Best Practices in Conducting Virtual Class Sessions

As you prepare to integrate virtual classrooms or web-conferencing into your online or blended course, you will need to consider what happens before, during, and after the session.

Part 1: Answer these Questions

Managing a live online session can become complicated if you do not plan ahead of time. Answer and address the questions before your class starts:

  1. Will you monitor the chat for questions and respond in real-time?
    1. Best Practice/Recommendation: Have scheduled breaks during the class session to field questions. Students can type questions in the chat function, and you can answer those questions during designated, pre-scheduled times. Time it by content or by time, every 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Will you dedicate time to a Q&A?
    1. Best Practice/Recommendation: Related to the answer above. Plan scheduled breaks in the class session to answer questions. This will help move the class session along at a smooth pace.
  3. Will you use breakout rooms for small-group discussions?
    1. Best Practice/Recommendation: In Teams, these are called Channels. Channels can be created before the class session begins. If you use them, practice them well before the true class meeting. Channels (break-out rooms) are effective in facilitating small-group discussion of ideas, concepts, content, etc.)
  4. Do you want all students to have their cameras on the entire time?
    1. Best Practice/Recommendation: All students should have their cameras and microphones disabled during the meeting unless they are presenting, asking a question, or responding directly to the instructor. Webcams take up a significant amount of bandwidth which causes Internet lag and dropped meetings.
  5. What will you do if students have technical issues?
    1. Best Practice/Recommendation: Require students to perform test meetings on their computers well before they join the meeting so they can identify and address any technical issues with IT. 
  6. Will you record the session for students who can’t attend?
    1. Best Practice: Recommendation: Record the session! Teams allows you to easily record the session. The recording, once processed, is stored in your Microsoft Stream account. You can then share the video to your class via share link or download it as a MP4 file and upload it to Kaltura, OneDrive, or YouTube.

How you answer these questions will determine the type of virtual class sessions you conduct. Your students will also need to know the answers to these questions well before the class begins so that they know what to expect and can plan accordingly.

Part 2: Practice

Practice! Practice conducting your virtual class session before you conduct the real one. Get comfortable navigating the virtual class interface so that it is second nature when you conduct a true live session. 

Practicing is also important for students. Students should practice prior to the scheduled class session so that they can become familiar with the interface and identify and address any technical issues with IT prior to the scheduled class meeting.

Part 3: Send a Pre-Session Announcement

To ensure students know about live sessions, send a reminder before each meeting. Include a link to the session, instructions for updating software, your contact information, relevant materials, and a list of expectations. If you have a practice session scheduled, include that information and a link to the practice session.

Part 4: Set Up Your Teaching Environment

Lead your virtual class in a quiet location with good lighting, and check that your audio and video work properly. If possible, use a headset with a built-in microphone.

Structure Your Session: Video-based interactions feel different than classroom engagement, but the same tenets apply. Remember to start virtual classes by:

  1. Welcoming Students
  2. Offering a session overview
  3. Setting clear expectations, and
  4. Giving opportunities for student participation.

Remember Your Audience: Be intentional about creating connections with students and providing them chances to participate. You can create active learning experiences by asking questions that elicit prior knowledge or misconceptions and pausing for student input. (Schedule these opportunities in advance, and embed them in the lesson.) If you’re working through problems or visual content, you can have students share their screens as well. Make sure students know if/when you are monitoring the chat for questions, or enlist help in doing so. It is also important to leave time to review the main points of the class, and for student questions.

If you recorded/archived your online class session, it offers several advantages:

  • Students who experienced technical issues can review the recording for missed content.
  • Students can return to the recording to review content and clarify concepts that you covered.
  • The recording is a resource for students who could not attend the live session.
  • When you have your recording link, share it with your students via email (from Stream) or place it Canvas.
  • Include session takeaways and your availability for questions.