Avoiding the Scramble – Setting up your fall classes for a last-minute online transition without the headache

Malliga Och, Assistant Professor of Global Studies, Idaho State University

Lydia Wilkes, Assistant Professor of English, Idaho State University

This spring is still marked in the memory of many faculty who scrambled to move their face to face classes online amidst a fast-moving pandemic. While many of us will start the semester in the classroom, university administrations across the United States have indicated that faculty should be ready to move their classes online at a moment’s notice given the current COVID-19 situation.

So, what are faculty to do? In this blog post, we suggest that a flipped classroom approach will allow faculty to smoothly transition online if need be. In a flipped classroom (see Brame 2013 and the University of Washington for an in-depth guide to the flipped classroom) students familiarize themselves with new material outside the classroom while classroom time is used to apply and synthesize the new material through in-class activities. Thus, if faculty need to transition online, only these activities need to be moved online.

In a flipped classroom, students learn new material through readings, 
pre-recorded videos, quizzes, informal writing, and other assignments.

Pre-recorded videos are especially important vehicles for course content because students can hear your voice and, if you choose to be on camera, see your facial expressions and gestures. Keep in mind that online videos (including lecture videos!) should be short – ideally between 4-6 minutes. Consider breaking up your traditional lectures into a series of short videos to keep students’ attention or utilize existing interactive lesson plans available from the Council on Foreign Relations, the New York Times, PBS, or APSA (and many more!). And don’t worry too much about the production quality of your videos – students perceive professors as more authentic if they make a few mistakes narrating their lectures. Of course, adequate lighting and sound are necessary for students to see and hear their professor, and a transcript and closed captions allow all students to access videos. YouTube and other video-making platforms have built-in closed captioning that needs to be edited for accuracy but does much of this work automatically.

To make a flipped classroom work, students must do the readings, watch the videos, etc. before they come to class. One easy way to ensure that students have done the required readings is to require a low stakes assignment before they meet in person. These low stakes assignments can be a simple multiple-choice quiz, reading comprehensions, or reflections on the material that you grade for completion. Making the assignment low stakes ensures that students do not worry about getting it ‘right’ and can focus on developing their understanding of the new material. When moving online, keep these assignments and require them before students can move on to activities. Be sure to attach points to every activity so that students take them seriously. One benefit of having these assignments online is that you or your TA can skim them to see where students are struggling to understand or misunderstanding new material. If you are not able to address these challenges on the fly, you can note them for the next time you teach the course.

There are several ways to ensure students do the work before the activities.

One is to use the content release function in your learning management system (LMS) where students can only see the rest of the course once they submitted the assignment. Another is to stagger the due dates where the assignment is due before the student activities are due. A third is to scaffold major assignments with lower-stakes assignments. For example, if students are writing a paper, require them to first propose their topic, research plan, and research timeline, and later to post part of their draft, such as the lit review, for peer review (if peer review hasn’t been meaningful, your students may not know how to give helpful feedback: see Eli Review’s peer learning pedagogy and describe-evaluate-suggest model for giving helpful feedback). Asking students to write and review parts of a paper manages the cognitive load for them (Culatta 2020), mitigates procrastination, and provides more opportunities for revision, which is where most learning happens in student writing (Eli Review 2020).

These assignments also allow faculty to identify common misconceptions or confusions on the part of the student that they can address in the classroom. If you need to move online, these misconceptions or questions can be addressed through short feedback videos that you can post online. Likewise, instead of addressing students’ questions about the course material in the classroom, you can establish a forum online where students can post questions about the course material. You can either encourage students to answer each other’s questions, have your teaching assistant monitor the forum, or answer students’ questions yourself. If an important conversation occurs on the forum, you might alert the whole class to it through an announcement and hence avoid duplicate questions.

Consider giving all exams online using your institution’s LMS to allow for a smooth transition. This not only means that students turn in their assignment through the LMS but also that you give feedback on the assignment using the LMS. As an added bonus, if you need to move online, students are already familiar with the assignment feature in the LMS which hopefully will eliminate any confusion or frustration on both yours and the students’ part.

You might wonder how to replicate in-class activities in the online classroom. The key is not to try to replicate the in-classroom experience online but choose activities that work well in the online classroom.Below is a list of resources to explore for online activities on APSA Educate:

  1. Leda Barnett – How to Use Microsoft Teams for Facilitating Small Group Work with Student Roles
  2. Rachel Torres – Podcasting as Asynchronous Learning
  3. Elizabeth Bennion – Civic Action Projects for Your 100% Online (Covid-19 Adapted) Courses
  4. Julie Mueller – Creating a Safe Space for Online Discussions Assignments and Syllabus Ideas
  5. Charity Butcher – Creating Online Debates Using Kialo Edu
  6. Charity Butcher – Using Virtual Gallery Walks to Build Community in Online Classes


Culatta, R. (2020). Cognitive load theory (John Sweller). Instructinonaldesign.org. https://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/cognitive-load/

Eli Review. (2020). Feedback and revision. https://elireview.com/content/td/feedback/

Eli Review. (2020). Designing effective reviews. https://elireview.com/content/td/reviews/

Malliga Och is an Assistant Professor of Global Studies at Idaho State University where she teaches classes on human rights, gender, global governance, and European and Asian politics. She is an expert on gender and politics with a particular focus conservative parties in the OECD region. She is the co-editor of The Right Women: Republican Activists, Candidates, and lawmakers and of “Sell-Outs or Warriors for Change? A Comparative Look at Rightist, Political Women in Democracies” (Special Issue with the Journal of Women, Politics, and Policy 2020) and the author of multiple journal articles. In addition, her research has been featured in The Huffington Post, The Conversation, and the Duck of Minerva Blog and she has been quoted as an expert in USA Today, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer, among others.

Malliga is the recipient of the 2020 Craig L. Brians Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research & Mentorship given by the Political Science Education Section of the American Political Science Association. She has also received the 2018 Yellow Rose Award (Zonta International Pocatello Club) for her contribution in the community to advance women’s equality. She holds a PhD from the University of Denver, a MA in Political Science from the University of Colorado in Denver, and a Magister Artium in Political Science, Communications, and Law from Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany.

Dr. Lydia Wilkes is an assistant professor of English at Idaho State University whose research interests include online writing instruction and digital pedagogy. Dr. Wilkes has published about anti-Black racism and white fragility in online teaching and has a forthcoming chapter in an edited collection on teaching graduate students to teach effectively online.

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