Core Principles

What can students expect from their online classes?

Below are six core principles with associated resources fundamental to online teaching. These principles aim to assist all course instructors at Dalhousie and King's to prepare, design, and deliver online teaching. 

Classes will vary greatly depending on the subject matter, the level of the class, and the individual teaching style of the course instructor.

Accessible and inclusive

Courses will strive to be universally accessible, using principles of Universal Design for Learning, where pedagogical methods are applied to respond to multiple ways of learning:

  • Instructors are striving to provide all students with equitable access to course content and assessments.
  • Courses should comply with the developing requirements set by the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act of 2017. 
  • Instructors should also consider ways to address any socio-cultural and economic consequences of online instruction for students in keeping with Dalhousie's equity, diversity and inclusion priorities.
  • Instructors might consider adopting open educational resources (open textbooks) where appropriate to help mitigate costs and make learning materials more accessible to all students.

Additional Resources
Online Quality Guidelines
Educator's Accessibility Toolkit
Universal Design for Learning on Campus
20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Online Course
Open Educational Resources Repository
Teaching the Whole Person: Compassionate Teaching in the Age of a Pandemic


Making course content available to students asynchronously (prerecorded content) enables students to watch or listen at their own pace and on their own time and ensures students in different time zones or with other responsibilities are not disadvantaged in their learning experience.

However, the context of your course, its content, and your discipline matters. There is also value in including synchronous (live) course components where students have an opportunity to engage with the instructors, TAs, and other students in the course; ask questions; and engage in dialogue and problem solving. Such sessions would ideally be recorded for those unable to attend. Optional drop-in office hours are another way to engage students synchronously.

  • Assessments should, whenever possible, provide flexibility by giving students options for how they can demonstrate what they have learned and how they have met the course learning outcomes. This is also an effective strategy to increase inclusion and accessibility in online classes.

Additional Resources
How Flexible or Rigid is Your Online Course
Timing and Location in a Digital Environment
Easy and Equitable Ways to Add Synchronous Elements to your Online Course
Banging Your Head Against the Discussion Board Wall: Alternatives to Written Discussion Posts
Holding Virtual Office Hours
From Face-to-Face Instruction to Online Teaching: Practical Considerations for Synchronous and Asynchronous Teaching and Learning


In large classes, consider using break out rooms (synchronous) or smaller group discussions/projects (asynchronous) to increase student interaction within the course. As well, if you have TAs assigned to your course, it is important to think about how to maximize their potential to support student interaction within the course.

Additional Resources:
Interacting Online
The Human Element in Online Learning
Banging Your Head Against the Discussion Board Wall: Alternatives to Written Discussion Posts
Holding Virtual Office Hours
Supporting Teaching Assistants in Online Teaching
Transitioning Active Learning Methods Online in FASS
Transitioning Active Learning Methods Online in FASS, Part II


Clear communication

  • Clear communication is especially important in an online environment. Courses should begin with an orientation/welcome module that will introduce the course and its components and should also include weekly announcements and a clear weekly calendar.
  • Timely feedback. Students in a fully online course need to hear from their instructor about how they are doing. Instructors should provide feedback to students early on in the course and continue to communicate with students about how they are doing as the course progresses.
  • A Template is now available to guide the creation and navigation of your course structure within Brightspace.

Additional Resources:
Orientation Module
Lights, Camera, Action! Using Video to Transition Your Lectures Online
Feedback in Online Courses

Instructor presence

When thinking about instructor presence, it is important to explore both your, and your learners’, social presence (how you build trusting, inter-personal relationships within your course), teaching presence (how you facilitate meaningful educational experiences to achieve learning outcomes), cognitive presence (how you support learners to construct meaning through sustained reflection and discourse), and emotional presence (how you facilitate learners’ emotional responses to the learning environment).

Additional Resources:
Interaction and Presence
Helping Students Become Self-Directed Learners Online
Community of Inquiry Framework


Students will continue to have access to support and resources in the transition to online learning. Course-specific support will be provided by the instructors and teaching assistants. Students will also be supported in their research needs through Dal Libraries and with any technical concerns through the Help Desk.

Additional Resources
Learner Support
Student Supports and Resources
10 Teaching Strategies to Support Students During a Pandemic
Online Learning: Supports and Resources
Writing Centre Supports Students Remotely
Ways to Support Students Experiencing Stress and Anxiety in the Online Environment
Student Support for Unexpected Anxiety and Grief