Tools for Online Teaching

This page contains a summary of common teaching needs and how to provide them for an online class.

Fundamental Tools for Remote Teaching

The are the main tools used widely at Swarthmore to support remote teaching:

  • Moodle: Course content, announcements, discussions, assignments, exams, and grades

  • Panopto: Recording and sharing lectures and other educational videos

  • Zoom: Live course meetings or discussions

Planning Ahead for Disruption

When teaching online, interruptions are inevitable.  Internet service, power outages, and computer glitches happen.  Be prepared by downloading important information beforehand and giving your students a backup plan. 

  • Download a listing of all the emails from Faculty Services for the students enrolled in your course

  • Remind students to download or print a copy of the syllabus with your contact information

  • Back up copies of any prepared teaching materials in case there is a disruption to network access.

  • Install Swarthmore’s Virtual Private Network (VPN) to connect to Swarthmore network resources such as shared network drives, selected servers, and Banner from off-campus.

  • Prepare students for what you are going to cover, what technology you’re using and what they should do in the event of problems. 

  • Have a solid outline/lesson plan with activities and backups.  Anything you intend to present to students should also be available where students can access the material (or alternate material) independently (PowerPoints, audio, video, web sites etc.).  You can make this material hidden if you like and make it available only if you’re unable to present it.

  • Have a backup plan in case the technology fails you … perhaps some material and a worksheet available on Moodle … a discussion activity etc.

  • In the event of audio or video problems where should students go to find out what to do next?  Chat window? Email? Make this clear to students ahead of time.

Communicate updates, changes, and other relevant information to students

There are several different ways you can communicate with your students via Moodle. One of the highly recommended ways is through the Moodle Quickmail feature when you need to communicate with your class. You can also use the Announcements forum to create messages that are displayed in Moodle as well as send to the students in the course. Every course is created with an Announcements item in the top section of the Moodle page. Alternatively, you can get the student roster with emails from Faculty Services and use your Swarthmore email to communicate with your students.

Some professors use the online chat program Slack to communicate with students.  There are free versions of the service available.  

Holding real-time synchronous lectures/meetings with recordings

Zoom is a web-conferencing solution that provides audio and video conferencing as well as screen-sharing capabilities. All Swarthmore faculty, staff, and students have a Zoom account for video web-conferencing. Go to and sign in with your Swarthmore College username and password.  You can use Zoom's recording feature to record your meetings and publish them to Moodle so your students can view them later.

Equipment you will need:

  • A computer or mobile device with a good internet connection

  • Headphones or earbuds (optional)

  • Microphone (if possible, a separate microphone can be better than your device's built-in)

  • Web camera (optional, most devices have a built-in camera)

  • A phone (if you’re unable to receive audio via your computer, laptop, or device)

A few tips and tricks:

  • As the host of the Zoom meeting, you can mute participants when their background noise becomes distracting.

  • Zoom has a breakout room feature that allows you to put students into small groups and then bring them back for large discussion.

Additional resources:

Pre-recording lectures and videos

Panopto allows you to record your voice, PowerPoint slides, and computer screen to create videos for your course. After each recording, Panopto automatically publishes it to your Moodle course inside the Panopto Block.

A few tips and tricks:

  • Sign into Panopto and download the Panopto Recorder for a short test to see if it works for you BEFOREHAND.

  • Consider using a USB microphone and/or headset if at all possible to increase sound quality. One option many people use is pairing an existing Bluetooth or wired headset you might have for your phone with your computer.  Classroom and Conferencing Technologies has some microphones available for checkout.

  • Panopto has an auto-caption feature, but you should proofread these once they have been created.

  • Some instructors draft scripts before recording, others might refer to a brief outline

Alternative options for recording lectures

Zoom: record a meeting as usual, but without any other participants present

PowerPoint: Use PowerPoint to record a slideshow with narration

Tablets: Use an iPad or tablet computer with the Explain Everything app to record lecture notes with narration.  iPads are available for checkout from Classroom and Conferencing Technologies.

Screen recordings: Snagit is a simple screen capture and recording solution.  For more complex needs, such as editing, captioning, and annotation, consider using Camtasia. You can learn more about both tools through our Screen Capture, Recording and Editing page.

Collecting student assignments digitally

The Moodle Assignment feature allows students to upload assignments directly into Moodle. This is a popular feature commonly used by Swarthmore faculty to collect papers and other digital projects. It also allows you to provide feedback notes and submit their grades digitally, all in one place.

If students handwrite their work, it possible to use a phone camera to capture an image of the document.  It is best to use app such as CamScanner or TinyScan to provide a higher quality PDF format output.  

Alternative options for assignment collection

Gradescope is an online service to assist with paper-based grading and lets students upload images of homework or exams for instructors to assess.  It has a number of time saving grading workflow features.  Swarthmore has a site license for Gradescope and it can be integrated with Moodle: Connecting Gradescope to Moodle.  

Holding online discussions

Moodle has a discussion forum activity in which a class can hold online discussions or respond to a prompt by the professor.  As online discussions aren't a standard part of many Swarthmore classes, we recommend setting expectations for students concerning participation.

Alternative options for online discussions.

Ed ( is an online discussion forum for classes.  It can be used for announcements, as a traditional discussion forum, or for student questions and answers.

Google Groups can be used to hold online discussions.  Exchanges are usually via email but can be set for access via a website.  Use the ITS Service Portal to request a Google Group.  There is more information about managing Google Groups on our help site.

For real time discussions, Slack offers a free version of their widely used chat service.  

Share grades with students confidentially

Moodle allows you to communicate individual grades, category grades, and total grades with students. This is all administered through the Moodle Gradebook.

Administer digital exams, quizzes, or tests

Moodle has a Quiz feature that allows faculty to author multiple-choice and open-ended questions fairly easily. It also allows support for both matching and fill in the blank question types. The options available within the Quiz feature allow you to control when each quiz is available and what is released to students. Once a Quiz is published, there is also a feature enabling you to provide extra time and other accommodations that might be in place for specific students via Student Disability Services.

Creating a timed quiz or exam in Moodle - can have students upload a file containing their answers.  Students can type their response and upload or handwrite their exam, use a scanning app on their phone and upload the file.  It is also possible to administer an auto-graded multi-choice quiz.  

For handwritten exams, students can use a scanning app for their phone to take pictures of their papers, convert to a single PDF file, and upload their work.  See Scanning Documents for Uploading to Moodle Assignments.

Alternative options for exams

Moodle assignments: For non-timed assessments, a Moodle assignment can be used to allow students to upload an exam or essay.  Students can either work directly in a file or handwrite their work and take a photo of their papers and submit them to Moodle.

Gradescope is an online service to assist with paper-based grading.  Students can upload images of their exam to Gradescope for instructor grading.  Swarthmore doesn't have a site-license but instructors may receive a free trial for the first two semesters.

Use a Zoom meetings for one-on-one oral assessments.

Ways you can contact ITS or find information:

ITS Support Portal:
Phone: x4357 (HELP) or 610-328-8513
Check out our remote resources at
Check our homepage at