LSA student feedback has made it clear that, while they don’t find many Zoom lectures engaging and prefer lectures in video form, they do very much want to have live, synchronous time with their instructors and classmates. Below are some concrete recommendations for activities and tools that can engage students during live remote (or hybrid) classes and foster the learning community of your courses.
Many of these activities are things that LSA instructors are familiar with from in-person classes. These recommendations may help you use those familiar elements of your class more effectively, online.
Synchronous polling encourages students to engage in a variety of cognitive skills. Polling also gives students a voice in an environment where they have a tendency to feel less heard, and provides instructors rapid and constructive information for making course decisions. Polling can surface student misconceptions, and help them to express concerns and needs to the remote instructor in a fast and easy way.
When possible, consider setting up the poll prior to a synchronous session, which can make the course go more smoothly. For more information on creating polls in Zoom, please see the Information and Technology Services article Adding Polls to a Zoom Course Meeting In Canvas or Blackboard. When using iClicker, of course, you can incorporate the questions directly into your slides.
Polling is most effective when you use thoughtfully-designed questions that center around course goals. Well-designed questions help to prevent the poll from becoming “busy work”, and can help students move from lower-level to higher-level thinking. See the table below for an example of lower-level versus higher level polling prompt, and how they might be delivered. 
|Cognitive Order||Cognitive Skill||Purpose||Question Ex. 1||Question Ex. 2|
||What are the stages of cell division?||What is an example of an adjective?|
|Modality||Multiple choice poll||Chat poll|
||Given the medical data before you, would you say this patient is intoxicated or suffering from a diabetic reaction?||What are some ways we might solve the energy crisis?|
|Modality||A/B multiple choice with additional probing||Breakout rooms with a shared Google Doc|
Remote polling often requires a little more time to complete than in-person polling might. Make sure you allow for appropriate response times based on the complexity of the task at hand; allow students time to think, formulate a response, and register a response in a platform in which they might not yet be adept. The addition of a software learning curve always increases completion time.
Chat can greatly enrich a class meeting, but think about how you wish to deploy it and be sure that using it will not detract from your teaching approach. Chat can constitute a second conversation taking place simultaneously during discussion or lecture. This will appeal to some instructors, for whom it enriches intellectual inquiry, and will not appeal to others who may find this a distraction for themselves and students . The chat feature can be disabled in Zoom if your teaching style does not lend itself to using the chat feature.
If you are teaching a hybrid or fully remote course, using chat may be especially desirable. Even with the best hardware support, remote students may find it very challenging to take part verbally in whole-class discussion or Q&A. Encouraging them to use chat, either to signal that they want to add something or even as their primary mode of contribution, can help them take a more active part in the course. You may find that even some in-person students prefer the chat channel for their own contributions.
If you do choose to use chat, consider assigning a second person (either a GSI or a student) to watch over the chat during lecture or discussion and signal you when questions or discussion points come up there. This way you can be sure to incorporate and address them.
When posing questions to remote students, just as with in-person students, the best responses are gained when the question posed is:
These techniques are no different than your usual in-class aims, but the medium in which questions are posed and answered will be new.
Your synchronous questioning tools may include:
Whatever you choose to use, be sure you clearly express your expectations to your students.
One tool found to be particularly powerful in remote learning is the intentional pause  and this applies especially when asking questions. Silence allows the transmission of the question via Zoom, even if there is lag, while encouraging students to understand that their participation is critical and expected. Longer pauses than you may usually use also enable students who are dealing with the extra cognitive load of managing unfamiliar tools, or who are otherwise hesitant to answer, the opportunity to unmute and step forward.
Effective pre-class strategies in the remote environment include:
Feeling like a part of a learning community has been proven to increase student achievement and engagement in remote courses. Community doesn’t often happen organically online the way it does when students are seated next to each other in-person, so it must be intentionally created. The Chronicle suggests: “Focusing on making connections, encouraging students to engage in collaborative work, and checking in regularly to hear how everything is going [are] the basic building blocks of community.” Below are specific suggestions for fostering the type of online community that improves student learning.
One way to foster that strong sense of community is by sharing some personal aspect of yourself and encouraging them to do the same, if and when they are comfortable doing so. Fostering an open and collegial environment that welcomes the individual is important in a remote classroom. What is shared can be something as simple as hobbies and pets, or favorite snacks; these small things go a long way in humanizing the people in the course to each other. One way to sustain such connections is to encourage students to form social groups based on what everyone shares--for example, students with the same taste in music might have their own Zoom room where they can play songs for each other.
In remote classrooms it’s also important to create ways to be present to your students. Dropping in on breakout rooms and commenting on group documents such as a Google Doc or Slide are two low-demand ways to do this. When you are not visible in the classroom, it’s important to find alternative ways, like these, to establish your presence. Students will then be more likely to reach out to you with questions or concerns.
Polling, as in getting quick feedback from students, can be a very flexible technique, and does not even have to use a specific “polling” tool! Techniques such as a show of hands, or using gestures or colored items to stand for a few simple responses, can still work in a live remote session. See the video below for several demonstrations of remote polling techniques.
Much like in-person classes, when significantly split answers come up in a poll, it is beneficial to have students move into groups via breakout rooms to discuss the concept further, then re-cast their votes. If the correct answer is intentionally variable, you might ask students to raise their hand virtually to defend their answers verbally, or they can discuss it in a discussion board or on a writing assignment later. This is an effective way of tying synchronous and asynchronous sessions together.
For those with experience in implementing polling in class, iClicker Cloud is an excellent way to gather feedback from students virtually that goes beyond the Zoom multiple choice polls. iClicker Cloud enables remote instructors to make use of additional question types including short answer, numeric, and click-on-the-target questions. This option is best for those with experience in using classroom polling or those dedicated to exploring new technologies, because there is a longer learning curve for iClicker Cloud than for Zoom polling - both for faculty and students.
Zoom chat can be used for questions only, or for more open discussions, depending on who you allow students to chat with. This can be controlled by the “Participant Can Chat With” setting, in the three-dot menu in chat.
If you allow only chatting with the host (you), then students will only be able to submit questions that only you can see. If you allow everyone to chat publicly with everyone, then the chat is more likely to evolve into discussion or students answering each other’s questions.
Having a moderator available is very useful when utilizing public chat. Ideally, the moderator would be someone familiar with your content, but it can also be a student with instructions on what types of comments you would like brought to your attention. If a moderator is not possible, checking the chat at certain specified times (during a break, transition, every ten minutes, etc.) is also effective.
If the chat contributions are sent to the entire class and a moderator is not an option, one way of storing and sharing students' questions is to paste them from the automatically saved text file into a Google Doc, to hold questions in a “parking lot” until you can answer them, possibly during the next class session. If you link to the Doc in your Canvas course site and allow students to see it, you can even use the Doc to answer questions.
Effective breakout rooms require some organization beforehand. In particular, students need clear directions and guides, such as Google Doc or Slide worksheets, rather than the more free-wheeling approach that works in an in-person classroom with the instructor immediately available to clarify. Don’t feel, though, that you can no longer “walk” from group to group, to check in on them as they work! See the videos below for a demonstration of good breakout room technique and an example of “walking the room” virtually.
One framework for online student engagement suggests that students engage in learning via five dimensions, one of which is emotional . Because students have a need to feel an emotional connection with their learning and their classmates, intentionally fostering those opportunities for emotional connections is an important part of building a successful online course.
One strategy to encourage online community is to recognize individual contributions. Just as they do in-person, “[students] give their attention to those who pay attention to them.”  One way paying attention to students is to bring up something that a student wrote on a discussion board or essay, and respond or ask for further discussion of the point during a synchronous meeting. This will help to reinforce continuity of instruction and a cohesive sense that students’ contributions matter to the course.
Another method of community-building is to create gathering spaces outside of the class sessions and the course site. Using a tool such as YellowDig or WordPress to let students post interesting articles, reflections, personal notes, images, links to websites, and audio or video clips that may not have anything to do with the class helps students connect with each other. Tools like these, that don’t need to be connected with the course site, reinforce the informal, social nature of the space.
Another reliable way of building connection in a course is to schedule regular check-ins with students individually throughout the semester. This may be a one-on-one Zoom check-in, phone call, or email.
To explore any of the methodologies of community-building or any of the tools mentioned on this page, please feel free to request a consultation with an LSA instructional designer or call 734-615-0100 with the request. The LSA Learning and Teaching Consultants will be glad to help!
 Dan Levy, Teaching Effectively with Zoom: A practical guide to engage your students and help them learn. Massachusetts: Dan Levy, 2020.
 Center for Teaching and Learning, Washington University in St. Louis, Asking Questions to Improve Learning (2020)
 CITL, University of Illinois, Questioning Strategies (2020)
 The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New Rules of Engagement (2020)
 Faculty Focus, Five Ways to Build Community in Online Classrooms (2018)
 Learn Worlds, How to Build an Online Learning Community (in 2020) (2020)
 Teaching In Higher Ed Podcast, Teaching Effectively with Zoom (2020)
 EdSurge, How Do You Make Zoom Breakout Rooms Less Boring? (2020)
 Graduate School of Education, Harvard, Conducting In-Class Polling and Peer Discussion (2020)
 Educause, Creating Emotional Engagement in Online Learning (2020)