Keep on Teaching

Sometimes the unexpected happens. When it does, VCU will be prepared to keep on teaching and keep on learning. Were we to have a blizzard or some other surprise event, no doubt we will eventually experience a moment where all in-person academic meetings will need to transition to a remote format. If all or part of VCU instructional locations become unavailable or need to be closed, academic continuity can maintain course progression.

An icon representing hardware and software.

Technical Support

The IT Support Center provides support for hardware (i.e. laptops, etc.) and other enterprise services (i.e. Google Docs, VPN, forms, etc.) or (804) 828-2227

General Information

Please share these Keep Learning student support resources with your students.

The Goal = Academic Continuity

This toolkit was developed to provide faculty with options to keep teaching and for faculty to consider providing options for students to support them as they keep learning. The tips, strategies, tools, and resources below are not intended to be a comprehensive lesson in online course pedagogy. The core purpose is to support faculty with a rapid transition to remote instruction that will promote course completion. As outlined below, VCU aims to approach all aspects of academic continuity with flexibility, care, compassion, kindness, creativity, and positivity. 

General Principles

Be proactive- As you prepare for change, a proactive approach before the urgent need arises is always the preferred approach.  Nothing beats getting prepared in advance for any unexpected situation that may require in-person courses and other academic work to be rapidly converted to a remote or online format. The more you prepare in advance, the easier the transition.

Prioritize care, compassion, kindness- Some of your students may need to miss class, find alternate ways to submit assignments depending on their technology/wifi access, or request an extension for an assignment/exam. Knowing that you care about them and their success may make all the difference in their motivation, persistence, and ultimate success in course completion. 

Stay calm- Students look to you for leadership. If students see that you are calm and that you are assuring them everything will be ok with the course, that will go a long way to keep them positive and engaged. You set the tone for helping your students stay calm.

Keep it simple- Please do not expect to launch a fully online course that would typically take 18 months to develop. Choose tools that are already in use by both you and the students.You do not need all the bells and whistles to be effective. Keep it simple and choose technology tools that will support your particular learning goals and needs. 

Practice pedagogical flexibility- In times of rapid transition to remote teaching, flexibility goes a long way. Pedagogical flexibility allows us to get creative with assignment design, exam format, options for students such as choosing from a list of projects, interactive discussions, avenues for student submission of their work, etc. At its core, teaching is a creative process. 

Support our student community- keep in mind under-served and marginalized students may experience disproportionate stressors including lack of resources or need for an accessible format. Your support and flexibility can make all the difference in student success.

Seek support from colleagues- We encourage faculty to stay in communication with colleagues both in your own department and also across the university for ideas on how best to transition to remote teaching. There are likely some discipline-specific needs that may be solved with creativity in brainstorming with faculty teaching similar content. 

Getting Started & Key Tips

  1. Be proactive, create a virtual plan now. The good news is the more we prepare, the better the transition will go.
  2. Remind your students that all communications go through VCU email. We recommend announcing this in every single class meeting and through any virtual communication you have with students (Blackboard/Canvas, email, etc.).
  3. Make sure you have a way to contact all of your students (e.g., accurate email address).
  4. Take stock of learning goals and stay flexible:
    1. Review your learning outcomes. What do you want your students to know and be able to do when they complete your course? Are there any adjustments that can be made while still meeting those goals?
    2. Review your syllabus to establish your immediate needs.
      1. What needs to be changed to work online? (content, interactions, assessments, etc.)
    3. Think long term- what changes need to be made to major projects that were assigned before you had to transition your course?
    4. Flexibility: As mentioned above, think about how can you stay flexible in your teaching strategy? For example, perhaps a course project requiring students to attend events or visit public galleries or museums gets converted to a remote project using online museum archives.
    5. Keep accessibility needs in mind as you plan for a remote teaching and learning environment. For students with documentation, you will already know what accommodations are needed for your course. But you may need to look over documentation again and think about how this translates to remote teaching and learning. For example, extra time on quizzes and exams will require instructor planning for online delivery.
  5. Get your tech needs in order:
    1. We suggest hosting at least one face to face class using a remote format to give yourself a chance to think through your approach, the student experience, and possible tech needs. This test run usually brings relevant tech and even non-technical issues to the forefront. By facilitating one remote format class meeting, both faculty and your students will be better equipped to adjust for a rapid transition should that situation arise.
    2. Equipment- Do you have a desktop computer, laptop, or tablet device for use at home? Does your wifi work well at home? Perhaps you need to order a webcam and/or microphone headset now?
    3. Set up systems that support your rapid transition to Keep on Teaching:
      1. For some types of work, like if you are working in an application or service that can only be accessed on-campus, you might need to use the Virtual Private Network (VPN). Utilizing the VPN allows a user to appear as if they are logging in from within VCU's network. Two-factor authentication, Duo, is required for the use of the virtual private network (VPN). Currently VPN sessions will time out after 48 hours, at which point you will need to reinstate the connection.

        If you are accessing tools such as Zoom, Kaltura, Google G Suite (Gmail, Docs, Drive, etc.), submitting or managing tickets in Cherwell, a VPN connection is not required. We would like to reserve the VPN service only for people accessing applications that require it.

        This page contains additional information about VCU's VPN.
      2. Tools- You may want to set up your Zoom account (you have access to Zoom Pro as a VCU employee) or check out Google tools you may use to Keep on Teaching. (see below for tools)
  6. Talk Early, Talk Often
    1. Communicate with your students.
      1. Students will likely face some confusion and uncertainty as courses rapidly transition to remote format.
      2. Be clear about your new expectations. Sometimes we think our expectations are clear, but students are not so certain.
      3. Be clear about where and when things will occur. Predictability and clarity on due dates, sticking to the previous plan when possible, will help students succeed.
      4. Help students understand what they’ll need to do to succeed and what resources they’ll need.
  7. Maintain your course schedule
    1. Sticking to the course schedules provides you and the students with a predictable map for where you are headed. Students will need to maintain as much structure as possible so that they do not get behind in courses that used to meet in person.

Communicate with Students

Communicate frequently and concisely, especially when you first move the class online. If you already have an established pattern and place for communication, continue using it. If not, establishing a consistent pattern and place for communication with students will help students gain comfort and prevent confusion.

Blackboard/Canvas Announcements


When you make an announcement in Blackboard/Canvas, you can also send it as an email to the students in your course. This gives students the benefit of an email alert and a place to reference all announcements they cannot be accidentally deleted or lost.


  • Blackboard/Canvas takes care of the email list.
  • Announcements can be created automatically for various Blackboard/Canvas content types.



Email may be the place you feel most comfortable. Consider building a mailing list per class to help manage your student addresses. Larger classes will need a Google Group to avoid being flagged as spam. Additional information on getting students emails, creating email lists, and general email productivity tips can be found under resources.


  • Keep all communications with students on your official VCU email address.
  • All VCU students have @mymail.vcu email addresses.
  • Faculty members and students have unlimited storage space in Gmail.
  • Adding large lists to a bcc field rather than using a Google group may be flagged as spam.

Share Content with Students

Getting digital content to students in an organized and accessible manner will be vital to success. It is important to consider that some students may only have access to phones. Therefore, building content online in Blackboard or Google Apps will help address mobile access issues. Use folders and other structures to help students find content easily. It is also helpful to notify students when new content is added.



Blackboard and Canvas are the centrally supported learning management systems (LMS) for VCU. They supports the creation and uploading of various kinds of digital content. It’s highly recommended for large classes and for those familiar with LMSs.


  • Canvas will be the supported LMS after this year.

Google Drive


Google Drive is the VCU-supported file management option outside Blackboard/Canvas. It can hold content created with Google Apps in addition to any file you choose to upload. It’s a good choice if you need to collaboratively edit, comment on work, or share very large files.


  • Unlimited storage
  • Files up to 5TB in size

Lecture and Video Capture

When thinking about lecture options it is important to realize that live video is more challenging than recording video ahead of time. Allowing students to access content on their schedule also has advantages. Consider saving live interactions for when you want back-and-forth dialog with students. Keeping asynchronous videos short (6-10 minutes) will help increase viewing completion and reduce technical issues. See VCU Best Practices for Teaching Remotely with Zoom for additional suggestions and FERPA details.

Zoom Pro


Zoom is a good option for live video and audio conferencing, collaboration, and chat across mobile devices, desktops, and telephones.


  • Host up to 300 participants
  • Integrated polling, group chats, and more

Kaltura Capture


Kaltura Capture lets you record and publish videos and screencasts. These videos can then easily be shared with students for viewing as their schedule allows.


Google Meet


Hangouts Meet is a video meeting option from Google that makes scheduling and joining a meeting easier. Whether you’re using a computer, an Android, or iOS device, you can access meetings in one place.


  • Supports up to 250 participants
  • Unlimited 1:1 meetings

Create Your Own Content

When creating content online, it is important to consider the accessibility of the material and the mobile-friendliness of the format. Stick with tools you’re familiar with initially but don’t be afraid to try new options as your needs change and things settle down.

Google Suite


The Google Suite is a set of free tools closely aligned to Microsoft’s Office suite. These tools offer increased flexibility for viewing across devices and provide increased options for online collaboration.


  • Unlimited storage for faculty
  • Content works well on laptops and phones
  • Content can be embedded in other systems (like Blackboard or Canvas)

Microsoft Office


The familiar collection of office applications including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Be aware that Publisher and Access have no direct counterparts on Macs or with Google Apps so accessing those file types may create problems for some students.


Assess Students

In a situation where students are not able to come to campus or go to testing centers the VCU honor pledge becomes of paramount importance. There are no simple solutions if you were planning on most of your assessments being proctored, in-person multiple choice tests. Quizzes and other mechanically graded options could provide formative assessment data with projects or other more individualized work playing a larger role in summative assessments. That is a difficult shift to make and more complex with larger enrollments.

Best Practices for Promoting Academic Honesty in Online Exams provides suggestions and guidance to promote a culture of honesty, consider alternate exam designs, prepare students, and plan for exam delivery.

SCHEV has also come out with guidance around proctored exams.

Respondus Lockdown Browser


Students using Respondus are unable to print, copy, visit other websites, access other applications, or close a quiz until it is submitted for grading. Requires Blackboard or Canvas usage.



Google Form Quizzes


This Google tool creates a simple, mobile-friendly form that can be accessed through a web browser or embedded in an email. The ability to embed the form directly into email can make it very easy for students to engage with and use.


  • This tool is useful as a way to check-in with students’ progress, peer/self assessment, and to gather information or feedback from the class.
  • This tool does not have a locked browser feature, however, it can still be a useful form of assessment to chart progress or reflect understanding.

Labs, Studios, and Other Project-Based Work

Some opportunities won’t be present in student homes. Labs, clinical placements, art courses, and other site-specific or hardware/software-specific activities will require flexibility and creativity. Parity may not be possible, focusing on the learning objective will help.

Given how individualized this work can be we are available to help think through different options.


Reporting positive COVID-19 cases

If a VCU student or employee tests positive for COVID-19, please report it directly to University Student Health or Employee Health. University Student Health or Employee Health will ensure that appropriate state and local health care authorities are provided necessary information and that personal privacy considerations are respected. VCU will follow notification procedures recommended by these authorities.

VCU Libraries

  • VCU Libraries Operations for COVID-19. This page provides a high-level overview of all library operations related to the university's COVID-19 response, linking out to other content as necessary.
  • Request Library Instruction: If your class requires library instruction, librarians at Cabell and Tompkins-McCaw Libraries can meet your needs in a variety of ways.  As a result of the pandemic, library instruction will be offered remotely unless there is a compelling reason for in-person delivery. Librarians are able to deliver instruction in a variety of synchronous or asynchronous formats.

  • Online and in-person help: VCU Libraries is here to support you and your students’ research needs and answer questions about our services, spaces or collections.

  • Access to libraries resources: While the libraries are open, they continue to support access to many resources online or through pickup and delivery services to accommodate remote and off-campus access.

  • Open and affordable course content: VCU Libraries Open and Affordable Course Content Initiative supports instructors as they work to transition their courses to zero textbook cost courses, using either library content or open educational resources, much of which is online and appropriate for remote instruction.

Technical Support

Academic Support for Students:

  • Tutoring: Tutoring services will continue to be offered but in a Zoom format. Students will be sent a zoom link by their tutor to join the session. Students will be given information about their sessions via email beforehand.
  • Academic coaching: The Campus Learning Center will continue to provide academic coaching via Zoom. Jumpstart sessions will also be continued via Zoom. Students will be sent a zoom link by their coach to join the session.


  • Faculty and students who need a loaner laptop should reach out to the IT Support Center directly by calling 804-828-2227 or via email at to request a loaner laptop.
  • If you need to purchase a laptop, computer, tablet, microphone or webcam - consider RAM Tech (VCU discounts and payroll deduction) or a reputable retailer. Most laptops now have integrated webcams and wireless headphones usually have integrated microphones in them, which can be used for remote teaching and learning.

Internet Access Options

Wifi/internet access: employees and students can add “hot spots” to their wireless cellphone plans or access VCU SafeNet while being in your car in/around the VCU campuses.

A number of companies are offering both reduced cost and increased bandwidth options.

  • FCC agreement stating that providers will waive late fees, not cutoff service for lack of payment, and open hot-spots
  • Comcast - free 60 days for new families and $9.95 a month
  • Internet Essentials - $9.95 a month with no contract
  • Charter Free Internet offer for 2 months.AT&T COVID-19 response: offers open hot-spots, unlimited data to existing customers, and $10/month plans to low income families.
  • Verizon COVID-19 response: no special offers, but following the FCC agreement.
  • Sprint COVID-19 response: follows FCC agreement, provides unlimited data to existing customers, and, starting Tuesday, 3/17/2020, will allow all handsets to enable hot-spots for 60 days at no extra charge (I expect others will follow).
  • T-Mobile COVID-19 response: follows FCC agreement, plus unlimited data to existing customers, and, coming soon, will allow all handsets to enable hot-spots for 60 days at no extra charge (I expect others will follow).

Student Accommodations

We are all moving forward into uncharted territory. For students with approved accommodations, there may be some changes to how these are implemented. This will become a collaborative process between you, the student, and, if needed, the Office of Student Accessibility and Educational Opportunity (for programs on the Monroe Park Campus) or the Division for Academic Success (for programs in Health Science programs). For those students who have accommodations in place, start a conversation as soon as possible to discuss how they will translate to a remote/online format. SAEO ( and DAS ( are here to help with this process.


Online delivery of materials presents a whole new array of potential barriers. Please make every effort to select videos or content that are captioned or include transcripts. If you would like additional information about how to select or create accessible online materials, please contact SAEO or DAS.

Here's a video for Quick & Dirty Tips for Online Teaching: Accessibility.


Community Engagement

While we aren't engaging face-to-face at this time there are still ways to keep working with, and for, our communities.

Privacy and FERPA Compliance Online

Expectations for student privacy are the same for online and face-to-face classes. As you explore more tools to interact with and provide feedback to your students, you may wonder if you are maintaining privacy for protected student data. As a general rule, rely on university supported tools and understand that grades and other forms of feedback should be transmitted within a dual authenticated system (like the BlackBoard or Canvas LMS) to ensure FERPA compliance. As you select tools to mediate instructional activities, consider if a similar level of privacy can be maintained that students would expect in a classroom environment.

You can explore FERPA policy and what is protected student information here.

Statement from VCU’s Inclusive Excellence:

Virginia Commonwealth University remains committed to promoting a culture of inclusion for all its employees, patients and students. Discrimination or discriminatory harassment is unlawful. It is also harmful to the well-being of our university community. We are aware of the news reports regarding bullying, harassment and stereotyping of Chinese Americans and persons of Asian descent in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19). There is no place for this sort of behavior, especially not at VCU. Our university values, specifically those related to diversity and inclusion, have withstood many difficult situations and trying times, and they will not falter now. Please be assured that VCU will make every effort to prevent the occurrence of unlawful discrimination and, if necessary, take prompt and appropriate action to remedy and prevent its re-occurrence. Every member of our community is asked to:

  • Become familiar with the university’s policy on preventing and responding to discrimination in the VCU Policy Library.
  • Consult with Equity and Access Services or VCU Human Resources for additional guidance on how to maintain a bias-free environment.
  • Encourage individuals affected by this type of misconduct to file a report of discrimination or harassment with Equity and Access Services.
  • Bookmark and share information on university or community agencies that offer support or services, such as VCU Counseling Services.
  • Offer nonjudgmental support and empathy to those affected.