We’re all getting familiar with presenting on Zoom and utilising its technical capabilities, but how can you maximise engagement in your online teaching sessions and aim to give the best experience to your participants? Here we share some best practice tips to help your Zoom sessions run successfully.
Practice makes perfect
Maybe you’re new to Zoom or still building your confidence. Remember you can set up Zoom sessions and practice in your sandbox site*, without the pressure of anyone watching you. Maybe you want to rehearse how to play a video, or experience the process of setting up breakout rooms before you have to do it in reality. Simply create a Zoom session in the usual way in your sandbox site and maybe even rope in some colleagues to be your guinea pigs! If you have a secondary device, you could always log into your Zoom session and make yourself co-host on that, so you can monitor what screen sharing, polls or whiteboards look like from the student viewpoint.
*Contact your Faculty Learning Technologist if you don’t have a sandbox site set up on Brightspace.
Communicate and communicate again
Help signpost students by clearly labelling your Zoom sessions with indicative titles, especially if these are recurring meetings. Students access Zoom sessions by going to the Communication link in the navigation bar of the unit but links are also displayed in the Unit Calendar for easy access. You might also consider posting an Announcement providing additional information on the content of the session in advance, to encourage participation and set expectations. Remember, you can always change your view to ‘View as student’ to see the student experience of how Zoom sessions are displayed.
Set your expectations
There can always be hiccups when joining online sessions but drive punctuality by being present early with your camera and mic turned on. You can start a dialogue as soon as students start entering your online classroom, asking them questions and setting the tone that they will be active participants throughout the session. Clearly set your expectations upfront and take a minute to outline your housekeeping rules. Different staff will have different approaches so make your expectations of the session clear. Communicating professionally online and managing online relationships are key employability skills so students should be expected to behave online in a professional manner. To promote active learning and engagement make sure they are clear on how they will be asked to interact and how they can ask any questions. Then jump straight into the content to encourage your students to always arrive on time and to set the pace for the session.
Create a personal connection
Video is a great form of authentic communication so let your personality come through! Have your webcam video on so that students can see your expressions and body language, and relate to you as a person. Try and have lighting in front of you with a non-distracting or virtual background. Look at your webcam as you speak to connect and make eye contact with your audience. You can find some more suggestions for improving your video presenting here – 8 tips to help improve your online teaching.
If you have a large cohort, buddy up with someone to help you manage your participants. This doesn’t necessarily have to be an academic member of staff, you could nominate a student to help keep tabs on questions in the Chat pane. And be open to receiving feedback so that you can hone your skills as you go.
Keep up the energy in the room
Lectures are great for conveying information but you want to make the ‘live’ synchronous experience worthwhile, so interact early and often to avoid any zoning out. This could be a quick poll or simply typing in the chat, just something to prompt a discussion and talk through the responses. Students (and staff) are sitting in front of their screens all day and disrupting learning every 15/20 minutes with an activity brings them back into the room as well as making the learning more memorable and easier to digest. If you are running a long Zoom session, factor in time for breaks – for both you and the students.
Try and use slides with compelling, visual content; images or key terms and phrases that drive the content home without detracting from the verbal content. Make use of Zoom’s inbuilt annotation tools when you share your screen, circling or highlighting information to draw the eye to key messages, or using the mouse as a ‘spotlight’ guide as you talk through your content.
Effective Breakout room tasks
For breakout rooms to operate effectively, set clear tasks and activities that everyone is invested in participating in. Asking students to have a loose discussion, or even providing an overly-complicated remit, can result in students feeling frustrated and disengaged. Make the task purposeful so they understand why they are being asked to do it, achievable independently so they don’t need to wait for further help, and reiterate how it is aligned to their learning outcomes or assessment. You also need to allow the appropriate time for the task so the activity has value. Asking students to feed back on their breakout task is a good way to promote engagement, for example each group could post thoughts and ideas to a Padlet shared with the whole cohort; so they are working independently in their groups but also collaborating in a shared online space.
Online learning needs to be a social as well as a cognitive process and breakout rooms are one way to help students build purposeful relationships with their peers. You might consider keeping the same group membership for each breakout room session (for example, using seminar groups) so that students have a regular opportunity to get to know each other and become more confident in voicing and sharing their thoughts and ideas.
It’s best practice to always record your Zoom sessions and, as Zoom is integrated with Panopto, it’s easy to later embed these into your Brightspace unit. Include our standard slide in your presentation to let students know you will be recording. It’s simple with Zoom to pause and restart the recording at any point if you need to avoid any sensitive discussions.
Lecture recording is an inclusive practice that helps mitigate against some of the challenges students face when accessing from home, such as different devices and broadband strengths, as well as personal circumstances like caring responsibilities. Recordings are also hugely beneficial for students who may want to review material later at their own pace or use as a revision tool. You can read about some more of The Benefits of lecture capture here.
Remember to employ clear and consistent file naming of your lecture recordings so that students can easily navigate to them.
At the end of your Zoom session provide a quick summary of what was covered, where students need to go next (maybe this will be signposting to a formative quiz activity or discussion board), where they can find the recording, and look forward to what will be happening in the next session. Try your best to finish on time to respect the time commitment given by your participants. You might even want to stay online for a short while afterwards to mop up any ‘end of session’ questions or chat, as you would in a live classroom environment.
Further support and guidance
There are lots of resources available on the Brightspace Staff Resources area:
If you have any questions or require further support, contact your Faculty Learning Technologist