunities to create informal connections as well as formal engagement. For instance, does it support discussion boards that could be used to encourage community building under a broadly academic theme? Does it offer any benefits for group projects?  Even the opportunity for students to share personal aspects of themselves via photos, video, music, or other means can be a meaningful way to build a supportive community that will motivate students to engage more readily with the course material.

One of the drawbacks of incorporating technology into your course is that activities or instruction conducted through the tool can feel impersonal. At the same time, many educational technologies are specifically designed to foster engagement and community. Drawing on any or all of the approaches above will help to further both good pedagogy and a successful digital implementation.

Research supporting this section. 


The 2020s have been off to a rocky start, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that a little disaster-proofing is probably a good idea.

Disaster-proofing your technology usage can look like a lot of different things. It can mean having a more generic, asynchronous backup assignment that you share up front for students to complete at any time with no notice if they can’t make it to a synchronous session or complete a synchronous activity. It could be as simple as giving students a backup submission method if they try to turn something in through the tool and they run into problems. It might be a low-tech activity with a lower-stakes reporting method for students who may lose power or have limited access to the technology and resources that would be ideal for a given project. (Or a low-tech activity for if the tool you have adopted goes down for ‘unexpected maintenance’!)  It may be an explicit plan for what students should do if you, as the instructor, disappear from a synchronous virtual class session or event because of technology issues, power loss, or some other urgent concern. It may be as simple as building in a longer submission window while setting an earlier due date so that students are not dealing with the stress of being locked out of submitting and you are not dealing with frantic messages.

For all of the items that are relevant, share your disaster-proofing plans with students up front, so that they are empowered to adapt to the changing circumstances. This will give students — and you! — a feeling of security and will greatly reduce stress if emergencies or technical issues do arise. Knowing that the solution is already in place will help to mitigate the impact of the issues that will inevitably arise.

For additional suggestions for disaster-proofing with learning technologies, see “Appendix: Adopting Technology and Emergency Remote Teaching.

Research supporting this section. 


The Change Management Guide to Incorporating Educational Technology Copyright © by Sherry Mooney. All Rights Reserved.

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