UH Hilo Distance Learning

Distance Learning Pedagogy and Strategies

The University of Hawaiʻi has a new Learning Management System named Lamakū (powered by D2L Brightspace). For up-to-date information regarding a transition/implementation timeline, training, and support, please refer to the Discover Lamakū: Your Guide to D2L Brightspace at UH webpage.

For information and training resources, visit the UH Hilo Distance Learning How-To Tutorials for Faculty webpage.

On this page:

Overall Expectations for Asynchronous Online Course Quality

  1. Clear Learning Outcomes
    Clearly defined and communicated course- and module-level learning outcomes that outline what students are expected to know or be able to do by the end of the course and module. An optional prompt about program-level outcomes is also included if it’s required for the course.

  2. Organized Course Structure
    Well-organized course content with a logical flow that helps students understand the sequence of topics and assignments.

  3. Accessible Content
    Course materials, including text, videos, and multimedia, should be easily accessible, accommodating different learning styles and abilities.

  4. Engaging Multimedia
    Integration of multimedia elements such as videos, audio, and interactive content to keep students engaged and enhance the learning experience.

  5. Consistent Communication
    Regular and clear communication from the instructor regarding expectations, deadlines, and any changes to the course schedule.

  6. Interactive Elements
    Incorporation of interactive elements, such as discussion forums, quizzes, and collaborative activities, to promote student engagement and peer interaction.

  7. Prompt and Regular Feedback
    Timely and constructive feedback on assignments and assessments to guide students in their learning process. This would include ensuring that a gradebook is present in the course.

  8. Assessment Strategies
    Varied and meaningful assessments that align with the learning objectives, allowing students to demonstrate their understanding and skills.

  9. Resource Accessibility
    Availability of supplementary resources, such as readings, articles, and external links, to deepen students' understanding of the subject matter.

  10. Inclusive Design
    Inclusive design practices to ensure that the course is accessible to students with diverse backgrounds, abilities, and learning preferences.

  11. Up-to-Date Content
    Regular updates to course content to ensure that it remains relevant and reflects current industry standards or academic developments. This includes ensuring that links within the course are still “live.”

  12. Community Building
    Opportunities for students to connect with each other, fostering a sense of community through discussion boards, group projects, or virtual meetings.

  13. Instructor Presence
    Instructor presence through announcements, discussions, video messages, or other means to create a sense of connection and support for students.

  14. Technical Support
    Information about technical support that’s available to the student to assist them with any issues related to the online platform, software, or hardware.


Faculty are highly encouraged to complete the Preparing to Teach Online at UH (PTTO) module, an online introductory, self-paced module for those interested in teaching or improving their online courses. It provides a wide range of topics and concepts related to online learning presented in an interactive and engaging online learning environment. Topics such as an introduction to online learning and associated regulations, best practices, engaging tools, and policies are covered in this module.

Next Steps

Review and complete the following sections:

Course Guiding Principles and Organization

Key Takeaways
Plan and Organize Your Course First.
Use the Right Tools.
Develop Your Course with Quality and
Best Practices in Mind.
Plan for an Accessible and Legal Course.

Plan and Organize Your Course First

Would you want to take a trip without planning, knowing your destination or itinerary, or having the right resources for that trip? Planning and using the right tools and resources are the keys to a successful online course.

  • Start by thinking about these three questions:
    • What should students know and be able to do at the end of the course?
    • How with the students demonstrate what they have learned?
    • What type of day-to-day activities, materials, and resources will lead students to the desired results?

This is referred to as "backward design," a method of course design that starts at the end -- which are the Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs). The concept is credited to Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe who first introduced it in 1981.

“Backward Design Process” by PotentiallyCoherent is licensed under Creative Commons.

  1. Start at the end with your SLOs. Again, you have to know your destination first before you begin. What are desired outcomes for your learners? What should they be able to do? By focusing on the end results first, you can help your students see the importance of what they are learning and make your activities more meaningful.
  2. Design activities that will enable your students to demonstrate their proficiency in the achievement of SLOs. Rather than just planning activities and assessments and hoping that the student will have learned what was desired, think about what assessments and activities will prove the students have met the desired goals and objectives. Also, by doing this you will find that it’s easier to plan your content as well as developing grading rubrics and directions for each activity to make sure that the activity truly does assess the goal you were trying to achieve.
  3. Now you can plan your learning experiences & instruction by week or module. This is where you’ll be defining your Module Learning Outcomes for your day-to-day activities by using steps one and two but on a smaller scale. Ask yourself, “What activities will equip students with the needed knowledge and skills? What will need to be taught and coached, and how should it best be taught, in light of the module-level learning outcomes?”

Use the Right Tools.

Using the same travel planning analogy, you can’t plan a trip without having the proper tools. It’s better if you plan and plot out your course before you actually begin designing and developing your course.

Design and Develop Your Course with Quality and Best Practices in Mind.

Once you’ve got a basic plan, you’re ready to start thinking about other essentials for the journey. This is where guides can come in handy to smooth the way and give you helpful insights.

When creating an online course, best practices are to design and develop for equity and inclusivity, as well as to follow copyright guidelines to keep you and the university safe from violations. Access the Faculty Resources for Accessibility and Copyright webpage for:

Quick Tip: If youʻre still unsure about how to design with accessibility in mind, take the free self-paced asynchronous online Fundamentals of Digital Accessibility course offered to all UH employees.

Determine Your Policy for Artificial Intelligence (AI) Use in Your Course.

Visit the University’s AI faculty and staff guidance website for further information and resources, including sets of sample AI icons and AI statements for you to include, or to adapt as you deem appropriate, in this section of your syllabus. No matter what parameters you choose for your class, it is essential to communicate them clearly to your students so that they are aware of the expectations you have set.

Not sure how AI could work for you and/or your students? Watch this short video (duration: 3:53) from the perspective of two educators.

For more information and guidance, access the following:

The UH System Generative AI page includes information on definitions, background, limitations and concerns, privacy and security.

Delivering Lectures

Synchronous (Live) Sessions

If you are doing synchronous, real-time live lectures you can deliver them using Zoom or Google Meet. You can involve students during your online lectures through two-way video, audio and chat. However, don’t rely primarily on synchronous content but use it to supplement your asynchronous content as this is the “best practice.”

Key Takeaways

  • Synchronous sessions should
    not be mandatory.
  • Schedule lesson at consistent times.
  • Record your lectures to be
    watched at a later time.
  • Setup and test your mic and
    camera before your sessions.
  • Synchronous sessions should be value-added and should not be mandatory. Some students may be limited in the technology they have available. For example, they may only have access to a smartphone using data.
  • Schedule lesson at consistent times. If using synchronous sessions, schedule them for the same days and times as the face-to-face classes as this helps retain a sense of continuity and increases the students’ chances of being able to attend.
  • Record your lectures to be watched at a later time. Recordings are not only helpful for students who were unable to attend the real-time session, but for students to revisit afterwards to recall information, clarify concepts, etc.
  • Setup and test your mic and camera before your sessions. If you plan to hold online lectures using Zoom or Google Meet, make sure you can initiate a meeting from your location and that you have the proper equipment (microphone, webcam.) Prior to trying out new strategies in your class, consider doing a trial run with a colleague or with support staff.

Asynchronous (Recorded) Sessions

Alternatively, you can record your lectures on your computer using capturing software called ScreenPal . There are several options for recording: your voice, with or without a webcam or your computer screen (which could be limited to a PowerPoint presentation, other software programs, or content from a web browser). After you stop recording, you can make minor edits (to start and stop points).

Key takeaways

  • Recorded sessions should be
  • Recorded sessions should be value-added. Some students may be limited in the technology they have available. For example, they may only have access to a smartphone using data.

Communicating with Students

Keep in Constant Communication

Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your class(es). Let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations. Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and save you dealing with individual questions. Keep these principles in mind:

Key Takeaways

  • Communicate early and often.
  • Set expectations.
  • Manage your communications load.
  • 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. Avoid swamping them with email, but consider matching the frequency of your messages with that of changes in class activities and/or updates to the broader crisis at hand (for example, the campus closure is extended for two more days; what will students need to know related to your course?)
  • Set expectations. Let students know how you plan to communicate with them, and how often. Tell students both how often you expect them to check their email, and how quickly they can expect your response. There are tools within Laulima that help you communicate with your students, such as Announcements and Email.
  • Manage your communications load. You will likely receive some individual requests for information that could be useful to all your students, so consider keeping track of frequently asked questions and posting them within the Laulima Discussions and Private Messages tool so everyone can benefit. This way, students know they might get a group reply in a day versus a personal reply within an hour.

Running Lab Activities

Virtual Lab Suggestions

A challenge of teaching online is sustaining the lab components of classes. Since many labs require specific equipment, they may be hard to reproduce outside that physical space. Here are some considerations as you plan to address lab activities:

Key takeaways

  • Investigate and utilize various online resources.
  • Provide raw data for analysis.
  • Provide additional interactions in other ways.
  • Investigate and utilize various online resources. Virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some labs (for example, virtual dissection, night sky apps, video demonstrations of labs, simulations, analysis of data). Here are some possible resources:
  • Provide raw data for analysis. Where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected either via a video or Zoom session, and then provide some raw sets of data for students to analyze.
  • Provide additional interaction in other ways. Depending upon your course modality, sometimes labs are more about having time for direct student interaction, so consider other ways to replicate that level of contact, for example through a Zoom session.

Fostering Communication and Collaboration among Students

Fostering Communication

Fostering communication among students is important because it allows you to reproduce any collaboration you build into your course, and maintains a sense of community that can help keep students motivated to participate and learn. It helps if you already had some sort of student-to-student online activity (for example, in Laulima’s Discussions and Private Messages or Forums tools) since students will be more comfortable with both the process and the tool. Consider these suggestions when planning activities:

Key Takeaways

  • Use asynchronous tools
    when possible.
  • Link to clear goals and outcomes.
  • Build in simple accountability.
  • Balance newness and need.
  • Use asynchronous tools when possible. Having students participate in live Zoom or Google Meet conferences can be very useful, but scheduling can be a problem and only a few students will actively participate (just like in your classroom). In such cases, using asynchronous tools like Laulima’s Discussions and Private Messages allows students to participate on their own schedules. In addition, bandwidth requirements for discussion boards are far lower than for live video tools.
  • Link to clear goals and outcomes. Make sure there are clear purposes and outcomes for any student-to-student interaction. How does this activity help them meet course outcomes or prepare for other assignments?
  • Build in simple accountability. Find ways to make sure students are accountable for the work they do in any online discussions or collaborations. Assigning points for online discussion posts can be tedious, so some instructors ask for reflective statements where students detail their contributions and reflect on what they learned from the conversation.
  • Balance newness and need. As with any changed activities, you will need to balance the needs and benefits of online collaboration with the additional effort such collaboration will require on everyone else’s part. Learning new technologies and procedures might be counterproductive, particularly in the short term, unless there is clear benefit.

Collecting assignments

Keep it Simple and Consistent

Collecting assignments during a campus closure is fairly straightforward, since many instructors already collect work electronically. The main challenge during a campus disruption is whether students have access to computers, as anyone needing a campus computer lab may be unable to access necessary technologies. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Key Takeaways

  • Require only common software.
  • Avoid emailed attachments.
  • State expectations, but
    be ready to allow extensions.
  • Require specific filenames.
  • Require only common software. Students may not have access to specialty software that they usually access in on-campus computer labs. Be ready with a backup plan for such students.
  • Avoid emailed attachments. It may be easy to collect assignments in small classes via email, but doing so for online classes can swamp your email inbox. It’s recommended that you use the Laulima Assignments tool to collect assignments instead.
  • State expectations, but be ready to allow extensions. In the case of a campus closure or other crisis, some students will undoubtedly have difficulties meeting deadlines. Make expectations clear, but be ready to provide more flexibility than you normally would in your class.
  • Require specific filenames. It may sound trivial, but anyone who collects papers electronically knows the pain of getting 20 files named Essay1.docx. Give your students a simple file naming convention. For example: FirstnameLastname-Essay1.docx.

Assessing student learning

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Consider non-exam options. Consider whether you could assess student learning outcomes for your course without an exam. For example, by using a paper, journal, or a cumulative project.
  • Look at alternate exam formats. For small classes, you might consider conducting oral exams in Zoom or Google Meet, or have students deliver presentations online to demonstrate their learning.
  • Laulima provides online exam options. If a traditional exam is the only option, you can use Laulima’s Tests & Quizzes (T&Q) tool. The T&Q tool supports many question types. Allow time to assess the different question types and determine how best to configure your exam in Laulima. There are many security options available in Laulima to help ensure the integrity of your exams, such as limiting time, randomizing questions, and using question sets so each student receives a unique test.

Tests and Quizzes

UH Exams in Distance Courses - Flowchart

The flowchart below highlights options and alternatives to administering traditional face to face exams.

Key takeaways

  • Assess if an exam is necessary.
  • Change your exam format.
  • Modify your exam parameters.

Online Exams

  • Consider focusing on question types like essay or short answer.
  • Use the Tests and Quizzes tool to randomize question order and distractor sequence.
  • Make the exam available for a shorter window of time.
  • Set a time limit on the exam attempt.

Possible Redesigning of Your Exam (Alternatives)

  • Cumulative written paper.
  • Reflection paper.
  • Portfolio.
  • Recorded student presentation.

Helpful Resources

UH Exams in Distance Courses Flow Chart, Should you put your exam online? Question: Have you achieved your learning outcomes without the exam? If yes, eliminate the exam and re-weight previous assignments. If no. Second question, Can you redesign your exam in a different format? If yes, consider the following alternative formats. Cumulative written paper. Reflection paper. Portfolio. Recorded student presentation. If no, create your exam online and, consider focusing on question types like essay and short answer. Use the Tests & Quizzes tool to randomize question order and order of multiple choice responses. Make the exam available for a shorter window of time. Set a time limit on the exam attempt, being mindful of students with accommodations. Otherwise, reconsider redesigning your exam in a different format.

‘This work, "UH Exams in Distance Courses," is a derivative of "So...You Need to Put Your Exam Online" by @Giulia Forsythe (2020), used under CC. "UH Exams in Distance Courses" is licensed under CC by Patrick A. Smith.’ Original work: https://twitter.com/giuliaforsythe/status/1239371142206496770

Distance Learning Delivery Alternatives

  • If your students and/or you cannot access the internet – you can still hold meetings and discussions via phone conferences. You can use Zoom to set up an audio-only conference. You can use Zoom to set up an audio-only conference .
  • Assign supplemental writing prompts to be completed by students either individually or in groups (students can use any platform they are comfortable with to complete the work).
  • Assign supplemental problem sets and case studies to be completed by students either individually or in groups (students can use any platform they are comfortable with to complete the work).
  • Have students listen to podcasts that apply course content to novel or contemporary applications. Have students create podcasts (perhaps recording on their mobile phones and uploading to Laulima) explaining course content to lay audiences or to members of their academic community.
  • Assign supplemental readings and have students apply them to cases or writing prompts (either individually or in groups).
  • Send out your slide deck to the class and ask them to annotate the slides to show their understanding of the content. This can be done individually or in groups.
  • Send out your slide deck and ask students to video themselves teaching the content to their peers. These videos can be uploaded to Laulima so all students in the class can watch.
  • Have students create TED talks applying course content to a new application. If the primary objective is to practice presenting to peers, students can film themselves speaking and upload the videos to Laulima. If the primary objective is writing the application, students can write the script for the TED talk but not actually perform it.
  • Send out discussion prompts and students can have discussions in online chat spaces of their choosing.
  • Assign students to take exams at home in open-note/open-book formats to mitigate potential academic misconduct.
  • Use “exit ticket” activities (aka formative assessment) for Retrieval Practice: low-stakes tasks asking learners to remember facts, conceptual connections, a process etc. Examples:
    • Two things you have learned this week + one muddiest point
    • Five highlights: five important things you have learned this week.
    • Using an “assignment” activity such as having students write a 5-min. essay on “Write about what you learned this week” or it can be more directive in that you ask students to write about what X and Y are, and how they connect with each other.

Training Resources

The following online, on-demand, self-paced, self-guided programs can help you complete your development in stages at your own pace:

Still need assistance?

If you have tried the links above, and still canʻt find what you're looking for, email the UH Hilo Distance Learning Team at uhhilodl@hawaii.edu

Updated 07/10/2024