Transitioning to online teaching

Digital Learning Guidance

As a result of the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Sheffield Hallam has made the decision to transition all face to face teaching activity to online delivery.

This page provides information on the recommended approaches, and range of activities supported, to replace existing face-to-face activities with online alternatives.

Requirements for online delivery

Regardless of the alternative methods you choose to implement there are a few basic requirements that you will need. These are:

  1. Regular access to a suitably equipped computer. This should include a microphone or headset as a minimum, though you may also find a webcam useful in some situations.
  2. Reliable, reasonably fast internet with a stable connection. Home broadband speeds are generally suitable, as is 4G wireless internet.
  3. Any specialist software that you might need. While the Digital Learning tools listed in this document work through the internet, there may be discipline specific software that you will need in order to undertake your teaching and assessment activities.

Please see the DTS general guidance on remote working as well.

Preparing for online delivery

As a priority,

  • You should ensure that your Blackboard module sites meet the Threshold Standards so students have the information they need for learning online. This will help set and manage their expectations.
  • You should also create a module discussion forum for FAQs where students can post messages and you can respond for all to see as this will reduce the number of emails from students and responses you need to make. Enabling students’ access to post responses to each other’s posts will also help create an online community.
  • You should also use Announcements in your Blackboard modules to alert students of alternate activities, announcements can also be emailed to students as an additional reminder.

You should log into each of your Blackboard modules at least once per day to check on student activity and respond to any items in the FAQ discussion forum. Ideally create a regular schedule for this and inform students of when you will be checking particular modules.

Additional Considerations

It is essential that you consider the needs of any disabled students, including those with an undisclosed disability, when creating learning materials and delivering your teaching online. The Web Accessibility legislation recently introduced makes this a legal obligation as well as a moral one. Guidance material on this issue is available on TELHelp.

As a result of the need to move teaching and learning activities online, you may find your working practice becomes more desk-based and sedentary. It is imperative that you follow guidance to ensure your physical and mental wellbeing.

You should consider the support implications of the online tools that you use with your students. If you are already using online tools effectively, there is no need to change them, however it may not be the appropriate time to introduce students to non-institutionally supported tools.

Maintaining Contact and Student Engagement

Students may find the switch to online teaching challenging and struggle to stay motivated and engaged with their learning, particularly with the changing situation with respect to COVID-19. The teaching team helps with this transition and manages students’ expectations by providing consistency, both with the planned teaching schedule and in the use of the online tools and environment.

The key to the student experience is interaction, so the overall intention is to continue to provide students with opportunities to engage with the material and with their lecturers.

Staff should plan to follow scheduled teaching as timetabled, and be available online in the timetabled slots. This does not necessarily mean that all teaching activities need to be synchronous, but there must opportunities for students to interact with tutors in real time.

Student engagement should be promoted by clear communication with them via Blackboard, specifying what and how online teaching will be provided, and expectations for their participation and engagement – linking to supporting them for their assessments. A Head of Department email to all students articulating this is also recommended.

It’s also important to keep the focus on supporting students for their assessments– so the focus should be on materials relevant to this. Where assessments may need to be redesigned, this should be discussed with course and subject leaders, quality / LTA leads, and authorised by Heads of Department. Further university guidance on this will be forthcoming.

An infographic, created by Alison Yang, provides some additional advice on ways to maintain student engagement when teaching online.

Teaching and Learning Activities

Most teaching and learning activities can be replicated well online. The following table provides some information on how existing face-to-face activities can map to online activities. Use of the supported tools will make the transition to online teaching smoother and provide a consistent experience to staff and students.

Table 1. Online delivery options for teaching and learning activities

What was planned?

Alternative method

Tool available for delivery

Distributing Materials

Upload files and resources to the Learning Materials area on the Blackboard module site.



(Asynchronous: students can view pre-recorded material)

Pre-record the session as a screencast and upload it to Blackboard via the Medial video server. Set up a discussion board in Blackboard on this topic (or use another tool where students can post questions and you can respond).

Be available online at the scheduled time for the lecture. Let students know to review the uploaded material in advance and then use the Blackboard discussion board you have set up to ask questions.

Screencast-o-matic Pro, Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom

Medial via Blackboard

Blackboard Discussions

Lecture / Seminar / Tutorial

(Synchronous: requires students to view while delivered)

Record your introduction to the seminar, an explanation of the task/s, what you expect the students to get out of the task/s) and upload. Set students a task to work on remotely. This could be uploaded to Blackboard or you could use a collaborative online tool such as Google Apps or Office365.

Set up a discussion board in Blackboard on this topic (or use another tool where students can post questions and you can respond).

Be available online at the scheduled time for the seminar. Let students know to review the uploaded material in advance and then use the question forum you have set up to ask questions.

Alternatively, you can use Blackboard Collaborate to hold the lecture as a live webinar, using the chat and voting features to interact with students.

Screencast-o-matic Pro, Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom

Medial via Blackboard

Google Apps, Office 365

Blackboard Discussions

Blackboard Collaborate

Collaborative group work

Private areas for groups can be set up for students and will provide them with tools such as discussion boards, wikis and Blackboard Collaborate rooms. All staff enrolled on the module are able to access these group spaces to monitor activity and guide the students in their learning.

The Google Apps and Office365 online collaboration platforms are available to all staff and students and offer a way to work collaboratively on documents in real-time.


Google Apps, Office 365

Practical / labs

Video record a demo of lab / practical technique and set questions / tasks for students to undertake – this is uploaded to Blackboard via the Medial video server.

Medial via Blackboard

Additional Technologies are in use across the University however limiting the recommended approaches will make supporting at scale easier and provide a more consistent student experience and our approach should be based around our core VLE, Blackboard. The above tools are being recommended because they can each facilitate several different ways of working and so it is more efficient to spend time learning these tools rather than a wider range of more specialist ones. In addition, focusing on a smaller number of tools will make supporting staff and students in their use more effective.

In addition to the above alternatives, you should also consider making use of Library or LinkedIn Learning resources to augment your module Blackboard site and support your students in their online studies. You could also set up formative online self-test quizzes in Blackboard or other interactive activities and follow these with online discussions to support peer learning, maintain engagement and promote reflection on learning.


The ability to provide support in using the online tools listed above is of the highest priority, however due to the need to manage the support requirements for the entire university we ask that you use the following methods for requesting Digital Learning support:

To speak with someone: use the open Blackboard Collaborate room during office hours, though please bear with us if there are many people needing support at the same time.

You can also continue to access existing guidance materials, such as through the TELHelp pages.

Frequently asked questions

How do I access my staff Google Drive or OneDrive?

You can access Google Drive by logging in with your usual username and password at

You can access OneDrive by logging in at – note that your username needs to be in the format ‘username’, e.g.

Won’t the whole world be able to access my materials if they’re on Google Drive or OneDrive?

No: on Google Drive you would have to make a clear choice to make a resource accessible outside of SHU. On OneDrive you don’t even have that option – no one without a SHU IT account can access materials on your OneDrive.

I’m worried about GDPR if I use these services.

As long as you are using your SHU account you do not need to worry as we have a contract with the suppliers to ensure our compliance.

What’s the difference between Google Drive, OneDrive, DropBox, iCloud and the Shared N drive? Can’t I just use the one I normally do?

Google Drive and OneDrive are accessible by SHU colleagues and students with whom you share the documents and they facilitate collaborative working on documents. As these are provided by and set up by the SHU DTS team they are secure and any legal issues have been looked into and addressed.

DropBox and iCloud accounts are not provided by SHU and therefore are not secured in the same way. Additionally because they are not provided by SHU they would be your personal accounts and it is not recommended that you share these with students or colleagues.

The N drive is only accessible by staff and every member of staff has access only to the parts of the N drive that their line manager has requested. It does not facilitate collaborative working on documents and students cannot access it.

My students won’t be able to use Collaborate on their own computers

All staff and students have full access to collaborate from any device which has an Internet connection, including mobile phones and tablets. While a microphone is useful for Collaborate, it is not essential for students as there are text-based methods of asking and answering questions.

What about copyright?

By and large, the same copyright conditions exist as in a physical classroom or using Blackboard, however our institutional licence does allow the incorporation of existing copyrighted media resources, such as films, tv programmes, music, etc., in our own recordings. Therefore, screencasts and lecture recordings should be edited to remove these and a link to the material provided instead – this is not required if you are using Blackboard Collaborate to deliver a live online session.

Can I lend university equipment to students or external users?

No. Students wishing to borrow university equipment must use the existing processes. Lending university equipment to external users is strictly prohibited.

What if I don’t have a microphone/headset?

Most laptops have an integrated microphone, webcam and speakers which could be used in a worst case scenario. Many people already have earphones with a built in microphone but don’t realise it. If you have a smartphone then almost all of them come with earphones which have a microphone in the cord.

How do I record to the cloud in Zoom?

When using a licensed pro account, clicking ‘Record’ in a meeting will give you the option to record to the cloud or record to the local computer.

How do I stop Zoom creating a new room each time I start a new meeting?

When using a licensed pro account, you can set a permanent Personal Meeting ID in your profile settings.

Can external users access Zoom?

Anyone can join a meeting hosted by SHU staff, however the Zoom free account has time, participant and recording limits for hosting meetings.