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Creating Emergency Remote Learning Environments in Response to COVID-19

By Michael Ngoasong

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is a nightmare for universities and businesses world-wide. Universities are turning to online remote teaching (Jack. A. and Moules, J. 2020) and requiring staff to work from home. Some of us have been receiving queries from other academics exploring how online learning environments can be used to complement, augment and in some instances replace their traditional ‘face-to-face’ teaching until such a time that their on-campus teaching can resume.

How do academics adapt their teaching to online environments at very short notice? In this blog, we address this question through applying the concept of curriculum adaptation, defined as “a purposeful effort to bring existing materials into alignment with new visions by adding to, adapting, or transforming those materials”. (Debarger et al., 2017: 67). Adaptations can be done to either curriculum content or delivery of curriculum to enable “dynamic interactions among teachers, learners, subject matter, and settings” (Zhang et al., 2014: 253). To illustrate this type of curriculum adaptation, two cases from our own teaching, where we responded at short notice to sustain student learning can be seen below.

Case Study 1, in response to measures to free up the transport network for use by delegates participating in the 2012 London Olympic games, three weeks of study on a managing international trade module was adapted for online delivery (Table 1). This was in response to a campaign led by the organising committee encouraging London based universities to work from home.

Table 1. Curriculum adapting for online learning in case study 1.

Adapt what? Existing face-to-face Learning

Adapt and deliver online learning

Learning technology
  • Teaching materials (e.g. lecture slides and readings) are uploaded to Moodle
  • Classroom facilities (e.g. projection systems for lectures and small group seminars)
  • Voice-over-PowerPoint slides uploaded to Moodle
  • Three online group forums in Moodle, each dedicated to discussion of study activities for the three weeks online teaching
Curriculum content
  • Lecture slides (power-point)
  • Preparatory study activities for seminars and workshops uploaded to the Moodle
  • Convert PowerPoint slides into audio slideshows (Voice over PowerPoint) without changing the curriculum content
  • Everything else stays the same in the Moodle platform
Teaching strategy or pedagogy
  • 1-hour large group lecture
  • 1-hour seminar: Read text, attend small class seminars, ask questions and receive answers·     
  • 2-hour group workshop: Work in small groups to analyse case study, present results, receive feedback from peers and tutor
  • Students listen to Voice over PowerPoint, make notes and ask any questions online under designated forum threads
  • Discussion Forum: Post your answers to seminar questions and join the discussion
  • Each group write up and upload their case study results on the VLE, receive feedback
Supporting Students
  • Answer student queries in class
  • One office hour per week and reply to student emails
  • Direct feedback to students during weekly seminars and group workshops
  • Respond to questions posted in discussion forum
  • Reply to student emails as office hour no longer feasible
  • Written feedback on group-specific presentations and generic feedback shared with whole class in Moodle forums

Peer interaction

  • Question and answer sessions at hour-long weekly seminars
  • Group presentations and discussions during two-hours weekly in-class workshops
  • Online discussion forum
  • Students use Skype and phone calls to complete group tasks, write-up results in MS Word or Power-Point and upload online or email to Tutor for feedback

Case Study 2, a two-week financial accounting course was delivered to students in a partner university in China, in response to COVID-19 lockdown, which prevented academics from the UK university to travel to teach in China. Students at all levels including those in higher education were required by the government to study via virtual learning. The classroom based teaching normally conducted by flying faculty staff into China had to be replaced with online teaching from the UK (Table 2).

Table 2. Curriculum adapting for online learning in study 2.


Adapt what?

Face-to-face Learning

Adapt and deliver online learning


  • Teaching materials (e.g. lecture slides and seminar activities uploaded to Moodle)
  • Classroom facilities (e.g. projection systems)
  • Online platforms, QQ classroom WeChat, replaced classrooms
  • Upload materials including video recordings of lectures, slides and seminar questions to QQ classroom and WeChat

Curriculum content

  • Lecture slides (power-point)
  • Exercises, questions and activities for seminars
  • Split lectures into several short videos, each has a meaningful focus, releasing to students unit by unit
  • Release seminar questions one day prior to interaction sections

Teaching strategy / pedagogy

  • 3-hour lecture
  • 1-hour seminar
  • Students watch video captured lectures before each class and complete pre-assigned tasks
  • Students submit their work online before each interaction session
  • 2- hour live interactive teaching on the identified platform to deliver knowledge, respond to questions and facilitate discussions

Student support

  • Answer student queries during in-class lecturers and seminars
  • 1-2-1 ad-hoc office hour support and reply to student emails
  • Provide synchronous audio or text responses to questions, including video/voice messages to explain difficult concepts
  • Direct question to students to create connection and meaningful engagement
  • Assign questions or activities to groups to avoid sessions to be hijacked by a few highly engaging students


  • Peer and group discussions during in-class seminars
  • Tasks and activities are assigned to groups
  • Create synchronous group discussions to improve student interaction and collaborative learning
  • Tasks are required to be completed and submitted in groups

Universities are keen to ensure that students are able to progress in their studies during through the COIVD-19 pandemic, irrespective of time, location and skills.

While making small changes to content in curriculum adaptation, educators and their students should be equipped with appropriate pedagogies in order to make real-time decisions and be prepared to adjust to the needs of students and the choice of online teaching platforms provided by their universities. Universities should provide preparedness guidance, training and ongoing information and technology support. An environment for sharing practices to learn from those who have been applying digital platform strategies in their teaching is also useful.

Studying online, even for a time limited period, still involves the requirements to keep to a schedule, produce outputs and engage with fellow students. To recreate or even improve student engagement online video conferencing, complemented by facilitated discussion forums, can build a sense of community as against simply recording lectures and uploading online for students to assimilate at their convenience.

It is important to monitor students’ behaviour by providing clear expectations of formative and summative activities that underpin the learning. Step by step instruction should be provided to help with students’ cognitive progress. Without this, student engagement can be compromised by competing social media syndrome e.g. where students create their own WeChat groups that become more popular than what their academics had created.


  • Jack. A. and Moules, J. (2020). Remote teaching becomes vital during coronavirus outbreak. Financial Times. 11 March 2020. Available online at: (accessed 7 April 2020).
  • Debarger, A. H., Penuel, W. R., Moorthy, S., and Beauvineau, Y., Kennedy, C. A. and Boscardin, C. K. (2017). “Investigating Purposeful Science Curriculum Adaptation as a Strategy to Improve Teaching and Learning”. Science Education 101(1): 66-98
  • Zhang, J-W., Wong, L., Chan, T-H., And Chiu, C-S (2014). “Curriculum Adaptation in Special Schools for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (SID): A Case Study of Project Learning in One SID School in Hong Kong”. Frontiers of Education in China 9(2): 250-273.

Michael Ngoasong

Michael Ngoasong is a Senior Lecturer in Management at the Open University.

This blog represents the views of the individual, not SCiLAB or the Open University.