Virtual Labs, Real Valuable Practices

Today I attended the Virtual Lab on Lecture Alternatives put on by DoIT Academic Technology. We had a fascinating discussion on tips, tools, and techniques for engaging students in an online environment at all instructor skill levels. I got to hear from instructors who are currently trying different methods and from instructional design staff who are supporting courses. We filled out a lovely Activity Sheet together as the discussion went on through a collaborative Google Document which will make a great resource for me to return to in the future!

My favorite part of the discussion, (which you can watch if you join the Canvas course and follow the instructions at, was when we discussed narration over PowerPoint versus a podcast, audio only format. Students could listen to the podcast anywhere! Are figures important to understanding the concept? Include figures, videos, and other links in a transcript so students can listen and/or read and follow links to bonus content. Remember, providing as many ways for learners to consume content as you can is a key part of Universal Design for Learning.

We asked and discussed a lot of questions about Lecture Alternatives, and I do encourage you to check it out (join the Canvas course at but here were the top takeaways from the session.

Top 5 Takeaways

  1. Create small chunks: break lectures into 5-7 minute sections with active learning, application opportunities, and knowledge checks between them has long been suggested in face-to-face teaching because of the benefits to learning. For Remote teaching, it’s even more important because smaller (2-5min) chunks are easier to download and view for those with unreliable internet access. Embed small videos in Canvas quiz question fields for graded comprehension checks.
  2. Incorporate outside resources with expert presentations and/or educational videos. Consider the plethora of resources available through UW Libraries and the internet more broadly before you re-create everything new, there is a lot of good information out there already; you just have to locate it and provide access (or have your students curate it!) 
  3. Provide alternatives wherever possible. Be considerate of learners’ different levels of access to high speed internet. If you conduct live courses, record (and chunk!) them for students who can’t attend. Supplement videos with readings. 
  4. Show your personality in audio and video you add to Canvas. Humor, self-disclosure and sharing your experiences and stories helps students connect with the content and with the instructor. (And let, but don’t require, students show theirs!)
  5. Try new ways to utilize video. Provide demonstrations, walkthroughs, and virtual tours. Create asynchronous weekly videos guiding students through the course content, clarifying assignments, and summarizing the main points. Video while walking!

Final thought: The Virtual Labs are fantastic and a great source for resources on all the topics instructors need right now. There are a whole bunch more of them:

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