Making Zoom Work for You

In this post I want to take it a step further and talk about how to make the most of your synchronous time with your students in zoom. If you are new to Zoom and looking for zoom basics, guidance on creating meetings, navigating the interface, using Zoom with Moodle, or securing your room from Zoombombers we have other posts for those.


Establishing norms and expectations for discussions
Using the Chat feature
Student video – on or off?
Managing multiple windows and what your students see
Polling and Breakout Rooms
More resources

Establishing norms for online discussions:

One of the most important things you can do right at the start of the semester is to establish norms and expectations for how you expect your students to interact with you and each other. Having students participate and build this agreement themselves allows them to have their opinions heard and will hopefully lead to more buy-in and and adherence to the policy. It takes a bit more work to make sure everyone is able to participate in a discussion when you can’t necessarily see everyone.

Do you want students to raise their hands to speak or allow them to just unmute and talk when they want? Be conscious of whose voices are being heard and whose are not. While allowing everyone to speak whenever they want may sound appealing it can also allow a few students to easily dominate a conversation. By making students raise their hands and be called on gives you more control of the conversation. If you expect students to raise their hands make sure they know what that means and how to do it. Some students may just raise it on video and hope you see it when you may not even have their video on screen. Some may use what is actually the clap emoji since it looks like a hand. Using the raise hand function in the participant window is the best option but then you need to be sure you keep an eye on the participants list to know when someone has raised their hand. When someone raises their hand they will appear at the top of the list in the order in which it was raised.

Using the chat:

Consider how you want to use the chat feature. Do you want to leave it open so students can have a back channel conversation among the whole group as well as private conversations, or do you want to limit that ability? You might want to consider leaving the ability to chat with everyone publicly available but removing the private chat function to avoid small private conversations akin to texting or side conversations in the classroom. You may want to turn the chat off altogether or just turn it on at certain points in the class when you invite students to participate. In the chat window look for the “…” (more) button to change the settings on the fly from within the class meeting.

Student video:

What is your position on video? Do you ask (or even require) your students to have their video on? While it is tempting to require students to leave their cameras on so you can see their reactions and get what little non verbal cues you can in a remote setting, students may have good reasons for choosing to leave their cameras off. Maybe they have a poor internet connection so they choose to leave the camera off to use less bandwidth. Maybe they are in a less than idea situation and don’t want to project their surroundings to their peers. Some computers can display 49 participants at a time while others can only do 25. Some computers can use the virtual background function but many can’t so you can’t rely on that to obscure one’s surroundings. If you have more than 25 people in a session you should assume everyone can’t see everyone at once. If you share your screen only a small number of videos will be visible.

Managing multiple windows:

Screen real estate is valuable and it can be difficult for you and your students to juggle multiple windows, especially on a smaller screen and it may be near impossible on a mobile device. If you are having your students access Moodle, or using lab software or working on a collaborative document that means there are other windows they need to watch in addition to Zoom. Try to minimize this by dedicating time to one or the other. Make sure they are seeing what you want them to see and give them time to arrange their windows. Some tips:

  • You can use the spotlight video option to force the participants view to your video or someone else’s rather than letting them jump between speaker and gallery view. This is especially useful if you are pointing a camera at  whiteboard in the classroom. You can spotlight the video so students see it full screen rather than in a smaller thumbnail in gallery view. To spotlight a video, hover over the video in Zoom you want to spotlight, click the blue square at the top right of the video and choose spotlight video.
  • Make sure you and your students are comfortable switching between open windows and applications by using alt-tab (Windows) or command-tab (Mac). Hold down alt or command and hit the tab key. That will cycle through all your open windows. With a little practice you can jump between PowerPoint, Word, Zoom, etc. in split second.
  • Practice with the different views in Zoom to see what works for you and encourage your students to do the same. Sometimes full screen makes sense but other times minimizing zoom altogether is better. when minimized Zoom will display the speaker in a smaller floating window allowing you to access other windows more easily.
  • If you are using the raise hand feature (at the bottom of the participants list) or chat make sure your students know how to access these windows on whatever device they are using.

Polling and Breakout rooms:

You can make Zoom meetings more interactive by using the Polling feature to ask questions or use breakout rooms to encourage small group discussion.

You can create polling questions from within the Zoom meeting by clicking the Polling button at the bottom of the screen. You can also create the questions ahead of time by editing the meeting settings at Look at the bottom of the screen while editing a meeting and you will see where to add the polling questions. Then when you click the polling button in a Zoom meeting you will see the questions you already created.

If you use breakout rooms you may want students to keep notes in a shared doc that you can monitor so you can jump in and out of groups based on how the conversation is going, or not going. If you have students participating asynchronously and relying on the recording they can still add to the shared doc later. But be aware when they view a recording the breakout rooms are not recorded. Consider keeping one group in the main room so that will be part of the recording.

More Resources:

Using Polls and Breakout rooms – workshop video
Securing your meeting against Zoombombing – workshop video
Collaborative Whiteboard options – workshop video

Customize this Word document on how to participate in Zoom and post for your students – Participant Zoom Guide