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Transition to In-Person Teaching

“Renewed focus on students and their goals could be one of the best takeaways of pandemic teaching.” (Miller, 2021)

During the 2021 Celebration of Teaching and Learning, Columbia faculty shared how their teaching has changed as a result of the pandemic. Adapting to online and hybrid/HyFlex teaching inspired faculty to experiment, teach in creative and innovative ways, and take risks while focusing on the learning and their learners. 

In preparation for the transition to more in-person teaching, this resource encourages you to reflect back on your pandemic teaching experiences and identify what you plan to carry forward: What have you learned from your pandemic pedagogy? What remote teaching practices would you like to bring into your in-person teaching?

Cite this resource: Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (2021). Transition to In-Person Learning. Columbia University. Retrieved [today’s date] from https://ctl.columbia.edu/resources-and-technology/teaching-with-technology/teaching-online/transition-to-in-person/

Rethink Course Design

What should students know and be able to do as a result of taking your in-person course? What prior knowledge and skills are students bringing to the course? What teaching methods or assignments should be employed/completed in-person? What in-person learning experiences will achieve the course goals?

Recall when you were adapting your face-to-face course to a fully online course, because many of the same considerations apply: articulating course learning objectives, creating a course structure, identifying essential content, determining an assessment approach that aligns with the learning objectives. Pandemic teaching has allowed many to rethink how much course content is enough to achieve course learning objectives, and to reimagine traditional assessments as new and different learning opportunities. Carrying this forward into the design or redesign of in-person courses will ensure that the focus remains on the learning. 

Make course content accessible

During the pandemic, many instructors rethought the amount of content to cover and how it can be presented in diverse modalities, making decisions with their learners in mind, focusing on what is cognitively manageable, and prioritizing deeper learning and more meaningful assignments. Gooblar (2021) reminds us that “What makes a great course is not the amount of material that we are able to pour into students’ heads. . . . What our students need–all of the time really but especially during a pandemic–is quality, not quantity.” (n.p.) Consider how this might carry forward into the design of an in-person course. Identify what essential content must be taught in order for students to achieve the course learning objectives and how the content will be made accessible to all learners. For more information about accessibility in teaching and learning, check out the CTL’s resource on Accessibility in Teaching and Learning

Remain flexible 

Students have appreciated the flexibility of their online courses. This includes when and how they engage with course content and each other, as well as flexible course policies that encourage students to do their best work. As you look forward to more in-person engagement with students, think about how you might continue these opportunities for student autonomy and flexibility. 

Assess for learning

The continuous and varied assessment encouraged in online courses applies to in-person courses as well. Students benefit from low-stakes assessments–opportunities to apply what they are learning, and to receive feedback. Consider how course assignments could be manageable for you and your students, and how assessments can be designed as learning opportunities (e.g., students have opportunities to review, reflect, and revise). 

Integrate Technology into In-Person Teaching and Learning

How might you capitalize on the knowledge and skills you have using instructional technologies to support student learning? What parts of in-person teaching and learning can be done effectively online?

Consider the affordances of instructional technologies that have helped you teach and your students learn during the pandemic. Whether teaching an in-person or a hybrid/HyFlex course:

  • Offer asynchronous learning opportunities through CourseWorks. This provides all students (in-person and remote learners) with access to resources to support their learning and will ensure a seamless transition to online learning if necessary (whether due to a weather-related or health-related issue). 
  • Orient students to any of the tech tools that you will be using and your expectations of how students will use them. 
  • Offer short pre-recorded lecture videos (of 5 to 8 minutes) and bring in external guest speakers via Zoom to promote meaningful engagement with course content. 
  • Host synchronous virtual office hours and supplemental synchronous sessions via Zoom to give students access to you and the support they need to succeed in your course. 

For more information on teaching with instructional technologies in various course modalities, check out the CTL’s Hybrid/HyFlex and Online Teaching resources.

Plan for inclusive engagement

What learning environment will foster a sense of belonging and motivate students to fully participate? What active learning strategies will ensure that all students have opportunities to engage?

Returning to in-person teaching and learning does not mean that engagement will necessarily follow. The return to in-person learning will be a big transition for students, too, and intentional efforts must be made to create a classroom environment that is engaging and helps students feel comfortable. Many instructors have acknowledged the affordances of instructional technologies and tools (e.g., chat tools, collaborative digital spaces, polls) to create more inclusive opportunities for students to engage. Rather than going back to having only a handful of students that regularly contribute during in-person classes, consider what you might do to ensure that all students are able to participate actively. This may include leveraging asynchronous spaces (e.g., CourseWorks discussions) or having in-person “breakouts” – students collaborating in pairs or small groups. 

Keep in mind the University’s health and safety guidelines as well as the physical space in which you will be teaching as you plan for active learning in your classroom (see the CTL’s resource on Teaching in Flexible Learning Spaces and the Guide for Inclusive Teaching at Columbia). 

Help students transition to in-person learning

Who are your learners? What have their learning experiences been during the pandemic? What concerns do they have about transitioning to in-person learning? How might you build on the self-directed learning skills that students developed while learning remotely? What can you do to help students transition back to in-person learning?

Check in with your learners

The return to in-person teaching and learning will be an adjustment for instructors, TAs, and students alike after over a year online. During the pandemic, students appreciated when instructors checked in with them to see how they were doing, acknowledged the realities of what is taking place outside of the classroom, and addressed any concerns. Teaching with empathy and pedagogies of care helps to create the inclusive environment needed for students to learn. Treating students as whole beings, recognizing the various factors that impact their learning both inside and outside of the classroom, and ensuring that students have what they need to learn remain important. Consider surveying students before the start of the semester, using office hours before class, after class, or during breaks to check in. 

Make space for community-building 

Intentional efforts to build community are important in courses of any modality whether in-person, hybrid/HyFlex, or online. Continuing to set aside class time or creating opportunities online for students to meet and connect with peers will help cultivate a supportive learning environment. See the CTL’s resource on Community Building in Online and Hybrid (HyFlex) Courses and consider how you might adapt the strategies for your in-person classroom. 

Encourage communication

During the pandemic, instructors used email, CourseWorks Announcements, and other tools to engage in ongoing communication with students about the course and expectations of students. Students benefited from this transparency as they managed their coursework. Additionally, instructors made their presence and availability known to students. Consider a manageable communication approach for your in-person course and the ways you might encourage students to communicate with you or your TAs when they need assistance. 

The CTL is here to help!

For assistance as you transition to teaching an in-person or hybrid/HyFlex course, and/or the pedagogical use of Columbia-supported instructional technologies mentioned, please request a Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) consultation by emailing ColumbiaCTL@columbia.edu.  


  • Join us for a synchronous workshop: “Transition to In-Person Teaching” or “Hybrid/HyFlex Teaching with All Learners in Mind.” Check out the CTL events calendar for dates and to register.  
  • Explore the Hybrid/HyFlex and Online Teaching resources that provide information about instructional technologies and concrete strategies that can be adapted for the in-person and hybrid/HyFlex contexts.
  • Connect with us live! Join us for office hours via Zoom (or phone) Monday-Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm, or schedule a consultation by emailing ColumbiaCTL@columbia.edu


Darby, F. (2021). 7 Dos & Don’ts for Post-Pandemic Teaching With Technology. The Chronicle of Higher Education. May 5, 2021. 

Gooblar, D. (2021). Our Slimmed-Down Pandemic Pedagogy. The Chronicle of Higher Education. March 24, 2021. 

McMurtie, B. (2021). Teaching After the Pandemic, What Innovations Are Worth Keeping? Newsletter. The Chronicle of Higher Education. April 1, 2021. 

McKenzie, L. (2021). Students Want Online Learning Options Post-Pandemic. Inside Higher Education. April 27, 2021. 

Miller, M.D. (2021). A Year of Remote Teaching: the Good, the Bad, and the Next Steps. The Chronicle of Higher Education. March 17, 2021. 

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