Strategies for Engaging Effectively Online

Zoom Tips

  • Always sign in at before joining any class sessions.
    • Your ND Google identity will appear in the top left corner of the Zoom app when you are signed in.
    • Be signed in and ready to work when class starts. 
  • Be signed in and ready to work when class starts. 
  • Have all class materials near you (readings, discussion questions, etc.).
  • Make sure your main light source is in front of you.
  • Keep your video on unless your instructor requests that video be disabled. Discussions are more dynamic when we can see facial expressions, read body language, and feel more connected to each other through our screens.
  • Mute yourself when you are not talking.
  • Hold down the space-bar to temporarily unmute yourself.
  • Avoid eating or other distracting activities during a live class session.
  • Login to Zoom using a computer when possible (rather than a smartphone, which does not have the same range of Zoom capabilities).
  • Find a quiet place to attend class, free of distractions. Close all unnecessary windows or programs on your computer and mute all notifications so you can stay focused.
    • You may want to use headphones if you have background noise.

Engaging in Synchronous Online Sessions

It can be tempting to fade into the background in online courses because it is sometimes harder to engage in a virtual setting. How do you raise your hand? How do you interject if you have a question? These are challenges that can be overcome with a bit of practice. Research shows that being active in the classroom reinforces your learning and helps you develop more meaningful relationships with your peers. Additionally, some of your instructors may still have a graded “participation” or “discussion” component in their online courses. Review the tips below for successfully engaging in a Zoom session or other synchronous online class.

  • Consider logging in a few minutes before class time to chat with your instructor and classmates, or just to make sure that you’re able to login without any issues (preventing tardiness). 
  • Your name will appear at the bottom of your Zoom image. Make sure that you are sharing your preferred name (i.e. if you prefer to go by “Alex” rather than “Alexandra,” you may need to change your personal settings). This will help your instructors get to know you better and may also make you feel more comfortable in the online classroom environment. 
  • If you turn off your webcam or experience display issues, a plain black screen will appear as the default. Consider adding a picture of yourself to your Zoom account so that your classmates can still “see” you, even if your webcam is off. Choose a professional-looking image and avoid uploading pictures of other people, such as your family or significant other. If you are uncomfortable uploading an image of yourself, you could select an appropriate avatar or picture of something you enjoy (i.e. a video game character, a drawing you created, your favorite animal, etc.). In this way, you are still able to communicate some aspect of your identity or interests to your classmates.
  • Remember that you can use virtual backgrounds on Zoom. Many of us may live in a shared space with family members or roommates, work at a job that takes away from our cleaning time, or live in an environment that we don’t want to share with others for whatever reason. These circumstances are completely understandable. You can still be present and engaged in the Zoom classroom by uploading a virtual background image or choosing one of the free default backgrounds.
  • Determine how your instructor wants you to engage (using the “hand raise” feature, clicking on another reaction symbol, unmuting your microphone to verbally interject, etc.) and follow that protocol so that everyone is able to contribute to discussions effectively and equally. It may be awkward to speak to everyone through a microphone at first, but the process becomes more natural with practice. Remember that everyone is sharing the online experience and your instructor wants to answer your questions.
  • Besides engaging verbally, you may also be able contribute to class discussion through the chat feature. Identify how your instructor wants to use the chat first, and then participate frequently according to those guidelines (for example, some instructors may want to reserve the chat for questions only). If your instructor uses the chat function more openly for discussion, you could engage by posing questions, elaborating on a classmate’s comments, providing additional examples of a concept, linking course material to a real-life example, or otherwise guiding the conversation forward. Use appropriate language throughout the chat experience.
  • The online environment can be beneficial for a diverse range of students because it provides a variety of ways to engage (verbally, written text, etc.). But remember that everyone communicates differently and we should strive to create a space in which everyone is heard. Conversations should be constructive rather than critical of others. 
  • Active learning is an essential aspect of both in-person and online education—actively engaging with course materials and with your classmates increases retention and contributes to the achievement of learning objectives. As such, your instructors may utilize Zoom’s “breakout room” feature. This allows instructors to sort students into pairs or small groups, send those students into individual Zoom rooms for personalized discussion, and then bring all students back into the classwide Zoom session. (For example, groups of 3-4 students may be sent into a Zoom breakout room in order to discuss an assigned reading, and then they can share their group’s ideas when everyone is brought back into the original classwide Zoom room.)
    • The instructor cannot be in all of the different rooms at once, so Zoom breakout sessions require a certain level of student-directed activity. This means that students should be ready to actively participate in their group’s video conference, just as they would during an in-person small group discussion. Be sure to unmute your audio, double-check that your video feed is enabled, and do not leave the room or otherwise disengage during a breakout session. Remember that your instructor has the ability to visit your breakout room at any time in order to verify that students are staying on track with their discussions. But most importantly, remember that this is valuable time for you to get to know your classmates while engaging with course materials in a critical way! Take advantage of the opportunity to participate in such discussions, particularly since it is often easier to share your interesting ideas in smaller virtual groups rather than in a classwide Zoom session. Consider introducing yourself to your group mates if it is early in the semester. You can also use this time to ask questions from your peers, if you have any.
  • More Zoom tips for students can be found here.