Instructional Technology for Distance Learning

The most satisfying and meaningful part of teaching is interacting with students as you help them reach new levels of academic achievement. Sustaining your passion and their engagement outside of class takes some planning and consideration. The decision tree below will help you identify the most useful and feasible strategies for adapting your teaching into a remote teaching environment.

Step 1: Video or Text

Are you comfortable with using the microphone and/or Webcam on your computer or smartphone?

  • Yes: Blackboard Collaborate Ultra provides a synchronous online meeting space where you can deliver live course meetings remotely. Set up a password-protected Blackboard Collaborate Ultra session directly in your Blackboard course and hold class sessions synchronously at the same time as usually scheduled. Students participate through audio, video, or chat as they would normally in a face-to-face class. Collaborate sessions can be recorded for those students who may be unable to attend at the regular time, and everyone in the class has access automatically through the Blackboard Collaborate Ultra Tool in the default Blackboard Course Menu. 

  • No: Preparing course resources, Powerpoints, and other files in advance to upload into Blackboard and share with students asynchronously may be the best way for you to share your instructional materials. Establish an organizational structure (e.g. folders by date, or single files labeled by date and topic) and create a course content area in Blackboard for "Lecture Materials" or "Course Content," then show students how to find it in an announcement or email. 

How-To Resources for Basic Course Content Delivery and Organization

Step 2: Interact Remotely

Do you interact with your face-to-face classes in ways that do not translate well into Powerpoint presentations or minilectures?

  • YES AND I am comfortable with producing audio/video: Synchronous meetings in Blackboard Collaborate Ultra may be the best way for you to sustain your teaching and learning community remotely. This solution requires that you and your students learn just one tool then work together during regularly scheduled class time to maintain the class dynamic you already developed. Use interactive features of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, like raise hands, chat, emojis, polls, group comments on whiteboards or files, student sharing of content, and breakout groups to foster a truly engaged online course meeting.

  • YES BUT I am not comfortable with producing audio/video: If your classes are structured around student-faculty and student-student interaction, but you are not comfortable with using audio/video to sustain that dynamic remotely, explore other resources to provide multimedia content. Consider Ted Talks, Yale or MIT Open course resources, or the USC Upstate library databases Films on Demand and Academic Video Online. Then set up rich discussion questions within Blackboard to keep the conversation going. One discussion assignment per regular class meeting is a perfectly reasonable expectation for classes using remote teaching strategies.

  • NO: No problem. Stick with the teaching style that works for you. If you regularly present using PowerPoints and lecture-style notes, keep up your same strategy.

How-To Resources for Live Discussion and Interaction with Students

Do you regularly use interactive lectures to convey information and assess students' learning as you go? 

  • YES AND I am comfortable producing audio/video materials of my own: You are a great candidate for lecture capture and screen capture with YuJa. With YuJa Video Capture, you can film yourself using a Webcam or phone then switch to sharing your screen to show students PowerPoint slides, details of a case study, a map, figure, diagram, chart, or image of course content, or any other material that you might lecture about face-to-face. YuJa also allows you to embed quizzes, conversations, comments, and other assignments directly within Blackboard through the Blackboard Tools feature. Contact the Center for Academic Innovation and Faculty Support for help setting up your first YuJa interactive lectures.

  • YES BUT I am not comfortable producing my own audio/video materials: Posting your PowerPoint and adding lecture notes (Click to Add Notes on the bottom of the screen) that students can read along with the slides can be an effective way to convey course content, especially if you add a short content quiz in Blackboard to confirm students' ability to retrieve information or add a discussion board assignment that asks them to apply your lecture information to a particular case, example, or problem. 

  • NO: If your courses are highly collaborative, interactive, and not rooted in lecturing, then you may need to set up interactive spaces in Blackboard like wikis or blogs, or shared OneDrive files where students can carry out interactions remotely and asynchronously until you can be back in the classroom again. 

How-To Resources for Online Lectures and Presentations

Step 3: Regular Assessment and Feedback

Do you use frequent formative assessments to track and give feedback on students' progress during class?

  • YES AND I am comfortable with technology: Great. Try out some of Blackboard's features that you may not have explored before: Tests, CampusPack podcasts, CampusPack blogs, CampusPack wikis, Discussions with audio or images, VoiceThread, and other tools give you technology-enabled ways to do what you would normally do in the classroom. "Test" tools offer a huge range of options, including short answers, hot spot (identify a place on an image), and ranking/ordering, as well as regular true/false and multiple-choice options. They may be called tests, but they are interactive tools for doing a range of formative assessments, and you can get creative with the way you build either self-grading assessments or questions that you need to grade yourself. And just because the tool is called "Test," doesn't mean you have to use that word with your students. 

  • YES BUT I am not very comfortable with technology. The easiest way to adapt your formative assessments to Blackboard is to create an assignment that requires students to upload a file (Word, PowerPoint, PDF, etc.) in response to your prompt. If your formative assessments are more interactive, and you want students to see each others' responses, then use the Discussion Board. Remember that the Discussion Board does not need to be a free-form reflection and response like a conversation. It can be a targeted task that you just want the students to be able to share with each other and learn from each others' responses. You do not need to require an initial post and a response to someone else for a discussion board to work effectively in helping students achieve small learning goals.

  • NO: If your class is structured around long periods of lecture, discussion, or problem-solving punctuated by a few high stakes tests, papers, or projects, you are going to want to add in some opportunities to check in with students weekly while teaching remotely. Discussion boards are the easiest way to implement a quick question, application of a discrete course skill or concept, solution to a problem, or comparison of some element of course content. You can give quick feedback on just the content application without worrying about all the details of a formal paper, and both you and your students will be better able to monitor progress until you can meet face-to-face again.

How-To Resources for Assignments, Discussions, and Quizzes for Regular Formative Assessment

Step 4: Major Assignments and Exams

Will you have to administer an exam during a prolonged absence? 

  • YES: Although we can use Respondus Monitor online proctoring for exams, this service places added stress and burden on students. Students regularly complain about the technology barriers that required proctoring add to their course load. Many of your students may be working from smartphones or tablets only until campus computer labs reopen, so avoid adding unnecessary challenges that students will not have the on-campus support to overcome. Consider how you could make your test meaningful in an open-book, take-home structure. Or look at using randomized questions from a larger test bank and setting an appropriate time limit for the test to limit the length of time students might have to look up answers inappropriately. NOTE: It is important to give online students a fairly substantial window of several hours in which to take the test, but once they start, the test can have a time limit. Consider using high-stakes tests to pose higher-order questions that require analysis, application, explanation, or synthesis instead of recall and identifications. You may shift your grading burden by giving meaningful feedback on short answers or essay questions, but if you are also decreasing your time on content delivery due to class cancellations, such a shift may be worth it to maintain student success. 
  • NO: Great, but be sure to set up regular points of contact and feedback with students to keep them on track. Students should not go a whole week without any kind of assignment, and your regular feedback will help them know what is working and what needs to be improved. 

How-To Resources for Tests

Will you need to collect and comment on a major paper or project while the campus is closed? 

  • YES: Build the assignment options in Blackboard to allow students to upload their files directly into your course and avoid flooding your emails with assignments. Set assignment options to take 2 or more attempts in case students forget their works cited or accidentally upload the wrong file the first time around. Then, explore Blackboard tools for commenting directly on papers and presentations using the highlighting and commenting options. Or add your assignment rubrics into Blackboard and grade using your rubric directly in the Blackboard app. 

  • NO: Great, but don't forget to use your communication strategies to remind students of what is coming when they return to campus. The remote sessions may be a great time to ask students to submit a paper thesis, project abstract, sample source, or another discrete task necessary for the completion of the larger project looming on the horizon. 

How-To Resources for Paper and Project Assignments

Do you regularly give written feedback to students through Blackboard? 

  • YES: Great! Keep it up. Remember that feedback should be targeted and limited to one or two main points. What is the one thing that the student did most successfully that they should keep doing in that way or do even more? What is the one, most important area for the student to improve on the next task? What is one good strategy for them to use to improve? Nice job. That's all. Use a rubric to communicate the many different areas that are important to the assignment, but keep feedback specific, targeted, and relatively short.

  • NO: Giving meaningful student feedback is an important part of teaching in remote or online environments. Take some time to talk with colleagues, plan some rubrics, read some teaching articles, and otherwise prepare to add some workload related to feedback until you can get back in the classroom where real-time and non-verbal feedback can take place informally throughout the class session. 

How-To Resources for Regular Feedback


USC Upstate's Center for Academic Innovation and Faculty Support and the Division of Information Technology provide support for a number of technology tools and resources. Using these tools ensures that students can sign on with their University usernames and passwords and that tools have been vetted for accessibility, privacy and security. All tools listed below are either embedded as tools within Blackboard or within your University Office 365 account.

For technology trouble-shooting, call the IT Help Desk at 864.503.5257 ( For help learning about or implementing tools in your courses, contact the Center for Academic Innovation and Faculty Support at