Teaching in the Virtual Classroom

In the following teaching guide, we offer suggestions to help you prepare to teach online, from setting up your virtual classroom to energizing student engagement. This guide focuses on tips for converting in-person courses into virtual courses, whether a single class session or an entire quarter, though many suggestions are also relevant for those developing a new online course.

Preparing to Teach Online

  • Review your syllabus to determine what can be done in the online format and what activities are better rescheduled. It may make sense to emphasize certain topics and de-emphasize others in order to add engagement and accountability.
  • Decide whether you will teach entirely live or with pre-recorded lectures. Pre-recording lectures can give you more time in live sessions for interactive discussions, activities, and group work. But these aren’t necessarily substitutes: a live lecture session can be supplemented with pre- and post-recordings of shorter clips.
  • Adjust assignments so that students can complete them properly and in a timely fashion and so that you can provide feedback.
  • Allow additional time in your lesson plans for giving instructions and managing technical functions. In order to do so, you may need to be more selective about what you cover in a given session.
  • Coordinate with your teaching team to ensure you’ve established your norms and routines.

Student quote: GSB faculty all know how to teach their courses really effectively. But I think what we saw was really effective [when transitioning to online teaching] were the professors who were willing to go back and revisit how they teach their course because it is now virtual. For example, maybe the professor is used to being able to write all over the whiteboard, but can’t really do that anymore. So how can they preemptively set up a way where they can be taking notes on the screen that the students can see? It’s important to be willing to think about what can be changed, what can be converted to a virtual format, whether something needs to be removed, or if there’s something new to add because of the virtual environment that wasn’t possible in person.

  • Set up your teaching space. Decide whether you will teach from your office, a teaching studio, your classroom, or home and set up your technical configuration. Contact Digital Solutions (DS) to discuss the best setup for your course.
  • Prepare your space for camera readiness. Choose an area with a neutral background and good lighting that illuminates your face. Position your camera at eye-level and use headphones with a built-in microphone.
  • Update your Zoom software and configure your settings well in advance of your next meeting. Zoom is Stanford’s main video conferencing tool. Follow Zoom’s instructions for updating. Stanford University IT (UIT) offers a set of recommended settings and controls that you may choose to apply based on how you use Zoom. 
  • (Re-)familiarize yourself with key features of Zoom, such as screen share, chat, recording, and reactions. Note that features may have changed since your last use if you do not regularly use Zoom to teach. Find updated resources for using Zoom.
  • Test your tools. Practice using Zoom and its features, such as breakout rooms, as well as other virtual tools such as PollEV, with your teaching team. Tip: record your practice sessions on Zoom to see how you will appear and sound to students.
  • Share practical details with your students. We recommend that you post Zoom links to your Canvas site. If you have transitioned online from an in-person course, let students know if there will be any adjustments to course requirements, schedule, or participation expectations.

Teaching in the Virtual Space

Watch Associate Professor of Political Economy Kate Casey’s demo of a sample online class session, including her tips for keeping students engaged through chunking content into short segments, polling, and more.

  • Build in extra time for logistics. Allow additional time in your lesson plan for giving instructions and managing technical functions. In order to do so, you may need to be more selective about what you cover in a given session.
  • Provide additional structure. Provide written as well as verbal instructions or post discussion questions whenever possible, via Zoom chat, on your slideshow, or via a link to a Google doc. This helps students keep track of activities or conversations even if they have connection issues and as they move in and out of breakout rooms.
  • Get help managing Zoom sessions. If you have one, consider how your TA or CA can help manage technical issues and questions during online class sessions. Your CA may be able to queue up student questions, manage the Zoom chat, and help run polls or other interactive activities.
  • Take attendance. Whether and how you take attendance is up to you. Here are a few ideas about taking attendance in online classes that faculty have used: 
    • For virtual class sessions in Zoom, taking screenshots of the participants list is an easy way to capture attendance during Zoom meetings. To make this approach work, it is important that your students’ full names are displayed in Zoom before each class.
    • The Zoom Usage Reports feature can provide a list of participants who attended meetings that you’ve hosted. Be aware that your usage report may miss any students who were not signed into their Zoom account with their SUNet ID or students who dialed into the meeting by phone.
    • Some faculty have posted a Google sheet with a warm-up question where students will answer and leave their names.
    • Other faculty members have used Poll Everywhere to pose ice-breaker questions. By asking your students to authenticate into the Poll Everywhere app, you can download participation reports and use these to monitor attendance as well.

Conducting an online class session can feel more tiring than a face-to-face class, both for the instructor and the students. The virtual environment may also require different techniques to keep students engaged than the in-person classroom. Plan ways to keep up your energy and the students’ interest.

Tips from GSB Faculty

Break it down to combat “Zoom fatigue”

  • Create short lecture segments (around 10 minutes) interspersed with interaction opportunities to keep students engaged. Think about your sessions in terms of segments of presentation, participation, reflection, small group work, and debrief. Even a light activity, such as asking questions via the chat function or taking a quick poll, can be enough to hold students’ focus.
  • Minimize time that students must be on Zoom, if possible. You might use pre-class videos or online content to cover material that is less interactive and then dedicate class time for more interactive discussions and activities.
  • Incorporate breaks into your session. Even 30 seconds for students to stand up and walk around every half hour can help maintain engagement — and help you keep up your energy during class.

Change it up to capture students’ attention

  • Begin each class with an interactive hook (e.g., role play, live data collection, poll, quiz, whiteboard drawing).
  • Use cold calls or warm calls to prevent students from being distracted by phones, email, etc.
  • Use electronic whiteboard options to add visuals into your lectures. Zoom whiteboard and annotation features can be used for basic annotations. A document camera or tablet can be used for more advanced or detailed diagrams and annotations. Blank PowerPoint slides or a Google Doc can be used for taking notes in real time. Contact Digital Solutions for more information.
  • Create variation in how students participate. Zoom participant engagement features can help you gauge student reactions, call on students during discussions, and vary the teaching methods you use throughout the class period. You can:
    • Ask students to type in the chat tool
    • Use Zoom’s Reactions feature to see whose hands are raised for questions or comments, and get other feedback from the whole class at once.
    • Use Zoom’s polling feature to pose multiple choice questions to the class.
    • Use Zoom’s breakout rooms to incorporate small group work into your class session.

Synchronous small group discussions in your course can be very productive, even in a fully online environment. 

Hear Professor of Marketing Jim Lattin’s strategies for using breakout rooms to increase student participation and facilitate small group work in his online class.

Use Zoom’s breakout rooms

  • Breakout rooms allow you to split students into separate “rooms” for small group discussion and work, and then bring everyone back together to resume the large group meeting. 
  • Depending on the purpose of your activity, you may choose to randomly or manually assign students to rooms or allow students to self-select breakout rooms. Note that the process of manually pre-assigning breakout rooms has some quirks and limitations, and you may wish to ask your FA or CA for help.

Tips for managing small group breakout sessions

  • Provide explicit directions for what students will discuss or do in the breakout rooms. Suggest time limits for the discussion or steps of the activity. Let students know what to prepare to report on once the large group reconvenes.
  • Keep time in breakout rooms short. Limit breakout sessions to 5 or 10 minutes. If you’d like students to spend more time in breakout rooms, it may help to bring students back to the whole group after each discussion question, or to provide extra-detailed directions for breakout room time.
  • Send messages to the breakout rooms to share information or to communicate timing.
  • Join breakout rooms to listen in on discussions, prompt students, and provide feedback.
  • Plan a system for students to communicate with you while they’re in breakout rooms. Students can use the ‘Ask For Help’ feature to call you into their breakout room, or you can set up a shared GoogleDoc where students can enter questions and ask for help.
  • Consider using a Google Doc for students to take notes or share ideas during their small group sessions – this can both provide accountability and increase your awareness of what’s happening in each of the breakout groups.

Role plays can be conducted online with a few modifications from the in-person counterpart.

  • Setup: Provide clear and detailed instructions via Canvas ahead of time if you would like students to prepare in advance, or over Zoom for spontaneous role plays.
  • Action: For multiple concurrent role plays, have students conduct role-plays in Breakout Rooms, or have them conduct and record their role plays outside of class. To have the class observe a single group of students in the role play, spotlight their video feeds.
  • Debrief: Discuss the role play as a class. If you’re teaching a larger class, you might use the Zoom chat or a polling tool to solicit input more broadly and quickly.

Visit our Conducting Role Plays resource to read more tips for facilitating role plays in your course.

Remote guest speakers can be just as effective and interesting as those who visit your classroom in person, and you may be able to increase your pool of guests by inviting them to join virtually.

  • Think broadly about who you may be able to invite for a remote visit, since geography or travel doesn’t need to be a limiting factor.
  • Provide guests the direct Zoom link to your class sessions, since they will not be able to log in through Canvas.
  • Provide your guest speakers with instructions to help them connect to Zoom and get oriented to using Zoom at GSB, if needed. The Zoom Instructions for Guest Speakers handout covers: Zoom installation and login, finding and joining class sessions in Zoom, Zoom features commonly used in GSB courses, and troubleshooting tips.
  • Check in with your guest ahead of time to make sure they are comfortable using Zoom. If possible, set up a call over Zoom to discuss the goals of the guest’s session and to practice some of the Zoom features you may use during their visit.
  • Plan virtual Q&A strategies with your guest ahead of time. For example, you might offer to continue to have your CA/TA (if you have one) monitor questions or to have students populate a PollEverywhere channel that is shared with the speaker.

Holding virtual office hours as part of your online course can help you to get to know your students better and productively answer questions. 

  • Hold drop-in office hours tailored toward your goals for the session. Consider making office hours more casual by rebranding as a “coffee chat,” or consider designating themes to specific office hours (e.g. Thursday afternoon to answering questions or extending discussion on the case study, Monday morning to problem set questions, Friday morning to open topics proposed by students).
  • Offer office hours by appointment. Consider using a scheduling app (such as Canvas Scheduler tool, Google Appointments, or a GoogleDoc/Sheet) to make it easy for students to schedule a one-on-one meeting with you.
  • Post a Zoom meeting link to your office hours in Canvas to make sure all students have consistent access to your office hours.
  • Use Zoom’s Waiting Room feature to ensure your 1:1 office hours meetings remain private and confidential. Waiting rooms allow you to meet with one person or a group of people at a time, while others wait in the waiting room for their turn to meet.

Asynchronous discussion tools, such as Slack or Ed Discussion, can extend classroom conversation and create space for students to ask questions. You can also use these tools to post supplemental materials, share announcements, and collect questions prior to office hour sessions. 

Visit our Asynchronous Course Discussions resource to learn more about getting started with asynchronous discussions. Learn more about the GSB’s classroom tools and technology.

Additional Resources

  • Make sure your Zoom desktop client is up-to-date for best results. Follow these instructions to update Zoom (even if you’re scheduling Zoom meetings through Canvas).
  • Fix a slow or lagging internet connection.
    • Test your audio/video connection on the Zoom test site.
    • Plug your laptop into wall power. Battery use can adversely affect video quality.
    • Consider temporarily turning off your video stream and only maintaining the audio stream (you can also try having your students do the same). This will use up less internet bandwidth and improve communication quality and consistency. Reducing the number of video feeds you are viewing at once (by resizing the Zoom window) can also improve your connection.
  • Prevent issues logging inby logging into the Zoom desktop application via SSO with your Stanford account and then launching the meeting from Canvas. This video walks you through these steps.
  • Optimize video by closing other applications that may be using your video camera, such as FaceTime, Google Meets, or Webex.
  • Optimize and troubleshoot audio.
    • If you have earbuds or a headphone set with a built-in microphone, wear them. Doing so will reduce interference and make it easier for your students to hear you. You can advise your students to do the same.
    • Advise students to mute their microphones if they are not speaking and unmute the microphones when they wish to speak. Muting themselves when they’re not speaking will minimize unnecessary or distracting background noise. You can have students use the in-meeting chat tool or the “raise hand” feature to give the group a visual cue for when they wish to speak. 

Additional Zoom help

  • GSB classroom support hotline at 1-650-736-3342 or file a support ticket to Stanford ServiceNow.
  • The University IT Service Desk at 650-725-4357 for basic assistance 24/7.
  • Zoom how-to guides at support.zoom.us.

The Teaching and Learning Hub may be able to help or direct you to the right support. Contact us here.

Important Note:

Technology is changing at a rapid pace. While we make every attempt to ensure our content is updated to reflect changes to the interface and functionality, we can only guarantee the accuracy of the content on this resource page when it was written or recorded. Please be sure to check the software developer's website for the latest updates and release notes for the most up to date information. If you have questions or concerns, or need additional support, please contact us.