Teaching Live Classes Online — Start Here

Teaching Live Online Classes — Start Here

So, you are teaching a class with a live (synchronous) online component—likely live class sessions in Zoom. This guide will get you started, although we recommend you visit some of the other resources mentioned below for deeper dives into this type of teaching. Please note that this page is not meant to be comprehensive for any of these teaching approaches or tools. More information is available on the Keep Teaching site and in the IU Knowledge Base .


Modalities Addressed:

The following teaching modalities involve live online class meetings. If you need more details about what these involve, see How IU Will Be Teaching Classes, or contact your department.

  • HY: On Campus and Online
  • OI: Online Interactive
  • DO: Distance Synchronous
  • HD: Hybrid Distance 

The Basics:

Teaching live online through Zoom may seem like the closest thing to teaching face-to-face, but it differs in a few key ways:

  • Attention spans can be shorter with online video, and we are all learning that Zoom burnout is real, so plan to have mental breaks throughout each class session (short activities for reflection/application, structured question breaks,  think-pair-share activities, etc.).
  • Checking for comprehension or questions is more difficult online—it takes more time and structure to do this well. 
  • Most of your students haven’t taken a live online class before, so they may need more help learning to structure their time and work throughout the semester. This is especially true if you have a mixture of live and asynchronous course work.
  • Students will likely feel isolated and will find it difficult to connect with classmates—for forming study groups, for asking questions about a confusing concept, etc. You might think of ways to help them build these important connections.
  • Some students may run into Internet connection problems, so having a recording and/or some other backup plans for them will be important. 
  • You may run into a connection problem on any given day, so you should know in advance what you will do if your own connection is the problem (and let students know that plan, too). (Tip: Do you know how to use your smartphone as a WiFi hotspot in a pinch?)

Teaching Tips and Suggestions

Practice, Practice, Practice

Make sure you have some experience managing a Zoom meeting before using this tool for class. Practice important Zoom moves with a few colleagues or AIs, including:

  • Getting your security settings in place
  • Managing disruptions, including muting or ejecting participants
  • Using breakout rooms, if you choose to use those
  • Managing the chat, including changing options mid-class
  • Changing permissions during class, like muting/unmuting students, allowing them to share video, allowing them to screen share, etc.
  • Recording meetings and publishing them to your Kaltura media gallery and/or your Canvas site.

More on accomplishing these tasks below.

Schedule Your Class Meetings

Many instructors like to set up a distinct meeting room for each course they teach, rather than use their default personal meeting room. This way, someone from your other class won’t wander into your virtual classroom. We suggest setting up a recurring meeting that includes a passcode (see the security discussion below). You can also set some defaults at that time, including these handy ones:

  • Generate a Meeting ID automatically
  • Participant video is off
  • Mute participants upon entry
  • Only authenticated users can join (i.e., they have to log into Zoom.iu.edu first, which helps with attendance logs)
  • Record the meeting automatically

More on scheduling Zoom meetings.

Always Log into Zoom First

Make sure you log into Zoom.iu.edu first, then go to your meeting. If you just click on the invitation link yourself, you may not be recognized as the meeting host, and you wouldn’t have control over the room.

Encourage (or require) your students to log into Zoom.iu.edu first, too. Even if your meeting link has the passcode embedded in it, students who aren’t logged into Zoom.iu.edu first may not be recorded in the meeting participant logs you could use for attendance (see the Reports link when you log onto Zoom.iu.edu ).

Secure Your Zoom Classroom

Most of us have heard of Zoombombing by now—someone crashing your Zoom meeting, disrupting the event by sharing offensive material, posting offensive comments in the chat, and engaging in other inappropriate behaviors. There are simple ways to manage Zoom security , so take time to learn these strategies in advance. And since even a student in your class might start making inappropriate comments, be ready to manage Zoom disruptions as well.

Note that all Zoom meetings will require a waiting room or passcode starting September 27, but it is best to start this practice from the start of the semester.

More on Zoom security is available in the Knowledge Base.

Rethink Attendance and Participation

Attendance may not be an easy concept in a live Zoom class, since some students may have connection problems that are beyond their control. Flexibility is vital to helping students succeed this fall. So, consider recording class sessions and having a way for students to watch the recording and maybe do a short engagement activity (submitting a concept summary, answering an application question, or providing a few questions they would put on a quiz) that equates to attendance. Just like you can get participant data from a Zoom session (log into Zoom.iu.edu and look for the Reports link), you can also get data from Kaltura about who watched a recording .

See also our Quick Guide on Rethinking Attendance for Remote Teaching and the Keep Teaching page on attendance.

Have a Good Opening and Closing

Just like in a face-to-face class, make sure you have a good strategy for opening and closing your class meetings.

  • Tell students to come five minutes early so you can start on time.
  • Play some music or consider some other way to fill the silence before class starts.
  • Find a way to help students settle into the class. Some instructors who adopt contemplative pedagogies take some “centering time” with their students to re-focus attention on the class. Most instructors can at least take some time to re-set students’ focus by connecting to last class, revisiting some questions, making topical connections to current events, etc.
  • Check in with students on how they are doing, or share a bit about your week in a way that acknowledges the challenges we are all facing together. Humanizing yourself and your class goes a long way to supporting students in a rough semester.
  • Make sure you end on time, and have a good wrap-up. Nobody likes Zoom meetings that run long, so respect everyone’s time and wrap-up well, so everyone feels a sense of closure with the day’s topic, as well as a preview of what’s next.

Set Behavioral Expectations

Very few of us are used to having classes on Zoom, so make sure you set some expectations for behavior and participation up front. See our Quick Guide on Zoom Etiquette for some ideas.

Decide How You Want To Use Chat

The Zoom chat tool can be useful for encouraging interaction among students, and some instructors like to use it as a backchannel for students to converse during class—answering each others’ questions, pointing to other resources, etc. But it can be distracting and overwhelming, too. Decide how you want to use the chat tool in class, considering both your comfort level with side conversations and your goals for the chat's use.

You can control chat throughout the class meeting, closing it down completely for parts of class, allowing posts to “Host only” to accept questions, and opening it up to everyone for brainstorming activities. Some instructors always keep private chats turned off to ensure nobody makes inappropriate side comments to classmates. For options, open the chat window and look for the [...] button in the lower right corner.

Share Handwritten Content

You won’t have a whiteboard like you do in your regular classroom, so be ready with some alternatives. Some instructors use Zoom’s whiteboard tool or screen annotation tool, although those can be challenging to use. More popular is using a smartphone as a digital camera that is pointed at paper you use to work problems, diagram concepts, and more. Finally, some instructors are purchasing their own document cameras or tools like Wacom’s Bamboo Slate, which captures your handwriting digitally to share via Zoom.

More on sharing handwritten content in Zoom.

Record Your Class Sessions

Recording your live classes can be helpful both for students who miss class (technical problems, illness, family emergencies, etc.) and those that would benefit from rewatching it, including second-language learners in your class. You can even refer students back to those recordings if they have questions or missed concepts on a test.

  • If you record your Zoom-based classes , it is best to use the “record to cloud” option, since that automatically sends the recording to Kaltura.
  • The linked page above also describes settings that allow or disallow students to record the session.
  • Remember that if students are identifiable in a recording, FERPA regulations require you to keep those recordings viewable only to the students in the class. Using the Kaltura Media Gallery in your Canvas course is the easiest way to do this.
  • Some instructors are concerned about students sharing recordings beyond their class. In this case, be clear about your policies in your syllabus, make sure you share those recordings only in your class media gallery, and be sure the settings disallow downloading the videos (the default). Students can always get around technical roadblocks, but these will make it harder for them to share videos.

Pre-Record Content

Recordings can be useful in a few different ways, even in a live online class:

  • Give everyone a break from Zoom fatigue by recording a few shorter videos for independent viewing, in lieu of a live session on occasion. You may need that break yourself.
  • You may want to share video content that is hard to present during a live class session—demonstrations from a lab or field setting, or a conversation with a guest speaker who cannot make it to your live class. You can provide these in a recording, and then discuss them with your students during your next live class session.
  • Consider making short recordings following up on a class or exam, answering questions students had, working more problems, explaining a concept in another way, or providing different examples. Keep these around for use in future semesters.
  • Focus on simple videos that build connections with your students and directly address their questions. See Make Super Simple Videos for Teaching Online (Michael Wesch from Kansas State University) for more suggestions.

More on Kaltura is available on the Keep Teaching Site.

Use Breakout Rooms for Student Engagement:

Breakout rooms are an easy way to mimic the small group work you do in your classroom, allowing students to check their understanding with a peer, practice applying a concept, or work through an idea before moving on to the next one. Here are some ideas for using breakout rooms:

  • Have specific tasks and deliverables for each breakout session
  • Create a common Google doc for taking notes and reporting out
  • Make sure you have a way to assign group roles (facilitator, scribe, reporter, includer, etc.). Don’t let them pick roles, since that can be inequitable. Have quick ways of assigning roles—closest birthday, alphabetical by middle name, born furthest from Bloomington, etc.); these approaches can also build community, which is important to do online.
  • If you have an AI or undergraduate TA, have them visit breakout rooms to check in on groups; making them cohosts in the meeting allows them to move between rooms.
  • If you want to have persistent groups across multiple class meetings, consider selecting them based on strengths, making sure your groups are diverse
  • How to manage breakout rooms: 

More on Zoom is available on the Keep Teaching Site.

Structure Questions & Answers Time

Taking questions from students is an important part of any live class, but it works a bit differently in Zoom. Consider these ideas and approaches:

  • Questions may take longer for students to form online, so consider increasing your wait time, or provide more structure for the process: At the end of each section of the lecture, stop for a question break, stating, “Everyone take two minutes to write down an important idea or question from this last segment, and then I will take some of those questions.”
  • If you have an AI or undergraduate TA, have them manage questions for you. They can watch the chat for incoming questions, feeding them to you at preset times. If you don’t want to leave the chat open to everyone, since it can be distracting, consider setting it to allow chatting only with the host, a perfect way to take questions. If you don’t have an AI or UTA, consider asking students to take turns being the question watcher, which a colleague at Vanderbilt calls “the voice of the chat.”
  • You can have students ask questions via video if you want, unmuting them to ask the question or make a comment. Zoom’s “raise hand” function is difficult to see, so consider having them literally wave a hand to get your attention. Setting the chat to go only to the host can also be a channel for getting your attention for a question or comment—and it keeps them in order for you. Since some students may be hesitant to ask questions on video, you may want to keep the chat route open to them.
  • Have a way to collect other questions you may not have a chance to answer live. If you take questions via chat (or chat-only-to-host), you can save that chat and answer the questions via a video recording later.

Prompt Engagement and Ask Questions

It is very easy for students to fall into a passive mode during a Zoom class, so plan ways to engage them:

  • Don’t just ask rhetorical questions in class, or hope students are actively thinking about an answer (remember Ferris Buehler’s teacher ?); instead, give them a specific question and a few minutes to formulate a reply (“Take two minutes to write about…”). Then call on people, whether via volunteers or picking responders yourself.
  • Consider using breakout rooms for discussion of questions that might take 5-10 minutes to explore. Breakout rooms aren’t convenient for short group work, since Zoom takes a while to put people into breakout rooms, longer in large meetings. You will lose a lot of time in transition.
  • Using Zoom’s polling tool allows you to gather broad feedback from the class—what their energy/stress level is on a given day, checks on prior knowledge, pre/post-lesson checks for understanding, their opinions on a class-relevant social issue, etc. The types of poll questions are limited, but it is easier than layering a more robust polling tool like TopHat on top of Zoom.
  • Cold-calling students is tough in a live online class, since it seems to raise the stakes of being called on unexpectedly, so be ready to wait a bit longer than usual for a response. It might also be useful to let the entire class know you will be calling on someone randomly in a few minutes, so they can all mentally prepare an answer, just in case they get picked. This is particularly helpful for second-language learners, since they may need a bit more time to think through an answer and be ready to give it in English.

More Resources:

Online Guides

Use these online guides for more ideas about specific teaching approaches and technologies.


These webinar recordings go into more depth, with walkthroughs of many of the tools and processes you may want to use. If you are short on time, you can watch them a 1.5x or 2x speed (look for the playback speed in the lower right corner of the video player).