Advice (including on how to reach out to your students) as we begin remote teaching

March 25, 2020
Krishna Rajagopal, Dean for Digital Learning, 2017–2022 |

Dear Colleagues,

We are writing with suggestions for you to help welcome your students back to your class, in a substantially different format, next week. Teaching and learning is what we and our students do together; starting on Monday this is what we will be doing together, remotely.

As a reminder, we have two new sites for you: a curated set of resources, at which includes material on inclusive practices for remote learning, as well as an open community site, at where everyone is invited to post resources. Also, most departments have local point people; we encourage you to reach out via your department heads to them if you have not already.

For your students, shifting to a new mode of learning will be an adjustment, so it is essential that expectations and academic content, including learning goals and assessments, are clearly communicated by instructors. A collection of specific suggestions regarding things to consider telling your students before your first online class are here:

  • Provide explicit directions to your students explaining how your class will work now. You may wish to include: how the class will be structured, what will be done synchronously, what will be done asynchronously, tell them specifically where to go for each element of the class, and how you see the timing / flow working throughout the week.
  • Give them an update on plans for assignments; further updates can be provided during the week of March 30-April 4.
  • All of us are under stress. Some students have told us that they are stressed about whether their instructors will expect too much of them. In fact, we have all been rescaling our own expectations, as we plan teaching from home in this new mode. I would recommend acknowledging this, and telling your students at the same time that you know that they too face a range of individual challenges. Please communicate your rescaled expectations, and listen to your students when they share theirs, with the goal of reducing all of our stress.
  • Address communication and interaction expectations. Explain how students should contact you and/or other course team members (email, via online office hours, through Stellar, etc.), and any guidelines for communicating with peers; MIT & course norms are in effect, this is not the open internet.
  • Describe the role of the TAs, elevating the importance of what they will be doing. Student engagement with TAs, e.g., in office hours or recitations, will be more important than ever.
  • If you will be teaching synchronously from home, tell your students this in a way that welcomes them in while acknowledging potential distractions from daily life.
  • If you plan to record synchronous Zoom sessions, tell your students this, and tell them that you are doing so solely for the purpose of sharing the recording with students in the class.
  • Remind your students that everything won’t work perfectly all the time, for them or for you.
  • You may want to point your students to the new Best Practices for Remote Learning website where they can find good advice that is relevant for all their courses.
  • You may wish to remind your students that they have full access to and should make use of Student Support Services / GradSupport for support as always, and same for Student Disability Services.
  • Give your students the IS&T support information:; 617-253-1101 (24x7).

Given the challenges of remote learning for all our students, I am very pleased that the Division of Student Life, the Office of the Vice Chancellor, and other campus partners are launching a collaborative effort to connect every student to a Student Success Coach. Coaches, who will be volunteers from across MIT, will check in with each student one-on-one once per week, listen to how they are doing, overall and as learners, and connect them to each other and to MIT in ways that help them to succeed. You can think of this as a way to keep students “connected to the Infinite”.

Next, here are some suggestions for running your class & supporting your students in this new mode:

  • Consider a “reconnecting” exercise appropriate to your class, ask students to describe (or post) where they’re logging in from or something more course-specific. Activities such as these can be vital in helping all students feel connected to you and their peers in ways that build rapport and camaraderie.
  • Consider how students will continue to interact with one another, you, and course material to make sure that everyone manages to get & stay connected.
  • Practice using whatever tools you plan to use, especially ones you have not previously taught with (Zoom, etc…) with trusted individuals (TAs, colleagues, friends & family); and practice the specific Zoom functions you plan to use (screen sharing, breakouts, responding to chat, etc…) and don’t expect that everything will work perfectly for everyone all the time
  • Reflect on how you used to begin your in-class sessions, and consider an easy way to do that now (text-based or a short video?), as a personal way to introduce each week’s material and explain how what they’re working on this week connects to the course overall.
  • In addition to the short webcam announcements mentioned above, consider recording shorter online lectures in general. Try to break video up into shorter chunks (10-20 mins.); this will help both with attention/learning & also with bandwidth in the event that video needs to be downloaded instead of streamed.
  • More so than usual, go over your instructions for assessments in detail. For example, if this is your plan for a mid-term you should tell your students when the exam will appear on Stellar, tell them that they should do their work on paper without consulting anyone or any books, notes or online materials, and tell them how and when they should photograph and submit their work.
  • If possible, consider including “knowledge check” types of activities via low-stakes, simple quizzes or simplified online discussions that reflect the activities you’d already planned for in-class work.
  • Anticipate disruption, and adapt.
  • Dedicated 24x7 support for faculty is available at or by calling 617-324-3578 (617-32-HELP-U). This includes support for MIT’s new tools: Zoom, Slack, Expanded Dropbox, Piazza and Gradescope.

As we navigate these challenging waters together, we may discover unprecedented opportunities; in some ways, we and our students may learn more than ever before. At the same time, all of us, teachers and students, will need to be flexible and patient, find compromises, set fitting expectations for our students and ourselves, and maintain deep reservoirs of good humor and humility as we build our virtual learning community together. Let’s make the best of it, with our minds, hands, and hearts.

Krishna Rajagopal
Dean for Digital Learning
William A. M. Burden Professor of Physics