Technology Enhanced Learning at Sussex

Online learning baseline

This page details the requirements of the University of Sussex Online Learning Baseline for academic year 2020/21.

For information on setting up your new Canvas module please see our guidance page on setting up your module.

The University of Sussex Online Learning Baseline establishes minimum expectations for all taught modules facilitated via Canvas. The baseline is designed to be flexible, ensuring there continues to be space for creativity in relation to methods of teaching and supporting learning whilst setting out practical steps to deliver a more contextually rich, consistent, connected and accessible online experience for our students and staff.

The baseline addresses seven core areas: Technology and Software; Structure and Organisation; Orientation and Communication; Content and Resources; Collaboration and Engagement; Assessment and Feedback; and Accessibility and Copyright.

Additional guidance and help to implement the Online Learning Baseline is available from Technology Enhanced Learning.

Download a printable copy of the Online Learning Baseline

Technology and Software

Work with recommended platforms and tools.

Every taught module will have a presence on Canvas, the University’s online study platform. 

Synchronous teaching such as lectures, seminars or workshops will be delivered using either Panopto or Zoom to provide a familiar learning experience to students and ensure training and support is available to staff. 

Adherence to University guidance is essential for security and to ensure staff and students stay safe using Zoom

Modules should include clear information on minimum technology requirements to support access to course materials or completion of assessed tasks or activities.  This should include links to where required technology or software can be obtained, instructions on how to install and guidance on how to access support if required. 

Structure and Organisation

Provide a consistent online experience. Structure, signposting, deadlines and clear rationale for activities helps provide the context.

A School-approved Canvas template is applied to all modules to provide a consistent layout and user experience for staff and students and to reduce ‘housekeeping’ questions.  

Prominent quick links to access information or help from key University services are provided as part of the template, including:

  • ITS Service Desk
  • Library
  • Student Hub
  • Student Life Centre
  • Student Support Unit

Direct links to key areas on Sussex Direct will also form part of the template, including:

  • Study Timetable
  • Assessment Deadlines
  • Progress & Feedback
  • Results

Module content is structured in a consistent way to ensure navigation is intuitive.   

Content may be presented by week or numbered topic as determined by the School. 

Irrespective of format a meaningful heading must be included e.g. Topic 1: Principles of Online Learning / Week 1: Principles of Online Learning.

An overview of the focus for each week or topic is provided, signposting: 

  • the relevant aims or learning outcomes and what students are expected to achieve;
  • what activities students are required to carry out, indicating any essential readings or preparatory tasks;
  • planned scheduled contact (face to face or online synchronous)

Content, resources and activities are organised in a meaningful way to guide students through the relevant Week or Topic.

Descriptive headings/titles should be used for each section, content item or task.  These may be presented in a numbered/linear format. 

Where content, resources or activities are related – particularly where a specific resource or activity is an essential pre-requisite – a narrative should be provided to make this relationship explicit. 

Canvas module navigation menus are tailored to ensure items that are not being actively used are hidden from student view. 

Provide clear structure to content to improve accessibility to all users through the appropriate use of headings, lists and tables.  See the University’s Digital Accessibility Toolkit for guidance.  

Orientation and Communication

Context and communication is key. Providing clear contextual information helps students orientate themselves to the online environment, enabling them to be more effective independent learners and clarifying expectations in relation to engagement.

A Module Information or Syllabus page is presented in a consistent format in each module ensuring the following information is available:

  • Module overview
  • Module learning outcomes
  • Teaching methods
  • Assessment information (plus weightings)
  • Tutor contact information (including details of Office/Student Hours)

An introductory video from the Module Convenor should be considered as a means of establishing an initial virtual presence in the module. 

Module information should set out guidelines in relation to required levels of engagement and/or participation by students. 

Clear information should be provided on: 

  • essential and optional online content/activities and anticipated effort (notional study time)
  • explicit signposting to face to face or synchronous teaching sessions
  • expectations in terms of quality of participation in seminars or asynchronous/collaborative task
  • expected online etiquette (use of chat/discussions, use of cameras etc)

A communication statement is included in each module defining the relevant channels of communication, the different purposes for use and which sets out clear response times. 

The statement may be included as part of the Module Information or Syllabus page. 

Canvas Announcements should be used to maintain regular communication with students.  

Announcements should be posted on a weekly basis at a minimum and may be scheduled in advance. 

To enhance tutor presence and help personalise the online experience for students, staff should add a profile picture to Canvas

Profile pictures are displayed in Announcements and Discussions. 

Students may be encouraged to add a profile picture to Canvas to similarly personalise the environment.  If students have concerns about using a personal photo an appropriate avatar could be used as an alternative. 

Modules should include a facility for students to raise questions and for answers to be provided.  This may be achieved through the use of a Canvas Discussion, Padlet, scheduled use of the Canvas Chat facility or other appropriate solution.   

The purpose of the space should be made clear and should be actively monitored.   

Staff should endeavour to respond to student messages in a timely manner in line with response times indicated as part of the module communication statement. 

Students should be encouraged to respond to questions raised by their peers. 

Content and Resources

Providing content and resources that are not only appropriate to the level and learning outcomes of the module but also adapted for online delivery reduces barriers to access, enhancing the ability of students to engage with and manage their learning. Designing courses with a global audience in mind from the beginning means that challenges around time zones and technology can be mitigated.

Content must be adapted for online delivery and should be made available in manageable segments or ‘chunks’.  

Pre-recorded content – for example lecture recordings created in Panopto – should aim to be no longer than 30 minutes to enhance access to those with limited internet connectivity.  Meaningful titles should be given to all pre-recorded content items. 

Canvas modules will include a reading list set up in Talis Aspire specifying those readings that are essential and recommended, grouped by week or topic.  All essential reading list items must be available online.  

All embedded resources (such as YouTube videos) and external links must be checked to ensure they are current and working as expected.  Use the Canvas Link Validator to search for invalid or unreachable links. 

Collaboration and Engagement

Encourage active student participation by designing in opportunities for students to connect and interact, enabling social learning, expertise sharing, self-assessment and reflection.

All modules will include opportunities for students to engage in online synchronous/asynchronous teaching events or collaborative activities. 

Synchronous teaching should include interactive elements. 

Zoom is the recommended platform for facilitating online seminars or workshops. 

Breakout rooms should be used to sub-divide students into smaller groups to facilitate meaningful interactions. 

Adherence to University guidance is essential for security and to ensure staff and students stay safe using Zoom

Modules should meaningfully link content and activities (asynchronous or synchronous) to extend learning and enhance engagement. 

Collaborative activities or online seminars may be informed by an essential preparatory task (‘flipped’ approach). 

Use interactive tools or asynchronous tasks to reinforce course content and learning outcomes, enable self-assessment or encourage reflection on learning. 

Assessment and Feedback

Provide clarity on processes for assessment, marking and provision of feedback.

Guidelines for all contributory and non-contributory assessments, including any specific requirements relating to process of submission, must be clear. 

Marking criteria must be included and communicated to students in advance.  

Information must be provided on how feedback will be returned on assessed work and clearly communicated to students, recognising the variety of different tools and methods of assessment students may experience as part of their course. 

Accessibility and Copyright

Accessible design benefits everyone in the online environment while provision of appropriately licenced and attributed resources provides a means to model the academic integrity expected by students.

All essential and supplementary module content must be provided in an accessible format.  If accessibility issues are identified an alternative format should be made available or steps taken to make the content accessible.  SensusAccess can be used to convert files into alternative accessible formats

The accessibility of Microsoft Word documents or PowerPoint files can be checked using the MS Office Accessibility Checker

All links to module content and external sites should have meaningful descriptions. 

Where large files are included in modules these should be identified to help students consider download times. Details of the file size and type should be given. 

File sizes can be reduced by compressing images in Microsoft 365 PowerPoint, Excel or Word. 

Presentations or videos can be segmented to provide the content as a series of smaller files.  

Closed captions will be added to all pre-recorded content.  Where possible transcripts should be made available.  

Panopto includes a facility to add Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) captions to recordings.  

PowerPoint for Microsoft 365 includes the facility to automatically apply captions to presentations.  

The recording options in Zoom include the facility to generate an audio transcript, which can be used for captions. 

Descriptive text alternatives must be applied to all images to assist students using screen readers.  Descriptions must be meaningful and identify the main points represented by the image. 

Students using screen readers must have equivalent access to any essential information contained in any diagram provided. 

All content and resources made available to students must adhere to copyright and relevant licences where applicable.   

Providing Reading Lists using Talis Aspire and use of openly-licenced resources/images will help ensure copyright requirements are met.  

Where requested, the Library will digitise material such as book chapters to ensure that it meets both accessibility and copyright requirements. Requests should be made via Aspire reading lists.  

Where appropriate, lectures slides and relevant materials should be published to students at least 24 hours in advance of a scheduled synchronous teaching session. 

An anticipatory approach will be taken to ensure adjustments or alternatives are in place where potential accessibility barriers are identified, ensuring students are able to meet the module learning outcomes.  

This includes consideration when linking to, or embedding, resources that may be inaccessible to international students e.g. YouTube, Vimeo, Google, Flickr, Soundcloud, Wikipedia or Wordpress.com are inaccessible in China. 

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