Translating Zoom Best Practices to In-Person Instruction

Many instructors who have taught remotely have experimented with new teaching approaches via Zoom, such as adding opportunities for student engagement via polling or chat, facilitating small group work via breakout rooms, and bringing in guest speakers and lecturers from all over the world. When teaching in-person, how can we translate lessons learned from these practices to the physical classroom?

Class Chats & Backchannels 

Yale instructors identified Zoom chat as a helpful feature to interact with students and field questions during remote classes.1,2 Inspired by this, when teaching in-person, some instructors maintain a live digital conversation or “backchannel”, which provides a space for students to actively engage with course content during class by digitally sharing their questions and ideas. 
Before deciding to use and select a backchannel technology, instructors may wish to consider the following questions as informed by their pedagogical goals:
  • Will the conversation be structured or open? Structured prompts and topics can keep content well-organized while having a space for open response can encourage questions across a variety of topics. 
  • Will student responses be anonymous? Anonymity may promote student participation, especially for quieter students who are feeling less comfortable participating. Responses tied to student identities may be useful for classroom assessments and monitoring participation. 
  • Can students see and upvote each others’ responses? Some platforms allow for student upvoting so that students’ most pressing questions or ideas rise to the top. 
  • Would it be helpful to continue the conversation asynchronously? Most discussion tools can also be used asynchronously, which may allow students to submit ideas and questions after class or as a pre-class activity.
  • How might others support the conversation? If you teach a large course with teaching fellows or co-instructors, you may consider asking one or more members of your teaching team to moderate the conversation and highlight common or pressing questions for you during class. 
Yale supports a number of technology options for live class chatting and backchanneling:
  • Poll Everywhere - Among its diverse array of poll types, Poll Everywhere includes a “Q&A” activity, which allows students to submit questions or ideas live during class or asynchronously. Poll Everywhere activities can be integrated into slide deck presenters (e.g. Powerpoint, Keynote). Reporting metrics are also available. To request to be added to Yale’s Poll Everywhere license, please contact   
  • Ed Discussion - Ed Discussion is a threaded discussion forum that can be used synchronously or asynchronously. Posts may include images, image annotations, videos, equations, runnable code, and more. There are options for posts to be anonymous, endorsed by the instructor, or upvoted by other students. Ed Discussion is available as a Canvas integration at Yale. 
  • Zoom Chat Channels - In addition to in-meeting chats, Zoom also provides Zoom chat channels within the Zoom desktop client software. You can elect to have a whole class channel and/or channels for smaller groups. Before using Zoom Chat Channels in class, have your students download and install the Zoom Client for Meetings software. Please reach out to the Poorvu Center ( for help setting up chat channels for classroom use.

Before inviting your students to participate in a backchannel, be sure to share your expectations or develop expectations with your students about how it will be used. Topics may include appropriate content, frequency and timing of participation, when students can expect a response to their questions, and if students will be able to see and/or upvote each other’s responses. 

Breaking Out into Small Groups 

When Deans Gendler, Chun and Cooley outlined teaching practices that Yale faculty and students found effective during remote teaching, they highlighted small group work as an opportunity to enhance discussion and student interactions. During remote instruction, many Yale instructors reported using Zoom breakout rooms to support small group work,1,2 such as solving problems together, discussing a question, or more broadly checking in with each other to support well-being and foster community. Instructors also reported seeing more engagement in large group discussion following small group work, when students have the chance to try things out with a few peers before sharing with the whole class. Instructors will likely find these benefits are translatable to in-person group work. 
We encourage you to explore the Poorvu Center website for strategies for facilitating group work as well as possible classroom seating arrangements to support group work, noting that small groups can still function well in fixed-seating classrooms if students are prompted to turn and face each other.
When facilitating small groups, instructors may elect to have students use physical collaboration tools and spaces (e.g. whiteboards, worksheets, large post-it notes, gallery walks, etc.) or a variety of digital collaborative spaces supported by Yale: 

Bringing in New Voices 

Yale instructors also took advantage of the remote environment to invite guest speakers to visit class virtually, using the opportunity to expose students to experts without needing a travel budget.1,2,3 Instructors often find creative ways to connect their students to guest experts via Zoom, such as: 
  • Assigning students to read an article, book or other work by the visiting expert prior to class
  • Asking students to develop questions for the speaker to ask during a Q&A
  • Inviting students to help host the guest, by introducing the visitor to the class or moderating the discussion on Zoom. 
Yale instructors may contact Yale Classroom Services ( or 203-432-2650) for help configuring physical classrooms for digital guests, such as setting up a portable computer cart for Zoom. 

Getting Support

Poorvu Center staff are available for individual consultations to support your translation of Zoom best practices to in-person instruction. Contact us here

Yale Survey Sources 

1Immediate remote instruction survey (Yale College faculty; March 2020)
2End of spring 2020 instructor survey (FAS and most professional schools)
3Canvas feedback student survey (8 semesters coded from 2017-2020) 
Click here for more information about these survey data from Yale faculty and instructors during emergency remote teaching.