Pivoting to remote teaching, hybrid, online, and back to in-person teaching required rethinking course design in relation to the modality in which teaching and learning take place. Throughout the pandemic, Columbia faculty approached these experiences with great creativity, spending time reflecting on their teaching, revising learning objectives, reimagining assessments of student learning, creating asynchronous content such as pre-recorded mini-lectures to support all students, curating open educational resources, and engaging students in a variety of synchronous and asynchronous activities. At the heart of these learner-centered and inclusive course design or redesign transformations were transparency, flexibility, and care. Faculty recognized the cognitive load that learners were experiencing as they transitioned between different modes of learning, made sense of the world beyond the classroom, and worked to overcome barriers. Their approaches centered on the needs of their learners for continuity, community, and support.

Browse through the narratives in this theme for more inspiration and to learn about how Columbia instructors have created flexible courses (i.e., adaptable to all modalities) that draw on the elements of blended, flipped, or hybrid* course designs to meet the learning needs of their students. 

*note: the terms blended, flipped, and hybrid are often used synonymously to refer to moving lectures or the introduction to course content outside of class (asynchronously), thus freeing up synchronous in-class time to engage in more active learning experiences (e.g., discussions, case-studies, simulations, group work, etc.). The terms used within the narratives vary. 


What You Can Do 

Designing or redesigning a course to be flexible while meeting the learning needs of students requires pausing to reflect on the what, where, and how of learning. The tips below provide a starting point. Schedule a one-on-one course design or redesign consultation, contact

1. Start small. 

It is important to recognize that designing or redesigning an entire course takes time. The CTL’s Course Design Essentials self-paced course guides you through the course design process and provides downloadable worksheets to help work through components of your design. Many faculty start small by redesigning components of their courses (e.g., a new learning activity, a new online Module in CourseWorks, creating asynchronous content and activities). Explore funding and dedicated CTL support through the Provost Teaching and Learning Grants to support your innovative module or course redesign.

2. Determine what students absolutely need to learn and the skills they need to develop in your course.

Distill the purpose of the course and keep the focus on your learners and their learning. Step back to articulate or revise course learning objectives. For guidance or a refresher on learning objectives, watch the brief video “Articulating Learning Objectives” that is part of the Course Design Essentials playlist.

3. Reimagine the where and how of learning.

With learning objectives defined, consider what learning will take place outside of the classroom and what learning will take place inside the classroom. Taking a blended learning or hybrid approach involves rethinking how course content is delivered and how to involve students more in their learning. 

  • Inside the classroom: What is the best use of class time? What is the value added of bringing students together synchronously? How can students be actively engaged in their learning instead of passively listening and observing? Start small by incorporating evidence-based engagement strategies in lectures. Explore the CTL’s resource Five Tips for Engaged Lecturing. Consider how you might leverage instructional technology tools such Poll Everywhere and Zoom to get your students to be actively engaged while in class through polls or a chat back-channel. Take a step further and move the delivery of content and mini-lectures outside of the classroom. The benefit of doing so is that in-class time can be devoted to answering questions, reviewing challenging concepts or theories, applying concepts, engaging in small group work, and giving and receiving real time feedback.
  • Outside the classroom: What can students do before coming to class? How might you give your students access to course materials, resources, and opportunities to engage in their learning through discussion, application, and self-assessment? Options include curating existing online materials, posting questions for discussion, offering practice quizzes with automated feedback, and creating short videos that explain difficult concepts or theories, or demonstrate an approach or technique, among others. Explore the resources available in the Teaching with Do-It-Yourself Video guide to get started on creating your own custom videos to support your students’ learning. Consider how you might leverage instructional technology tools such as CourseWorks, EdDiscussion, QuizCon among others to engage your students between class sessions. 

The CTL can assist as you rethink the structure of your course to engage your students both inside and outside of the classroom. Schedule a one-on-one blended or hybrid course design or redesign consultation, contact Enroll in the self-paced “Blended / Hybrid Learning Essentials” CourseWorks course. This course provides an overview of blended learning and guides you through the design process for a lesson or unit of study. It features videos of Columbia University faculty and former recipients of the Provost’s Hybrid Learning Course Redesign and Delivery grants, who share their blended teaching and learning experiences. A downloadable course packet includes worksheets and checklists to draft and document your blended learning design and implementation plans.

“I like to be an early adopter of things. Around 2012 or so, I got very interested in the flipped classroom. (…) But I never really fully flipped my class. (…) the pandemic really brought this to another level.”

Read Dr. Aboelela’s narrative

Dr. Sally Aboelela

Assistant Professor of Nursing, Columbia University School of Nursing

“I still feel that cadaveric teaching is the best and most informative way to teach clinical gross anatomy as students get to feel real tissue, see examples of human variation, and learn to appreciate the complexity and beauty of the human form.  But I also recognize that for our modern medical students, alternative methods of instruction also have a place. Students are adaptable – they value focused-resources intentionally crafted with learning goals in mind and tremendously enjoy non-traditional methods of content presentation. There is not only one way to teach anatomy.”

Read Dr. Detton’s narrative

Dr. Alan Detton

Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology and Cell Biology, CUIMC

“I questioned how some of the in-class activities that I thought were essential could be shifted asynchronously. For example, I can record and post short videos on the content that I know is not in the reading or that applies what’s in the reading. I can have students submit their questions, and then record or type out answers and put those on CourseWorks (Canvas). I can shift small group activities and other discussion prompts to a discussion board.”

Read Dr. Segal’s narrative

Dr. Katherine Segal

Lecturer in Social Work, School of Social Work

Browse through the faculty narratives for more inspiration and to learn about how Columbia faculty have redesigned their courses to be flexible and adaptable across modalities.