Online strategies to use in the classroom

Despite the teaching challenges of the 2020-21 year, we did discover creative new teaching tools and strategies. As we prepare for fall semester courses, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on strategies we want to bring back to in-person teaching to enhance student learning.

Inclusive teaching strategies | Connecting with students | Lecturing | Collaborative learning | Rethinking prelims

Including everyone

Remote teaching pushed us all to pay more attention to how our students were faring and to take steps to make sure everyone was supported.

Also, the pandemic context has emphasized existing inequalities, but we can take steps to build greater equity and inclusion into our classrooms and interactions with students. Here are a few options to consider:

Connecting with students

When remote teaching was the only option, it was important to be present in a variety of ways to connect with students online. For example, instructors used Zoom office hours, discussion forums, and Canvas announcements to provide flexibility. The context helped us reaffirm the importance of clear, consistent communication and sharing expectations. These approaches are effective for supporting student learning in-person as well.

  • Check-ins: Professor Steven Strogatz uses informal polls to check in on students and make emotional connections. You can also use polling, informal discussions, surveys, reflection journals, blogs, etc.
  • Expectations: share clear instructions, strong examples, and grading rubrics in Canvas where students can easily find them when needed
  • Varied communications: Use multiple channels to clearly state how you will communicate with students (at the start or end of class periods, as well as through Canvas announcements and/or email), and how you expect them to communicate with you and/or the course TAs. Consider whether Zoom office hours may make it easier for students to attend
  • Communication tips


To combat the challenge of keeping students engaged through long zoom lectures, many instructors used breakout rooms and polls to provide active breaks between lecture segments. This also helped faculty feel less fatigued by the need to give long lectures over Zoom. Consider continuing to ask students to discuss with a neighbor or in small groups to break-up lectures and give students opportunities to apply new ideas and concepts.

Also, sharing short, focused pre-recorded videos can prepare students for more active class sessions. To develop course videos effectively and efficiently, plan what you will say, where you will record, and how you will share the videos with your students before you begin recording.

Collaborative learning

Provide opportunities for students to interact with each other, with course content, and with you. How will your students collaborate? How will you and your students communicate?

With remote classes, instructors incorporated new opportunities for students to learn together in meaningful ways. Instructors are exploring ways to continue these opportunities in an in-person environment. Create opportunities in class for collaborative student activities; for example: reflection activities, discussions, demonstrations, labs, field work, polls, breakout rooms, and social annotation.

Rethinking prelims

When you create exams and quizzes, evaluate what learners know, do, or value based on your learning outcomes. What will your students know, do, or value as a result of your course? 

Consider offering a range of assignments across the term.  This range can offer a more equitable way to measure learning because students are assessed at multiple time points and asked to develop several skills beyond test-taking.

  • In addition to exams, consider adding draft papers, discussions, term projects, pre-recorded presentations such as videos and podcasts, interviews with local experts in a field.  These projects can be given similar grade weight as exams and completed by individuals or teams.
  • Consider assignments that help students reflect on what they have learned and where they can grow.  These assignments could include practice quizzes where students write a reflection about what they do not know and their study plan, drafts of papers where students need to incorporate feedback, quiz/exam reflections where students write about what they missed and learned since taking the assessment.

Many instructors found that more frequent, low-stakes quizzes or different types of assignments that gave students more frequent feedback and more opportunities to demonstrate their learning was more effective in assessing student learning in remote classes. Evidence shows this holds true for in-person classes as well.

  • Low Stakes Quizzes: Associate Professor Alexei Tchistyi incorporates a mini-quiz at the end of each class session in his course, finding it improved student performance.
    • Along similar lines, a psychology course switched to using weekly quizzes, with anywhere between 7-10 multiple choice questions that assess comprehension of the key concepts covered in the lecture and textbook in the previous week.
  • Term-projects: An entomology course switched from a prelim to a term-based project, leading to more enthusiasm and deeper engagement

  • Also, our Teaching Spotlight has a variety of videos exploring other innovative teaching ideas faculty have used

For help implementing any of these ideas or considering other ways to enhance your in-person classes with strategies you used online, contact us for a consultation.