Will the upcoming semester be different from years past? Yes! Here’s what to expect in your classes

Monday, September 7, 2020

The start to the 2020-21 academic year has officially launched and it looks a little bit different with the shift to online learning until at least Oct. 1. While online courses come with advantages such as allowing students to learn wherever and however works best for them, they can sometimes feel like a foreign concept to students who are more comfortable with traditional in-person classes.

With school from home the default for the foreseeable future, the staff at the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), who advised hundreds of faculty members this summer as they prepared their courses for the possibility of online teaching and learning, shares its expertise with students for successfully navigating the online learning environment. They also provide insight into the efforts UNC Charlotte faculty have undertaken to prepare for the increased focus on remote instruction.

“UNC Charlotte faculty are doing everything they can to ensure that students will experience the best education possible during an unprecedented time,” said Heather McCullough, associate director of the Center for Teaching and Learning. “Their commitment to student success is evident and impressive.”


Engagement is key. Engagement in online courses can look different than in face-to-face courses, but it’s vital to being successful. Online learning benefits those who are active, so be sure to connect proactively with your instructor and classmates through live web discussions, email and other tools. Be prepared to read and view course materials or articles, watch videos related to the syllabus and complete all the practice activities within Canvas.

Plan to spend more time on tasks. Most traditional university classes involve three hours a week of in-class activity and six hours of out-of-class work. Both traditional and hybrid courses include some level of material and learning available online. However, online classes may require students to spend more time working on online activities than they’re used to for face-to-face classes. Students in courses fully online can expect to spend time engaging with assignments such as reading, viewing videos, completing practice exercises, solving problems and designing projects. Plan for this now so you’re not surprised later.

Help is available. A broad range of support is available to online students. Most important the faculty member teaching the course will answer questions related to the subject matter. Technical support is available around-the-clock from Canvas. There is also IT support for other tools like Webex, Zoom and more from the Office of OneIT. And as always, tutoring and academic support are accessible as needed. So, don’t be shy about asking for help in your online course.

Technology is your friend. This point seems obvious but it’s good to acknowledge. The fact is, you’ll be using technologies to communicate with your professor and fellow students as well as to complete assignments. This isn’t much different from face-to-face courses because practically all in-person courses use the same technologies used in online courses. Should you have a technical problem during a live session, don’t worry; just watch the class session recording later. Remember to draw on your past experience with classroom technologies when you’re unsure.

Faculty are prepared. High-quality learning can happen anywhere! Your professors have invested a lot of time and effort since the spring to transition their teaching for fall. “They have been real champions to create engaging and meaningful ways for students to learn in our ‘new normal,’” said McCullough.  “They have been tireless in applying proven, research-based best practices to their courses for optimal online learning.”


Drawing on the lessons learned from the spring semester’s dramatic shift to online learning, UNC Charlotte faculty worked throughout the summer to prepare for fall. Much of that preparation centered around training and workshops focused on designing effective online courses provided by the CTL and the UNC System.

For example, CTL offered a five-week workshop, “Create your Online Course in Three Steps, ” in which faculty participants worked with a team composed of an instructional designer, faculty mentor and a graduate student from the Master in Learning, Design and Technology program.

Read how several UNC Charlotte faculty members are adapting their courses for a virtual format.

Faculty preparation by the numbers:

  • Workshop registrations (since May 1) totaled 2,016
  • 622 unique faculty members participated in one or more of 43 CTL workshops
  • 946 faculty registered for self-paced CTL workshops 
  • 341 UNC Charlotte faculty registered for UNC System workshops—one of the highest levels of participation among all 17 UNC campuses.

Fun Fact

The 341 faculty members who attended UNC System workshops anticipate teaching roughly 41,629 students this academic year, meaning those workshops have quite a large potential for student impact.

Leading ONline

Considered the “gold standard” in online education, Quality Matters (QM) is a nationally recognized, faculty-driven, peer-review process used to ensure the quality of online and blended course design. UNC Charlotte, due to its 2011 adoption of Quality Matters standards for high-quality online education, is particularly well-prepared to deliver online instruction that is as effective as traditional classroom teaching and learning.

In fact, UNC Charlotte offers the highest number of QM-certified courses in the entire state of North Carolina and ranks 22nd in the world.

Since the University’s pivot to remote teaching in March, more than 380 faculty members completed the QM training program offered by the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), with more than 500 engaged in QM programs who could utilize their expertise to transition their courses. Since then, even more have taken advantage of a variety of QM training opportunities to assure the online courses they teach this fall align with students’ learning needs and expectations.

As of August 2020, 405 individual faculty members have participated and completed 1205 QM professional development programs. Of that group, 32 faculty members have received QM Teaching Online Certification, which requires a series of seven courses on advanced online teaching competencies. Nationally, there are only about 1000 faculty who have been recognized for the completion of this rigorous training.