As experienced in 2020, the unexpected can happen and disrupt our typical flow and routines. This page is a handbook of tips and resources to help GSB faculty adjust to an online classroom experience with little preparation. Use the tips provided here to help you make decisions on how you might adapt your course content and teaching methodology to the online or hybrid learning environment.
Adapt your syllabus for an online or hybrid course
If you have time to think about how you will deliver your course in a new format (whether fully online or hybrid), consider what can reasonably be accomplished given the course format as well as the global context.
- Do you think you can maintain your original syllabus? What activities are better rescheduled, and what can or must be done online?
- Will you teach entirely live (synchronously), or might you create pre-recorded lectures and reserve your live sessions for interactive discussions, activities, and group work? These aren’t necessarily substitutes: the live lecture session can be supplemented with pre- and post-recordings of shorter clips.
- Would it make sense to emphasize certain topics and de-emphasize others in order to add engagement and accountability?
- Will you need to adjust any assignments so that students can complete them properly and in a timely fashion and so that you can provide feedback?
Mind the cognitive load
Stressful experiences can affect students’ cognitive load. In addition to dealing with what is going on in the world and around them, students are adjusting to changing teaching modalities and engaging with distance learning and technologies used at Stanford. Consider increased flexibility and leniency when introducing new concepts. Students’ study habits may be disrupted and different from what they were in the past.
Lights – Camera – Setup
Set up your space
Set up your technical configuration well in advance of the first class and practice with the technology beforehand. Digital Solutions (DS) is offering tech consultations and coordinating equipment purchases for setting up your space. If you’d like DS to place the order for you, use the Purchase Tablet, Peripheral or other Hardware for GSB Faculty form in ServiceNow. You can also request consultations at gsbfirst.stanford.edu, and the message will go straight to the team at the GSB.
Prepare to be on camera
Here are some tips to help you look and sound your best:
- Light up your face. Make sure light is in front of you by sitting in front of a window or placing a lamp behind your computer screen. You can also try turning up the brightness on your screen so it illuminates your face. Avoid having lights behind you as it can have the opposite effect and cast a shadow over you.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Strive to provide a neutral background so that viewers can focus on you. Or, you can set a Zoom virtual background. A number of GSB-themed virtual backgrounds are here and the GSB virtual name placards can be created here.
- Position the camera at eye level. Many people place their webcam too low, which creates an awkward angle. If you find that your webcam is too low or your face is cut off from view, try setting your device on a few books or a box. You can also experiment with moving your webcam closer or further away to figure out what works best. For inspiration, check out Kate Casey’s setup in this video, starting around 12:13.
- Use headphones with a built-in microphone. This will minimize background noise and sound better than your laptop’s built-in speakers and mic. To avoid latency, go with wired headphones.
- Try standing. If your space allows it, you can also try a setup that allows you to stand while teaching. Setting your device on books or a box can enable this. You may find that standing helps you better maintain energy throughout virtual class sessions.
Resources and tips for presenting over video
- Record and Edit Lecture Videos
- Matt Abrahams: 10 Tips For Giving Effective Virtual Presentations
- Matt Abrahams: Become a Better Virtual Communicator
- Matt Abrahams: Make the Most of Your Virtual Communications
- Your Body Language On A Videoconference
- Stand & Deliver – The 6 Deadly Webcam Sins and How to Fix Them
- Zoom’s Video Communications Best Practice Guide
Plan a hybrid course
If you are designing a hybrid course that will be partially online and partially in person, consider the following:
- How will you use the time you spend with your students in real time (whether on Zoom or in person)?
- How will you deliver your lectures — in real time or pre-recorded?
- When will students complete activities and assignments relative to their real-time interaction with you?
- How will the experience be inclusive and engaging for students who cannot attend in person?
You'll also want to get to know GSB’s classroom technology and some teaching tips for this model. Reach out to learn more about teaching hybrid courses.
Online Tools and Course Logistics
Scheduling Zoom meetings and sharing meeting details
In order to standardize how Zoom meeting details are shared with students across all of their courses, your faculty assistant has been trained on the recommended approach for scheduling Zoom meetings and will complete this step for you. Please use these instructions to grant your FA permission to create Zoom meetings on your behalf. Then, coordinate with your FA to get the scheduling work done.
If you prefer to schedule your own Zoom meetings, this page walks you through your options for scheduling Zoom meetings. GSB is requiring that courses post the Zoom link on their Canvas homepage so that students have a consistent place to find these details for all of their courses.
Whether you are teaching a completely online course or a hybrid course, you will likely have Zoom sessions with your students. When you think about how to use the time you have with students on Zoom, consider doing the following:
- Secure your Zoom sessions from the possibility of “Zoom bombing” (having your meeting purposefully, and often offensively, disrupted). While Stanford has enabled many default security settings in Stanford Zoom accounts to secure your meetings, you still will want to follow these tips for adjusting your meeting settings to help manage and protect your class time. This article contains some GSB-specific use cases that can help you decide other settings you may wish to activate.
- Get to know the essential Zoom features (screen sharing, chat, and how to customize the video layout, to name a few). Consider viewing a recording of one of our past webinars on ‘Teaching with Zoom’.
- Determine whether you will record your Zoom meetings. You may receive further guidance on recording your class sessions from the GSB leadership or other Stanford directives and there may be good reasons to do so. Recorded sessions enable students to review, and also can accommodate students with recognized needs. If you plan to record your class sessions:
- Let your students know in advance. Zoom also automatically provides notice to attendees when recordings are started, paused, and stopped.
- Explicitly state that students should not share recording links or copies of recordings with anyone outside of the class.
- Use a means to help limit access to meeting recordings after the end of the quarter. If you use the Zoom tool in Canvas, Stanford has enabled default settings. You can also set an expiration on a Zoom cloud recording link.
- Know how to troubleshoot. If your internet speed is slow or you have other issues connecting to Zoom meetings, try these troubleshooting tips.
The Zoom Help Center also has helpful guides for features not covered above.
Whether and how you take attendance is up to you. Here are a few tips from faculty on taking attendance in online classes:
- For virtual class sessions in Zoom, taking screenshots of the participants list is an easy way to capture attendance during Zoom meetings. See how here. (Your faculty assistant has also been trained in this and can help.) To make this approach work, it is important that your students’ full names are displayed in Zoom before each class.
- Another approach to attendance-taking is to use the Zoom Usage Reports feature to view 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.
- For hybrid courses, you’ll need to take attendance for students joining in-person and remotely. You can use a conventional attendance-taking method for in-person students and one of the methods described above for students joining on Zoom.
Teaching in the Virtual Space
Tips for facilitation in the virtual classroom
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.
No matter how much planning and preparation you do (and you should), you will learn as you go. You may find ways to change your approach in order to be more effective. For this reason, among others, you want to keep your approach simple so that you are able to adapt quickly.
Leverage the tools you have
- Keep your students in view: Zoom’s gallery view lets you see thumbnails of up to 49 students at a time.
- Use Breakout Rooms and Zoom Participant Engagement Tools for calling on students (raised hand and chat) and surveying the entire class at once (polls, reactions) to engage with students and break up your Zoom sessions.
Maintain energy throughout virtual class sessions
Conducting an online class session can feel more tiring than a face-to-face class, both for the instructor and the students. Plan ways to keep up your energy and the students’ interest.
- Break down lectures into shorter 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, is enough to hold focus.
- To combat “Zoom fatigue,” 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.
- Create variation in the ways you teach and the ways students interact with the material.
- Use cold calls or warm calls to prevent students from being distracted by phones, email, etc.
- 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.
- Begin each class with an interactive hook (e.g., role-play, live data collection, poll, quiz, whiteboard drawing).
Role-plays can be built into a teaching plan with pre-assigned roles to promote student preparation, or they can be used spontaneously in response to a specific comment or class discussion. In either case, role-plays typically require a setup, action, and debrief. This guide can help you think through using Zoom tools to conduct role-plays in the virtual classroom.
Small group work
Zoom’s breakout rooms feature allows 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.
You can form groups in three ways:
- Randomly assign students to groups (known as "automatic" assignment in Zoom)
- Manually specify who will be grouped together ("pre-assigned breakout rooms"). For more information, read our caveats about this approach.
- Allow students to choose their groups ("self-selected breakout rooms")
Here are some tips for making small group sessions work:
- 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.
- 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 GoogleDoc 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.
Online community building
Several GSB faculty who taught online have noted there’s a challenge of building a class community. It is paramount to build a sense of community when class only meets online or will be meeting online long term without in-person interactions. In these cases, it can be easy for students to feel that they are only observers as opposed to key contributors. Here are a couple of examples of ways you might foster community in your class:
- Have students turn their cameras on. In online live sessions, the sense of presence will be enhanced when everyone shows their face via their webcam. Recommending or requiring students to turn on video, especially at strategic points of discussion can be one of your class norms.
- Build in time to check in with students. For example, you might hold regular office hours in Zoom and be available on Zoom for a few minutes after each session to allow for student follow-up questions. Some instructors found it useful to hold get-to-know-you Zoom sessions with small groups of students before the start of the quarter.
- Hold group Zoom office hours. These might take a variety of formats, such as drop-in discussion topics, informal virtual lunches, pre-quarter get-to-know-you meetings, etc. Many faculty have found these types of meetings to be highly successful in allowing students to engage more deeply with the topics and connect with each other. It can also provide further opportunity to facilitate connections between your course content and current global events without taking too much of your class time.
- View the 'Connecting with students' video to see how some GSB faculty created a sense of community while teaching online.
Other Resources You May Find Helpful
Videos and tips from the community
The Teaching and Learning Hub has presented a number of webinars for online teaching. Check our recordings of some of our most popular sessions:
- Getting started with teaching on Zoom
- Faculty panel on teaching courses online
- Workshop on leading effective discussions online
Browse a complete list of all past events.
GSB Faculty Tips
Over the past couple of years, GSB faculty have collected and shared their classroom-tested tips and strategies for creating a meaningful and engaging learning environment while teaching online. Here are some of their stories.
Stanford resources for instructors and students
- Instructor resources:
- Student resources: