The UGME Education Team has prepared “how to” documents that outline the technical aspects (with such things as downloading the Zoom app, and things like checking that your microphone works). And we’ve previous written with tips about how to engage students in a virtual classroom which might seem rather unfriendly. This post is about other practical things – things we don’t need to think about, or just do automatically – when going to teach in a physical classroom with students there face-to-face.

Here’s our top-five non-pedagogical things to keep in mind before teaching live on Zoom:

1. Look behind you! Give a bit of thought to what’s behind you when your camera is on. Most things are fine, but consider if there’s a lamp that’s coming out of your head like an antennae or something equally distracting. Think about any privacy concerns, if you’re teaching from your home. My work-from-home space is in my basement all-purpose room. If I’m situated in one direction, you’ll see my husband’s degrees on the wall; another you’ll see a collection of elephant figurines (yes, there’s a story to that), and a third shows my Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, and LM Montgomery books from my childhood. Most stuff is innocuous, but think about if you want to share those things with everyone.

Zoom virtual backgrounds are, of course, an option for an instant non-personal look. Keep in mind, however, that the green-screen technology isn’t perfect. If you move around or (like me) talk with your hands, you may have visual blips of hands or your head momentarily disappearing.

2. Turn off all things that beep, buzz, or whirr Just like in a movie theatre (remember those?!), it’s helpful if you can turn off sounds that are within your control – like your cellphone or email notifications. Also, any environmental noises you can control. My home workspace is adjacent to the laundry room. At the exact moment I was typing this sentence, the dryer buzzer went off (loudly!). It’s also helpful to remind housemates that you’ll be teaching so they can make good noise-related choices.

3. Refreshments, anyone? If you’re settling in for a two-hour session, that could be a lot of talking. It’s good to have a glass of water handy, or throat lozenges nearby. Or, if you’re teaching an 8:30 class: COFFEE. Also, tissues or paper towels perhaps – you likely don’t want to dig into a pocket while sitting down for a sneeze or spill of aforementioned coffee.

4. Office supplies, what office supplies? If you typically take notes of questions students have or keep track of which groups you’ve already called on, make sure you have pen and paper on your desk. Also, do you have any small props you want to show? Figure out where in your teaching space you can put these to keep them nearby, but out of the way of things like your refreshments (above) to avoid needing the tissues or paper towels.

5. Time, please. It’s easy to get caught up in teaching material and lose track of the time. Keep your eye on the clock on your computer, or set a timer (this sound we’ll allow) so you finish on time. There will likely be another instructor waiting to begin their session right after yours and you won’t have the usual visual cue of your colleague appearing at the back of 032 or 132.


Keep in mind, this is real life, real time teaching, not a Hollywood film. Things will happen and it will be fine – paging, for example, is unavoidable if you’re teaching in your hospital office. Also, you won’t be the first of our instructors (or students) who’ve had a child or pet wander into camera range. (I routinely warn of random “teen boy” appearances when I’m on Zoom calls. He wandered in while I was drafting this, too).

Are there things you would add to this list? Use the comments box below to share your tips.


For a different (more humorous, maybe more accurate?) take on preparing your environment for online teaching, check out this video by Dr. Andrew Ishak at Santa Clara University. https://vimeo.com/447645552?fbclid=IwAR3lKAaNY0zCPgVJWdPUjog-AD0g7FjsSNBtUL5HAEdcFlUgWaUHi–7JqU