Resilient Course Design

Resilient course design is a framework for understanding how to design courses that account for variability in conditions. A resilient course design can reduce workload later in the term by preemptively putting in place processes for handling likely situations, such as instructor or student absences due to illness. The ideas and strategies provided may also minimize the risk of unexpected technological issues (e.g., internet outage or technology tool down).

Recommendations for Resilient Course Design

The goal of resilient course design is to only go through the design process once. It still may be necessary to improvise as the course gets underway, but the initial planning limits the potential for confusion and enables fast decision-making. The suggestions in this resource highlight key elements of resilient course design that differ from traditional course design or are important to making a successful temporary transfer online should the need arise. Consider which of these you might incorporate in your course.

Provide a clear structure for teaching and learning

Clearly identify in your course syllabus which activities are intended to be in-person and which are intended to be online. Where feasible, highlight in-person activities and assessments you have selected that may move online should the need arise (see map out course activities and assessments below). Transparency will help reduce stress and confusion and enable students to recognize which activities might need to change.

View sample Statements for your Course Syllabi.

If you need to make adjustments to your course due to personal absences or sickness, please contact your department or Division for guidelines and language to communicate with your students.

When building your Quercus course, design and structure modules and pages consistently and consider a common path for each week/unit in the course for ease of navigation.

See Quercus Course Templates and Example Courses.

Ideally, incorporate all required educational technologies early  in the course to ensure that students are familiar with them if the course needs to temporarily move online. Provide clear instructions on how to use the tools so students feel prepared when shifting formats.

They will be comforted by having a reliable, familiar way to maintain contact with you, and you will know they have a way to receive updates on any course structure changes (e.g. a dedicated Quercus discussion board, for updates or using the Quercus Inbox to communicate directly with the instructor).

Incorporate flexibility

Determine how in-person activities can be done online. This mapping helps you think through all activities and may result in you swapping out an activity or two in advance if you need to move to an online format.

See the re-imagining classroom activities in the online environment from the University of Missouri-St. Louis to help you consider contingency plans that may be needed to shift any in-person activities to online versions.

Determine how (or if) in-person assessments can be done online.

See the University of Toronto online assessments and accessibility resource (excel file download) to help you consider contingency plans that may be needed to shift in-person assessments to online versions.

Offer slip days for students to submit an assignment within a predetermined window of opportunity without requiring advance notice or documentation. This is a useful strategy in the event of illness as well as when encountering technical issues (e.g., internet outage).

Provide transparency when it may be more difficult for students to ask questions. Be sure to post these descriptions in an obvious place online so students know where to find this information.

Make strategic choices

Designate note-takers so students who miss the discussions still have access to the notes.  Online tools for collaborative online note-taking include a Quercus wiki page or shared Word or Powerpoint document using Microsoft 365 OneDrive. Consider continuing class discussion asynchronously by setting up discussion boards consisting of the same questions used for in-class discussions.  This allows students who need to be absent to engage and creates a space where discussions can be transferred if in-person courses are temporarily moved online. Discussions can be viewed and engaged with asynchronously at a later time which also supports students if they encounter technical issues during a synchronous session

See Microsoft 365 OneDrive Collaborations

In order to anticipate absences or sporadic technology issues, consider offering extra low-stakes assignments and count the best X out of Y of the assessment options (e.g., the best 5 grades of 7 possible quizzes). Also consider avoiding offering grades that rely on (in-person) attendance or consider alternative ways to offer participation grades (e.g., student submits a one-minute reflection online within 24 hours of the lecture).

Students become stressed when a high-stakes assessment format changes, so seek to reduce stressors where you can and consider that a few smaller assessments are less daunting than a high-stakes one. When you are designing the assessments, consider options that can be done online in a timed manner (see map out your course assessments above) or also as take-home/open book assessments that are flexible if there is an internet outage. Ideally, all students complete the same type of assessment unless a change is required for a student accommodation.

See Assessing Online Learning

(See map out your course activities above).

Don’t worry about making all activities identical; you need to work within the affordances of each format and your comfort level.

See Quercus Support Resources & the Academic Toolbox

Key interactions

Treat these interactions as coveted time in which thoughtful discussion and deep learning can occur. Seek to maintain these interactions as synchronous activities, when possible, when you move online. For example, small group brainstorming session in person with chart paper can be moved online using a shared Word document via Microsoft 365 OneDrive.

To ease a sudden transition to online consider:

  • Student interaction with other students: Think-pair-share activities in class can be done in breakout rooms online
  • Student interaction with instructor: Office hours on campus can be offered virtually
  • Student interaction with course content: Students discussing a reading in class can be extended or adapted with social annotation tools online
  • Student self-reflection: A one minute paper reflection can be adapted to a short virtual quiz

See Engaging Your Students for more ideas.

Key resources

If I have to temporarily engage in an online format, I have considered:

  • What syllabus statement will accurately outline terms of accountability and flexibility during potential temporary online delivery
  • How to provide a clear path through course content in Quercus
  • How/where students will be able to ask questions about course content and personal situations if they cannot meet with me in-person
  • What instructions/guides about how to participate utilizing educational technologies will be available for students
  • What instructions/guides about how to complete and submit online work will be available for students
  • How will online synchronous meetings run in the course, if at all

If I have to temporarily engage in an online format, I have considered how I will provide flexibility for the following elements:

  • Alternative ways in which students can access the course material (activities and assessments) and interact with each other (discussions) should they need to self-isolate or study off-campus due to changing circumstances
  • How to provide flexibility for myself and my students as an instructor if I am unable to attend/facilitate in-person activities due to personal circumstances

If I have to temporarily engage in an online format, I have considered strategic choices for teaching and learning activities, such as:

  • How students can interact with each other (a)synchronously to communicate
  • How to provide flexibility in assessments to reduce student anxiety and anticipate accommodations
  • How I can move activities to the online space if required

If I have to temporarily engage in an online format, I have considered strategic choices for key interactions, such as:

  • How I can move the most meaningful in-person interactions online while maintaining the quality of engagement
  • How students can interact with each other, me, the content and themselves (a)synchronously to stay motivated and engaged in the course


Carleton College Learning and Teaching Center. (2021, April 5). Resilient pedagogy.

Eblen-Zayas, M. (2020, August 7). Example of resilient course design for an interactive lecture course. Carleton Learning and Teaching Center Blog.

Hart-Davidson, B. (2020, April 6). Imagining a resilient pedagogy. Medium.

Kaston Tange, A. (2020, June 8). Resilient design for remote teaching and learning. Thinking about the humanities.

Moore, M.G. (1989). Three types of interaction. American Journal of Distance Education 3(2), 1-6.

Morrison, A. (2020, December 9). Resilient pedagogy for fragile times. Hook & Eye.

Patson, N. D. (2021, May 12). Collaborative note-taking as an alternative to recording online sessions. Faculty Focus.

Quintana, R., & DeVaney, J. (2020, May 27). Laying the foundation for a resilient teaching community. Inside Higher Ed.

University of Missouri-St. Louis Center for Teaching and Learning. (2021). Keep teaching: Resources for instructors.

Adopted from:
Resilient Course Design by U of Waterloo Centre for Teaching Excellence

An Instructor’s Guide to Teaching & Learning With Technology @UNBC by UNBC CTLT

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