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  • Writer's pictureJared Brandt

Zooming Forward

Most academics are busy talking about Zoom-fatigue or Zoom-blues or Zoom-sucks. I'm wondering, however, if platforms like Zoom might be the future of higher education. If that is true--or if these platforms will have an even moderate role to play in the future of higher education--we better get to work on Zoom-pedagogy.

This article is a gesture in that direction.

How to teach a good course on zoom

In what follows, I'll lay out some of the things that I do (or hope to do) that make for an effective Zoom course.

Before the course starts

  • Begin by making an outlook (or comparable) group with all of your students. This will allow you to send a quick email invitation each session.

  • Send your students a welcome email with the syllabus and the list of books. Tell them to expect a calendar invitation for the recurring meeting.

  • Using Zoom, create a recurring meeting and invite your group

  • You will need to select recurring meeting. This will open an outlook meeting invitation window after you click schedule.

  • Also, be sure to click the bottom two boxes for "only authenticated users" and "automatically record". You'll need to let your students know that they will need to make a zoom account for your course.

  • Begin learning your students' names with a photo roster.

  • Using Calendly (or similar platform) create time slots for individual meetings with students. I try to meet with all my students during the first two weeks of class for a quick 10-minute meeting. I schedule the slots every 15 minutes to give me some time to jot down notes between each meeting. I don't require the students to meet, but remind them several times to sign up. I get about 70% participation. Obviously, this will not be possible for some professors. Maybe you could just mention it once. Few will sign up, but the opportunity will mean a lot to them.

  • Make sure that you have the hardware you need. I recommend two monitors, a good camera (this can be your phone with apps like IV Cam), and a good headset with microphone (or usb microphone and airpods if you're really rad).

  • Make sure that you have a good background and lighting. Don't sit in front of a window or you'll look like the villain in an old horror film. Also, don't sit in front of a messy table/desk or you'll look like a slob. I prefer a blank wall, but the bookshelf is a classy look too. Students will get distracted looking at your book titles, though. If you go this route, you'll want to hide the erotic novels you've interspersed with books about Imagination in the Middle Ages.

First class meeting

  • Sign on about 15 minutes early and get some background music going. I play music that I like and usually try to find songs that relate to the day's topic. I play this with an external speaker in the room and my mic picks it up fairly well. I've found that it is hard to regulate the volume if you try to play the music by sharing your screen on Zoom.

  • Arrange your display. I set it up like this:

  • Oh yeah... I forgot to mention that you should add a cheesy profile picture on your Zoom account for those times that you have to turn off your video and stand up (thereby revealing your jam jam bottoms).

  • On the right screen I have my notes, participants tab, and chat tab from left to right.

  • Using the participants tab, you can send an email invitation to your class group. Just click invite, choose email, and then click default email or gmail. You can also click "copy invite link" and do it manually.

  • Lean into the awkward small talk... the music usually helps.

  • Wait to start class a few minutes late since it is the first session.

  • I start class by reading a Proverb and praying (thanks Dr. Reeves).

  • Next I explain that I want to give the students some time to get to know one another. Here I use the breakout room function to assign them to groups of four. In the chat, I'll explain that I want them to share stuff like hometown, major, why they are at this university, and what is on their Netflix "Recently watched" tab. Be sure to do this before actually opening the breakout rooms; otherwise, you won't be able to chat with them.

  • Give them 5 minutes or so in their groups and then bring them back together. Once back in the large group, have them introduce each other to the rest of the class. (thanks David Smith).

  • I do another group activity next to keep them talking. This activity will help me introduce the course and topics. Sometimes I have us listen to a song together. Sometimes I have them discuss a picture of the Nuremburg Funnel together (thanks Nathan Cartagena).

  • Then I discuss the boring syllabus stuff.

Typical class sessions

  • For the first few sessions I continue the introductions each time and change up the things I have them share (usually favorite musician/book/movie/quarantine hobby etc.). You can emphasize that you want them to learn each others' names. This is easier on Zoom with the labels, but you can test them by having everyone rename themselves Mr./Mrs. Anderson.

  • I use Quizizz for short reading quizzes every class period. I open the quiz on my computer and then just copy the web address and code. I paste this into the chat for the students to join the quiz.

  • For most classes, I have a word doc that includes an outline of the class/text and some discussion questions. I'll share this with them through Zoom near the beginning of class and tell them what to expect. Then I'll copy the questions and paste them into the chat. This will ensure that the students will still see the questions after I split them into the discussion groups. I'll also designate a "presenter" for each group before they break off.

  • While they are in their groups, I usually pause the recording, give my eyes a screen break, and broadcast a message to all groups asking if they need help. From their groups they can click "ask for help" and then I can join their group.

  • After 5-10 minutes, I'll close the breakout rooms and the rest of our class is organized by the outline and discussion questions. I'll usually call on people who weren't presenters to do the reading (unless particular students have expressed that they aren't comfortable doing so). Throughout the discussion, I'll periodically share the outline document with them and sometime type out some notes on it. I also use the draw feature of word right on that document to do my whiteboard doodles. Occasionally, I'll use the zoom whiteboard (found on the share screen menu).

  • Throughout our discussion, I try to incorporate instant polling to make sure that students are engaged. I'll ask them a question and have them answer it with the options on the participants tab. This helps them to see where their peers stand and also helps me know if they aren't understanding something. These polls have improved discussions immensely and sometimes spark some good debates. You can use the Zoom polling feature, but you have to plan ahead for that by creating the poll on the Zoom website.

  • I don't require the students to share their video, but encourage it frequently. Some students with poor connections will benefit from leaving their video off. My use of the participant tab is a way to make sure that students are engaged and not on another tab watching the latest Avengers movie.

  • I record each class (locally) and upload the recording and chat files to the course LMS page. This allows for some asynchronous applications of the course. I have had a few students take my courses asynchronously and they were required to watch the recording and answer all the discussion questions and send those to me by email.

  • Zoom makes it very easy to share videos and powerpoints with the students. Just open the file or video and then click share screen. For videos, be sure to click "share audio".

  • I keep attendance manually, but Zoom does keep track of users. You can always check there if you forgot to record your attendance.

Last Thoughts

  • Dress comfortably (below the waist) and relax. I have found that my class discussions go better on zoom and I think it is because I'm wearing athletic shorts.

  • Additionally, I have noticed that my students are more relaxed, more willing to participate in the discussion, and more willing to open up. I hope you will find the same!

  • Please let me know if you have questions about any of this. I would love to help you have a successful teaching experience on Zoom!

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