Hiroyo Saito, Director of Instructional Technology at Haverford, hosted a Roundtable Discussion on online teaching on February 2nd. Several faculty from the sciences and humanities attended and shared a lively conversation about their ideas and experiences with online teaching. Participants looked at a variety of tips and techniques for teaching online effectively during both asynchronous and synchronous components. Here is a summary of some of the tips and ideas shared during the roundtable.

Asynchronous teaching ideas

Good Moodle Design

Moodle is the primary place students go to gain access to online course materials and often to submit online work. A clear and simple Moodle organization is very helpful to students. Hiroyo shared the Faculty Focus blog post, What Students Want: A Simple, Navigable LMS Course Design. The post suggests that you “prioritize essential information and relegate or even discard non-essential content” and “utilize a consistent structure that clearly elucidates class activities and student responsibilities.” You can also ask your students for feedback on your course site, especially at the start of the semester so that you can tailor your site to the needs of your students.

Hiroyo also shared this tweet from Harriet Schwartz, author of Connected Teaching: Relationship, Power, and Mattering in Higher Education as an example of a simple and clear layout. She creates one-page infographics with goals, activities, and expectations for each week.

Avoid Busy Work

We talked about ways to make pedagogical decisions transparent to students so that they see class activities and assignments as important, rather than just as busywork. It really helps to connect each assignment to course learning objective and to make those objectives clear to students. That way students understand why you are asking them to do the activity.

Hiroyo shared some templates, stickers, and other downloadable materials that you can use or share with students. The materials were created by The Learning Scientists, a team of cognitive psychological scientists focused on learning sciences and interested in research on education.


Instructional videos can be a fabulous tool when teaching online. They can supplement or replace lectures and facilitate self-paced learning. All roundtable participants were aware of research that videos are best when under seven minutes. However, some particiants found that the seven-minute constraint was unworkable. One of the participants found students preferred a slow chalk-talk style video that allowed them to take notes while watching—even with videos over the seven-minute suggested length.

Other ideas were to incorporate quizzes and make students re-watch sections if they got the quiz wrong. If you host videos on Panopto, your can insert quizzes and stop students from advancing in the video until they answer questions correctly.

Have students write exam questions

During the roundtable, we talked about the importance of holding students accountable. There are lots of ways to do this—frequent low stakes quizzes, writing summaries of readings, pair/share time. During the roundtable, we talked about an idea to make students show their learning by asking the right questions. Ask students to reflect on the reading or unit content and then create questions about what they think is important.

Asking students to write questions has two big upsides. It gives a window into how students view the material and what they see as most important and, if the questions are good, you can use those questions for your exams! However, experience has shown that students often create questions that are very easy to answer.


Perusall is a powerful tool with lots of features. Students can work individually, in groups, or as a class to study, annotate and discuss docs and other media. You can also use Perusall to create assignments around annotations. While you can evaluate those assignments yourself, you can also have Perusall provide students with automatic, AI-enhanced feedback.

Persusall connects with Moodle as an external tool, similar to Panopto and Voicethread. However, Perusall uses a newer type of connection, which allows Perusall to send individual Perusall assignments to your Moodle gradebook. See our blog post to learn how to add Perusall to your Moodle course.

Synchronous teaching ideas

Breakout rooms

Breakout rooms can be a great way to get students to talk to each other. Or they can be a time sync with students just sitting silently and uncomfortably, waiting for someone else to talk first. We discussed some ideas for making the most of breakout rooms.

Keep breakout rooms small, consistent

Having small breakout rooms, two or three people per room, seems to work best. Another strategy some people use is to keep the same people in your breakout rooms throughout the semester or at least throughout a unit. That way students get to know each other and they feel more comfortable sharing.

Use online collaboration tools

Collaborative tools like Google Docs, Google Slides, and Jamboard give students a place to work together during their breakout group discussion. These collaborative tools give you a quick way to check in on what groups are doing, without taking the time to join and move between groups. Then, if you see any group stalling or going off-course, you can then hop into that room to get them back on track.

After the breakout sessions, you have a nice summary of what each group did—thus making the return and share easier for everyone.

Here are some specific ideas shared for how to use different collaborative tools.

Google Docs

In Google Docs, you can set up individual documents for each group, or use one document with page breaks between groups.

Google Slides

In Google Slides, ask each group to work on their own slide. During the breakout session, you can use the Grid View to see group work at a glance. After the breakout session, you have a nice presentation ready to help with the group share.


Jamboard is a group whiteboard made by Google. It works as a software only tool, but we do have several integrated hardward Jamboards in our library.

The software Jamboards work best as an iPad or Android tablet app, but they also work in any web browser. If you create one Jamboard page for each group, students can draw, use sticky notes to type text, organize ideas as you might with index cards on a wall, and post anonymously.

Quick Responses from students

Some found students have a tendency to hide during a Zoom class. There are a few ways people found to solicit reactions for quiet students.

Zoom reactions

You can ask students to use the reaction buttons to give non-verbal feedback. The reaction options are on the Zoom menu bar and allow students to express themselves with symbols for clapping, thumbs up, yes, no, faster, slower, etc. You can pause teaching at any time and ask students to use reactions to get a quick pulse on how the class is doing. Reactions show up for 10 seconds on their video stream as well as on

Zoom reactions
The reaction options on the Zoom menu bar allow students to express themselves with symbols for clapping, thumbs up, yes, no, faster, slower, etc.

Zoom poll

Zoom polls are another popular way to get feedback. You can throw up a poll at any time during a Zoom meeting. However, it is best to make polls before class, because creating a poll takes a few minutes.

Google Forms

Some of the participants like using Google forms to get feedback. Google forms allows a range of questions types (essay, multiple-choice, etc.) and stores in an easy to work with format. One option is to give a short answer or open-ended question, then use a word cloud to see common themes.

Poll Everywhere

Some participants use Poll Everywhere to gauge student understanding. It is easy to use, but you do bump up against question limits quickly if using the free version.

Chat Bursts

Many people use chat to get students to share in class. However, when students are constantly chatting, that can be distracting and influence the thinking of other students. A new idea is to use chat bursts. To have chat bursts, give students a prompt and ask them to type responses in chat without hitting return right away. Tell them how much time they have to answer. Let them type their responses. Then, after the time limit has passed, have all students hit return at the same time.

Deep Silent Work

We ended the roundtable with the idea of deep silent work—pausing during a class or at the end to give students time to absorb and reflect on the material. While some might think this takes away from limited class time, research shows that time for thought and reflection allows students to learn more. People shared a few ways they incorporate silent work into classes.

Writing/Problem solving time

Ask student to work on a problem during class time.

Muddiest Point

Ask students to write down the part of a lecture or presentation that was not clear to them. One idea is to do this as a chat burst.

Leave 5 minutes for your students to reflect

It can help to stop your regular class activities five minutes before class ends, and have students use that time to reflect upon that class session, either for their own benefit or to share. This is another activity that can be done as a chat burst. In fact, we did this activity at the end of the February 2nd roundtable. A common theme was how helpful it is to listen and learn from other faculty.

Want help implementing any of these ideas in your classes?

As always, you can email our group at hc-techlearn at haverford.edu.