Over the last three weeks, we have looked at adding active-teaching tools to the Teacher Toolkit for Engagement. The link to last weeks post (Blogs, Wikis and Group Work) will link you through to all the activities you can use in your active teaching.

It’s that time of year again when university teaching begins. It wasn’t that long ago the last semester ended and it was exam board time. So we’re at the start of another academic year. Teaching preparation should be well under way or nearly completed.

What needs to be done to prepare?

This post looks at ten things to do to prepare and countdown towards teaching.

No 10 – update Canvas modules

At Queen’s University, we use the Canvas virtual learning environment (VLE). If you have not already done so, please copy over your last years module (AY 2019/20) to the DEVELOP module (with the same module code) and amend teaching content for the incoming year.

Students will NOT be connected to a DEVELOP module. This is a safe space where academics can update and rearrange teaching content and activities.

Each Canvas module has 500-700 MB of storage. It’s good practice to upload Word Docs and/or PDFs of PowerPoint Slides. These will be low in file size. Try NOT to upload PowerPoint presentations, especially if they are 30mb+ in size.

If you are a contributor to a larger module, the Canvas storage space will fill up quickly. Please be considerate of other contributors and the space available.

Don’t upload videos or audio. Embed them. This will save of storage space as well.

Further guidance is available on updating your Canvas content. Staff can search their Canvas Dashboard for the Canvas 102: Ready for September course!

No 9 – recording content

Did you know you can:

  • Upload slides to the Mediasite Desktop Recorder and add in narration?
  • Narrate PowerPoint slides in PowerPoint 2016, O365 or PowerPoint for MAC and these narrated slides can be rendered to video (MP4)?

After MP4 videos are created, at Queen’s University, these can be uploaded to MS Stream or Mediasite. Which service should you use?

Both services offer video hosting. MS Stream automatically generates captions but these still need checked. Mediasite offers subtractive editing, whereas MS Stream can only top and tail a recording.

Remember to check the permissions of either platform so content can be viewed by staff and students within relevant courses.

Regardless of which service content is uploaded to. Copy the embed code or video link and add this to the relevant page on your Canvas course (there is more guidance below).

Asynchronous content

Why not record some asynchronous content that can be added to teaching modules? Recordings should be short. No longer than 15 or 20 minutes in length. Twenty minutes is the maximum attention span anyone can muster.

Beyond twenty minutes, our attention strays. Think about what other activities you can top and tail recordings with to maintain students attention. Bring back their focus to the subject being taught.

Activities might include discussions or quizzes. YouTube videos can be embedded as well.

These activities will be asynchronous and learners can complete them in a time that suits the learner. This type of teaching is flexible but still needs the teachers presence. Teachers need to show presence online through video recordings, discussions and feedback. This helps encourage and give learners direction online.

Previous blog posts
No 8 – set up discussions

There are many reasons to use discussions in online courses. Discussions can be open, such as Introductions and Ice-breaker activities. Using discussions can engage students with weekly content.

If you would like to ready more about discussions, check out 2020: The year of discussion.

No 7 – create quizzes

Everyone loves a quiz! Quizzes can be for students to use as self-knowledge checks and to monitor their learning progress. Quizzes can also be used as part of assessment. These can be high-stake or low-stake.

Either way, quizzes are great tools for students to gauge their knowledge and understanding. Quizzes can be created via Canvas or MS Forms.

For more about quizzes, check out Izzy Whizzy, let’s get Quizzy!

No 6 – assignments

Remember to set up the assignments and assignment groups on Canvas. Do consider the assignment type, points values, weightings, type of upload and deadlines! Make assignment instructions very clear!

Here’s a reminder about dates!

There’s an Available From date. This will be when students can view the assignment from. It might be on the first day of the course, or it could be a few weeks in.

There’s a Deadline date. Students can submit work up until this date. After this date, submissions are late or closed.

There’s an Available To date. This one is really important. Do not leave it blank! This date should not be the same as the Deadline. Why?

If Deadline and Available To dates are the same, the Submit button disappears. Students will no longer be able to upload their assessment. Make the Available To date after the Deadline. Canvas will then flag late submissions.

If you’re more assistance setting up assignments, contact the Canvas Team.

No 5 – timetabling

Timetabling information should be obvious in Canvas. The whereabouts of the timetable should be highlighted to students. Direct students to this crucial information during student induction. Ensure student know how to read it as well.

Why? Students need to know when classes are (i.e., live-teaching sessions via MS Teams). It will help student prepare for learning.

It would be helpful to highlight whether teaching is synchronous or asynchronous. Orientate students to where they can find live-teaching times (via Timetabling and MS Teams) and how to join these sessions.

Live-teaching via MS Teams gives students opportunity to engage with the content and ask questions in real-time to reinforce learning.

Teaching sessions should encourage interactivity. This might be using polls where students answer questions live. Feedback from the results can take live-teaching in different directions.

A note on scheduling live-teaching!

It is the responsibility of Module Coordinator to ensure teaching sessions are set up in Team Module spaces. It is also the Module Coordinators responsibility to ensure teachers are notified of their teaching slot(s) and how to access them.

Encourage staff and students to the use the Teams Calendar in the MS Teams App. This highlights teaching times and allows teachers and students to join live-sessions.

Live-teaching should be recorded. Recordings will automatically go to MS Stream. From there, a link or embed code can be copied and pasted into the Canvas module (after teaching).

No 4 – publish Canvas module

Publishing your module! Once you have updated the module content, you can copy this information over to the 2020/21 Canvas live shell! Students are connected to the live-shell.

Remember, there are three levels of publishing in Canvas. These are:

  • Item publishing – a page or a file
  • Module publishing – a week of content or a theme
  • Course publishing – the overall module, i.e., the course for a semester or academic year

Students will not see unpublished content. There may be teaching in different weeks that is not yet released to students. That’s OK! PDFs of slides should be available at least 48 hours before a live-teaching session.

Some teachers may publish everything at the start of a course. Others may release content weekly. The choice, as teacher, is yours!

Further guidance is available in the Canvas 102: Ready for September course!

No 3 – student inductions

The teaching landscape greatly changed in March 2020. That means the learning landscape changed as well. We ALL had to learn new ways of teaching and learning remotely.

Please do not think students are digital natives and know their way around digital spaces they have never encountered. Students need to be introduced to these digital spaces AND shown around the features.

Imagine we all watched Home Alone the movie. Just because we viewed Central Park in the movie doesn’t mean we know our way around New York City!

Guide students. When teaching in week one, don’t assume students have prior knowledge of the spaces they are in. Also don’t assume other teachers have guided students around these spaces. Take a few minutes and explore.

First year students need to know how to access Queen’s Online, Office 365, Canvas, MS Teams, the Library and other digital spaces on their particular course of learning. This could include SPSS, lab software, simulations, etc. It’s not a one-size-fits all induction.

Students from other year groups could also benefit from a reminder of these spaces and highlight any technology/process updates. This will assist student learning.

ALL students need to know how to access timetables, the library, teaching content and different digital spaces. It would also be good for students to do some ice-breakers and meet each other. This could be online ‘meet and greet’ session via MS Teams or an ‘Introduction’ via an open discussion forum in Canvas. As teacher, lead the way on this!

Other information will need covered during induction. For example, who to contact regards assessment, information regards university policy (i.e., code of conduct and general regulations), the teaching team and more.

To assist with Canvas induction, please view (feel free to use):

No 2 – teaching spaces

You may not be teaching face-to-face this semester due to Covid19 restrictions. However, you can deliver live-teaching in real-time via MS Teams.

Queen’s University uses Microsoft Office and ALL staff and students have access to Office 365 (O365). MS Teams is part of the Microsoft App suite and it’s a great tool for online meetings and teaching.

Information Services are creating and rolling out Teams Module spaces. These will mirror Canvas modules and be auto-populated with teaching staff and students in the same way as Canvas. These module spaces will appear in the MS Teams App, both for staff and students. Do keep a look out for these!

External teachers (non-QUB staff) can be added to Team Modules. This is done manually and should be done by the Module Coordinator.

External teachers can deliver teaching and upload files. However, they cannot record sessions. It is the responsibility of the Module Coordinator to arrange recordings in this instance!

Just to clarify.

ALL teaching content will live on Canvas, i.e., slides, reading and additional materials. Live-teaching (with PowerPoint slides or other materials) will happen in MS Teams and will be recorded.

Recordings will automatically go to MS Stream. These recordings should be linked back to Canvas after live-teaching (ideally beside the PDF of teaching slides).

Please download these guides for Adding External Teachers and Teams for External Staff:

No 1 – Office 365 (O365)

Are you aware that ALL staff and students at Queen’s University have access to Office 365? Did you know O365 Apps can be downloaded to more than one device? This means that you can have O365 on a computer, a tablet, a mobile, etc. It’s available for download on up to five devices.

O365 works across different platforms, devices and browsers. As long as there is an internet connection, your digital tools and spaces are accessible. They are where you are!

Teachers: familiarise yourself and your students as to what MS Apps are available. Word, Excel and PowerPoint have long been the mainstay of Microsoft Office. Apps with online access make collaboration, note-taking and accessing content MUCH easier.

Students: there’s no longer any requirement to email yourself the latest copy of your work. Just ensure it is saved to OneDrive.

You can download all the Apps to your desktop, or you can use the online versions. Whichever you decide.

OneNote Class Notebook

OneNote is being used more frequently. It is a great way for teachers to disseminate information to students. This is also a great collaboration space with many accessibility features to assist learners. Many teachers have students create portfolios of work for assessment in OneNote.

Teachers: for more information on setting up OneNote Class Notebook, see OneNote for Education.


OneDrive is cloud storage. As students, think about your file structure. Don’t just save files randomly. If you’ve just started university, create a ‘Year 1’ folder. Add in sub-folders for each module of your programme. Within the module folders, create areas for assignments, etc.


Teams is a collaboration space used for online meetings and teaching. Students can create their own team spaces for group assignments and support. Teams also allows Channels to be created (they’re like breakout rooms in Zoom).


Stream can be likened to a YouTube channel. Videos and audio files can be uploaded and hosted within Stream. Teachers will have recordings of lectures stored there. Students might upload presentations for assignments later in the year. Content on Stream can only be viewed within Queen’s.


No matter where you are in the countdown, remember to breathe! You still have time and it’s still a work in progress. As teachers, you will be adding content throughout the year and taking part in discussions and live-teaching.


To summarize. In our countdown, we covered the following steps:

  • 10 – update Canvas module(s)
  • 9 – record content
  • 8 – discussions
  • 7 – quizzes
  • 6 – assignments
  • 5 – timetabling
  • 4 – publish Canvas module(s)
  • 3 – student inductions
  • 2 – teaching spaces
  • 1 – Office 365 (O365)

It might be you find all of these steps useful or you might skip a few. All courses of study are different. The countdown is not a one-size-fits-all but merely a guide. We hope you find some or all of this useful.

Next time

Next Monday (September 21st), we will look at MS Teams for Teaching and using the MS Teams space to engage students, i.e., highlighting some interactive features.

On Friday the 18th September, we will release the blog post Students and the MS Teams Digital Space. This will introduce students to the general features of MS Teams and how to navigate the Desktop App. This blog post can be shared with students as part of inductions.

Alongside this, we will be releasing a Student Induction blog post on Wednesday 16th September! This is to assist in Student Inductions with general inductions to the following digital spaces:

  • Canvas
  • QOL
  • O365 and
  • Library

This should help students navigate their way through the Queen’s University digital spaces.

Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


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