Instructors transitioning to remote teaching aided by tools and resources

Richard Zhao, an assistant professor of computer science and software engineering at Penn State Behrend, uses a green screen to add custom backgrounds to his remote-teaching courses. Credit: Penn State Behrend / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — While Penn State gears up for the end of in-person instruction on Nov. 20 on all campuses — signaling the need for students to take part in COVID-19 testing prior to leaving for their outside communities — instructors have been planning since the beginning of the fall semester for this ‘pivotal’ moment.  

Assisting students with transition

Instructors currently teaching in-person or mixed mode courses are encouraged to communicate with students to prepare them for the transition to remote learning via a series of templates that have been created by the Faculty/Student Communications Team of the Enrollment Management Committee, a group composed of instructors and staff members from instructional design, advising and communications. The templates are meant to assist instructors in providing key information to students that will help them be successful in their studies as they move online. The templates can be found here

Included in the templates is an ‘Instructor Checklist’ that reminds those teaching to examine their courses to see if there are any tools or materials students will need that should be downloaded or acquired now, so that when students are away from campus they will still be able to access any required items for course participation. The checklist also touches upon different issues, including how to maintain academic integrity in a remote environment, and offers resources for who to contact and what help may be available for the transition to remote learning. 

“We recommend all instructors review the templates and begin communicating this information as soon as possible to their students,” said Kathleen Bieschke, vice provost for academic affairs. “Instructors can and should modify these templates as they see fit, depending on the individual characteristics of their courses. In addition, Penn State IT is working to assist instructors and students with preparations for the remote teaching period that will take place following the Thanksgiving break.”

Resources available

Information on technology resources that are available, such as the Technology Loaner Program is available on Penn State’s Keep Teaching and Keep Learning websites. For students, there is a limited supply of loaner laptops and mobile hotspots. For instructors who need assistance with digital annotation, there is a limited supply of loaner iPads. Instructors and students can access the Mobile Technology Request Form with their Access ID and password.

In addition, “The Transition to Remote Symposium” intended to help instructors prepare for the planned pivot to remote instruction will be held via Zoom from 10 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. on Nov. 6. The symposium event will include eight, 45-minute roundtable sessions on five focused topics. Each session will be offered at least once; sessions expected to be most popular will be offered twice. Topics to be covered include:

  • Strategies for supporting remote labs.
  • Remote assessment strategies to promote academic integrity (offered twice).
  • Engaging students during remote instruction (offered twice).
  • Advising and supporting students [e.g., hours of instructional activity, supporting students’ academic pivot, helping faculty advisers support students] (offered twice).
  • Remote teaching of experiential courses.

For more information and the symposium schedule, visit In addition, a vast amount of information for instructors and academic leaders can be found at, which has a specific section dedicated to “Fall 2020 Transition to Remote Instruction,” including instructional guides and other support avenues. 

Lab research

On Nov. 20 when the University moves to remote learning, on-campus research activities will continue, maintaining lab operating procedures and protocols. Undergraduate and graduate students may also continue on-campus research with prior approval from the relevant academic dean or campus chancellor.  

Testing for employees 

  • Commonwealth Campuses: For faculty and staff at Commonwealth Campuses who work on campus and wish to take part in asymptomatic COVID-19 testing prior to the Nov. 20 departure, opt-in voluntary testing via a Vault mail-in kit is available. This program will continue through Jan. 11, 2021. Testing will continue to be available only to employees who are listed in the University’s ‘Return to Work’ database. Employees who wish to participate in the voluntary testing program may do so by visiting Test kits will be mailed to your home address and you will participate in a virtual appointment with Vault Health to complete the process. 
  • University Park: For faculty and staff who have been working on campus at University Park, asymptomatic walk-up COVID-19 testing for employees will close at the end of the day on Nov. 11. Beginning immediately and continuing through the month of November, all faculty and staff employees who are in the ‘Return to Work’ database may take advantage of a new process for voluntary asymptomatic COVID-19 testing. Employees wishing to initiate this process may click on this link: Test kits will be mailed to home addresses and the test will be completed under virtual observation with Vault Health to complete the process. University Park in-person testing options will resume after Thanksgiving week. Those details are being planned for December and will be announced soon. 

Participation in this form of testing is voluntary and does not replace mandatory surveillance testing, which will continue for those remaining in-person on campus. If you are experiencing any COVID-19-like symptoms, please stay home and call your health care provider to arrange for a symptomatic test as you will not be eligible to participate in the voluntary testing process.

Bieschke said that information more specific to various programs, colleges and campuses should be provided by leadership from those areas. Anyone with additional questions should first contact their unit leaders. 

“Based on everything we have learned thus far in this unusual year addressing the impact of a pandemic on teaching, learning and research, we are confident that our instructors, students and staff can again make a smooth transition to remote operations,” Bieschke said. “In the coming weeks, we also will be providing information related to our in-person plans for the spring semester, as we continue to provide guidance that focuses on the health and safety of our community and beyond.”

Last Updated November 17, 2020