How to make effective presentations, use visual aids and manage large classes in online Zoom teaching.
By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT
Last month, we reviewed Zoom tips that focused on preparing and working with students. This month, we will continue discussing Zoom and how to effectively make Zoom presentations, use visual aids during a call and how to manage large classes.
In online Zoom teaching, there are several steps to ensure the best education for our students. Beside preparing ahead for delivering lectures or leading discussions, we need to understand and use some of the Zoom elements to our best advantage.
In preparing for a Zoom class, remember to use your own natural background and not packaged virtual backgrounds. They use a lot of computing power and bandwidth; unless you have a relatively new computer, laptop or iPad, they do not work well. They also become a distraction to many students who do not have the ability to create or use their own virtual background. Using your own room or office also indicates your level of comfort and helps students feel relaxed with your teaching.
Second, monitor the lighting so you can clearly be seen. If you have never used Zoom, practice in the room where you will use the program and make sure that light from the windows or lamps does not brighten your face so much that you cannot be seen. Alternatively, ensure that you are not too dark which will make it hard for your students to see you and read your expressions. Check the video image by signing on to Zoom; it will show you what your students will see.
Third, when talking during your presentation, look directly at the computer lens and imagine students there. Although many of us walk around when teaching, you do not have that luxury in a Zoom class so look straight ahead and remember to smile. Since we do not get much verbal or visual feedback when using Zoom, imagine your students smiling at you and smile back. If you make an exaggerated statement, use your facial expression accordingly. If you are surprised, use that facial expression.
You will maintain a stronger connection with students by looking directly at the camera. If you maintain eye contact, the presentation looks more real. Students can lose focus if you shift your eyes around, for example looking at your notes.
Fourth, record the Zoom call. Recording tends to focus students’ comments since their statements will be available to others at another time. It also provides students with a way to review the Zoom class later or watch it if the class was missed. You can replay the class to evaluate how you did and what you covered versus what you thought was covered.
Providing visual clues
Use the screen sharing function during your Zoom class since students are used to visual clues or reminders. While some experts recommend against it, sharing your screen enables you to share a PowerPoint slide, PDF document, or the whiteboard and provides visual images which help students focus on the content. Using a whiteboard provides a chance for you to record ideas, dates, or images as well as emphasize them. Utilizing the whiteboard also makes the situation more like a classroom whiteboard (or blackboard which some of us still have and use) in class.
Shared screens also provide variety for students and keep them more attentive. Shared screens also enable you to use the annotation function – located in the bar above the screen when sharing a screen – to change points, highlight them, and otherwise make the lecture or discussion more interactive. The shared screen function also removes everyone from a full gallery view and focuses everyone on the image being shown. By using it and then speaker view, you introduce variety into the Zoom class.
When using the whiteboard, you can write on it, highlight parts of it and use it like you do a classroom whiteboard. It does not represent a difficult task, but I encourage you to practice since it can be complicated. It requires the use of the annotation function in the band above the images (it may be in another location depending on your version of Zoom and your computer). Using highlighters and check marks, circles, or underlining also helps students remain focused. Using this method to check off key points as you cover aspects of the class session can provide a structure for students whose minds may wander. Most of the persons learning to participate in or lead a Zoom call find it challenging to remain closely focused. Although it only takes an hour and a half or two hours in elapsed time, for students if often feels like four or five hours.
If you use PowerPoint a lot, consider recording your PowerPoint lectures and assigning them as homework, thereby enabling you to lead a class discussion – a version of the flipped classroom – and add other materials or illustrations of the day’s topics. It also enables you to expand your teaching strategies.
Managing large classes
Participating in small Zoom classes of 10 to 15 people encourages students to stay focused as they see all their fellow students’ thumbprint images. When there are 40 or more students, the gallery view takes two or three pages and participants must flip back and forth among screens to see who is in class. One way to overcome the challenge of large groups in a Zoom class involves using the mute function. If you are lecturing, start by muting all students while you are talking. It reduces the interruptions of outside sounds in their environment and focuses their attention on your lecturing for a certain time.
Although most of us want and are used to leading discussions in classes, the Zoom structure adds a challenge. People not in the same physical room cannot sense when someone wants to talk or when someone is excited about a topic. A simple way to control participating in the conversation involves requiring students to raise their hands using Zoom’s virtual hand raising function. This function helps others see their desire to ask a question or contribute to the conversation.
You can also encourage students to use the chat function. You and the students can make comments to everyone in class, a group of people, or a single individual. It also can facilitate their taking notes because you can make side comments.
If your version of Zoom has the capability – or if your IT department can open it – try using breakout rooms to divide students into smaller groups for more effective discussion. Then you can have each group report back to the large group just like in onsite classes. This will enable more people to talk simultaneously. Recently, as a guest lecturer for George Washington University, I gave each group a similar assignment, a limited about of time, observed each group during their private discussions (they knew they were being observed) and then led a large group report out. It was a successful way to maximize student participation and reduce the focus on me.
Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide.