At least two important things happen during a typical lecture period: (1) instructors model inquiry, explain concepts, and transmit information, and (2) students engage with that material (and, very likely, with you and with each other) in order to practice and begin to settle it in their minds. Now that your class is happening remotely, how will you achieve these functions and create opportunities for interaction? Here are some things to consider about the timing of your lectures and creating interactivity. We address another major challenge of remote lecturing—replicating in-person boardwork online—on a dedicated video tutorial page.

Synchronous or Asynchronous?

Perhaps the very first decision you will have to make when moving lectures online is whether it is necessary (or even preferable) to schedule them synchronously (i.e. you and all of your students “logon” at the same time) or asynchronously (i.e. you record your lectures and allow students to view them at any point within a certain window). We suggest that you ask: is it necessary for students to encounter the material together? Do I wish to incorporate interactive components that require students to be tuned in at the same time? If you do choose to teach synchronously, what kinds of accommodations will you provide for students who are unable to watch the lecture at the right time?

Keep in mind that you can combine multiple modalities. In certain cases, you might find it most convenient and effective to split up the information-transfer and student-interaction portions of your typical lecture, using asynchronous publication for the former and synchronous interaction for the latter. For instance, you might post short lecture videos for students to watch on their own ahead of time, then schedule short follow-up Zoom discussions or online discussion forums.

For synchronous meetings

Zoom is a platform that allows you to host live “meetings” with your class. You can broadcast yourself and share a screen from your computer (such as a PowerPoint presentation or a Google Doc). Students can see each other, contribute to a discussion, share their screen, and more. Zoom also affords you the option of recording each class, which you can post to your Canvas site so that students can watch the recording later, perhaps because they were unable to attend the class. Zoom is integrated with Canvas, which makes it easy to coordinate and communicate with your students.

It’s worth noting that the larger your course enrollment is, the more challenging it can be to manage group interactions. In the experience of many instructors in the Division of Continuing Education, Zoom “rooms” work best for groups of 20–30 students at a time. If your course is larger, you may decide it makes more sense to rotate groups in and out of the live broadcast, with students who are not part of your live audience on a particular day watching the recording afterwards.

For asynchronous meetings

You can record a lecture (or short segments of lecture) so that students can access it on their own time. THere are several ways to do this:

Some tips for producing and posting asynchronous materials:

  • Make sure that your students can find these materials on Canvas: You can share your material by creating Canvas Calendar Events. You could also create modules or pages. Here is some helpful information from Yale about when to organize materials into files, pages, modules, or assignments.
  • If you create new recordings, we recommend keeping them short (between five and 15 minutes).  Rather than record a single 75 minute lecture, you can break it into smaller segments. You might use the Canvas Quiz tools to intersperse questions between videos to keep students engaged and check their understanding.
  • If you wish to edit your recorded lecture after the fact, you can do this relatively easily in QuickTime. Click here for the Bok Center's video tutorial on simple lecture video editing.

Creating Interactivity

It is sometimes assumed that online teaching must be less interactive than its face-to-face counterpart. In fact, there are many ways—many of which may even be familiar from conventional classroom teaching—to engage your students during an online class.

Polling allows you to obtain real-time feedback from all students.

  • Zoom has a polling tool that allows students to respond to multiple choice questions that you create before the class session begins.
  • PollEverywhere provides a variety of question types, including multiple choice, word clouds, and open-ended questions. Students can respond to PollEverywhere through a web browser or via texting. For more information about using PollEverywhere, visit Academic Technology at FAS.

Zoom breakout rooms allow students to talk with each other in smaller groups during a larger class session. Make sure to provide clear guidance before sending students to breakout rooms, and provide a format for students to share the outcome of their discussion. You might ask each group to contribute a key idea when they return to the full group, or you could ask groups to submit a written response via Google docs, Canvas, or another medium.

  • Students working in groups in Zoom breakout rooms might use collaborative software, such as Google docs, to take notes together, or share their work with one another using screen sharing.
  • Depending on group size and the availability of TFs, you might include TFs in the breakout rooms to facilitate discussion.
  • Zoom includes several other tools to engage students during class, including a chat tool and annotations. Annotations can be used by an instructor, as well as by students to collectively add notes or drawings to a shared slide.

Academic Technology for the FAS / HUIT

Your starting place for learning about and accessing many of the technological tools you may need, such as Zoom, Canvas, and related plug-ins.

The Vice Provost for Advances in Learning (VPAL)

VPAL convenes university-wide conversations about teaching and pedagogical research, particularly in the online space.

The Office of Undergraduate Education (OUE)

OUE oversees, and stewards resources devoted to, the undergraduate curriculum at Harvard College..

The Division of Continuing Education (DCE)

DCE offers a mix of in-person, hybrid, and online courses, and their staff are experienced in thinking about multiple ways to achieve your goals through different mediums.

SEAS and the Division of Science

Advice on teaching in the sciences.

The Harvard Libraries

Request help modifying/troubleshooting your research-based assignments.

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Schedule a consultation with the Bok Center's Senior Staff. (Please note that consultations are available only for Faculty and Teaching Fellows in the FAS.)

Faculty can visit our office hours, every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday 10:30–11:30 AM; or request a class observation.

Daily Office Hours  |  Class observation

Teaching Fellows can attend and explore the asynchronous Canvas resources from Winter Teaching Week; or attend our biweekly TF resource hours.

Winter Teaching Week  |  TF Resource Hours

The media production staff of the Bok Center's Learning Lab can provide consultations for faculty teaching Harvard College courses using Zoom and other modes of media capture. We can provide suggestions for setting up remote video capture environments in your home or office, and on ways to integrate media into your courses.  Please contact us if you would like to discuss your needs with our staff.

Email the Learning Lab  |  Request a Media Tutorial

Grace Burgin

Science through Story: Podcasts in OEB50

April 7, 2021

When OEB50: Genetics and Genomics wrapped in Fall 2019, Professors Robin Hopkins and Dan Hartl, who co-teach the course, decided to incorporate a creative project that would allow students to engage course material in new ways in the next iteration. Little did they know that the next iteration of the course would be on Zoom!

When it came time to design the creative project, Hopkins and Hartl turned to OEB graduate student Grace Burgin, a Media and Design Fellow at the Bok Center’s Learning Lab. ...

Read more about Science through Story: Podcasts in OEB50
Student leans over to better study a piece of art at the Harvard Art Museums

The Museum is your Classroom--Online

February 10, 2021

The Bok Center has been excited to collaborate with the Harvard Art Museums to bring ideas and strategies for teaching with museum collections to faculty and Teaching Fellows through a series of workshops and, for the first time this spring, a Bok Seminar. What started as an independent session run by Jen Thum (Assistant Director of Academic Engagement and Assistant Research Curator, Harvard...

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