Resources for Remote Instruction of Language Courses

Please use the tabs below to explore different facets of remote instruction of language courses. This is an evolving set of resources, so please check back regularly. Contact us at for questions or suggestions about what content you'd like to see covered.

Remote Instruction Topics

"Live" Remote Instruction

Harvard, for the near term, is moving to remote instruction as a means of ensuring the continuity of our students' learning. We recommend the following first steps as you and they navigate this new reality:

  • Poll your students to find out

    • their availabilities and time zones.  Are there students who are outside the US but close to one another in time zone?  Consider pairing them for synchronous activities.

    • their access to technology and the Internet.  Do they have laptops with webcams? Do they have robust wi-fi at home?  Are they going to need to receive assignments in different ways than their peers, or require more time to complete and hand them in?  Do they have headsets with microphones, or at a minimum, earbuds that they can plug into their computers?

    • alternate times that they may be available for synchronous meetings.  Other instructors will be adjusting schedules as well, and may generate conflicts for our students. 

  • Please review the recommendations for synchronous Zoom meetings here: 

  • In terms of how to prepare students for remote "live" class sessions, take a look at our recommendations under the "For Students" tab on this page, and feel free to include any of these recommendations in your communications with students.

  • Consider changing the format of your "class meeting" time:

    • Meetings may be more productive if broken into smaller sessions, both in terms of number of students and length. Try meeting with fewer students for briefer periods within your regularly scheduled class window; you may find the students more engaged in this format.

    • Reserve "live" class sessions for reporting results of asynchronous assignments or other targeted group exchanges (Kahoot and Poll Everywhere are tools that may be useful for the latter. See below). Small group activities or partner work may not easily translate to a teleconferencing platform. (You can, of course, set up breakout rooms in Zoom--this may be time-consuming and logistically difficult, however, and you will not be able to oversee the groups as they meet unless you join each one individually.) Instead, think about having students meet independently with a partner (or in small groups) to complete activities in their own time.

    • Any media you would normally present in class is best assigned for asynchronous viewing, for practical and technical reasons.

    • Where you would normally use class time for students to present, have students record themselves presenting on Zoom, and share the link so that their classmates can view asynchronously. VoiceThread assignments may also be a useful tool in these scenarios, especially if you would like the students to receive asynchronous feedback from their peers.

  • Attend online training for teaching remotely with Zoom:

Useful applications for live instruction:

Please contact the Language Center staff at with your concerns or questions. We’re here to help.


Asynchronous Instruction

Harvard language instructors have several options for crafting asynchronous interactions between and among students. We will concentrate here on Canvas, VoiceThread, screencasts and Extempore.


Canvas should be, at a minimum, the means used to organize materials for the course.  It’s also a useful platform for asynchronous modes of learning -- these might take the form of Discussions ( and Assignments (  We recommend creating modules for each week or chapter of the textbook, as seems most appropriate for your course’s organization.  The modules should contain learning objectives that the students can see, source materials including texts, embedded media, and links to textbook SuperSites as applicable.  An easy tool to help you and your students organize the module’s work and give them an opportunity for self-assessment is a printable activity sheet. You’ll find an example at the bottom of this page (see the document here: 


VoiceThread is a tool that students can use to create media-rich slideshows that can be narrated, and commented on by other students.  This may be a useful way for them to submit presentations, and for you to craft discussions and other interactions around them, just as you would in a face-to-face presentation.  You can learn more about it here:  


FlipGrid is another useful tool for increasing student engagement, and getting them to produce spoken language.  It’s free, and you can find out more at


Screencasting is a technique that you may wish to consider for delivering content.  If you employ a lecture technique, we recommend “chunking” that content down into 5-7 minute segments.  You can record yourself and your presentation using Zoom (  Just make sure to record the session locally and upload it to Canvas using the Lecture Recording tool (   Alternatively, you can use a free tool like Screencast-o-Matic ( and upload the result to YouTube (, or to Lecture Recordings.


Extempore ( is a platform that allows you to set up simulated conversations with students in which they respond to a recorded prompt, or series of recorded prompts, from you as though they were in a conversational situation.  You can set time limits for their response, so that rather than being presentational speech that they can prepare for with notes, the exercise focuses on spontaneous production, appropriateness, and fluidity. Contact us for more information if you’re interested at


Please contact the Language Center staff at with your concerns or questions. We’re here to help.

Assignment Sheet Page 1

Assignment Sheet Page 2

Assignment Sheet Page 3

Student Engagement and Support

In this section we will focus on how to foster a sense of engagement in your students through the transition to remote instruction. We will also provide some general guidance for introducing students to the online platforms that you'll be using, and links to useful resources.

Your students will be experiencing many of the same feelings we all are -- anxiety, confusion, disappointment, and sadness.  Acknowledging those feelings and giving them an opportunity to voice them in a safe forum can be an important factor in re-establishing them as members of a now dispersed community of learners.  In order to keep the lines of communication open between students and instructor and among students, we recommend pinning an open discussion to your Canvas page: . This can be a safe place for students to post questions, crowdsource answers to technical and organizational questions, and build a bit of community.

Distant learners have varying expectations of access to you; some will anticipate immediate, or near-immediate responses to their questions.  Establish a communications policy early; what should they expect in terms of response time from you? What are the means of communication that you will use with them?  Canvas can be a good central point for pushing out information. We suggest asking your students to download the free Canvas Student app, available in both the Android and Apple stores.  When they install it on their smartphones, they should be sure to enable push notifications. That way, your announcements and other messages regarding available content will reach them without them having to go looking for the information.  

Especially if you haven't used Canvas extensively in your classes up to this point, students may need a refresher.  If you are creating new structures in Canvas, such as Modules or Assessments, they very likely will. As you build out your Canvas shell, make sure to let students know what’s coming -- where to access materials and assessments, how to view videos being streamed, where to ask questions, how you’re going to communicate with them.  Screencasts are a great way to walk them through the changes that they will see over the coming weeks. To check their understanding of the course's layout and the location of new elements, consider building in a quiz at the end of your introduction; it doesn't have to be high-stakes, or impact their grade at all, but all of them should demonstrate that they know how to access tools, materials, and interactions.

It's important not to introduce a lot of new technologies into your course when moving to remote instruction; try to make use of applications and programs with which you and the students are already familiar. In addition, the students need to feel like they can offer feedback and report problems in a timely manner; open lines of communication will be essential.  Putting a pinned Discussion (see above) in your Canvas shell for this purpose will allow them to ask questions and for the responses to be preserved, should others need them.


Communicating with students:

We encourage you to use a service like Calendly ( to book remote appointments with students. Students can schedule meetings with you (of a duration of your choosing) and these meetings will integrate automatically with your calendar software (after you set it up).


Students may not yet know how to use Zoom, although the majority of them are familiar with videoconferencing/communications apps like FaceTime, WeChat, or WhatsApp.  Below is a link to guidance for using Zoom that your students may find helpful:

We’ve also put together a guide for them under the “For Students” tab on this page.  Please point them to it as you find it appropriate and useful.

You should consider having a backup to Zoom; that service is going to be used extensively in the coming weeks.  Although we believe it to be robust, Skype or Google Meet might be useful fallbacks for synchronous activities. Think, too, about reducing the synchronous component of your class -- if you’re lecturing, record five-to-seven minute “chunks” of the lecture and post those into Canvas.  You can do this directly from the Canvas editing toolbar (


Keeping ahead of student issues:

This is going to be a new and challenging experience for our students.  Although they are talented and smart and driven, some of them will not yet have the necessary time management skills or the current mental space to work effectively in a remote environment.   If you are using Canvas to deliver material and receive assignments and quizzes, you can click on a student’s name under People, choose Analytics, and view that student’s participation in the course, measured in a few different ways.  We encourage you to check this data frequently -- it may help you discover that a student isn’t thriving in the remote environment before they reach out to you.

If you do use Canvas’ quizzes and assignments extensively, SpeedGrader can make the evaluation process faster and more efficient.  Here’s how to use SpeedGrader:


Please contact the Language Center staff at with your concerns or questions. We’re here to help.


General Resources

Academic Technology for FAS has posted several general guides for using Harvard's online learning tools:


A listing of the academic applications that Harvard provides that may be of use:

Instructive webinars on pandemic prepping from IALLT:

MLA strategies for teaching remotely:

Please contact the Language Center staff at with your concerns or questions. We’re here to help.


For Students


We’re in an unprecedented situation. The COVID-19 outbreak is going to disrupt normal activities, routines, relationships, and the work of learning. Your faculty member is acutely aware of this, and has been working with professional staff in a number of departments at Harvard to prepare themselves for this abrupt change. You are likely feeling sad, anxious, and frustrated. They are, too. Give yourself some time to feel what you’re feeling. Take moments for some self-care, whatever that looks like for you. Understand that this is new territory for many of your faculty, and be kind to them as well.

Three things will help you be a successful language learner in a remote instructional situation. They are communication, time management, and organization. Let’s take them one by one:

1. Communication:

Communication with your instructor and other students is going to be crucial to getting you through the rest of the semester. Be proactive in reaching out if you don’t understand an assignment, cannot find posted materials, or are concerned about your ability to submit work. We suggest downloading and installing the Canvas Student app for your smartphone. It’s free and available in the Android and Apple app stores. When you install it, enable push notifications. That way, if something changes in your Canvas shell, or your instructor makes an announcement, you won’t have to go looking for it.

Familiarize yourself with Zoom. Your instructor will invite you to participate in class meetings, individual or small group instruction, and speaking assessments via this tool. Here are some tips to making sure that you have a successful experience with Zoom:

  • Make sure that you have a quiet space in which to work. Ideally, you want to be in some place free of distractions (people walking through, pets, loud noises). Spaces that are not full of hard surfaces will be better than those that are, since sound will bounce less, and there will be fewer echoes that your microphone will pick up.

  • Always use at least a set of earbuds. Working with laptop or computer speakers and an open microphone can cause feedback that will distract other people in the session. If you have a gaming headset with a microphone, use that.

  • Always test your audio (mic and speakers or headphones) prior to each session. The “up” arrow next to the microphone icon at the lower left of your Zoom screen will show you options for input and output. Make sure that you have the correct devices selected.

  • Light your face with a desk lamp or other lighting source, and try not to sit in a position that has you backlit.

  • Make use of the chat feature to ask questions during a class session, if your instructor approves of this approach. It can be hard to take turns in a Zoom meeting with a number of participants.

  • Log into the meeting a few minutes beforehand if you can. This will give you time to make sure that you’re correctly set up, and the group won’t need to spend instructional time dealing with technical issues.

  • Zoom is going to experience pressure on its ability to handle video, and so will your wi-fi network. If you can, use an Ethernet cable to connect your computer to your cable modem. If using wi-fi, consider turning off your video if you don’t need it for an activity.

  • If there’s a presentation going on, mute your microphone so that the presenter doesn’t get interrupted accidentally.

  • Wear appropriate clothing, as though this were an in-person class.


2. Time management:


  • Deadlines may be fluid, or “soft” in the sense that your faculty member may accept late work. Communicate with them ahead of time to make sure that they’re aware of any issues that may prevent timely submission of your work for the course.

  • Use a calendar. Print the week’s events and deadlines, and put it where you can see it easily.

  • Even if all assignments for a course are due on a single day during the week (Friday, for example) make sure that you spend time every day with the materials, and space your work over the week; this will help ensure that you’re not overwhelmed the night before a deadline.

  • Set aside a scheduled time every day for academic work, if you can do so. A routine will help you succeed in your course, and will keep you occupied while you are at home.


3. Organization:


  • If you can, set up a space for you to work in. Make it your “office” for the duration of the semester. It should be quiet, free of distractions, and someplace you enjoy being. When you’re in your office, it’s work.

  • Google docs are a great tool for drafting your compositions and essays. Save your files there, rather than on your computer’s hard drive. That way, if something happens to your computer, your work isn’t lost.

  • If your personal computer isn’t set up for typing accented characters or the writing system your language uses, take a look at for tips on how to produce Latin characters with accents. Learning a language that doesn’t use Latin characters? Google “[language] input method [your operating system]” where the language is the language you’re learning and the operating system is that of your computer. Or contact us at

Please contact the Language Center staff at with your concerns or questions. We’re here to help.