Instructional Modes at SUNY Geneseo


Definitions and practices developed by the Center for Digital Learning and endorsed by the SUNY Geneseo College Senate 10 May 2022

View the Project on GitHub cdl-geneseo/instructional-modes


What is this document?

As technology opens up new ways for teachers and learners to interact, and as Geneseo begins to think strategically about the resulting opportunities in relation to our mission and values, it is essential that we be guided by a common vocabulary and a shared set of practices.

Recognizing that the most common instructional modes available today do not have universally accepted defintions, this document establishes local definitions that are at once broadly aligned with common usage and tailored to our own institutional purposes.

The document also articulates practices designed to ensure that as Geneseo expands its range of instructional modes, it does so in ways that advance the development of both faculty and learners, promote equity, respect privacy, maintain accessibility, and preserve Geneseo's character as a primarily residential college that cherishes close working relationships among faculty, staff, administrators, and learners.

Finally, the document extracts from those practices a number of nuts-and-bolts recommendations to schools, departments, campus governance, and academic affairs administration.

A brief list of resources at the end of the document provides a point of comparison between some of the practices described here and those adopted within and beyond the SUNY system.

A core premise of this document is that while the principles of good teaching do not vary across instructional modes, the effective implementation of these principles does. At present, most faculty embark on their careers as face-to-face teachers having had years of experience as face-to-face learners. Typically, they model their pedagogy on their firsthand experience of the best teachers they have had. In a small though growing number of cases, they have also had some formal introduction to effective face-to-face teaching methods. By contrast, very few faculty have had extensive experience themselves as online learners, let alone a formal introduction to effective online pedagogy. In order to promote success for both faculty and learners at Geneseo, it is necessary that faculty fully understand how the affordances of an online learning environment differ from those of a physical classroom. It is also necessary that the college's online learning experiences be designed in ways that leverage the affordances of the online environment and replicate, as nearly as possible, face-to-face affordances that are crucial to learning, such as frequent, low-barrier, personalized interaction between instructor and learners.

Another core premise is that practices regarding such matters as the college's balance of offerings across instructional modes, faculty's distribution of load across these modes, and the evaluation of online instruction should remain flexible and, to the extent possible, put power in the hands of schools and departments to make decisions and set expectations in accordance with their program objectives and disciplinary methods. The document does not lay down many hard-and-fast rules, and for almost every rule it stipulates, it describes grounds for appropriate exceptions. More detailed guidance might appear to offer a smoother, more easily navigable route forward for the college, but it would do so at the price of forcing everyone along the same narrow path.


The following local definitions are consistent with, though not identical to, definitions from SUNY and IPEDS (pdf).

Face-to-Face (F2F)

Courses and programs are described as “face-to-face” (or “F2F”) when direct instruction in them takes place through participation in a space where both learners and instructor are physically present together, such as a classroom or lecture hall.


Courses and programs are described as “online” when 100% of the direct instruction in them takes place through computer-mediated participation, either synchronously or asynchronously, and none of the direct instruction is F2F. (At Geneseo, “online” typically means “asynchronous online”; see below under “Asynchronous vs. synchronous online courses.”)


Courses are described as “hybrid” when computer-mediated participation takes the place of some F2F participation for all learners. A hybrid course will have fewer physically present meetings than would the same course, bearing the same number of credits, that is F2F; together, physically present participation and computer-mediated activities in a hybrid course must require the same investment of time as would be the case for an F2F course worth the same number of credits.


Courses are described as “technology-enhanced” when computer-mediated participation in them supplements rather than replaces F2F participation, in much the same way that reading and writing assignments supplement F2F participation. Computer-mediated participation in such courses should not increase learners’ out-of-class time investment beyond normal expectations for the number of credits in question. Today it would be difficult to find an F2F course that is not technology-enhanced; therefore, references to “F2F” courses hereafter should be assumed to include technology-enhanced F2F courses.


Courses and programs are described as “HyFlex” if learners in them have a choice between computer-mediated and F2F participation. Depending on the particular course or program, “HyFlex” may mean that every learner may choose to participate in any part of direct instruction either F2F or online, or it may mean that some learners will participate F2F while others participate online.



In any given term, a request to put a course in the schedule in any instructional mode must always come from a department chair or dean and is always subject to approval by the Office of the Provost.

Deans and department chairs may request to schedule online courses to be taught by faculty who:

Deans and department chairs may request to schedule hybrid courses to be taught by faculty who:

In proposing to schedule a course in any mode, a dean or department chair must consider whether the resulting array of options for learners serves their best interest; the Office of the Provost will do the same in deciding whether to include a specific course in the schedule. In particular, given Geneseo’s identity as a primarily residential college, deans, department chairs, and the provost’s office must consider whether a given semester’s course schedule offers adequate opportunity to learners for F2F instruction.

Deans, department chairs, and the provost’s office must also consider other factors: the impact of a faculty member’s individual schedule on that faculty member’s campus presence, for example, or the amount of time typically required to teach an online course successfully. A faculty member’s combination of instructional modes—either in a given term or across terms—should not be such as to endanger the college’s reliance on close working relationships, whether among colleagues or between faculty and learners.

No one formula for distributing faculty’s teaching responsibilities across different instructional modes, or for distributing a school or department’s offerings across modes, will be appropriate for the entire college. Schools and departments are encouraged to develop their own distribution plans in consultation with the Office of the Provost. These plans need not bind schools and departments rigidly as they develop their schedules from semester to semester, but they will aid in arriving quickly each semester at a slate of offerings that works well for schools, departments, and faculty while also serving the needs of learners. In general, no more than 50% of a faculty member’s load in any given semester should be online.

Asynchronous vs. synchronous online courses

In general, deans and department chairs should propose fully asynchronous online courses for inclusion in the schedule. Fully asynchronous online courses may include occasional, limited synchronous components as described below under “Human-centered and equity-minded practice.” Online instruction at Geneseo exists mainly to extend the range of learners that the college reaches and to offer participating learners maximum flexibility as to when and how they complete course requirements. Asynchronous online courses accomplish both purposes more effectively than synchronous ones.

Expectation of privacy

Across all instructional modes, both pedagogical methods and educational technology must respect learners’ reasonable expectation to maintain certain types of privacy.

For example, the college does not subscribe to online proctoring services, which typically subject learners to video surveillance by exercising remote control over their own hardware and software—arguably violating, in the process, learners’ reasonable expectation to privacy in both their persons and the use of their personal property.

For similar reasons, the following are generally prohibited in Geneseo courses and programs of all modes:

Exceptions may be made to the first prohibition above when there is a clear and close connection between learners’ self-presentation online and a narrowly defined core learning outcome of the course: for example, in a course on communication in which a core outcome is the ability to deliver an effective online presentation. The same clear and close connection does not exist for more general outcomes such as “building community” or “participating effectively in discussion.” The prohibition against requiring students to use their cameras is not a prohibition against inviting or even encouraging them to do so in a manner that promotes equity, inclusion, and a sense of comfort, for example as described in this study by two Cornell University Professors in the journal Academic Practice in Ecology & Evolution.

Instructors may not require learners to turn their cameras on during synchronous online meetings in order to verify learners’ identities or provide confirmation that they are actively engaged.

Human-centered and equity-minded practice

Educational technology should always be used in ways that put people first and keep equity clearly and constantly in view. Across all instructional modes, the role of technology should be to promote engagement, build intrinsic motivation, enhance understanding, facilitate collaboration, share knowledge efficiently and effectively, spark creativity, or serve a similar purpose toward the end of advancing learners’ development as human beings. The following are not good reasons to adopt a platform, service, or other tool: lack of trust in learners as people; aggregation of facts about learners’ computer-mediated activities or habits of work without their knowledge.

In keeping with human-centered and equity-minded practice, the following apply:

Evaluation of faculty instruction

The appendix to the current Personnel Evaluation Form, which presents itself as “neither exhaustive nor exclusive,” lists various “sources of information” relevant to the evaluation of a faculty member’s teaching, together with criteria for evaluating “contributions to teaching.” Although enumerated with F2F teaching in mind, many of the sources and criteria apply equally well across all instructional modes. For example, under “Sources of Information”:

And in the “Classroom Effectiveness” section under “Contributions to Teaching”:

Clarifies purposes and procedures of small-group, laboratory, practica, or studio activities (if used). Clearly presents topics and key points of lectures (if used). Clarifies relevance and contributions to course objectives for lectures and/or activities. Invites students' questions and/or comments as appropriate. Responds to students’ questions appropriately. Considers and adapts to the needs of a diverse population of students. Provides timely feedback on learner performance.

While the appendix is not attached to the forms for adjunct lecturers or visiting faculty, the sources and criteria in it that touch on key qualities of an effective pedagogue—high standards, thoughtfulness, clarity, responsiveness, respect for diversity, and so on—apply equally to instructors of all ranks.

In evaluating faculty’s teaching in modes other than F2F, colleagues, committees, and administrators should look for evidence of these same qualities. Naturally, in the case of online courses it will not be possible to find that evidence in a physical classroom. Where, then, should evaluators look? And if they are not looking to see whether, say, a faculty member engages learners in lively face-to-face conversation, makes good use of classroom affordances (e.g., seating, whiteboard), and invites questions, just what should they be looking for?

The answer to “where” is the faculty member’s online course instance, whether in the college’s learning management system or on some other platform suitable for inclusive, responsive, organized instruction. Evaluators may ask to examine a clone of the course instance; alternatively, they may ask faculty to share evidence of, say, well-organized course modules, well-designed assessments, or regular and substantive engagement extracted from the course instance.

The answer to “what” might include such course features as prominently displayed learning objectives; well-designed navigation menus; helpful and readily accessible information about how to communicate with the instructor; easy-to-find and easy-to-understand timetables for course activities, exams, and due dates; clear statements of grading criteria; engagement-oriented assignments—for example, threaded discussion forums, collaborative annotation, or group projects—and components intended to promote a sense of inclusion, such as a “Welcome” module at the beginning of the course that introduces the faculty member and gives learners the opportunity to introduce themselves.

Although rubrics abound for compiling evidence of a well-designed and effective online course—and among these, the SUNY OSCQR rubric is one of the most useful—colleagues, deans, department chairs, committees, and others engaged in personnel review should not take a “check the boxes” approach to evaluating online instruction any more than they would for evaluating instruction that takes place face-to-face. Both courses and teachers are more than the sum of their parts.

Intellectual property

Consistent with Geneseo Policy 4-405 and Article XI, Title J of the Policies of the Board of Trustees, instructors generally retain intellectual property in original teaching materials that they create for courses in any of the instructional modes defined in this document, including original written explanatory content, original videos, and original images. However, in cases where instructors are employed or directed within the scope of their employment to produce specific work subject to copyright, the University shall have the right to publish such work without copyright or to copyright it in its own name. The copyright will also be subject to any contractual arrangements by the University for work in the course of which the writing was done.

In the absence of any contractual arrangement that prohibits it, instructors are free to apply a Creative Commons license to original materials that they create, thereby making it easier for other instructors to benefit from their work.

Learners generally retain intellectual property in original content that they create in response to course assignments. Such content may not be shared publicly without the creator’s consent.



Schools and departments should:

A conversation between a dean or department chair and a faculty member interested in teaching a non-F2F course in an upcoming semester might look something like what we see in this decision diagram.

Program planning

Schools and departments should discuss what mix of instructional modes best fits their programs as a whole. Questions to consider, in addition to those mentioned in the scheduling section of Practices, above, include:

Evaluation of online teaching

As mentioned earlier, the college already has tools for evaluating and documenting the effectiveness of a faculty member’s teaching. These tools invoke broad principles of good pedagogy that hold across all instructional modes. To evaluate online teaching, no new principles are required, but it is necessary to seek evidence of their application in new places.

Schools and departments should:

Campus governance should:

Academic affairs administration should provide professional development to deans and department chairs to ensure that they are able to evaluate documentation of effective online teaching.


Faculty professional development and course design standards

Sample documents from other SUNY campuses

Higher education generally

SUNY Geneseo


The literature on student privacy in online courses, especially in relation to academic integrity, is extensive. See the SUNY Geneseo Center for Digital Learning’s Zotero Library for examples.

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