Fall 2020 Course Checklist

As you set up your course for Fall, there are more details to consider than ever before. Changing guidance and changing circumstances will require adaptability. Consider using the list below to think through a few key areas.


  • Use the UW-Madison Syllabus Template. Please refer to the University guidance on what to include in your syllabus this semester (released Aug 12). The template includes both required and recommended language, including language about face covering guidance and compliance, instructor notification of positive COVID-19 cases, supporting students who are ill or quarantined, health and safety guidance, cleaning classrooms, office hours recommendations, and use of proctoring.
  • Consider adding and customizing this survey template for your course. It has sample questions about time zones, office hours, operating systems, bandwidth, different types of attendance, and more. Give it as a graded survey to start students off with an easy 5-10 points and get information you can use to identify potential obstacles early.
  • How will you contact students, and how do you want them to contact you?
  • Students appreciate knowing that you care about them and about their learning. Some ideas:
    • If you’re not sure what to say, it’s okay to acknowledge that. If circumstances change quickly, and you need a day or two to shift gears, communicate that, and then follow up.
    • Link to resources for students to get assistance with academic or personal needs. For example, https://smartrestart.wisc.edu/students/.
    • Identify ways for students to connect in study groups. For example, structuring groups for discussion gives students a chance to get to know and work with new classmates.
    • Make sure that your attendance policy does not punish students who stay home because they are sick or under quarantine. Explain how to make up for missed content. Understand that it may be difficult to obtain a doctor’s note or other “proof” of excused absence, and err on the side of safety.
    • Use assignment deadlines in Canvas. Learn how to restrict file content or assignment content availability to specific dates, while still allowing students to see that an assignment exists and has a deadline (i.e. publish the assignment).


  • Having a clear and predictable course rhythm helps students to feel comfortable with the course. That could include:
  • For in person courses, consistently explain and enforce face shield/mask requirements, other dress code (safety goggles, close-toed shoes, etc.), expectations for physical distancing, and room/lab sanitation.

Course Facilitation


  • You might not have enough assessments, or you might have too many.
    • Carefully review each assignment, project, or exam, and make sure it aligns with the course’s objectives.
    • Are any assignments too high stakes? Consider adjusting point values.
  • Formative assessment – early feedback so students know how they are doing
    • When is the first assessment in your course? Especially if you won’t see students in person, a good way to check that everyone can access the course is to provide a survey or assignment in the first few days.
    • Students appreciate timely feedback. Leave content-specific and actionable comments in Canvas.
  • Exam considerations
    • In person instruction will end before Thanksgiving break, and the College is encouraging you to finish major summative assessments by then, while still teaching remotely during the final 9 days of the semester. When moving the exam forward, do you need to rewrite it so that it covers the right content?
    • There will not be a 2-hour exam slot assigned to you before break. Do you need to split the exam or shorten it? “In-class” exams must be given during the regular course time.
    • If asking students to upload scans of their work, we have a few suggestions here. This takes longer than you think. Remember that not all students have easy access to printers.
    • The University’s new proctoring solution is Honorlock. If you will use Honorlock in your course, you must add a statement to your syllabus. Learn more in this post. Find the syllabus statement here.
  • Alternatives to exams
    • See this list of modifications and alternatives to testing.
    • If using projects instead of exams, keep the following in mind:
      • Group sizes that work in person are sometimes too large for online collaboration. Consider surveying students about when they are available to collaborate.
      • Breaking projects into smaller pieces can help students to manage their time.
      • Allowing choice is another way to provide flexibility. Consider any of the following: choice of topic, presentation format, final product format, choice of group members, choice to work alone.
    • Prerecorded or live presentations both have pros and cons. If students are presenting live in a synchronous online format, you could have a few students unmute their microphones for laughter and applause.

Canvas Organization

Contingency planning

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. –Robert Burns

  • Do you have a plan B and a plan C for any of the following circumstances?
    • You are unable to teach.
    • In person courses shift to remote instruction earlier than planned.
    • Your classroom or lab space is closed.

We’re here for you! Please send us your questions, and we’ll connect you to resources as we’re able.