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Student at an outdoor graduation ceremony during the pandemic

Lessons from Teaching and Learning at Stanford During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A Review, 2020–21

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We seek to help Stanford collectively learn the lessons of COVID-19 pandemic remote teaching

The disruption to teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, as devastating as it was, also contains germs of opportunity. The Stanford community responded resourcefully, and innovations arose that could enhance education in years to come.

For this review, Stanford Digital Education gathered stories about how the campus supported academic continuity during the period of emergency remote instruction. The people we interviewed — Stanford leaders, faculty, staff, and students — provided diverse perspectives on the challenges they faced and the impact of pandemic measures. 

We hope our review leads to reflection on our shared pandemic experience, struggles, and progress. We believe this effort will serve as the foundation on which Stanford can design its future digital education strategy.

Matthew Rascoff and colonnade of Stanford's Main Quad

“As we emerge from the pandemic, the skills and confidence that instructors developed for emergency remote teaching can be translated to more intentionally designed learning experiences.”

Vice Provost for Digital Education Matthew Rascoff

Sign saying campus is closed to group activities

“The pre-pandemic campus experience had leveled the playing field in many ways: students ... had the same access to the internet, libraries, and study spaces. Pandemic learning removed this shared experience and brought once-hidden differences into the light.”

Excerpt from the introduction to the report

5 takeaways from our pandemic research

  • Emergency remote instruction marks a shift in Stanford’s identity.
  • Staff have a new and vital role in shaping instructional innovation and in building new collaborative networks.
  • The move to remote education worsened access for many students, though some saw an improvement.
  • The faculty-student relationship changed.
  • A culture of empathy grew.

Read more about our five learnings.


Stanford stakeholders interviewed
See the list of interviewees.

Explore the Stanford pandemic education report

A masked student attending class outdoors
Chapter 1

Innovative Pedagogy

Pandemic emergency teaching presented substantial challenges to instructors, but it also generated opportunities for significant transformation of students’ remote learning experiences. Many curricular practices at Stanford were reshaped to promote active, interactive, and experiential education — including more flexible classroom assessments and opportunities for flipped learning.

Explore educators' creative adaptations
A staff member monitoring the Zoom connection for a Stanford class during the pandemic
Chapter 2

Support Structures

Many new programs to support student learning have emerged as a result of the shift to emergency remote pandemic teaching, including expanded roles for graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants. Relationships between faculty and technology support staff have been largely strengthened, and there is new awareness of teaching support structures at Stanford overall.

Learn how support structures changed
Professor Jeremy Weinstein speaking to students projected on giant screens on the wall of the Peter Wallenberg Learning Theater
Chapter 3

Professional Communities

The pandemic fostered significant growth among professional and online learning communities both within and outside of Stanford. Stanford’s impact on these communities has been far-flung, informing pandemic teaching and learning practices at institutions both nationally and globally.

Find out about Stanford's growing learning networks
Staff greet a student at an outdoor table on Move-In Day
Chapter 4

Supporting the Whole Student

The impact of COVID-19 highlighted inequities among students in higher education. The digital divide contributed to socioemotional distress among vulnerable student populations. A new focus on empathy, support, and student well-being lessened some aspects of these negative impacts.

Read about attention to student well-being

Future considerations

  • How can Stanford continue the culture of academic ingenuity and innovation that shone during the pandemic?
  • How do we provide digital education opportunities that enhance equity and access for students?
  • Under what circumstances should faculty and academic instructors be able to teach with flexibility, using such instructional modalities as fully online, hybrid, or flipped instruction?
  • Should students be afforded alternatives to attending classes in-person and having more options of alternative forms of assessment?
  • What should be students’ role in course design?
  • Is there a need to maintain and grow professional knowledge-sharing networks and online teaching resources such as the Teaching Commons, the Teach Symposium,  and the Digital Ambassadors program?


First-generation/low-income students reporting that they didn't have a quiet place to study at home


Students reporting feeling overwhelmed often or very often in spring 2020


Students who were very concerned about maintaining friendships and social connections when classes went online

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