Resources for Building Online Courses in an Emergency

Many traditional colleges and universities have cancelled regular classes for the time being and are preparing their faculty and students for online classes in order to complete the spring semester. For institutions with a substantial online presence, this is likely not a big issue. But for those institutions with little online experience, this could be problematic. Adding to the drama or chaos, depending on your perspective, is the fact that the online courses have to be ready by the end of the extended spring breaks imposed by these colleges and universities.

The Online Learning Consortium (OLC), a nonprofit association originally known as the Sloan Consortium, was one of the first to organize a landing page to assist colleges and universities looking for assistance in going online in an emergency situation. The OLC was formed in 1999 to create a community and knowledge around quality online, blended, and digital learning. As probably the largest repository of online instructional courses and best practices, they issue a caveat on their emergency planning page that the resources listed are not all-encompassing, but are meant to help institutions get started.

The OLC lists self-paced professional development courses designed to help an instructor/professor learn how to convert a course to an online format and also offers an on-demand, online offering for institutions with a minimum of 10 registrants. In addition, the OLC provides shared resources from their community, including courses from SUNY, Stanford, UNC-Charlotte, and the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE).

Lastly, the OLC emergency page lists resources by topic, such as Planning Instruction; Universal Design for Learning & Accessibility; Selecting Technology; Foreign Language Instruction; Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), Student Engagement; Assessments; Continuous Improvement; and Upcoming Events. I have a feeling that a lot of colleges without extensive internal capabilities will gravitate toward the tips and strategies for using Zoom as a tool for conducting a course online.

The Chronicle of Higher Education built a resource entitled “Moving Online Now: How to keep teaching during coronavirus.” While their publication is mostly articles about moving to an online course format, each of the articles offers some practical advice as well as resources that are useful depending on the circumstances. For example, for readers whose institutions utilize the Brightspace Learning Management System (LMS), a link is provided to a blog article from Vanderbilt University that provides excellent step-by-step advice for how to utilize the LMS and the sequence of steps necessary for building an online course.

Not to be done, Inside Higher Ed published many articles about the impact of COVID-19, but one of my favorites was a guest blog post from Alexandra Milsom. An assistant professor of English at Hostos Community College, CUNY, Dr. Milsom provides a calming narrative that features general advice and practical maneuvers. But her article does not attempt to suggest that the instructor/professor needs to self-train on the best practices in online higher education as well as spend hours learning the technical intricacies of the LMS and other educational technology teaching tools.

Operating totally online with more than 80,000 students and nearly 2,000 faculty members, APUS is proud of our commitment to offering quality online courses and programs for more than 20 years. We have responded to institutions requesting assistance as well as reached out to institutions that we have partnered with in the past.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast around the start of the fall semester, and we offered seats in online classes to displaced students. This situation is different, given that almost all institutions are in the middle of their spring term, and our courses may or may not have the same content and may or may not have similar assessments.

At the same time, we will attempt to provide advice to any institution seeking it now or in the future. Hopefully, many of these institutions will realize that quality online courses can generate the same learning outcomes for the students as face-to-face instruction.

Subjects of Interest


Higher Education

Independent Schools


Student Persistence