August 19, 2021  |  News & Events, Timely Announcements

NOTE: On August 19, 2021, this message was sent to all instructors teaching Fall 2021 courses.



I hope you’re enjoying the latter part of summer and that you and yours are safe and healthy. I’m reaching out to let you know what our students are thinking about the fall and provide some details you can consider as you plan ahead to your fall courses.


In her June remarks to the Board of Regents, incoming President of the Student Association Mia Heredia said that she had strongly considered dropping out of UWM during the pandemic, and that the kindness and flexibility of her instructors helped make her ongoing success possible. She emphasized that she hoped that kindness and flexibility will continue this fall, “as if the pandemic never ended.” Sadly, with the emergence of the Delta variant her remarks seem prescient, but even back in June there were signs from our students that they wanted to maintain some of what we put in place.

In talking more generally with students, looking at survey data, and digging into fall enrollments, two key themes are emerging:  1) Students saw and appreciated the efforts instructors made to accommodate them during the pandemic, 2) Students want continued flexibility and accommodation. Much has changed since we surveyed students in March, but much also remains the same, and I invite you to read representative student comments here.


I know that teaching during the pandemic was an enormous lift for all of you and that some of what you did may not be sustainable; for example, many instructors may not be able to build flexible attendance (i.e., “hyflex”) into their course offerings.

Whatever flexibility you can continue will be greatly appreciated by our students, and in addition, students can benefit from some consistency across courses. To be specific,

  • Standardize course presentation. Last fall and spring, students frequently complained to advisors about how different their courses were; it was difficult to, for example, navigate five courses when each course had a different layout and structure. Below I’ve included a list of best practices for preparing Canvas sites, a list that’s been endorsed by the Academic Policy Committee and by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Please consider whether these practices would help your students. Here are links to three additional resources you may find useful:
  • Capture lectures. In the survey and elsewhere, students very consistently indicated that they hoped we would continue the practice of capturing lectures and posting them to Canvas.  Lecture capture won’t work for every course, and we don’t want it to become a replacement for attendance, but we have invested in additional lecture capture technology in many of our classrooms and will be providing directions for our instructors.

More information, including an overview and information on classroom installations, is available here: We are also preparing lecture capture training sessions; here are links to the sessions, and sessions will also be recorded for those who cannot attend at any of these times.

  • Engage the rest of campus. Our students were touched by the kindness and flexibility of their instructors, and we are making additional investments and efforts to help students stay on track, manage their finances, and preserve their mental health (see, for example, this great Chronicle piece about the efforts in our Dean of Students office: Instructors are the face of our institution for most students and are our best means of intervening.

To that end, the campus healing and community-building work group, led by Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, and Global Inclusion and Engagement, has developed a Trauma-Informed Teaching Toolkit. Please read and reflect on the materials in the Toolkit, incorporate them into your teaching practices, and refer students to the appropriate support resources, which are covered in the Toolkit.

I certainly appreciate all you’ve done to get us through some very difficult times, and I am so thankful to have such great and caring instructors to help our students navigate college in unprecedented times.  Thank you for considering these recommendations, and I hope you find some time to rest and relax before classes begin in September.

Take care,



Best Practices for Preparing Canvas Sites

UWM instructors have diverse needs and approaches when it comes to using Canvas (our current Learning Management System). However, a reasonable level of consistency across all courses can have a significant, positive effect on student success. When used effectively, Canvas provides a quick and easy pathway for students to find all relevant course materials, such as readings, assignments, and instructor feedback. To this end, instructors teaching face-to-face, online, and blended/hybrid courses should incorporate the following strategies into their course sites.

Use CETL’s Course Template
Instructors should consider using CETL’s Course Template. The Canvas Course Template was designed to help instructors efficiently and effectively set up their courses and to promote a consistent student experience among courses in Canvas. More information here:
Publish Course Site Prior to the Course Start Date
Instructors should publish the course site prior to the course start date so students can orient themselves to the course materials and course sites. Three days prior is recommended.
Organize Materials Chronologically   
Course materials in the LMS should be organized chronologically so that students can quickly navigate to a given week or module to find what they need at that moment in the course.
Use Student-Friendly Naming Conventions
For all documents, assignments, and other course components, instructors should use consistent and concise naming conventions that help students easily identify the materials and resources they need to be successful. Consider these examples:
  • Change “HONORS-250-Smith-Spring-22-Syllabus.docx” to “Course Syllabus” or “Syllabus.”
  • Instead of saying “Week 8 Video” provide the title of the video.
  • Include a description such as “Creating a Game in Tabletopia” rather than just listing the full URL (
Use Due Dates
For all assignments with specific deadlines, instructors should assign due dates directly in the LMS so that students can easily track upcoming assignments in the course. When possible, deadlines should be consistent from week to week.
Use the Gradebook
Instructors should provide timely and accurate grades to students using the gradebook in the LMS so that students can determine where they stand at any point in the course.
Interact with Every Student at Least Weekly

Regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors is a hallmark of good teaching and a federal requirement for online courses. While welcoming students and building classroom community are important, interactions must contribute to students’ progress toward course learning objectives:

Johannes Britz
Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs