Remote Active Learning Activities

How do you engage your students in active learning when you can't work with them in person?

Believe it or not, you do it already. Students may spend a few hours a week with you in the classroom, but they spend many multiples of that time learning on their own or with their classmates. Even if you have limited synchronous contact with students, there are many ways that you can help them attain learning outcomes.

Use the active learning techniques matrix below for ideas. In addition to techniques, short descriptions are included that will help you implement them. Some of these are very low-tech, while others are high-tech.

There are techniques for both synchronous and asynchronous class formats. Whether synchronous or asynchronous, active learning techniques are likely to increase engagement, inclusion, and student performance, and serve to help build community in your course.


14 Ways to Engage 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 off1:

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

  2. Students’ home responsibilities, including child care and family care2

  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

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

  1. Facilitate a conversation with your students to collectively agree upon norms for Zoom engagement.3, 4, 5

  2. 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.3

  3. Give students time to respond to discussion questions in the Zoom chat or in a Google Doc.3, 6, 7

  4. Lead an in-class close reading and annotation activity using Hypothesis.9

  5. Break up lectures with mini quizzes and polls within Zoom.7, 9, 10

  6. Have students take a Canvas quiz after your lecture, then review the answers using the Quiz Analytics feature to discuss wrong answers. Allow them a second attempt and compare results.

  7. “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.3

  8. 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. Once students enter breakout rooms, send a message to all breakout rooms reminding them of their roles and the specific assignment for the activity.3

  9. Add case studies, or short scenario videos or exercises, to your lesson plan. Use breakout rooms to have students decide what the right decision is, given the scenario. Bring students back together in the main Zoom room for each team to present their choice.

  10. End class with an “exit slip” where students report what they learned or what confused them before leaving class.6

  11. 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.3

  12. Start class with a fun question that students can answer in the chat while other students join class.5

  13. Guide students through the process of adding a friendly photo or portrait of themselves to Zoom. This can help a discussion feel more personal, even if their camera is off.

  14. 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.7

  1. 5 reasons to let students keep their cameras off during Zoom classes - The Conversation
  2. Student Told Not to Breastfeed During Class Time - Inside Higher Ed
  3. 10 Strategies for Creating Inclusive & Equitable Online Learning Environments - Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning
  4. Trauma-Informed Teaching - UCSC Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning
  5. 8 Ways to Be More Inclusive in Your Zoom Teaching - Chronicle of Higher Education
  6. Should We Require Students to Turn Their Cameras On in the Zoom Classroom? - The Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion
  7. Engaging Students through Zoom - Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning
  8. Open Annotation and Close Reading the Victorian Text: Using with Students - Journal of Victorian Culture
  9. Zoom Instructions - UCSC Keep Teaching
  10. Active Learning for Your Online Classroom: Five Strategies Using Zoom - Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning