Guidelines for Instructors and Students on Remote Teaching, Learning, and Assessment (S2021)

⚠️  With the return to on-campus teaching and learning activities, the TLS Disruption web pages will be taken down in July. We invite you to consult the TLS website and the soon-to-be-launched TLS Knowledge Base for information relevant to teaching online and in-person.

Posted: November 18, 2020 | Updated: May 3, 2021
Jump to: Guidelines for Instructors | Guidelines for Students | Assessment for Winter 2021 | Resources


Please note that the Summer 2021 Guidelines remain the same as the Winter 2021 Guidelines.

McGill is committed to creating and maintaining respectful and inclusive learning environments aimed at supporting students’ academic success. These Guidelines set forth the expectations for members of McGill’s academic community participating in remote teaching and learning.

The Guidelines highlight relevant University policies and parameters required to create virtual teaching and learning spaces that are accessible and pedagogically robust. They complement but do not supersede applicable University regulations and policies, and collective agreements, which continue to apply during remote course and program delivery, including but not limited to:

These Guidelines were introduced in May 2020 to support the academic community given that the principal mode of teaching for the 2020-2021 academic year is through remote delivery. The original Guidelines were revised in the Fall 2020 term to account for feedback and insights shared by members of the McGill community, with a view to further enhancing and supporting effective teaching and learning for all.

Within remote teaching contexts, students enjoy the academic rights that the Charter of Students’ Rights confers, such as the right to fair and reasonable assessment and the right to timely feedback.

While instructors are encouraged to record their class sessions to support student learning in the remote context, these recordings will not be used to assess instructors’ teaching performance for the purposes of reappointment, tenure, performance, or merit.

In Section A of the Guidelines below, “you” and “your” refer to instructors who are delivering all or part of a course or program to McGill students through remote teaching, such as McGill academic staff members, course lecturers, teaching assistants, and guest lecturers.

In Section B of the Guidelines below, “you” and “your” refer to students enrolled at McGill who are engaged in remote learning.

Section C of the Guidelines below are relevant to both instructors and students.

Section D provides instructors links to resources that may help with implementing the guidelines.

A. Guidelines for Instructors

You are responsible for being familiar with, and abiding by, applicable policies, such as the ones listed at the beginning of this document in the context of remote learning while you are an instructor at McGill. The more specific information below complements the information provided in existing policies and is not intended as a summary of all policy information pertaining to McGill students involved in remote learning.

  1. Communication with students
    1. Communication with students is of critical importance in the remote teaching context. Each instructor in charge of a course or program involving remote teaching should explicitly communicate key information during the first week of the term via the course outline so that there is no ambiguity for students and so that they can refer to this information as needed throughout the term. Examples of key information include the following:

      • How you will teach the course (e.g., platform used, fixed [synchronous] class times)

      • How learning activities (e.g., lectures, labs, conferences) will be conducted

      • Whether you will record (video and/or audio) your fixed (synchronous) class times (this is encouraged, see below)

      • Whether/how you expect students to participate in class discussions

      • How students can contact you

      • Which methods of assessment you will use

      • How you will provide feedback

      • What your expectations for class conduct are (e.g., respectful communications)

  2. Class recordings
    myCourses is the McGill-supported platform for hosting recorded content. As such, it offers standardized service for McGill instructors and students, thereby providing increased security and data protection, and simplifying user experience/access, information technology maintenance, and platform integrity. Use of any alternative platform must be approved by the head of the unit, in consultation with the Office of the CIO or its delegate, and must comply with the University’s policies and directives. McGill keeps recordings for one year, after which time they are deleted.

    Students will be asked to consent to being recorded if they are participating in any component of a course that is being recorded. Students are notified through a “pop-up” box in Zoom when recording is turned on. If they are not comfortable being in a class that is recorded, they can choose not to take part by logging off Zoom.

    Feedback from students in the Fall 2020 term indicated a strong preference for recorded class sessions. These recordings allowed students to review material outside class time, which was especially appreciated because of the stress caused by learning remotely during a pandemic.

    1. Recording (audio and/or video) your fixed (synchronous) class sessions is strongly encouraged to accommodate students who are unable to participate in those sessions for reasons such as different time zones, inadequate Internet bandwidth, and caregiver responsibilities, and to support students who encounter disability-related barriers.

    2. Instructors who record their live (synchronous) class sessions should do so using Zoom from within myCourses as this helps limit access to authorized McGill students.

    3. Instructors should enable live captioning in Zoom to facilitate access to all students and to be able to generate a session transcript, which may be required by some students with disabilities.

    4. You can allow your recordings to be available to students for the entire year or for selected periods. It is recommended that recordings be available to students until the end of the term unless pedagogical reasons exist for doing otherwise.

  3. Cameras
    1. Instructors may signal to students that they prefer students leave their cameras on, yet this cannot be required as it may have the unintended effect of (i) creating a disadvantage for students with weak Internet bandwidth or other technological limitations and/or (ii) compromising students’ privacy.

    2. If your course requires active participation during the scheduled course time, consider options such as “chat” functions or audio only before compelling students to turn on their cameras, or seek other accommodations guidance from the Office of the Dean of Students.

  4. Workload
    When planning fixed (synchronous) and flexible (asynchronous) activities, including assignments, instructors should be mindful of both students’ workloads and their own.

    In the context of remote delivery, the usual logic of three credits equaling 39 “contact” hours does not apply. Instead, per the University’s Credit System, for remote teaching, based on the guideline that about 45 hours of student work equals one credit, students should work on a three-credit course for a total of about 135 hours. The total of 135 hours includes all contact time for a given course, reading time, assignment completion, and review time.

    The shift to remote teaching and learning has resulted in students experiencing new and varied ways of engaging with course content. Instructors are reminded of the University Student Assessment Policy (USAP). Note that in this policy, any assessment worth more than 10% of the final grade cannot be due during the final two weeks of classes unless it is an oral exam or an assessment assigned in the first week of class as per item 3.2.1.

    1. Managing workload is an important consideration for instructors and students. In the Fall 2020 term, many instructors changed their larger, mid-term and final assessments to smaller, frequent assessments. This change resulted in students feeling over-burdened because students with one such assignment in each course on a weekly basis were completing up to five such assignments per week in addition to attending fixed (synchronous) class sessions, doing their readings and engaging in other course-related activities. While the quantity and frequency of assignments and readings should always fit the course context, be mindful of the potential to overload students with large numbers of smaller, frequent assessments. If appropriate, simplify some of the demands of your course by reducing the number of assessments and readings you assign.

    2. Offer guidance to students in allocating their time by providing estimates in the course outline of how much time is required for each assignment. This will greatly help students who may be faced with unfamiliar assignments in the context of remote learning.
    3. Encourage students to let you know if they are feeling overloaded with work so that you and they can together address their concerns.

    4. Consider giving students assessment options (e.g., the choice among multiple assessments) to minimize their stress and reduce the time you may spend dealing with make-up assignments due to student absences.

    5. Help students understand that the usual logic of three credits equaling 39 hours of class time does not transfer to remote learning and that one credit should be considered equal to about 45 hours of student work. Thus, for a three-credit course, students should expect to spend about 135 hours over the semester, including contact time, reading time, assignment completion, and review time.

    6. Consider not requiring students to “attend” more than 39 hours of fixed (synchronous) or prerecorded lectures, seminars or conferences per 3 credit course.

    7. Do not feel obligated to require students to attend 39 hours of class time. Recorded presentations may be more succinct and efficient than live lectures, and you may want to consider requiring students to view less than 39 hours of recorded material given that long stretches of time on virtual learning platforms can be tiring for instructors and students. Students will then have more time to engage in the course in other ways. NB: Check within your Faculty to see if there are specific contact hour requirements to satisfy professional accreditation requirements.
    8. For students who cannot access the fixed (synchronous) sessions, provide corresponding flexible (asynchronous) options. For example, a course might include no more than 20 hours of fixed lectures and “live” discussion meetings, with flexible options provided for students who cannot attend the “live” meetings, and the remainder of the course comprising other flexible activities.

    9. Help students unable to join synchronous activities by creating flexible (asynchronous) activities that involve an equivalent level of work to the fixed (synchronous) option. For example, students might be asked to complete the same reading and provide a short, written reply to one or two discussion questions; it would not be appropriate to assign a paper in lieu of participation in a fixed session.
    10. If possible, coordinate assignment due dates with colleagues who are teaching courses in the same program so that students do not have clusters of assignments due at the same time.

    11. Ensure that you and your students have a shared understanding of Study Break: Is it a time for students to catch up on their studies or is it a break from studying? A discussion and agreement on expectations will allow students to plan their time and manage workload.​

  5. Accessibility
    The University is committed to creating an accessible and inclusive environment for all members, and therefore strongly encourages instructors to prioritize accessibility when adapting and teaching their courses.
  6. Well-being
    Since sitting at a computer and being online for extended periods may cause students and instructors physical discomfort and “Zoom fatigue,” allow regular breaks so everyone can stretch and give their eyes a rest.
  7. Accommodations
    In cases where class sessions are not recorded, individual accommodations may be necessary for students who are unable to attend “live” lectures or other fixed (synchronous) learning activities because they face barriers to learning or have other valid reasons (e.g., unavailability of reliable Internet, different time zones).
  8. Intellectual property and personal data
    1. To protect intellectual property (e.g., lecture recordings and course materials) and the use of your and other individuals’ images in the recordings in myCourses, the University suggests that you post the following notification in myCourses and remind students of it at the beginning of fixed (synchronous) sessions:

      I remind everyone of their responsibility in ensuring that this video and associated material are not reproduced or placed in the public domain. This means that each of you can use it for your educational (and research) purposes, but you cannot allow others to use it by putting it up on the Internet or by giving it or selling it to others who may also copy it and make it available. Please refer to McGill’s Guidelines for Instructors and Students on Remote Teaching and Learning for further information. Thank you very much for your cooperation.


B. Guidelines for Students

You are responsible for being familiar with, and abiding by, the applicable policies, such as the ones listed at the beginning of these Guidelines, in the context of remote learning, and otherwise, while you are a McGill student. The more specific information below complements the information provided in existing policies and is not intended as a summary of all policy information pertaining to McGill students involved in remote learning.

  1. Academic integrity
    1. Per McGill’s Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures, “[t]he integrity of University academic life and of the degrees the University confers is dependent upon the honesty, integrity and soundness of the teacher-student learning relationship and, as well, that of the assessment process.” Note that student obligation measures under the heading “C. Academic Offences” in the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures (i.e., avoiding plagiarism or cheating) and associated disciplinary measures apply as much during remotely-delivered exams and evaluations as exams and other evaluations conducted in person on McGill premises.

    2. Instructors use multiple modes of communication to share their pedagogical materials with students. The slides, video recordings, lecture notes, etc. remain the instructors’ intellectual property. You may therefore use these only for your own learning (and research, with proper referencing/citation) ends. You are not permitted to disseminate or share these materials; doing so may violate the instructor’s intellectual property rights and could be cause for disciplinary action.

  2. Class recordings
    You will be asked to consent to being recorded if you are participating in any component of a course that is being recorded. You will be notified through a “pop-up” box in Zoom when recording is turned on. If you are not comfortable being in a class that is recorded, you can choose not to take part by logging off Zoom. Normally, class recordings will later be made available in myCourses for all students.
    1. Because some students may not be able to attend class sessions at fixed (synchronous) times, instructors are encouraged to record these sessions. In cases where instructors set up class recordings through myCourses, the recommended practice, recordings are automatically made available to students within myCourses. In other cases, there may be a longer delay for recordings to be available. (It can take up to 24 hours for instructors to receive access to Zoom recordings.)

    2. McGill keeps recordings for one year, after which time they are deleted. Instructors can allow recordings to be available to students for the entire year or for selected periods only.

  3. Class security
    1. Per the Policy on the Responsible Use of McGill’s Information Technology Resources, do not share your login or password information. Keeping this information confidential minimizes the risk of harassment and intrusion into your classes by unauthorized and ill-intended users, and ensures that you remain compliant with University policy.

    2. McGill is taking all reasonable measures to ensure that class recordings are accessible only to students registered in the course. Therefore, students need to log in to myCourses to access the recordings.

    3. In addition to the recording of your image and voice, your name (or preferred name) may be displayed on screen, and your instructor may call your name during class time. Therefore, this personal information will be disclosed to classmates, whether during the class session or in viewing the recording. By remaining in classes that are being recorded, you accept that personal information of this kind may be disclosed to others, whether during fixed (synchronous) class time or in viewing the recording.

  4. Expectations for engagement
    1. Since remote learning is not the norm for students and since some types of assessments might be unfamiliar to you, you can check with your instructor to know how much time you are expected to spend on each assignment if this information is not already indicated in the course outline.

    2. For pedagogical reasons and to enrich the experience of all students, attendance may be monitored and/or active participation may be expected or required during fixed (synchronous) class time. As such, you may be asked to turn on your camera and audio. If you do not have the necessary resources (e.g., adequate Internet bandwidth or equipment) to do so or if you choose not to turn on your camera for privacy reasons, inform your instructor at the beginning of term so that appropriate accommodations can be made.

    3. The University is committed to maintaining teaching and learning spaces that are respectful and inclusive for all. To this end, offensive, violent, or harmful language arising in contexts such as the following may be cause for disciplinary action:

      1. Zoom sessions, including Username (use only your legal or preferred name), virtual backgrounds, “chat” boxes, whiteboard annotations, breakout rooms

      2. myCourses discussion fora

    4. To maintain a clear and uninterrupted learning space for all, keep your microphone muted throughout class time unless invited by the instructor or TA to speak.

    5. You should follow instructors’ directions about the use of the “chat” function in Zoom.


C. Assessments for Winter 2021

1. General

This section provides guidelines and recommendations applicable to assessments occurring during the term, as well as during the final exam period. Specific questions should be addressed to your Associate Dean or the Dean of Students. Note that for all assessment scheduling, instructors are required to respect the Policy for the Accommodation of Religious Holy Days.

  1. Frequency of assessment
    From a pedagogical perspective, more regular feedback to students is a valuable principle to consider, as opposed to higher-stakes mid-terms or final exams. However, in the context of primarily remote delivery of courses, too many lower-stakes assessments may increase workload and stress for students, and further contribute to fatigue related to too many requirements for online course activities. It is therefore recommended that instructors consider some lower-stakes and higher frequency in-course assessments, but not more than one assessment in a given week, unless frequent assessments are linked to critical competencies or learning outcomes.
  2. Equipment
    Students may request financial aid from the SSAO if they need to upgrade their Internet service or purchase a camera to do their assessments. Students seeking this aid should start the process at the beginning of term so that they are able to meet assessment deadlines.
  3. Oral examinations and presentations
    Instructors can require students to turn their cameras on for oral exams and presentations. However, if students do not have the necessary resources (e.g., adequate Internet bandwidth or camera), instructors will offer an accommodation. The Office of the Dean of Students can be consulted to advise on appropriate alternatives.
  4. “No penalty late period”
    Normally, in-term written assignments are due no later than the last day of classes (USAP item 4.1.2). To allow students flexibility with completing in-term assignments, instructors may implement a “no penalty late period” that allows for submissions beyond the last day of classes without penalty. Instructors must specify a deadline for late submissions, and a “no penalty late period” must not go beyond the end of the final exam period. In addition, instructors must take into consideration time needed for grading as the deadline for grade submission will not be extended.
  5. “No review” testing
    A foundational principle for the assessment of student learning at McGill is that “students have the right to a fair and reasonable assessment of their performance in a course” (the USAP, item 3.1.1 and the Charter of Students’ Rights, section 22). When creating a quiz in myCourses, there is an option to Prevent moving backwards through pages. If this setting is selected, students are unable to skip over questions and come back to them later or review their answers before submitting. McGill recommends that instructors not select this option within myCourses for any graded assessments, unless this approach to assessment is tied to specific learning outcomes and has been practiced during the semester. Read more.
  6. Accommodations
    1. Time-based accommodations
      In cases where students are eligible, per the OSD, for time-based accommodations, it is the instructor’s responsibility to adjust the time in myCourses.
    2. Disability-related accommodations
      Students requesting accommodations on the basis of disability should contact the OSD.
    3. Other accommodations
      Students requesting accommodations related to COVID-19, other illnesses, pregnancy, or other personal circumstances should consult their Student Affairs Office.
  7. Academic integrity and proctoring
    1. Students can be reminded of the importance of honest work, and to aid in this, an academic integrity statement may be included in the assessment. Students can be required to acknowledge that they have read the statement.
    2. Students can be reminded that posting or sharing exam content, including exam questions or their answers both during and after submission, is not permitted.
    3. Any form of technology-enabled invigilation (also known as “online proctoring”) by instructors, which includes the use of proctoring software (or Zoom used for proctoring purposes), is not authorized except under exceptional circumstances. (Read more.) These circumstances require approval of the Associate Provost (Teaching and Academic Programs) and the Dean of the Faculty in question. Requests for approval should be made in writing to the Dean no later than November 24 for the Winter term.

2. Final assessments

This section outlines guidelines and recommendations for final assessments to be written or submitted during the official exam period for the Winter 2021 term, scheduled for April 15-29, 2021. Individual Faculties may have additional recommendations, which should be communicated to all instructors teaching their courses.


In our remote context, all exams can be conceived of as “open-book” because they are not invigilated. An “open-book examination” can be defined as an assessment method that allows students to consult materials such as class notes and summaries, a “memory aid,” textbooks, or other approved material or sources while completing the exam. An open-book exam can also mean that students are (i) provided with the exam questions prior to sitting a timed exam or (ii) are permitted to complete the exam as a “take-home” exam (adapted from The University of Newcastle Australia).

With the understanding of “open-book” exam in mind, terminology to describe the different types of exams has been revised:

Timed exams: exams that must be started and completed within a specified number of hours (e.g., three hours)
Take-home exams: exams that students can start, finish, and return to within an extended period of time (e.g., 48 or 72 hours)

  1. Instructors are encouraged to share the revised exam terminology and definitions with students.
  2. Instructors should communicate to students whether an exam—timed or take-home—is intended to be open or closed (i.e., students are not allowed to consult resources), and if open, what materials are approved for consultation. An exam cover page is one way to communicate to students what materials are approved for consultation. Download an Exam Cover Page template from this page.

A. Timing and type of assessment

Given the extended period of time associated with final assessments, some examinations may end up being due on weekends.

  1. It is strongly recommended that the availability window for all exams, whether timed or not, be a minimum of 48 hours, including the time required to complete the exam.

    1. While a 24-hour window is an option, instructors should be aware that this smaller window may result in additional requests for accommodation, creating more work for instructors.

    2. Timed exams of less than 48 hours, regardless of availability window, will have time-based accommodations applied for those students who are eligible for disability-related accommodations.

    3. In the case of take-home exams, disability-related accommodations do not apply to instances where students are given a minimum of 48 hours to complete the exam, thus reducing instructor workload.

  2. Timed exams
  3. Final timed exams should not exceed three hours.

  4. Timed exams should be released at the scheduled start time of the exam according to the official exam schedule.

  5. For timed exams, time should be added to the submission timeframe to allow for connectivity issues (a suggestion is 30 minutes). Students who encounter technical difficulties with a submission due outside IT Support hours should, if possible, ITSupport [at] (submit a ticket to the IT Service Desk), and copy your instructor, to officially record that they had an issue.

    Take-home exams

  6. The submission deadline for take-home exams should match the scheduled exam end time as this will reduce exam conflicts. In general, take-home exams should be released to students a minimum of 48 hours before they are due. Other practices regarding release times may be acceptable provided information is explicit in the course outline.

  7. Take-home exams should be of a length and difficulty that would take a maximum of three hours to complete regardless of the period of time within which students complete the exam (e.g., 48 or 72 hours).

    Final exam schedule

  8. To be able to prepare a final exam schedule, the Exam Office of Enrolment Services will, as usual, ask instructors to submit the Method of Evaluation form. A link to the Method of Evaluation webform will be sent to instructors no later than mid-December to collect details on their in-course and final assessments. The form has been modified to include remote modes of assessments. The final exam schedule will be posted on the Exams website the week of February 1st.

  9. The final exam schedule posted in February will indicate the exam type. A final exam schedule with details such as when a timed exam will be released and when a take-home exam is due will be posted approximately two weeks before the start of the final exam session in April.


  10. Students with final examination conflicts will be contacted by the Exam Office of Enrolment Services, along with the instructors of these exams, to resolve conflicts. This will be done by the end of February, after the final exam schedule has been posted.


D. Resources to Support the Implementation of the Guidelines

Academic integrity

Accessible and inclusive remote learning environments


Class recordings

📄 Download Guidelines for In-class Recording Options and Capabilities (.pdf file)

Communication with students

📄 Download the Course Outline Guide: 2021-22 Academic Year in English (updated Summer 2021) or French (mise à jour hiver 2021; mise à jour été 2021 à venir bientôt) (.docx file)

Engaging students in learning




McGill University is on land which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples, including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabeg nations. We acknowledge and thank the diverse Indigenous people whose footsteps have marked this territory on which peoples of the world now gather.

Back to top