Engaging students in remote instruction

Engaging Your Students on Zoom - Even if Their Cameras Are Off

Even if you’ve taught just one class session on Zoom, you know the feeling: the long silence on the other end of line, made all the more palpable when you see a screen full of black boxes. The usual ways we gauge our students’ engagement aren’t available to us when students keep their cameras off. We can’t see their facial expressions of boredom or excitement; we have no way to make eye contact; we can’t read their body language. So it might be tempting to require students to turn on their cameras during class.

Why you should let students keep their cameras off:

  1. Stress and anxiety about being observed in their personal spaces

  2. Students’ home responsibilities, including child care and family care

  3. Right to privacy, including right not to share surroundings with classmates

  4. Low internet bandwidth

  5. Anxiety and self-consciousness from the feeling that they’re being watched by their classmates

10 activities to engage students that don’t require them to have their cameras on:

  1. Assign roles to students in breakout rooms (example: Timekeeper, Recorder, Facilitator, Synthesizer, and Reporter) and specify what students need to produce in the breakout room to focus their attention and engagement. Students can choose their own roles, or you can find creative ways to assign roles. Be sure to send a message to all breakout rooms reminding them of their roles and the specific assignment for the activity.

  2. Break up lectures with mini quizzes and polls within Zoom to gauge comprehension and engagement.

  3. Use the hand-raising function in Zoom to call on students (rather than only looking for raised hands among students who have their cameras on). Provide ample time for more students to raise their (emoji) hands.

  4. Give students ample time to respond to discussion questions in the Zoom chat or in a Google Doc. Embrace the silence for a little longer than feels comfortable!

  5. Lead an in-class close reading and annotation activity using Hypothesis.

  6. Create opportunities for students to lead parts of the class, such as choosing a song to play at the start of class or facilitating a discussion.

  7. Facilitate a conversation with your students to collectively agree upon norms for Zoom engagement.

  8. “Warm calling:” private message a student to ask if they’d be comfortable sharing a comment you or a TA overheard in a breakout room, or that you read in the chat. This is one way to bring students who don’t usually speak into the larger class discussion.

  9. End class with an “exit slip” where students report what they learned or what confused them before leaving class.

  10. Whatever you do, make sure to break up long lectures with activities, mindfulness exercises, breaks, and/or (optional) opportunities to move their bodies to keep students engaged.