Engaging Remote Students

Engaging Remote Students in Classroom Learning

When in-person instruction resumes in fall 2021, a few students in your class may become sick or have to quarantine, making them unable to attend class in person. However, they will still need to keep up with the class content and participate in in-class learning activities, to avoid falling behind. In this case you may first want to meet with the student(s) in question to discuss how they can continue to engage in the course and work toward instructional goals, and to set expectations for their remote engagement. Depending on what kinds of teaching strategies you use, you and the student have several options. If your class is primarily lecture, you can record your lectures and post them on your course Canvas site for those students to watch on their own time, completing short activities to ensure engagement. Alternatively, if your class is very interactive, you may want to allow your remote students to attend the class via Zoom.

With a little planning and awareness of the technology tools available to you and your students, you can adjust your teaching strategies so that all your students, whether in the classroom or attending remotely, can participate in classroom activities and benefit from lectures and discussions. 

Please note that this guide is intended for helping you keep sick/quarantined students engaged in the class for a week or so. If you have a long-term request from a student to be remote, you should talk with your department/school, as this may change course modalities and impact financial aid, accreditation, and other issues.

Basic Strategies

When teaching a mix of in-person and remote students, the challenge is to set up an environment where the classroom students and remote students can see and hear each other, and where all students can see and hear you. One basic strategy to accomplish this is to create a Zoom room for your remote students, and open the Zoom session in your classroom a few minutes before the in-person class session begins, using the lectern webcam and whatever microphone is available in the classroom. (See the Classroom Database for a preview of the technologies in your assigned classrooms.)

  • Classrooms that provide a lavalier or wireless microphone will allow you to walk away from the lectern and webcam as you teach, while still being audible to the remote students. If only the lectern computer microphone is available, you may need to stay close to the lectern to ensure that you can be heard by everyone. You may need to experiment in the classroom to determine the best conditions to confirm that you are visible and audible.
  • Consider where you want the webcam to point. One option is to rotate the computer monitor and webcam so that the webcam is pointed at the classroom students. This way, the remote students and classroom students can see each other. Make sure the Zoom session is set to “gallery view” so that all (or most) of the remote students are visible.
  • Encourage the remote students to turn on their video in Zoom. If you like, you can show the remote students how they appear to the classroom students by momentarily rotating the webcam so that it points toward the classroom projection screen. Consider resizing the Zoom window so remote students' video windows aren't overwhelmingly large.
  • It’s a good idea to start the Zoom session a few minutes before class begins, so that the remote students can connect with you and work out any technology problems before the class starts.
  • You may want to consider recording class sessions in Zoom and posting the recordings on your course Canvas site, in case some remote students have technical problems during the class session.
  • If you allow or encourage your classroom students to log into the live Zoom session during class, remind them to mute their microphone and speakers, to avoid annoying audio feedback.
  • See Using Classroom Technology for Hybrid Instruction for a video that demonstrates many of these practices.


When lecturing in class, you want the remote students to be able to see and hear you, and to see your slides. When it comes time for questions or discussions, it might be beneficial for students to see one another, too.

  • When lecturing using slides, you may want to point the webcam at you rather than at the classroom students so that the remote students can see you as well as the slides. If the camera is pointed at you, and if seeing you is important, be aware of how far you can roam while still being on camera.
  • When you are lecturing, you may tend to focus on the classroom students and fail to notice when the remote students can’t hear you or when they want to ask a question. To address this problem, you may want to tell the remote students to signal if they have problems hearing you, and ask your classroom students to let you know if they see their remote classmates signal.
  • Consider ways to have the remote students ask or answer questions. This could be by raising their hand in Zoom, or typing into the Zoom chat, like a backchannel. If you use Zoom chat, either check it whenever you pause to ask questions or have a student (or AI) monitor the chat, which Derek Bruff from Vanderbilt calls being "the voice of the chat."
  • If you move away from the lectern as you teach, remember to look at the webcam periodically so that you address the remote students as well as at the classroom students. 
  • When a classroom student asks a question, you may have to repeat it so the remote students can hear it. 
  • Remember that if you normally use the classroom whiteboard to write down important concepts or draw diagrams, for example, your remote students will not be able to see them. And pointing the webcam at the whiteboard doesn't work well. Instead, use the document camera (accessed through the Zoom session). You can also use a Google doc, slide, or Jamboard that you project through Zoom on the classroom screen. See Using Classroom Technology for Hybrid Instruction for a demonstration of this approach.

Class discussion 

When leading a class discussion, the key factors to consider are whether the remote students can see and (in particular) hear the comments of classroom students. In all likelihood, the classroom students will have no difficulty hearing the remote students, but the audio setup in most classrooms will make it difficult for remote students to hear classroom students.

  • When starting a discussion, you might consider providing more structure than you would if all your students were in the same space. For example, you might encourage remote students to answer first; their voices will be easy for the classroom students to hear. Then the classroom students could respond to the remote students’ comments, either out loud, in the Zoom chat (if they’re logged into the live Zoom session), or in a Canvas discussion or Google doc you set up for the class session. 
  • Another way to ensure that both remote and classroom students get a chance to participate is to encourage the remote students to use the “raise hand” function in Zoom. Then you can alternate between calling on remote and classroom students in the discussion. Using a speaking queue can make discussions more equitable for everyone.
  • Some of the teaching strategies that work well in entirely face-to-face classroom discussions can also be used with remote and classroom students together. For example, you can pose a prompt for discussion and give all students a minute or two to think about or write a response. Then you can call on a few students (remote students, for example) to provide initial responses. Depending on what they say, you can call on other students (either remote or in the classroom) for comments that contrast with, or support, the initial responses. 

In-Class Activities

Because in-class activities can be very individualized to specific content and classroom contexts, it is difficult to offer general strategies. There are several questions to consider, however, as you design in-class activities for remote and classroom students.

  • Will students be working in small groups? If you have a few remote students who want to connect with an in-class small group, a classroom student in that group will need a laptop for logging into the live Zoom class, and you will need to create a breakout room for them.
  • Will students produce a product from the activity? If so, will they share it so that all students, both remote and in the classroom, can see it? In that case, you could have each group record their work in a Google slide or Google doc that you set up to be accessible to all the students. (See this CITL quick guide for more information on how to use Zoom breakout rooms effectively for active learning).  Each group can share their work with the class, and all students can view each group’s work in the online document. This is a useful groupwork approach whether you have remote students or not. (See this video example of how an IUB instructor uses Google docs this way.)
  • How much time should you allow for the activity? This depends on how much time the activity would require if all your students were in the classroom. In classes with both remote and classroom students, you may need to allow additional time (to assign remote students to breakout rooms, or for classroom students to log into Zoom to work with remote students in small group work, for example). Extra time may also be required to ensure that all students understand the instructions, and to transition from the activity back to the regular class.
  • What technologies can you use to ensure that remote students can participate along with classroom students? Keep in mind the tools available through Canvas (discussions, for example) as well as Zoom polls, whiteboard, and annotations; and Google docs, slides, and Jamboard. If you use in-class tools like Top Hat, remote students will still be able to participate.
  • How can you check in on the groups, both during the activity and afterwards?  If one group is meeting in Zoom while others are face to face, you can still roam around the classroom to check on groups' progress while students are working , including the group with the remote student(s). When you have brought the class together again after the activity, you can debrief the process by asking students to share their work, either out loud, in the chat in Zoom, or in writing. 
  • What are some activities that can work well for both remote and classroom students? Here are some activities that can be done effectively in this situation:
    • Think – Pair – Share
    • Small group discussion of a text, image, case study, scenario, etc.
    • Problem solving (using the whiteboard function in Zoom, a whiteboard application, or a platform like Miro or Padlet
    • Peer review of student essays


Teaching in the classroom when some students are physically present and others are in Zoom can be challenging. To help your students learn effectively in this situation:

  • Set expectations for how remote students will engage in the class.
  • Plan ahead of time, considering how you can adapt your lesson plan to engage both remote and classroom students throughout the class session. 
  • Take advantage of the wide range technologies available to you and your students.
  • Get anonymous feedback periodically from all your students about how class is going, using a Zoom poll, Qualtrics survey, or ungraded Canvas quiz.


Using Classroom Technology for Hybrid Instruction. This video gives specific instructions for teaching in a classroom with both remote and in-person students, and demonstrates them to show what this instructional situation might look like. 

Keep Teaching: Strategies These pages on the Keep Teaching website list tips and strategies for remote teaching. 

Recommendations for using technology in IU classrooms with hybrid or virtual learning This Knowledge Base document describes the technologies available in IUB classrooms.

Zoom to the Next Level: Active Learning in the Virtual Classroom This IU Pressbook offers tips and strategies for using Zoom to promote active learning in virtual classrooms.