Zooming into the Next Semester – Tips Tried and Tested

Dr Shonagh Douglas, Aberdeen Business School, Robert Gordon University

Edward Pollock, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group, Robert Gordon University

Distracting the Distracted

Many of us (sorry colleagues!) have been guilty of the odd bit of multitasking during online meetings or training and I expect many students are similar. This makes it very easy to drift off (even more sorry colleagues) from the discussion in hand. Incorporating different and varied activities can help focus attention. Zoom offers several options, many of which are transferable to other platforms.

One of Zoom’s superior features is the ability for students to screen share within breakout rooms leading to many learning opportunities. Asking each group to produce something, such as a PowerPoint slide/presentation or a poster, can really encourages participation and focus. Depending on cohort size, each group can be asked to share the final product and, if appropriate, a quick poll to identify the best one can add a competitive element.

Most will be aware of the poll function (set up in advance for smooth operation) on Zoom and these can be useful for a quick bit of activity. These are effective but relatively basic and screen sharing a specialised online quiz platform, such as Kahoot or Mentimeter (both of which have free options), can give more advanced features. A further quick alternative to a poll can be asking for an emoji which somehow often get a good response and can actually be quite enlightening – ‘can you put in an emoji to demonstrate how you feel about….’ In Zoom students will most likely have to type these but experience shows they are apt at coming up with quite a range.

The annotation features can also be a useful addition to teaching through allowing students to circle/highlight key aspects – for example, when discussing a question, say screen shared through word, asking students to underline key criteria has been effective. You could also consider adding a blank slide in PowerPoint with a question at the top so students can annotate and fill in the blanks or add text to the page. The page can get messy so you might need to move text boxes around – but this has worked really well for sharing ideas. 

Virtual games, screen shared, have provided further successes at encouraging activity, particularly with smaller groups. A dice game, where students roll a virtual dice and have to talk about one of 6 pre-determined options depending on the number they role. Virtual Connect Four has also been successful where students are divided into two groups and have to answer a question each on a topic – if they get a question right they get to place a counter on a virtual connect 4 board and play against the other team. The first team to have four in a row is the winner. 

Using Zoom for Tutorials – A Handy Workaround

When presented with a large-scale teaching module with numerous online tutorial groups each week, motivation to find a solution to setting up multiple meetings each week was high. A neat work around this is to set up one meeting which lasts 24 hours and recurs daily. You can select for the host to be present before meeting starts if you do not want it being used in between. You need to reset after around 7 weeks, once maximum time is hit. An additional plus of this is that polls do not need to be set up for each class, each week, which saves a bit of admin time.

Recording Sessions

If you need to record a session and are screen sharing, remember firstly to check the box in your settings to record screenshare and secondly, remember that it will record what you can see. If you leave one or two student faces in the corner this will be recorded – click these away so you only see the screenshare (such as the PowerPoint slides) or your face and the screenshare. Also, if you have breakout rooms in operation it will continue to record the main room so if you use this chance to eat your lunch or have a chat to a colleague, better to pause the recording!

Final Tips and Tricks

Music on arrival this one made a big difference! Sharing your screen with computer audio on (make sure its copyright free) and playing some background music when people log in – it builds the energy, avoids the awkward silence when people are connecting and lets people check their sound without lots of ‘is the sound working?’ ‘can you hear me?

Eye contact: Remember where your camera is. We are so used to making eye contact with lots of different students in the room. If you do this in Zoom the students will all just see you looking in lots of random directions and not at them. If you are talking though slides, try and have these placed just below your camera for more natural eye contact.

Break activities  a timer on the screen and a daily riddle or similar adds some fun while waiting but being unable chat with each other.

As an alternative to a virtual hands up, for feedback after a discussion you could use ‘Wheel of Names,’ or something similar, through screen share to randomly select someone. This add a bit of excitement and avoids having to pick on someone if you have reluctant participants.


  • James says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I particularly like the ideas around having other tools that students can use together while in Zoom.

    One idea might be playing with other resources… for example having students pull up another website, like a question map on Parlia ( https://www.parlia.com ) read the arguments in their breakout groups, and then comeback and debate their ideas together. Exploring outside content together seems effective.

  • Michael Porter says:

    Fantastic Post, even as a Microsoft Teams user/trainer as you’re right many of these skills are transferable.

    Following on from what James said, another great tool I’ve used in Lecture Halls and has really come into its own at virtual conferences and in Zoom/Teams classrooms is Slido. If you were to use the breakout rooms scenario again, this would be great as a global pinboard to post questions that could be later brought up again in the main room or even ideas gathering. Perhaps another creative use is a twist on jigsaw learning where instead of people having to re-teach each other what they learned from each station, they write up a short version on the Slido ideas board and the main teacher can then select the best ones to create a global set of notes and gather a contrast of the understanding across the class.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *