Ready or not, online teaching has arrived at UChicago.

Here we will cover two topics regarding UChicago going online for Spring 2020: 1) how to prioritize your online transition, and 2) how the Language Center is helping with the transition.

Please also note that here we are only outlining emergency procedures for transitioning online. Part 1b will be how to teach languages online well; coming soon.

Prioritizing your transition

Teaching entirely online, effective immediately, sounds overwhelming–and it is. The best way we can start is to break it down into its various components.

To hold your classes online, you will need solutions for:

1.  organizing/distributing class content

2. holding class meetings

3. collecting assignments

4. assessing learning

…and countless other things, but this is a start. Let’s look at each in turn:


1. Organizing/distributing class content:

The primary, strongly encouraged UChicago solution for class content is Canvas. Canvas can be used anywhere from a full-service, one-stop shop (collecting assignments, holding discussions, recording grades) to a simple online file-folder system.

-If you have not done so already, you can create your Spring quarter Canvas course site here.

-UChicago IT Services has lots of resources at, and Instructure has more at

-I created a Course Site template here, which can be copied to your site. It also has a detailed, illustrated glossary of Canvas terminology in the Canvas Features module.

Alternatives to Canvas could be Google Drive or Box cloud storage, where you simply create a folder structure of all your class materials and share them with your students.


2. Holding class meetings:

Zoom is the university’s primary “web conferencing” tool for online meetings. The CLC will be holding a webinar about Zoom on Friday, 3/13, 2:00-3:00pm; the recording will be available to all after. Watch your email or contact Nick at nswinehart[at] for the Zoom link.

-You can request your UChicago Zoom account Please note that pre-COVID-19, staff and faculty were being charged $83 per year for the account, billed to their department. **As of 3/12/20 I have not heard any official statements otherwise, but I have heard that provisional accounts were in the works. I assume an announcement is coming from ITS very soon.

-UChicago ITS has an Instructor Quick Start Guide, Staff Quick Start Guide, and Student Quick Start Guide. More info from UChicago ITS at

-Lots more information on Zoom to come, but Tuesday’s webinar will be a great place to start.

An alternative to Zoom is Canvas Conferences (‘Big Blue Button’), which is integrated within Canvas. In my limited experience it seems to work well, but Zoom has more functionality. (Though we’ve yet to see what happens when the whole nation/world starts using Zoom all day, every day….) I will learn more about Canvas Conferences (and the university’s Zoom policies) as quickly as possible.


3. Collecting assignments

Three main options here, depending on your current practices.

1. If you’re already using Canvas extensively, or going to be making the strongly recommend transition to using it more, it’s a great tool for collecting (and grading) assignments.

2. The simplest way is likely via just via email, though then downloading and organizing them is the bigger time suck.

3. If you already use Google Drive or Box extensively, you could create folders where students can upload assignments. But Canvas is recommended.

4. Assessing learning

From Ahmet Dursun, director of the Office of Language Assessment: Considering the limited available resources, try to avoid assessment tasks or tests that are high-stakes in nature and therefore would require a live proctoring. Doing a mid-quarter or end-of-quarter OPI is an exception here since you can comfortably use Zoom to conduct the OPIs one-to-one online. You even have the advantage of using Zoom’s built-in recording option to keep a record of all the interviews. 

For the assessment of other skills, try to adapt a more longitudinal methodology to measure your students’ performance in your class. That means, collect any useful evidence (big or small) that help you gain insight about their performance throughout the course. More specifically:

-When your goal is to understand how well students are doing in terms of mastering course content or to see the extent to which they have learned what they were supposed to learn, USE selected-response questions in Canvas Quiz (or another quiz platform of your choice). However, the results of these quizzes therefore should minimally impact the final grade because it is very likely that students get some “unwanted help” completing these tests/quizzes.

-When the goal is to assess students’ ability to use language, use” Essay Question” or “File Upload” item types in Canvas Quiz. In developing these, make the prompt or tasks open-ended where students construct the meaning themselves even if they use web resources or materials to prepare for the task. That is, create task types that allow them use sources to produce language whether it is written or oral because the live proctoring won’t be possible and they will likely to use resources anyway. Increase the number of these task-based formative assessments or assignments in your course.

-Consider a project-based portfolio assessment that includes a selection of several formative assessment items and assignments and that results in a final project (presentation, short paper, creative ad or brochures, or posters etc.) where they can use what they have learned from the class. This can be either an individual project or a collaborative one that allows students to work together online.

One final reminder that the considerations outlined above represent an initial approach to emergency remote teaching, NOT well-designed, pedagogically-sound online teaching. Phase 1 is emergency response, or thinking “how can we get ready to teach fully online in two weeks.” Phase 2, which you can hopefully transition to as soon as possible, will focus on utilizing the tools at our disposal to improve the quality of our online teaching. Stay tuned.

Support from the UChicago Language Center

The UChicago Language Center will provide support in these trying times in the following ways:

-We will hold regular webinars about various aspects of teaching remotely, like the upcoming Zoom webinar, and make those recordings available. Please note that all professional development from the CLC in the coming months will focus on the crisis at hand, with a transition from emergency-response to improving the quality of online language teaching.

-We will make appointments available with CLC staff for questions regarding instructional technology, pedagogy, and assessment. These can be face-to-face or online.

-We will regularly compile information from the online language teaching and instructional technology community (links, best practices) and post it to our blog at, and send out announcements for each post.

We will get through this, together.