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Teaching courses online

UW Biology: Information for teaching courses online beginning Spring 2020

See also UW Center for Teaching and Learning's Teaching during the coronavirus outbreak

This page is a collection of tools and advice that should help to guide you as you restructure and run your Spring course. This list is not exhaustive; there are many other tools and ideas out there, although there will also be opportunistic products and companies that are unreliable. What you read here are the preferred methods and tools from our department along with trainings and models that work well for online learning.

Recommended tools

The four tools we recommend are Canvas, Panopto, Zoom, and PollEverywhere. Your course will probably use a subset of these.

  • Canvas: Use this to host your course website, upload files for students, maintain a gradebook, give quizzes and exams, and store course information like your syllabus.

  • Zoom: For streaming of video to allow in-class interaction, Zoom Meetings will be our tool. Zoom will let you talk to students, present slides or other files, manage smaller break-out rooms, and take questions. For large courses, the department will buy any large-size licenses needed. There is also in-Zoom polling, although this has not been tested thoroughly. Zoom also allows for videorecording and closed captioning which will be important for many of our courses.

  • PollEverywhere (PollEv): For in-class polling for students, PollEv will continue to be our preferred tool. While PollEv allows for a wide range of question types, the large majority of existing departmental use is in simple multiple-choice question format. All student internet-capable devices work on PollEv, and virtually all of them will have previous experience with it.

  • Panopto: Use this to create pre-recorded videos for students to watch. These can be created on your own computer or (in some cases) in the actual classroom. Panopto is good for simple videos displaying a slide deck.

    • Note that Panopto has a "live recording" feature, but that this feature requires a 10-minute delay and is not actually live or usable with live polling.

    • A smaller group of people might find Loom to be a useful entryway into Panopto. Loom is a video recording tool ideal for pre-recording lectures or tutorials (not for live-streaming lectures). It allows you to easily share and draw on your desktop/powerpoint, keep your face visible to students, pause and edit recordings, and share the recording via a restricted link. The Pro version is free to educators and students. Feel free to contact Hannah Jordt at with questions.


If an in-department training for one of these tools would be especially useful, please write to both Dave Hurley and Ben Wiggins ( for possibilities.

Best practices for exams

Best practices for exams:

There are many ways to run online exams, and none of them are great. If there were a solution for keeping identity secure using course resources, then we would be paying Google big bucks for it. But it doesn't exist.

Here are a few keys, and please write to Ben at if a discussion would be helpful:

  • You cannot prevent all cheating. Our due diligence to minimize it is mostly for the benefit and peace of mind of all of the rest of the large majority of students who do not cheat. That due diligence is:
    • Where possible, try not to provide high-stakes exams for which the sturcture would make cheating very, very easy. A simple multiple-choice exam with one version is so easy to cheat on (with a list of letters) that students will feel that cheating is being tacitly encouraged.
    • When possible, give more, lower-stakes exams rather than fewer with higher point-totals. This can spread out the impetus to cheat. It is completely appropriate to have the final exam actually be worth fewer points than other similar exams, especially since it is the variance in exam scores (not the total points) that determine their impact on assigning grades.
    • Try to access students from all angles: You can mention punishments and the Student Code of Conduct, but also bring up personal honor and learning opportunities as equally important reasons. Stressing the power of internal motivations can help a lot.
    • If appropriate, giving open-note or even open-partner exams can be the best of suboptimal options. These typically call for fewer questions at higher cognitive and creative levels, which helps students to feel that their exams are challenging and worthwhile. In many iterations of open-book Intro Series exams, the vast majority of students report not even looking at their notes they bring (but they do find value in the exercise of organizing them).
    • Don't try to beat the cheaters through some technological trick. Without a serious financial investment, all such methods are likely to come across as weak and beatable (and even encourage students to cheat more if they are worried about their peers). Instead, state in the exam fine print that you retain the right to have students prove significant anomalous score gains via oral exams after the fact, and that in that case they would have the option to simply accept a prorated score. In practice, this is often daunting enough that students don't push it (and holding a very small number of short oral exams can be a positive experience for everyone).
  • For any online exam, make sure to:
    • Inform students that you will give a few extra minutes to account for technology glitches. Giving students 10-15% more time almost never changes scores drastically, and it can cut down on stress significantly.
    • In your fine print, make it clear how you want students to contact you during the exam with questions. It can be email, or in a Zoom group, or nothing at all; just be very clear and stick to it.
    • In your fine print, be clear about how you want students to report if internet connectivity issues were problematic during the exam. Usually, this is easiest to address by simply giving a prorated score based on other work.

FERPA compliance and recordings

FERPA compliance and recordings:

If you plan to record your class sessions, be sure to include this statement from the UW Privacy Office in your syllabus:

This course is scheduled to run synchronously at your scheduled class time via Zoom. These Zoom class sessions will be recorded. The recording will capture the presenter’s audio, video and computer screen. Student audio and video will be recorded if they share their computer audio and video during the recorded session. The recordings will only be accessible to students enrolled in the course to review materials. These recordings will not be shared with or accessible to the public.

The University and Zoom have FERPA-compliant agreements in place to protect the security and privacy of UW Zoom accounts. Students who do not wish to be recorded should:

Change their Zoom screen name to hide any personal identifying information such as their name or UW Net ID, and
Not share their computer audio or video during their Zoom sessions."

Securing Zoom

Securing Zoom sessions

Meeting hosts now have the option to restrict access to meetings by requiring UW NetID authentication to join the meeting. When scheduling a meeting, meeting hosts can enable 'Only authenticated users can join' and will have two options: 'Sign in to UW Zoom (UW NetID required)' and Sign in to Zoom (UW NetID not required). 


From the Executive Committee

How to alleviate stress from worrying about being zoom-bombed.
First, have confidence that if you have taken steps to secure your classroom by requiring a password and allowing only authenticated users to join, you are very unlikely to have this experience.
If possible, ask a TA to assist you in monitoring for non-students who enter your meeting
Think through and practice how you will respond if someone does zoom bomb your class:
Possible responses to consider:
    1) If you can quickly identify the person who is doing the zoombombing, you can click on “manage participants” and remove them from the meeting (You can select the option in settings to not allow people who have been removed from a meeting to return)
    2) If the zoom bomber has shared material with the class, click on “share screen” and select any of your material so you can over-ride as the host. 
    3) If you are not able to quickly remove the zoom bomber or recover control of the shared screen, you can click “end the meeting” and then send an email to students about what happened and how you will post additional lecture material

Best practices for storing videos and files

The default Canvas quota for file uploads is 2GB per course. We can increase this on a case-by-case basis, but that need is quite rare. We do have a limit to the amount of data that can be uploaded to the "files" section of Canvas courses as an institution, and need to remain aware of that.

High-res images or huge PPT files are a pain for students to download, so we generally start by advising faculty to downsize/compress their content for the web. Another resource to note is that we do not have a limit on the amount of data that can be shared via UW Google Drive, and faculty also have up to 1TB of data that can be uploaded to Microsoft O365... those can be options for larger files as well.

Video and audio files DO NOT count toward the course quota if they are properly uploaded. Within the Canvas rich content editor (RCE), their is a "Record/Upload Media" button. This has a 500MB/file upload limit for video or audio. However, there is no limit to the number of files that can be uploaded.

If you need video files larger than 500MB uploaded, you have the option of uploading them to Panopto and making them available to the course through the RCE as well (or the Panopto link in the Nav bar). We do not have a limit on the amount of video that can be uploaded to Panopto.

Zoom limits the amount of time we can store content (90 days). Within Canvas, we do not have a limit on the number of videos that can be uploaded via the "record/upload media" button. We can upload as many 500MB files as we want.

Panopto will become an even more important tool over time. However, it does not have a limit on the amount of content that we can upload (literally). We are charged based on "minutes viewed", and it is possible that our bill could go up. The upload can be affected by local internet quality, and home internet connections often do not have the same bandwidth as we see here on campus. However, a "massive" increase in usage by our faculty would represent a very small increase in load on the overall system. There are many universities that use Panopto to a MUCH higher degree than we do already.

Mitigating limited bandwidth

Some things you can try:
Google “internet speed test” and then click on the blue “Run Speed Test” button. This is an instantaneous measure and can change with time of day and level of internet activity by your neighbors, but it will give a first approximation of your bandwidth. For Zoom meetings, you want upload and download speeds to be above 10 Mb/sec.
Your internet service: check your bandwidth level on your bill or in your account settings online. If it’s not at the maximum available for your area, ask if they can elevate your service, at least temporarily. Let them know what the results of your speed test are if they are below 100 Mb/sec for download speeds.
1. Quit all other applications that are not needed during your session.
2. TV and telephone service, if provided by your internet service provider, will also consume bandwidth. Minimize their use in your house, if possible, during your sessions.
3. If your router has ethernet ports, plug your computer into ethernet instead of using wifi. You will get the fastest, most stable connection that way.
4. Bribe your housemates with homemade cookies so they won’t stream videos while you are trying to get your work done. ;~)
In Zoom:
1. “Gallery View” consumes twice as much bandwidth as “Speaker View,” so anytime you can avoid Gallery View, do so.
2. Shrink your Zoom window to the minimum size that is acceptable.
3. In Preferences > Video, uncheck “Enable HD” and “Touch up my appearance”
4. Disable virtual backgrounds in your meetings. Log into > Settings > In Meeting (Basic)
5. Ask all participants to disable their video when not needed. 
6. Ask all participants to mute their mics when not needed.
7. Use the Zoom app, not the browser-based Zoom
About Zoom:
Zoom is a strange application in that it can function within a browser or by using a standalone application. To make matters worse, if you click on a link to a meeting, you don’t have to log into the UW Zoom site to join a meeting unless that has been set as a requirement by the meeting host (rare). And you can join from the browser or switch to the standalone app.
As if that wasn’t enough, Zoom also maintains some settings in the standalone application and other settings within one’s profile on their website. Changing settings in one’s profile may take effect immediately or not until after one leaves and re-enters a current meeting, depending on the setting.
Here’s how you can disambiguate Zoom:
2) Go back to the Finder (Mac) or Start (Windows) and open the Zoom application
3) In the Zoom app, I click on “Sign in with SSO.” This will open the Zoom web site in a web browser, but since I just did that I shouldn’t have to log in again.
4) Bring the Zoom app to the front (Command-tab > repeat until on Zoom (Mac) or Alt-Tab on WIndows).