What Comes Next: Redefining “Normal” in the Post-Pandemic Classroom

What Comes Next: Redefining “Normal” in the Post-Pandemic Classroom

By Jeff Schwartz, Instructional Designer

For over a year now, we’ve all been wondering when things will return back to normal. That’s a question beyond the scope of this blog post. But there will come a time, and we hope it’s sooner rather than later, when some semblance of normalcy returns. The question is, what do we want normal to look like in the post-pandemic classroom?

Should we pretend the pandemic never happened and resume business as usual? Should we delete Zoom from our computers and remove the bookmark for Canvas from our browsers? Should we turn our backs on the innovations, workarounds, compromises, and technology that defined the pandemic classroom?

This kind of thinking is tempting. Who wouldn’t want to return to working methods and environments that feel more comfortable? Sometimes teaching during this pandemic has felt downright Sisyphean; no matter how much we adapt, how flexible we are, how many new technologies we learn to use, the boulder just keeps rolling downhill, and some days not getting crushed feels like the best we can do.

But we will be missing such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if we indulge in this kind of thinking. The pandemic has laid bare and accelerated existing trends and inequities in education. Now is the time to reconsider how we can make things better, how we can take what we’ve learned during the last year to create experiences for our students that are more robust, vibrant, and equitable; in short, how we can make a normal worth returning to.

All of this might sound like hard, brow-furrowing work, but it doesn’t have to be. Start by thinking about how your teaching practices changed during the pandemic.

The delivery was undoubtedly one of the most significant changes; for example, courses that used to be face-to-face became online or hyflex. Instead of interacting with your students in a physical classroom, you saw some (or all) of them on a Zoom screen, or as a name and avatar on a Canvas discussion board.

There are certainly drawbacks and challenges to these virtual spaces. But there are just as many advantages. Maybe Zoom allowed you to have a guest speaker attend class who otherwise might not have been able to do so because of physical or financial constraints. Maybe interacting through a discussion board on Canvas allowed for conversation among you and your students that continued to evolve over a matter of days, rather than existing during one specific class period.

These kinds of practices can continue, even when everyone is back together on campus. What we learned and did during the pandemic doesn’t have to get relegated to a proverbial box that we stuff in some dark corner and never look at again. We can blend what worked before the pandemic with what worked during the pandemic.

With that in mind, here are four – because who has time for five – practices and technologies that you should consider making a part of your post-pandemic classroom.


Even if a course is face-to-face, Canvas is a useful place to house the syllabus and class assignments. Keeping these documents on Canvas not only makes them more accessible to your students, it cuts down on paper waste.

Canvas can also be used to create a repository of instructional materials, with articles, essays, book excerpts, videos, PowerPoints, and podcasts all sharing the same space. Discussion boards can be a highly effective way to enhance and supplement in-class discussion and group work. Quizzes can be administered via Canvas or through programs like Kaltura. Students with learning disabilities can more easily interact with course content through screenreaders, like Kurzweil, that integrate with Canvas. Then there’s Canvas’s Gradebook and SpeedGrader features, which can streamline an instructor’s grading workflow, while also rendering expectations and assessments of student work more transparent — both of which makes them worthwhile tools no matter your course’s modality.

These options only scratch the surface of what is possible. And if you are using Canvas for some or all of these reasons, consider importing the OTL Canvas Template, which provides a streamlined, aesthetically engaging Canvas shell that you can fill in with your course content. Just because you have a physical classroom, doesn’t mean you don’t need a virtual classroom, too.


To put it plainly, Zoom ain’t perfect. But video conferencing software also confers many opportunities, among them creating a classroom made up of students or speakers from around the world. Courses that rely on PowerPoints or other presentations can still use Zoom to record and/or present this material to students; in turn, recordings of these presentations can be made available through Canvas for students to consult later in the quarter. Zoom can also be a great way to host office hours, conferences, or small group work with students.

What’s more, Zoom can even be used when courses return to campus if instructors allow the use of laptops in the classroom. Features like Polls, Live Caption, and Annotate can make courses more interactive and accessible. Ultimately, the more comfortable we can get using Zoom, the more we can leverage its strengths and minimize its weaknesses.

Student-centered and Flipped classroom practices

Lecturing is a component for many university courses. But chances are during the pandemic you had to turn some agency over to your students. Maybe students helped lead discussions in Zoom breakout rooms or on Canvas discussion boards. Maybe you created more group projects for students. Maybe students were the ones lecturing for part of a given class period.

In any case, these types of “student-centered” classroom practices create opportunities for active learning, and have demonstrated better outcomes for students than simply relying on lecturing. Anyone interested in learning more about the benefits and challenges of student-centered teaching practices would do well to read Maryellen Weimer’s Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice.

A related approach worth considering is a flipped classroom. Flipped classrooms can leverage some of the work you no doubt had to put into creating videos, presentations, and other asynchronous media in order to get your courses ready for online delivery. Rather than jettison all that hard work, you can create a flipped classroom by divvying up class time between asynchronous work, where students engage with pre-existing or pre-recorded material, and synchronous work, in which students are encouraged to apply, problematize, and practice what they’ve learned from their asynchronous work.

Lecturing can still be a component, even a vital component, of your pedagogy. But finding opportunities to balance a traditional classroom model with a student-centered or flipped model will help ensure that your students are taking ownership of their learning.

Formative assessments

The shortened quarters without separate finals’ weeks meant that many courses needed to reconceptualize their final assessment. Not all courses can abandon traditional types of assessments like final exams. But summative assessment, like a final exam, is not the only way to measure student learning.

You may have found it more useful during the last year to institute formative assessments for your students. Formative assessments  are assessments for learning, rather than assessments of learning. The emphasis is on process, not the end-result. Annotated portfolios of student work, presentations, or oral exams, are all types of formative assessment. These kinds of assessments can result in better outcomes for students. In the words of an article in Educational Leadership, “The greatest value in formative assessment lies in teachers and students making use of results to improve real-time teaching and learning at every turn.”


Throughout the coming months the OTL will be rolling out workshops, resources, and other content designed to help you figure out how to make the best of your post-pandemic classroom.

We’ll also be offering sessions of the Teaching Online Short Course and Teaching Online Short Course – Advanced Practice in the Summer. Click here for more information.

For now, though, perhaps the best thing to do is reflect on what worked and what didn’t over the last year, and to use those reflections as the starting point for figuring out what you want normal to look like in the months and years to come.

Additional Resources



Flipped Classroom Practices

Formative/Alternative/Creative Assessments & Grading Schema