Teaching online guidance

Guidance: 13 March 2020  (last updated 8 April 2020)

This guidance has been created to cover the period beginning on Wednesday 18 March when the University will ‘stop the clock’ on in-person teaching to afford academics the time and space to prepare and place teaching online for resumption of teaching in the week beginning 20 April. Our advice is that academics interpret the learning outcomes to enable them to select appropriate content, activities and student-facing approaches, without entirely replicating the current face to face offer. The key idea here is to make sure that students meet programme and level learning outcomes in challenging and interesting ways without over-loading the curriculum to cover everything. We need to be mindful that a proportion of academics and students will be unwell. We are advocating simple and clear digital approaches. The DEO, BILT, the CREATE team, and IT services, as well as local school and faculty digital experts will be here to support you to translate your teaching into an engaging online experience for students. Central teams will offer daily drop-in sessions to help you turn your teaching digital, and a few of us will be crafting an all-staff Daily Digital with one technique a day to inspire you, in easy step-by-step format. Our overarching guidance is contained below. Finally, thank you for all you are doing to support the process of teaching and learning in uncertain times, and thank you to colleagues in BILT, DEO, CREATE, IT and other volunteers across the institution for your massive efforts.

Tansy Jessop
PVC Education


Please find guidance here about how to move to online teaching. We recommend that each unit every week includes the following:

  1. Clear instructions for learning
  2. An input or provocation
  3. A guided activity
  4. A checkpoint/opportunity for feedback.

We recognise that subject and student needs vary. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss how to move your teaching online.

See also our related guidance:


Unit leads will take the lead in helping teams to digitise materials on every unit. Programme Directors will be responsible for ensuring consistency across programmes, working in consultation with School Education Directors and Faculty Education Directors, as appropriate.

Guidance to provide online teaching for each unit

Unit leads need to ensure that the following is in place:

1. Blackboard site

A clearly organised Blackboard site that, for example, organises resources for students by week of study (see these course design tips). Any recorded sessions from last year can be added as appropriate (see how to add previous recordings).

2. Online learning

For every week of study, at least one learning opportunity per unit, which includes:

  1. Clear instructions for the learning that week
  2. An input or provocation, or presentation of information
  3. A guided activity
  4. A checkpoint/opportunity for feedback.

See below for detailed guidance on each of these.

3. Student communications

Clear communication/instructions about how and when students should engage with their online learning in the unit (see this guide for communicating with students through Blackboard).

Online learning guidance

A. Clear instructions for learning

This will typically include:

B. An input or provocation

If replacing lectures you should aim to provide some kind of live and/or recorded content (e.g. narrated Powerpoint slides, Replay/Collaborate. Please note you will need to ensure this is accessible by providing a text alternative).  You should record live sessions and make this recording available in case students were unable to access the live session for technical or other reasons.  You should be able to adapt your existing teaching resources and draw on other online resources, by providing, for example:

For lab work, please see this guide to providing alternatives to labs.

Top Tip: remember to ensure any resources you provide are accessible.

C. A guided activity

An activity that engages students in summarising, applying, analysing, critiquing or evaluating the knowledge presented in the input or provocation. This could take a number of different forms/combinations (and could, for example, draw on existing seminar resources).

Examples of guided activities:

Top Tip: Ask students to share their work via a Blackboard discussion board.

Recommended: Think about the mix of activities you provide across a teaching week. Don’t rely too heavily on live teaching as students may not be able to join due to technical issues, different time zones etc. Provide plenty of low-bandwidth, downloadable or offline activities that everyone can access. Where you do provide activities live or to run in a short time window (eg an hour or two) timetable this within an existing teaching slot to avoid clashes with other potential live teaching. Do record your session and/or make provision for others who can’t join live to engage with the learning when they can.

D. A checkpoint/opportunity for feedback

Checking in with students at least once a week to see whether they have any questions, and to give them feedback, is important. This can take a number of forms, such as:

Top Tip: Focus feedback on how students can improve their work next time.

Top Tip: Set up a unit or programme discussion board (which is moderated) where students can post reflections, comments and questions about this new way of learning.

Recommended: Try to plan at least one live element each week where you can talk to students, for example through Skype or Blackboard Collaborate. Keeping in touch with them during this period is important.

Further help and advice

Blackboard sites

Online learning

Student communications


Academic personal tutoring

Support for staff - dropins and webinars 

Other links

BILT blog - teaching beyond the firewall

BILT blog - Learning from the experience of higher education in China


Please contact digital-education@bristol.ac.uk in the first instance with any queries about design or implementation of these or other online activities, pedagogical challenges, and academic quality. These queries will be triaged and directed to an appropriate member of staff within the Digital Education Office, BILT or AQPO.