Zoom: Teach Online Class Sessions

Synchronous class sessions, in which everyone logs in to a web conferencing system at a pre-scheduled time, are one way to create engagement and foster community in your fully online courses. In a synchronous session, you use a web-conferencing software and invite all your students to join in at a pre-scheduled time.

The University's web conferencing software is Zoom. Zoom can be used on laptops, desktops, tablets, smart phones, and even desk phones, giving students many ways to access the class session.

In this article:

Preparing for Your Zoom Meeting

Zoom will work best if you make some key decisions and develop Zoom fluency before inviting students into an online meeting. Here are a few ways to prepare for your course.

Choose the best session format

Zoom offers webinars and meetings.  Both formats allow you to interact with students, but they have some differences. Use the meeting/webinar comparison chart to select the format that works best for you.

If you are in the HCC/BAA and need to attend or host a meeting that requires authentication, you are required to complete a brief training about HCC requirements in order to be able to sign in and access the meeting. Zoom account access is provisioned up to 30 minutes after training completion; please plan to complete the Zoom HCC training in advance of the meeting time. Learn more about the limitations to using HCC Zoom.

Set up your hardware

It is possible to conduct an online class session with nothing more than speakers and a microphone. Learn more about the recommended hardware for Zoom meetings.

Install the correct software

Installing the desktop version of Zoom (umn.zoom.us) will give you the best results and functionality when hosting a meeting. Guide your students to install it as well.

Students who plan to join Zoom meetings from a mobile device should also download the Zoom mobile app.

Schedule Zoom meetings

You can schedule Zoom meetings in a few different ways:

Learn more about scheduling Zoom meetings

Regardless of how you choose to schedule a meeting, remember to share the Join link! A Join link is how students will join the virtual online meeting space. Learn how to invite students to meetings.

Coach for online etiquette

You may need to model, and coach your students on, basic online meeting etiquette. In sum:

  • ask people to turn on their cameras
  • look at the camera in order to make eye contact when they're talking
  • mute their mics when they aren't contributing
  • use the Chat field for constructive comments only

Plan roles for students: don't host alone

You'll have a less stressful classroom management experience if you delegate certain aspects of managing the online space to your students. Consider asking one TA or student to monitor the chat and one to help their peers deal with technology issues. You can also formally designate co-hosts or panelists. That way, you can focus on teaching, and you'll give students some extra digital skills practice.

Building a Secure Class Community

A strong sense of community will enhance your online class and contribute to student success. That community will be enhanced when you take measures to keep it safe from intrusion or disruption. Here are a few ways to achieve these goals:

Preparing for Technical Issues

The 3 most common technical issues with any web conferencing software are:

  • Participants can't see
  • Participants can't hear
  • Background noise & mic feedback

Learn how to fix these issues (click Troubleshoot Audio and Troubleshoot Video under "During the event"). Consider sharing the Participant's Guide to Improving Your Zoom Experience with your audience as well.

We recommend hosting a low-stakes introductory online meeting experience, whose sole purpose is to have everyone log on, troubleshoot technical issues, and get used to the Zoom interface.

Setting an Agenda

Plan for a synchronous course session just as you would plan for an on ground class. Here is a sample agenda for a 60-minute synchronous course session - share your agenda with students ahead of time, so they know what to expect.





5 min Intro: Whiteboard activity On entry into the virtual classroom, have students think about a question and write their contribution on the whiteboard. Launch a whiteboard at start of class so it's the first thing students see, and add visible instructions.
2 min Poll Use the polling tool to ask a question that engages and determines personal relevance for the topic of the mini-lecture. Set up the poll question in advance.
10 min  Mini-lecture Share screen, launch PowerPoint, and deliver mini-lecture. Use Annotation features in Zoom to mark up your PowerPoint slides. Learn about screen-sharing a PowerPoint presentation.
Have the PowerPoint file launched already so you can get to it seamlessly. 
Practice annotating slides in advance to add visual interactivity.
2 min  Poll  Ask 1 or more questions for understanding. Set up the poll question in advance.
10 min  Breakout Room Activity  Assign students into individual breakout rooms, discuss for 10 minutes, and create a collaborative Google doc (which you will then collect in the Canvas site). Practice hosting breakout rooms, both manual and machine-assigned.
10 min  Debrief  Ask each group to appoint a representative to summarize the main points of their discussion. Post these in the chat field, which you then read. Ask a TA or student to monitor the chat field for you, and bring the most relevant points to the fore. Consider assigning that person co-host privileges
2 min  Chat: Muddiest Point Ask students to contribute to chat where they are still confused.  
5 min  Debrief  Clear up misconceptions that were unearthed in the muddiest point chat.  
5 min  Closing Summarize the activity of the session, set up expectations for follow-up activities, and dismiss.  

You may choose to:


Engaging Students: Whiteboard, Screen Annotation, Polling, Chat, and Breakout Sessions

No one wants to sit through a straight lecture session for 60 minutes, and in fact, such a class session design doesn't leverage the fact that you have all your students there and present. You can use the features of Zoom to guide different types of interactive activities. These activities offer variety to break up a long class session, and they offer different means of expression, a universal design principle.


Set up polls in advance and launch them at specific times during your class session, the same way you'd use clicker questions to introduce a new section of a lecture.

Chat as Back channel

Back channeling refers to having a synchronous conversation while something else is happening. For example, people sometimes live-tweet their reactions to a presidential debate as it is being broadcast. Using the chat tool as a back channel can give students agency and encourage engagement by allowing more students to interact with the live activity, rather than just listening.

Some uses of back channel:

  • Emulate live-tweeting of guest lectures as a way to collect questions, which you then answer at the end of the session. Elect 1 student to monitor the chat and curate questions as they come in.
  • Host a virtual fishbowl, in which a small group of students interact around solving a problem or discussing an issue. The other students react to their classmates' contributions via the chat back channel.
  • During your lectures, encourage students to log questions as small groups and elect 1 student to bring them forward for group conversation.


  • Back channel activities can be overwhelming for some students, and are thus an accessibility concern. Therefore, it is recommended you offer this type of interaction as an option for students who thrive on this level of stimulation, but do not require it from all students.
  • Back channel can also be overwhelming for you to monitor while you're also trying to teach. Consider deputizing a student or TA to monitor the chat if you use this feature, to make it easier for you to focus on teaching.
  • You can download the full chat history at the end of class, if you want to keep this record.
  • If you are experiencing disruptions because of the chat, consider limiting chat to Host only. Learners will still be able to send you questions but they will no longer be able to chat with the whole group or send each other private messages.

Breakout Rooms

You can use Zoom's breakout rooms to have students do group work. Not all of the features that are present in the main session will be present in breakout rooms. Still, as the instructor, you can "travel" from one breakout room to the next, broadcast messages to various rooms, and end the breakout sessions when it is time to regroup.

Note:  Consider making a TA enabled as co-host to help monitor breakout rooms.  Co-hosts will also have the ability to "travel" from one breakout room to the next once you have put them in a breakout room.


Draw on the whiteboard, or ask students to contribute to a whiteboard as a means of engaging them differently in the discussion.

Note: whiteboard activity is completely inaccessible to people who use screen readers. If you use this feature, be prepared to read aloud all the contributions so that everyone can see and /or hear them. And, you'll need to take a screen shot of each whiteboard if you want to save it.

Screen Annotation

Zoom has basic annotation tools (text box, free form draw/pen, shapes, and highlighter) that you can use to guide students around a visual display (such as a website) or explain a concept. Access these from the Share Desktop function.

Note: screen annotations are not accessible for screen reader users. If you use this feature, be sure to use accessible presentation best practices: say exactly what you're doing while you're doing it, e.g., "I'm drawing a big red circle around the login button on this web page."

Writing Course Description and Syllabus Language: Synchronous Participation Required

Your course description (in ECAS or otherwise) should make it clear that the online course includes both synchronous and asynchronous participation. (By default, students may assume that online courses are self-paced and asynchronous.)

If you plan to require synchronous meetings, your syllabus should include mention of these up front so students can plan ahead. In addition, consider mentioning:

  • What students should do if they need to miss a synchronous session
  • Devices and other technology considerations they'll need for participation (webcam, headphones, adequate Internet bandwidth)
  • Expectations for participation
    • How many meetings are students expected to attend in order to receive course credit?
    • What are your expectations for student participation through chat, annotations, and out-loud contributions?
    • Where should students be when attending this class? For example, if you expect students to participate out loud frequently, then they should be in a location where speaking up periodically will not disrupt anyone else's work.

Recording & Privacy Considerations

If you plan to record the classroom session, you must have students' consent. Minnesota state law requires giving notice (Tennessen warning) prior to making a recording. Learn more about FERPA guidance as it relates to online classes

  • Zoom's "Spotlight" feature allows you to record only the presenter.
  • If you record more than 2-3 class sessions with the Zoom for Canvas Integration, consider selecting Record on this Computer instead of Record to the Cloud . When recordings are finished, upload them to Kaltura, and share them in Canvas using the following:
  • Offer students the option to mute their video during the recording.
  • If you or your students are in the Health Care Component (HCC - meaning, anyone with a BAA or BAA+ account), there may be some restrictions around your ability to record Zoom sessions. Learn more about recording Zoom meetings and webinars
    • Note: If you are in the HCC/BAA and need to attend or host a meeting that requires authentication, you are required to complete a brief training about HCC requirements in order to be able to sign in and access the meeting. Zoom account access is provisioned up to one business day after training completion; please plan to complete the Zoom HCC training in advance of the meeting time. You will receive an email from [email protected] and must click the provided link in order to gain access to your Zoom account.

Presenting Accessibly

If you have someone designated to take notes (an accessibility best practice), you can enable closed captions, which allows your notetaker to transcribe what's being said in real time. You can also enable Automatic Live Transcription, but keep in mind that it should be used for accessibility, not for accommodation. 

Don't assume that all students can see or make the same sense of your visual display as you intend. For accessibility, get in the habit of describing whatever is happening visually on the screen. If you are showing a picture of bunnies while talking about animal testing, say, "Here is a picture of bunnies, which are often used as the subject of animal testing particularly in the cosmetics industry." 

By the same token, get in the habit of being verbally explicit, especially while walking students through a screen demonstration. Because students use different devices, we recommend against using directional language in this context. It's better to say "the arrow-shaped icon that says Share; it's between Polling and Chat". 

And remember that students access the Zoom interface from different kinds of devices, including mobile phones, tablets and laptops, so your verbal descriptions should account for those differences.

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