Socially Distanced Teaching – FAQs

Please read this page in conjunction with the Swansea University Safe Operating Procedure – Learning and Teaching (SOP)

This document is designed to address some of the questions you may have about socially distanced, ‘face to face’ teaching. It’s based on reading and resources which have been recommended by a range of universities, previous SALT projects and the Advance HE Creating Socially Distanced Campuses and Education Project – Leadership Intelligence Report – Design and Delivery. We recognise that you may already utilise some of the techniques below in teaching however with additional considerations, they may be deployed in a socially distanced way.

The answers to the questions below will inevitably depend on your subject area, normal student numbers, teaching room setting etc and you may be using a ‘hybrid’ approach, a blend of synchronous and asynchronous online teaching together with face to face sessions, perhaps with smaller groups than you are used to. In adhering to social distancing guidelines, some aspects of your teaching, such as physical grouping of students for group work, or anything that involves closer contact with students, may need to be approached in a different manner.

These questions are by no means exhaustive and we would encourage you to contact us with additional questions or concerns you may have.

Q1 – How do I manage my learning environment ?

Managing your teaching room and planning carefully for the arrival and departure of students, will help to improve the feeling of safety and security for you and your students and will help to maintain the quality of learning experience. See SOP section 3.1. Attending the teaching sessions, at least at first, may cause students some stress and anxiety so communicate with students via your Canvas course to let them know your plans and what to expect on arrival.

Think carefully about the design of you Canvas course itself, to facilitate ease of access to materials you may need students to look up on their devices within face to face sessions (see FAQs 5 & 10 below). Planning should also consider any extra equipment and resources you may need to ensure social distancing.

Your Canvas Calendar can also be used to organise repeat lectures, e.g. if groups need to be divided up to smaller ones, meaning you will be teaching the same thing more than once. It allows you to create appointment groups, which are virtual sign-up sheets that enable tutors to create a series of appointment slots that students can then sign up for. More information on this can be found on this link: Canvas Appointment Groups/Calendar Schedule.

All students will sign a new Student Charter which outlines expectations in the new conditions. It’s a good idea to add this to the start of your first session and post to your Canvas course.

Reassurances will be needed however that there are contingencies for eventualities where students cannot attend.

Q2 – How can I maintain or develop good rapport with my students ?

Your first face to face session should focus on building relationships with your students and the students with each other. Try to make the first session relaxed and conversational to put students at ease, enable them to get to know one another and build rapport. This could be a blended approach with an online quiz for example which students can answer before the class or from devices in the classroom. This may help if the need for online teaching is increased and overcome initial barriers of distance.

Communicate clearly and regularly with students in an agreed manner, within and outside of the session. Explain your objectives and agree ways of working which manage students’ expectations. Ask students about their expectations. Take time to welcome students and try to make them feel comfortable and important, humanising yourself in the process. Offer understanding, encouragement, and reassurance. Agree ways in which questions can be asked and answered during the session e.g. using audience participations tools and discussion boards, which will mean encouraging students to bring their own device (see FAQ 9 below). Try not to let eye contact be adversely affected by mask wearing. Try to learn and use names wherever possible. Invite and take on board feedback as you all learn together how to adapt.

Q3 – How can I encourage meaningful engagement in the learning process ?

Communication of expectations whether attendance in person or synchronous/asynchronous online teaching or tasks is essential. Students will be better engaged if they are fully aware of what is expected of them. Consider how best to utilise the face to face time you have together given there may also be some requirement for online learning. There are a host of active learning ideas which have been documented by the University of South Florida which offer a useful reference list of activities you may have previously used which can be conducted with social distance. See also FAQ 5 below.

Q4 – Can students work / discuss in groups ?

Yes, if this is carefully planned for and social distancing is observed at all times.

Group work is a bit multi-layered. It isn’t just about the actual group work task (i.e. what you want your students to do), it’s about how you want them to do it. Is it going to be small group work in a socially distanced setting? Online collaboration outside of contact time? A hybrid approach, where you have students working in the session and remote students connecting using online tools? Group work could even be Hyflex, where you have hybrid locations, and enable it to happen asynchronously as well. Students within the same space should of course remain in one place and not move around.

Group work does not necessarily have to involve physical movement, students sitting close to others or joining them up close e.g. use collaborative documents which members of the group and you have access to. A hybrid model where students engage in virtual breakout rooms from within the classroom is also possible. This could even combine a physical class with online attendees. This may take you longer than usual so factor enough time into your planning. To facilitate group work, you could use a feedback system which involves a nominated spokesperson and have access to the collaborative (digital) documents and tools groups create and use.

It is likely that students will need to self-isolate this year, who are ready willing and able to take part in learning, but just can’t get to the sessions, or maybe who can’t do it at the same time, so need a bit of flexibility as to when they study. A variety of approaches however could succeed in engaging students in group work both within and outside the teaching room.

Useful tools and additional links:

  • Louisiana State University: Active Learning while Physical Distancing
    A live document suggesting activities for groups in all settings (in person, online and hybrid) – mixed in with active learning.
  • Vanderbilt University Centre for Teaching: Active Learning in Hybrid and Physically Distanced Classrooms
    Vanderbilt University – Active Learning options, suggestions and hindsight.
    (Some of the tools this page talks about might not be so appropriate at Swansea, but others are good. Swansea has Zoom, so Zoom for polling is a good option. Also there are a range of other options for polling and SALT has done a comparison of them here. Slido, one of the most popular in Swansea, is put to great use by Mark Coleman. He talks a bit about his use of it on this page.
    Zoom’s chat function is also pretty good, so that could be used as a back channel. Canvas could also be used outside of class time. As could Microsoft Teams, although there is some manual setup involved. The page’s (eventual) discussion of groupwork give a couple of nice ideas too.
    Instead of portable whiteboard (which would need to be sourced), whiteboards on a roll have been used at Swansea for a while now, and might serve a similar purpose here, as could flip chart paper ? Need individual pens though … )
  • Hyflex. This is a more involved approach of which you can get an overview here. This page also shows you a sort of scheme of work covering all the bases. This is a method which would facilitate hybrid and asynchronous groupwork, rather than the group work itself.
  • Padlet is a free online tool that is best described as an online notice board. Padlet can be used by students and teachers to post notes on a common page. The notes posted by teachers and students can contain links, videos, images and document files.
  • Mentimeter is another free tool which allows audience interaction using real time voting.

Q5 – How can I achieve active learning in my teaching ?

Some physical challenges are associated with conventional methods of active learning e.g. not being able to group students closer together, share whiteboard markers or paper, face mask wearing. However, there are alternatives to reverting to traditional lecture mode, such as use of collaborative documents (see FAQ 4 above), engagement tools and online discussion boards within the session (students will need to bring their own device). A hybrid model where students engage in virtual breakout rooms from within the classroom is also possible. This could even combine a physical class with online attendees. Paired work may be possible but remember that students are required to maintain suitable distance apart. It should be remembered that ‘active’ learning refers to students actively integrating new information with their existing knowledge, it does not necessarily mean students need to be physically active or near each other.

Useful links:

Q6 – How can I manage sharing resources with learners ?

Covid-19 has further prompted us all to teach in a more environmentally friendly and cost-efficient way by ensuring learning materials are shared digitally, where possible. For most, this will involve adding materials to your Canvas course and asking students to access them in advance or within your sessions if necessary. FAQs on Canvas, including where and how to access support if necessary, can be found on this page Swansea University Canvas FAQs.

Canvas Help linkYour own Canvas account also has a new ‘Covid-19 Canvas Resources’ HELP button, which may support your face to face teaching. This can be found on the bottom of your left-hand side vertical account menu.

Q7 – How do I reach all my students ?

The important thing with all your teaching is to be as accessible as possible. Things need to be done in a way that enables you to teach, facilitate your students’ learning and also accommodates the level of physical engagement your students feel comfortable with.

For example, you could deliver your face to face session so that remote students can “attend” online, or access it asynchronously through lecture capture and still have a good learning experience. However, if your face to face session is not well attended and isn’t accessible online, you will need to consider lecture capture and other synchronous / asynchronous learning techniques.

Well designed, accessible Canvas course content is also important. See FAQs 6 & 11 for links to Canvas support.

Staff at SALT, and resources on SALT’s website, are also available to help you lots of aspects relating to reaching your students in an accessible and inclusive manner.

Q8 – How best do I communicate with my students ?

The SALT Maintaining Continuity document suggests that, with regard to communication, you:
Inform your students now, even if a plan is not in place. Inform them that changes are coming and what the expectations of both parties are for keeping in contact so that further details can be disseminated in a timely and consistent approach. Set expectations on how you will communicate, frequency of communication, how students can get in contact, office hours and the timeframes for a reply. Students will have lots of questions and providing a structure so that they know how and when to contact and how long to wait for a response will help all parties.

Different student groups will work best with different forms of communication, so using several avenues is always a good idea. Using Canvas, email and perhaps one other form (ask your students what they would like to use?) would probably reach your students, if everyone knows what the expectations and the method are.

Q9 – How can I manage Q&A ?

Taking verbal questions may still be appropriate in social distanced spaces (if this is consistent with policy) as their role in exploring ideas and embedding knowledge is key in a face to face learning environment. If this is not possible (or you are not comfortable with this) an alternative could be to contribute questions at planned intervals via audience response software or even via Canvas. (There is a SALT comparison of these systems here.) Most applications have free versions, staff and students are increasingly familiar with a range of them and have personal preferences. Questions can then be collated for the whole group attending face to face or online.

If you are not familiar with audience response software and require support or further advice from SALT, please get in touch via the email addresses at the top of the page, or contact

Q10 – How can I and my students communicate while wearing face masks ?

The most important thing here is to speak clearly. Lip movements give people context to accompany the various sounds, and is of benefit to all, not just those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The following web page and downloadable tips card, available from the Action on Hearing Loss website, provides you with some really useful tips which serve well for all, not just the deaf and hard of hearing:

In addition, you may want to build in a few additional elements to your session:

  1. Check at the beginning and part way through the session to make sure everyone can hear you. If you are teaching in a face to face environment with others coming in via zoom, you may want to ask separately.
  2. Build in some time for questions or to ask for repeats
  3. Record your lectures where possible: The recording is provided with a transcript, and they can be replayed at a volume that suits the user
  4. If you have particular students who are struggling despite these measures, it is acceptable to ask them (privately)how they would like to address that.

In addition, the University of South Florida has some useful guidance on this and offers some suggestions here:

Q11 – Where can I find support in organising my Canvas course to best support my face to face sessions ?

There is support available from the Canvas team, and from the Canvas FAQs (below) that they have compiled:

Q12 – Where can I find further information ?

Please don’t hesitate to contact SALT’s CPD team (email addresses at the top of this page) or the wider SALT team on if you need any further help, or would like a question relating to face to face teaching featured on this page.

We would very much like to continue to facilitate a supportive teaching community as we all learn from experience in these unprecedented times. Wherever possible, SALT draws from trusted, evidence based sources. We are mindful that existing blended learning resources may be idealistic in the sense that face to face teaching recommendations do not consider new social distancing requirements. Relevant resources are fast emerging in response to challenges faced in specific disciplines at individual institutions, many of which we have signposted to on this page. At SALT, we intend to keep abreast of emerging evidence, as well as support you at a local level in an approachable way.

For all aspects of your current and future teaching and learning, a reminder that lots of resources are available via SALT’s Website, including a Curated Resources for Teaching that has been compiled with care over the past few months, and a page dedicated to Maintaining Learning and Teaching Continuity.

Professor Phil Newton from Swansea University Medical School has a You Tube channel – newtonsneurosci. This now includes a video on ‘TOTAL E-FABULOUS’ lectures to support the transition from a face to face to online teaching.

Further links for managing social distancing in educational settings:

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