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College of
Health Sciences

Distance Education: Faculty hub

Recommendations for success

  1. Use your Canvas course as the primary “home base” for your course. The Canvas Instructor Guide contains some helpful information.
  2. Stay in regular communication with students by email and Canvas course announcements or through Zoom for Q&A sessions or online office hours.
  3. This online and asynchronous form of instruction means it’s important that you’re comfortable with all educational technology applications:
    • Canvas is the learning management system (LMS) and is the “home base” for each course.
    • Panopto is used to record lectures/videos and share with students.
    • ExamSoft is used for all exams and quizzes.
    • Zoom is used for synchronous Q&A or online office hours.

Getting started

Presenting content

Current practice:
Instructor-led lecture

Online alternative:
For asynchronous courses, use Panopto to record instruction and deliver content to students.

For synchronous Q&A sessions or online office hours, use Zoom for web-conferencing. 

Current practice:
Content shown in class

Online alternative:
Any files shown in class can be uploaded directly to Canvas courses. Files can also be displayed in Panopto or Zoom.

Class discussion

Current practice:
Instructor-led lecture plus student-driven discussion

Online alternative:
Pre-record lectures using Panopto and allow student discussion through Canvas Discussions.

Current practice:
Group/team-based in-class discussions

Online alternative:
Use Canvas Discussions or create Canvas Groups. Groups can have their own discussions, private to group members and instructors.

Assignments & assessments

Current practice:

Online alternative:
Use Canvas Assignments to collect student papers or in PDF or Word format to review and grade.

Current practice:
Exams and quizzes

Online alternative:
The ExamSoft tool supports many question types (e.g., multiple-choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, fill-in-multiple-blanks, multiple answers, multiple drop-down, matching, numerical answer, formula, essay, file upload). 

Proctor exams & quizzes using our online proctoring tool, ExamSoft.

Current practice:
Student presentations

Online alternative:
Students can create and submit presentations using Panopto.

For group presentations, students can set up a Zoom meeting, share their screen and record files to their computer to upload to their Panopto assignments folder.

Current practice:
Peer review assignments

Online alternative:
Create a peer review assignment in Canvas to allow students to give feedback on other students’ assignment submissions. Peer reviews allow communication between students and can help students master the concepts of a course and learn from each other. Peer reviews can be assigned to show student names or display anonymously.


Developing a plan

Be realistic about your students and yourself

When outlining a new course syllabus or revising an existing course, think about what needs to change to accommodate remote teaching. Will you need to extend deadlines or simplify an assignment to allow extra time for differing student situations or the logistics of working electronically? How will you manage your own time in running different aspects of the course?

Use familiar tools

In times of disruption, familiarity can relieve stress for you and your students. Plan to use tools and technologies that are readily available, supported by Geisinger College of Health Sciences and easy to use or learn.

Encourage students to get help and join communities

Not all student problems can be solved remotely. Be aware of the tutoring, counseling and support resources offered by Geisinger College of Health Sciences for students who need them. Use discussions and other tools and encourage students to communicate with each other to informally check in or form study groups. Group activities require students to connect with their peers, helping alleviate feelings of disconnection or loneliness.

Communicate your plan

After you’ve assessed the situation and the student availability and made a plan, convey your expectations to students. We recommend asking every student to acknowledge they understand and are ready to participate (via individual messages or email for a small class; perhaps via a survey for a large class). Highlight any changes to the syllabus and schedule.

Communicating with students

Communicate early and often

Let students know about changes or disruptions as early as possible, even if all the details aren’t in place yet, and let them know when they can expect more specific information. Be sure you have a working communication method to reach each student or have them confirm they can access the standard course communication tool.

Set expectations

Let students know how you plan to communicate with them and how they should communicate with you, particularly for time-sensitive communications. Tell them how often you expect them to check email and how quickly they can expect your response. Have a consistent communication strategy to avoid confusion. The Canvas Announcements tool archives announcements for later access.

Hold online office hours using Zoom once or twice a week

Schedule times that work for your students (considering their locations/time zones). Publish the times along with the Zoom link prominently on your course site. Contact the School of Graduate Education’s Education Technology Team if you have questions about scheduling Zoom sessions.

Manage your communications load

Consider keeping track of frequently asked questions and sending those replies out to everyone, or building an FAQ/information page in Canvas as a student reference. Use Canvas Announcements to send information to students as well as to archive it in Canvas.

Be clear and consistent with course information

Organize all content related to your course in a structured set of lessons, folders or links in Canvas. Tell students where those materials are, but also update your syllabus and post that. Explain assignment and activity instructions in detail and post them for reference. Make sure due dates are consistent wherever they are posted.

Assignments and assessments

Academic integrity

  • If you’re giving a quiz or exam, it will be proctored with ExamSoft. Work with the School of Graduate Education’s Educational Technology team to be sure the settings are correct.
  • Set clear expectations with students about what is and isn’t permitted. Reinforce expectations about academic integrity.
    • Use large question pools and have Canvas pull a specific number of random questions from each pool to include in the test or quiz.
    • Randomize question order (and possible answers, if multiple choice).
    • Create a timed assessment.
    • Limit the number of possible attempts.
    • Be strategic about when students can view the correct answers (ideally, correct answers will only be displayed or shared once all students in the course have finished the quiz or exam).
  • For other forms of assessment, we recommend the following approaches to enhance academic integrity:
    • Design project-based assessments (group or individual) that integrate several measures for performance, comprehension and mastery.
    • Have students answer from their own perspective/experience in papers and essay questions.
    • Encourage students to choose their own topic (when appropriate) for projects and/or papers.
    • Incorporate problem-solving questions with multiple right answers and/or approaches.
    • Design assessments that place more value on showing work than on giving the right answer.


In most cases, you will use the Canvas Gradebook for posting student grades. In the gradebook itself, you can create items (columns) for manual grading, or gradebook items can automatically be created for you by Canvas Assignments or Canvas Discussions.

The Canvas Gradebook is relatively easy to use, but can be confusing because of its importance relative to the other tools in an online course. Here are a few tips to make the most of it:

  • If you’re planning to set up categories and weighting in your gradebook, do that first, as it can be difficult to change the category of an existing item.
    • The gradebook can be as complex or as simple as you need it to be, so don’t worry about adding weighting and categories if you don’t feel comfortable setting that up.
  • Hide the total grade column if you’re only using Canvas Gradebook for some of your course’s assignments so students don’t see an inaccurate course grade.

Tools for assignments and assessments


ExamSoft is used to administer as well as proctor quizzes and exams. Varied question types are allowed along with randomizing question and answer order. The proctoring feature should be used for every quiz and exam. 

Canvas Assignments

Students can submit their files via a Canvas Assignment link, and you can download and grade online. You can give papers back to students using the Assignment tool as well. When you grade submissions, the grades automatically transfer to Canvas Gradebook.


Turnitin is a plagiarism-checking tool that will automatically check for plagiarism once students submit an assignment. Contact the Graduate School Ed Tech Team to be sure Turnitin is properly configured for the assignment.


Students can submit Panopto videos as assignments. Contact the Graduate School Ed Tech Team to be sure a Panopto assignment folder is properly configured for the Panopto assignment.

Holding class meetings online

You may use Zoom for live virtual meeting sessions, student group presentations or one-on-one student meetings.

For meetings under 40 minutes:
If you want to schedule quick virtual meetings, you may sign up for a free Zoom account with your Geisinger Commonwealth email address. (Note: IT is not responsible for lost or stolen passwords on these accounts)

  1. Sign up for a free Zoom account at
  2. Schedule your meeting.
  3. Set a meeting password for your attendees.

Free Zoom accounts still have chat, share-screen and recording capabilities.

For meetings over 40 minutes:
The Graduate School has dedicated pro Zoom accounts for longer live virtual meetings for classes. If you know your meeting will exceed 40 minutes:

  1. Contact the Graduate School Ed Tech Team to request a meeting classroom on Zoom at least one day in advance to guarantee room availability.
  2. A member of the Ed Tech Team will be present to record the meeting and make you a host so you can share your screen.
  3. Finished meetings will be uploaded to Panopto and Canvas.
Building an engaged online community

Build ways to increase and maintain that sense of community that will help keep students motivated to participate and learn. Communication between you and the students is important, but it’s also important that students engage with each other.

Suggested practices

  • Communicate with students early and often. Remind students how they can reach you and when they can expect a response.
  • Show interest in students as people — ask students how they are doing, ways they are handling being online or other non-course topics.
  • Encourage students to use video or pictures of themselves in Forum posts and online sessions so that other students can see them and know they are engaged. For example, start off class by creating a discussion forum especially for students (and you) to post introductions of themselves, including a photo, audio pronunciation of their names or short video.
  • Use Canvas Discussions with thoughtful prompts to engage students. Use forums for students to post substantive responses to course readings, to respond to their peers’ comments, to ask or answer questions and for other purposes.
  • Provide (or suggest) ways that students can talk with each other — encourage student study groups. Provide a forum where students can post the times they are available (or their time zones) and their own Zoom link so they can virtually get together.
  • If circumstances allow, hold one or more live Zoom Q&A sessions per week to maintain community (but recognize that not all students may not be able to attend live, so record the sessions and don’t make them required). In sessions, request that students turn on their video, if their bandwidth allows, to increase engagement.
  • Prioritize asynchronous work, but design for interactivity between students by asking students to respond to peers’ discussion posts.
  • Consider using Canvas Groups to place students in smaller groups to allow them to engage deeply with peers through discussion forums.
  • In general, consider how you might encourage group/peer work, study groups or homework teams, and provide other means of structured student-to-student connection. Since students won’t have in-class time as the default for coordinating work on their projects, remind them to set explicit deadlines for various parts of the group work, and be clear with each other where and how group communications will happen so everyone in the group is aware of progress.
  • Be sure to link the group work to course goals and outcomes. The activity should help students meet course outcomes or prepare for other assignments, as well as foster course engagement and reduce feelings of isolation online.
  • Hold students accountable, but be flexible in considering mitigating circumstances. You don’t have to assign points for forum posts, but you might ask students to detail their contributions and how their contributions (or others) helped their learning.

Tools for an engaged class community


Technical support and contacts

Technical support

Geisinger Commonwealth ITS Help Desk
Submit an ITS ticket.

Educational Technology support

Our Educational Technology platform support is available 24/7 through live chat, by phone and through help ticket submissions.

Canvas support

Panopto support

ExamSoft support

Zoom support

Geisinger Commonwealth Ed Tech Team

Monday – Friday: 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Joe Evanick, EdD
Director of Institutional Instructional Design

Shannon Buckley
Instructional Designer


Educational technology virtual training sessions

The Educational Technology Team holds virtual training sessions and workshops for all faculty that cover the platforms we use, such as Canvas, Zoom, Panopto and ExamSoft. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, as we’re here to help you solve any issues you encounter.

Ed Tech Tuesdays

Running monthly summer sessions

Look for upcoming training on our calendar.

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