What is Flexible Teaching?

Our goal is to help Duke faculty design and develop courses that can be successful in any mode of delivery — face-to-face, online or hybrid. To that end, we are committed to helping you create the most resilient, flexible course(s) possible. We are calling this effort “flexible teaching.” 

Guiding principles

  • Learner-centered: Design courses that offer students flexible options to participate fully in the course. Select content and activities based on what students should learn vs. as pre-defined by chapters in a textbook (for example). Clarity about learning objectives, expectations and course mechanics has become even more important in the current environment.
  • Engagement: Create learning experiences that engage students, including peer-to-peer activities and opportunities to participate in both live and/or asynchronous discussions. Online and hybrid modes of instruction place an even greater premium on faculty/TA interaction and feedback. Course elements such as discussion boards will matter to students insofar as faculty/TAs meaningfully engage with them and/or discussion assignments are designed to encourage student-student interaction.
  • Equity and inclusion: Ensure course activities are accessible to all students regardless of where they are and when they can participate. 
  • Planning: Keep workloads for faculty and students appropriate. There is no need to put in huge amounts of time into course elements that won’t be effective. More intensive faculty engagement over shorter time-frames with smaller groups of students will likely have greater pay-off than less intensive synchronous interaction with large numbers of students.
  • Transformation instead of translation: Think less about “translating” your face-to-face course to digital and more about “transforming” your course to take advantage of the options, tools and flexibility that digital learning offers.

How is this different from the emergency remote teaching Duke faculty did during the Spring 2020 semester?

The emergency remote teaching effort (Keep Teaching) was the best we could do, given the limited time and constraints of the Spring 2020 pandemic, to help faculty translate face-to-face activities and content to a remote setting in an emergency. 

Flexible teaching starts with the principles of course design to create a flexible, resilient course that can withstand any change in modality or delivery.

Emergency remote teachingflexible teaching
Lead TimeLess than two weeksThree-to-four months
Student ExpectationsManaged through ad hoc communication; adjusted as circumstances changed.Students introduced to the online components of the course. Norms set at the beginning for participating in online activities, discussions and live sessions.
InstructionDelivered primarily through live Zoom sessions with recordings for those in different time zones.Lectures pre-recorded, edited and offered ahead of class time; instructors also select and curate other content. Some instruction may occur in classrooms and/or via live Zoom sessions.
Content Creation and DeliveryOnly supplemental materials already available for the course and materials shared on-demand.Content created or curated based on the course design plan before the launch of the course; students have the opportunity to access content on their own schedule and review as many times as necessary.
Learning TechnologySakai, Zoom and other tools as possible at the time.Technologies selected based on desired learning outcomes; student access is set up ahead of time. Uses multiple learning technologies and tools at Duke, in addition to Sakai and Zoom.
Student EngagementLive Zoom sessions; limited use of breakout rooms for group activities. Limited peer-to-peer or peer-to-instructor interaction.To support active learning, group and team activities are planned before the course starts. Students learn expectations for participation in live or asynchronous discussion, team projects and other meetings.
AssignmentsPaper-based assignments quickly translated to online versions

Paper-based assignments can be rethought from the ground up to be digital first for collaboration and feedback.

Assignments can be redesign to take advantage of online mediums (ex: students might produce blogs or websites; develop videos and multimedia; use web-based presentation and sharing technologies).
AssessmentsExams quickly translated to online versions and/or re-conceived as open-book.Exams can be redesigned before the class starts to take advantage of question banks, randomization or even re-conceived to demonstrate applied learning vs. recollection.
ProjectsProjects and larger assignments continued but presentations, discussion and other learning artifacts varied depending on the situation.Projects and team assignments include designs and recommendations for technologies to use to collaborate as well as standard plans to provide presentations and/or have team meetings online if necessary.

At its best, flexible teaching successfully combines the design, organization and deep preparation of online courses, the agility and choice of hybrid/blended courses and the student connection and engagement of face-to-face courses. 

While Learning Innovation crafted this site for Duke faculty and for a Duke audience, we also want the Duke teaching community to know that there is a wide and growing body of resources available beyond Duke. You will find links to many of these resources alongside the content we have created within the guides themselves, and we have identified some broad references and resources for those who want to explore further below.

Recommended resources

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