While you’re preparing to deliver our UGME fall curriculum for Years 1, 2 and 3 predominantly via remote technologies (and some of that asynchronously), the challenge of keeping student engaged and involved may be top of mind. Three strategies (useful in any teaching, not just pandemic-restricted scenarios) are useful to keep in mind.

1. Set expectations early For many – students and teachers alike – remote teaching using a platform like Zoom is a new way to learn, so it helps to set the expectations when you start. In face-to-face teaching, this is sometimes done formally, but more often informally. A learner sitting alone in front of their computer can’t “read the room” to know what’s ok. If you’d prefer that students use the Zoom “raise hand” function to ask questions, let them know this at the start of class. If you’d rather they unmute their microphones to interrupt, set this as your norm. If you invite students to email you with questions after your session, set a reasonable time-frame for response. If you expect them to have downloaded a worksheet from Elentra ahead of time, make sure this is in your learning event’s “required preparation” section, since you can’t have a handout ready as back-up. Be clear, so no one gets frustrated.

2. Use tools effectively All the tools available in the classroom are also available in remote teaching – they just sometimes need a bit of tweaking to use effectively. For example, one really low-tech engagement tool is silence. In my early days teaching at the University of New Brunswick, I had a Post-It note on my lecture notes which said: “shut up, Theresa!” This was a succinct reminder to myself to give students time to hear and process questions before I went ahead and answered them myself. With remote teaching, we need to factor in time for student to click on their “raise hand” button or hit “unmute” along with that processing time. Silence can be uncomfortable for instructors as we think we should be filling every moment, however, using questioning and dialogue effectively remotely requires becoming comfortable with longer intervals waiting.

Most other tools you use routinely face-to-face can continue to be used via Zoom. For example, Poll Everywhere and videos were also used quite easily during the spring term. Do you sometimes use “show of hands” to get a response? Both the “raise hand” function and the “reactions” one can be used for this purpose. Some in-class tools might take a bit of strategic thinking and planning to rework for remote classes. If you have something in particular in mind, reach out for brainstorming and to capitalize on collective wisdom.

3. Assign roles Whether you’re in a Zoom class, or assigning asynchronous work, it can be helpful to proactively assign roles to individual students to keep everyone engaged and participating equitably. Whether it’s the randomizer app used by Dr. Gilic and Dr. Simpson in MEDS 115 to call on individual students for responses, or a “Someone from group X” call-out, these can all be tailored for Zoom.

If you’d like some Zoom-mediated face-to-face feedback, ask that one student from each SGL group be “on camera” during the class. Not everyone’s internet supports using video throughout, but teaching to a sea of names in black boxes makes it hard to gauge responses. Using a rotation within groups will share this responsibility. (And get more camera-shy students used to being “on” in a low-stakes way).

If you’d like a student to monitor the chat box for questions, create a roster of students who are willing to do it and share that task through the term.

If you’re using discussion boards for asynchronous teaching, break up the tasks needed to meet the learning outcomes of the discussion: have one or two students assigned to pose a discussion question based on the preparatory materials, another to moderate, someone else to write a one-paragraph summary of the discussion to share with the large group. You could also assign a student or two from each group to write multiple choice questions based on the assigned material. (If you’re interested in using discussion boards on Elentra, get in touch and we can set it up for you).


It’s true we’re in somewhat uncharted waters for teaching this way, but there are solutions to the teaching challenges. If you’re stumped or frustrated, please reach out – we can find some solutions together. Reach me best by email (theresa.suart@queensu.ca).