How to Prepare for the First Day of (Zoom) Class

Zoom Classes

Getting ready for the start of the semester:

The start of a new semester. That time of the year often met with mixed emotions for all the students - kindergarten to higher education. The sadness of the summer coming to its inevitable end, to the excitement of getting back to school and reconnecting with colleagues. Under normal circumstances, this time of year would be pretty routine for most students and educators; unfortunately, these aren’t normal circumstances. As the world continues to navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important for educators to be well prepared to teach their course content effectively in remote learning environments. In particular, with Zoom taking over as the primary resource for online classrooms, understanding how to use it effectively will be a vital component to whether educators can provide a successful learning experience for their students.  

Here are some tips to ensure you and your students have an effective & engaging learning experience while online.

1.    Keep it Personal

After social distancing with friends and family for the past few months, the last thing students want when they attend their online classes is to only be staring at lecture notes the whole time. While it can be very useful to use Zoom’s Screen Sharing feature to present slides or other documents, it is equally important to keep your camera on and to speak as if you were face-to-face with the class. This helps create a more comfortable classroom environment and a personal connection with your students and will help keep them better engaged. In a survey we conducted this past June, nearly 70% of students agreed that the most challenging part of transitioning to online courses was the inability for face-to-face interactions with their college instructors and professors.

2. Create more group breakouts

A useful tip for both in-person and online lectures is to let your students break into small groups for discussions every once in a while. Zoom’s Breakout Room feature allows you to assign students into groups for a brief time period so that they can discuss different topics together. In a study done by the University of Central Florida, they found that student participation is higher in small-group discussions, as well as the student’s ability to perceive learning outcomes [1]. These breakout sessions also serve as an opportunity to implement team-based learning (TBL) into your classroom. TBL will help keep your lectures dynamic so that students stay engaged, and is more effective than traditional forms of learning as it also offers opportunities for students to have insightful conversations and to hear new perspectives.

3. Utilize chat

While students may not be able to raise their hands during the class session to get your attention anymore, that doesn’t mean they should stop asking questions. To avoid any interruptions or confusion, allow your students to post their questions or comments on a discussion board during the lecture. Zoom’s chat feature is a useful tool, but it can be difficult to monitor while teaching, especially with larger classrooms. By using Kritik’s discussion feature in tandem with your Zoom lectures, you will be able to not only communicate with your students directly, but also keep track of the discussions that students are having with one another.

4. Screen record live Zoom lectures

Should your course be asynchronous or synchronous? Every student learns differently, and it is important for educators to consider these differences when developing learning materials. Live lectures are great for synchronous learners who prefer a little more routine and organization. They can attend Zoom classes as scheduled and learn the content at the pace it was intended. However, for asynchronous learners, a routine might make learning more difficult as they prefer to work at their own pace. A great way to accommodate both types of learners is by recording your lectures using the Screen Record feature on Zoom. This grants students the freedom to choose whether to attend lectures during the scheduled class time or to watch the recordings at a later time. Recorded lectures are also a useful study tool and can help the students a lot as they can be re-watched to help students to get a better understanding of the topics covered or if they missed anything during the live lecture.  

The upcoming school term is going to present many challenges for both students and educators, so it is important to be well prepared to navigate these challenges. Regardless of what strategies you decide to implement into your online classroom, remember that the engagement of your students is what will ultimately determine the success of your methods. As such, choosing the right technologies to use will be crucial not only to your own teaching experience, but also the effectiveness of your students’ learning experience.

Best practices for the first day of class

It makes a huge difference in how the first day of class is spent by the teacher. A day that is stressful both for the students and the faculty.  No class period is more critical to forming students’ attitudes towards learning than the first day of the term. As the first days give way to the first weeks of school, keep these tips in mind;

1. Introduction of yourself and your students in the first class meeting. Try learning the students' names later on.

2. Communicate your goals and class ethics, this is especially important for first year students

3. Student engagement: Students are scared to make a bad first impression, so many prefer staying quiet. Use ice breakers to help them get to know each other and get comfortable.

4. Provide them with your contact information: mention office hours, office phone number, and your time of availability.

5. Course overview: Let them know the syllabus, course material, and group work. Sometimes the enrolment changes in the next weeks, so its better to hand them over in written form.

6. Create a connection:  Share your story of entry into the field, ask questions about their prior knowledge

7. Carry out creative first day learning activities based on their background knowledge.

[1] Learning Through Discussions: Comparing the Benefits of Small-Group and Large-Class Settings,

Philip Tran
Education Researcher