Photo of class with masks

Over the last several semesters, we’ve adapted our teaching styles to various forms of remote and hybrid instruction. With the ongoing changes to our semester due to COVID-19, we need to adapt again. We’ve all learned a lot about teaching over the course of the pandemic, so this is a fruitful time to take stock of these lessons because they are as useful for in-person teaching as for remote environments. Many of you have shared with us your creative strategies for engaging students, flipping your classroom, or taking advantage of Zoom for office hours even when your class met in person.

Below we’ve listed some areas you might want to think about as we transition back to in-person instruction, along with a number of ideas and strategies for each of them. We’ve also provided links to opportunities to engage with the CTL and your peers through workshops, “virtual conversations,” and individual consultations.

Returning to the Physical Classroom

Review how to teach in a pooled classroom

A detailed step-by-step guide is available to learn about the equipment and software in pooled classrooms. Each classroom is equipped for recording and livestreaming your class.

Be prepared for teaching in a mask

The resurgence of the COVID has led to renewed mask requirements at Washington University in St. Louis.  The public health situation and corresponding policies can change quickly, so please consult current guidelines and recommendations.

The return to in-person teaching can bring anxiety about how to best approach leading a class while wearing a mask.  The suggestions below can guide instructors as they plan for teaching while masked.

Challenges with teaching in a mask

Masks can hinder non-verbal communication, muffle speech, impede class discussions, fog up glasses, and cause physical discomfort (Roy and Duncan, 2021).  A recent study at WashU conducted in the labs of Kristin Van Engen and Jonathan Peelle and published in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications found that cotton masks with filter inserts and masks with transparent plastic panels were associated with worst performance when it came to understanding what the wearer was saying. In addition, masks can dehumanize and medicalize the classroom (Landau, 2020) and make it harder for students to learn. 

While teaching in a mask does present some challenges, there are some strategies you can employ to make this easier on you and your students.  We have provided some of these suggestions below: 

Tips for teaching in a mask 

  • Use exaggerated gestures to compensate for limited facial cues
  • Continue to use facial expressions while masked
  • Project your voice and speak more slowly
  • Employ visuals, images, diagrams or outlines via PowerPoint of Keynote to illustrate main points
  • Create video clips of you talking without a mask and upload it to Canvas
  • Include your picture (without a mask) on Canvas
  • Record a video welcome and post it to Canvas
  • Hold Zoom office hours where both you and your students can talk without masks 

Microphones and pooled classrooms

All WashU auditoriums are equipped with both lavalier and over the ear microphones. The over the ear microphones tend to work better with a mask. All pooled classrooms have Shure ceiling mics, which performed well in past semesters. Lavalier microphones are available for use in pooled classrooms and can be requested by contacting CTL’s Classroom Services Division (314) 935-6810 or

Additional considerations

Many of these ideas come from K-12 teachers who are required to wear masks while teaching for many hours per day.

  • Don’t forget to hydrate (it is easy to forget to drink while a mask covers your face)
  • Bring backup mask(s) for when one gets soggy
  • Introduce an attention getter (clapping, raised hands, etc.) to reduce strain on your voice
  • Use non-verbal cues including hand gestures and eye contact to communicate
  • Use mask accessories like brackets or ear protectors to reduce discomfort

Further Resources

Keep your attendance policies clear

Writing clear course attendance policies is always important, but it’s even more significant now because of the challenges created by COVID-19.

What are your policies regarding students who become ill and/or need to quarantine? How will students who miss class be able to make things up? Does your attendance policy promote safe behaviors and encourage any students who become ill to stay home?

It’s essential to define your attendance policy at the start of your course and to communicate it clearly to students.

Adjusting your Course for In-person Teaching

Revisit your assessment practices

During online instruction, WashU instructors experienced success with a variety of assessment practices that worked well regardless of whether they were remote or in the classroom. Although remote assessment presented its own challenges, some of these ideas could be used or adapted for primarily in-person classes:

What assessment practices worked well during remote teaching that may be worthwhile to continue? How does your assessment strategy further the overall goals of the course? How might you improve your assessments to make things as painless as possible for your students and yourself?  

Frequent Low-stakes Assessment

During our recent time of remote and hybrid teaching, many instructors began moving away from infrequent, high-stakes exams and assessments in their courses. Instead, they built lower-stakes, but more frequent, assessment into their classes in a variety of ways. Examples include weekly quizzes, mini-projects, online graded homework, and many others. This strategy of frequent assessment works just as well for in-person classes as it does for remote teaching. Frequent assessment is effective because it gives more opportunity for formative feedback, may reduce student test anxiety (Shrank 2016), and has been shown to increase knowledge retention (McDermott 2021; Pennebaker, Gosling and Ferrell 2013).

Make the Most out of Canvas

You may already be aware that Canvas can help with a variety of assessment needs. Many instructors began exploring Canvas assessment capabilities out of necessity when teaching was remote, but have chosen to continue using Canvas features for some assessments even once we’re fully back in person.

Beyond the Canvas quiz feature (which can help make frequent assessment easier through auto-grading), SpeedGrader allows you to provide line-by-line feedback or overall feedback on written documents submitted as assignments. You can even leave short video or audio feedback to your students, which can sometimes be a quicker and more personal way to provide comments than handwriting or typing.

Discussion boards are another way to create simple formative assessments, and student discussion posts can be graded in SpeedGrader, much like any other assignment. Discussion boards can also be used creatively beyond just replicating or augmenting in-class discussions.

Finally, you can use the peer-review feature in Canvas to let your students engage with each other and provide feedback on their peers’ work. Keep in mind that many students are novices when it comes to peer reivew, so it’s important to provide guidance and structure peer review assignments accordingly.

Include asynchronous content delivery

For most faculty, shifting content online meant recording video lectures and putting more content into Canvas. This allowed students to access and engage with content at their own pace, alleviating one of the many barriers faced by students and instructors during the pandemic. Many faculty also cut their content and integrate interactive tools into assignments so that their students engaged more deeply with content and each other’s ideas.

Where did fruitful conversations on content or collaborative interactions occur and how did they emerge? What tools or strategies would more deeply engage your students with course content, even outside the classroom? 

Video Lectures in Canvas

Engage students with video lectures using Canvas-integrated tools:

Expand your Learning Community

Get students exploring and discussing ideas outside of the classroom:

  • Start a digital learning community in Teams, Slack, Discord, and other platforms to provide a backchannel for students to communicate and share resources
  • Invite external guest lecturers to join your class via Zoom or pre-recorded video to add their experiences and perspectives
  • Send students on a tour of a museum, laboratory, natural habitat, clinic, or other spaces beyond WashU. Use online existing tools or connect with a professional willing to give a private tour!

Real-world Assignments

Get creative with asynchronous content:

Integrate technology into the classroom

You likely incorporated various technologies into your synchronous and asynchronous sessions to engage with students through the screen. Maybe you sent students to work together in Zoom breakout rooms to discuss questions listed on a website, Google Doc, or Padlet. Or students collaboratively commented on text while reading articles on, wrote notes on video lectures using Annoto, asked (and answered) peer questions on Piazza, or posted reflections on Canvas discussion boards

Which tools helped engage students with the content, their peers, or you and your instructional assistants? What features or aspects of these tools could you infuse to engage students in your in-person classroom?

Digital Tools

Bring ed tech tools into the physical classroom to foster more student engagement in your class:

Classroom Technologies

Use or borrow classroom tech tools from the CTL:

Leverage integrated cameras installed in the pooled classrooms:

Deploy collaborative activities in the classroom

Transitioning from in-person to remote online learning required learning new technologies that would bring continuity to courses once held in the physical classroom, which typically include collaborative discussions and activities. Tech tools that we learned about and embraced online are not only beneficial for synchronous and asynchronous online learning; they also benefit students working together in the same learning space. 

What forms of engagement did you find to be effective for your students online?  In what ways did students build community online with their peers?  What ways did you have students collaborate and engage cognitively with each other?

Collaboration Ideas

  • Bring the collaborative educational technology tools you used online into your physical classroom space. Check out the wide array of tech tools that can support your learning goals in the “Integrate Technology in the Classroom” section above.
  • Host a gallery walk.  Students don’t have to be sedentary in the classroom space. You might have your students spread themselves out and move about the classroom from station to station. Following a group discussion, students can place on large sticky notes their questions, ideas, and thoughts.  Afterwards you can invite students to move around the classroom space to respond and add to student questions and comments very much like a poster session.  For more ideas, check out this gallery walk resource page.
  • Have students use large colorful flash cards to convey ideas and answers in the physical learning space.
  • For more ideas on bringing collaborative activities into the physical classroom, check this pdf of tips from Cornell University that focuses on socially distant activities that can be used whether or not social distancing is required. 
Create an inclusive and welcoming learning space

Returning to the physical classroom space might elicit some anxiety and uncertainty amongst students. While our students have been flexible and open to learning in new modalities during the pandemic, their personal lives have been and continue to be significantly impacted by COVID-19 in many ways.  Let’s build opportunities in our courses, for optimal student wellness, connection and innovation.

What strategies did you use online to build community? What were the barriers in your courses that impede students from working effectively with each other? How can you remove those barriers in the in-person learning space?

Inclusivity Ideas

  •  Take a few minutes to check in with your students at the beginning of each class session by asking them to respond to a few questions:
    • What has been the best part of your week?
    • What has been the most frustrating part of your week?
    • How do you get back on track when you have been distracted by something?
  • Build community in our courses by:
    • Creating opportunities for interaction and participation by using different active learning techniques.
    • Create opportunities for knowledge construction and dialogue by asking students to elaborate on and clarify their ideas.
    • Communicating wise verbal and written feedback to students in a timely manner throughout the semester.
    • For more ideas, visit this resource on how you can build community in your courses and get students to check in with each other. 
  • Point your students to handouts and resources for academic success

Seize the Moment to Think Broadly about Inclusion

The pandemic and online teaching have forced many of us to rethink what is important and possible for effective student learning. We can make the most of this moment by also stepping back and reflecting broadly on what inclusion means, and how we might reconceptualize our teaching practices to increase inclusivity in our courses. One example of this kind of wide-ranging reflection can be found in the article, “Dead Ideas: Reflections for Post-Pandemic Learning.” This piece presents challenging reflection questions that may help you rethink the longstanding assumptions or biases held about teaching and learning in higher education and embrace more inclusive practices in our teaching. 

Additional CTL Programming and Support

Check out our upcoming workshops and events!

Schedule a Consultation

Meet with the CTL staff to discuss your goals for this semester. In-person or virtual consultations can help you transition back to the in-person class. We are happy to discuss any aspect of teaching with you, including these topics related to the return to fully in-person classrooms:

  • Redesigning courses and course materials for the in-person environment (e.g. syllabi, assignments, grading criteria, attendance policies, Canvas course pages, etc.)
  • Strategies for engaging students and promoting classroom participation based on what worked well during remote learning
  • Using technology effectively in the in-person teaching environment 
  • Keeping your in-person course content and materials accessible and aligned with the principles of Universal Design for Learning

Let’s talk! Email us or schedule a consult with a CTL staff member.