Offline Activities in an Online Class

For many students, a completely online fall term will be a major change. Aside from the obvious challenges of getting comfortable with the learning technologies they’ll be presented in each of their classes, students will be challenged further with screen fatigue. Taking a full load of courses online is not a common strategy for most students and the amount of time they’ll be in front of their computers will undoubtedly be a little draining.

But does everything we design for an online course need to be online? The simple answer is no. Many of the online courses developed at the Distance Education Unit at the University of Saskatchewan include active learning opportunities away from the screen from observational data collection to kitchen supply science experiments to interviews and photo assignments there are many ways we can help get students offline and learning on their feet. Let’s look at a few things you might consider when designing your remote and online courses for this fall.

Data Collection and Observations

A great way to get student outdoors and out of their seats is data collection. In PLSC 350: Agricultural Entomology, we helped develop an insect collection assignment into an online guide which gave students everything they needed to go out and begin their own insect collections. These collections were then shared back with the class in the learning management system (LMS) and provided the content for discussions and analysis.

Photo Essays

Photo essays can be a great way to get students out of the house and moving around. Challenge them with weekly photo activities connected to the content in your class. These photos can be shared in the discussion forums and provide content for conversations.


Not all offline activities have to include the outdoors. Have students find someone to interview about topics related to your course. This is a great way for them to engage with the professional community they’re studying to become a member of and to build their networks. Interviews can be done by phone or in person when appropriate.


Not everything students write in a class needs to be online either. Consider having students keep a physical journal or notebook to complete reflective exercises in. Students can scan or photograph selections from their notebooks for assessment purposes. Working offline on these types of writing activities allows them the freedom to write anywhere without the need for laptops, batteries, or screens.

Here is a link to a few more Ways to Integrate the Offline World into Your Online Course.

Image Credit: CC0 Photo by Ola Dapo from Pexels