COVID-19 outbreak fears have prompted most universities and colleges to move their classes online for the rest of the Winter 2020 semester. With that comes challenges for both professors and students turning classrooms virtual.

Use these five tips to ensure your virtual classrooms have as seamless an experience as possible.

  1. Determine your classroom requirements. Teaching a class with more than 30 students and the most participation you need is polling? Consider simply recording and uploading your lecture rather than using a live web conferencing app. Trying to coordinate a lot of students who may be unfamiliar with the app will take up more lecture time than you’d like. (The average meeting starts ten minutes late, even with familiar tools!)
    Is participation necessary for a smaller class, such as a graduate seminar? While virtual classroom software (such as LMS365) would be best, you need a longer runway to implement and install this. Instead, consider using a web conferencing tool. Many vendors, such as Zoom, Cisco, Microsoft, and Google are offering free versions of their premium collaboration tools, so take advantage of their solutions. However, consider the caveats below.
  2. Test-run the tool. Make sure you’re familiar with the tool’s interface, that your audio is not muted and does work, that you can share your screen for your PowerPoint slides, and (even though you hopefully don’t have to) how to kick someone out of the room! Each vendor has a wiki for these capabilities, so, once more, take advantage of them.
  3. Supply lecture notes in advance. Give students a roadmap or general framework for what the lecture or seminar will be about. This way, it will be easier for students to follow the class structure. Furthermore, should students want to participate in advance, let them! It will make it easier to have students’ class contributions prior to the actual class so that they don’t feel ignored during the live web conference.
  4. Ask all students to turn their audio and video capabilities off. This gives three benefits: 1) It avoids pandemonium with students talking over one another; 2) It prevents the tool lagging from video capabilities taking up bandwidth; and 3) It prevents audio loop feedback, stopping that high-pitch ringing noise.
  5. Monitor the chat function – instant messaging does not equal text messaging. With audio and video capabilities turned off, the chat function is the best way for students to interact and participate during class. This chat will need to be monitored, so check every ten minutes or so to see what students have to say; or, if you have the luxury of a TA, ask them to do that job. Make sure that students are only contributing to the discussion and are doing so formally and in a friendly manner. You will need to remind students that this is still a classroom and any untoward chat will not be tolerated. (This is where you may need to know how to kick participants out of the room!)

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