Strategies for Instruction (Lecture, Seminar, Etc.)


Rethink the Format

You may post your lecture slides or other curricular materials on your course website and invite students to respond to them through the integrated discussion board in Canvas, or even by email. You might also add notes to your PowerPoint or Keynote slides using the “notes” feature available in both applications.

To invite more interaction, you can upload your lecture materials to Princeton’s Google Drive as a document or slide show. By allowing your students to comment on your files, they can ask questions or offer ideas right in the document. Students at Princeton are automatically provisioned with a Google Drive. For more information on how to set up a Google Drive, see Pedagogical and Technical Help


Teach a Live Lecture Using Zoom

Zoom is a web conferencing tool that allows you to deliver a “live” lecture to up to 300 students at the same time (see Pedagogical and Technical Help for instructions on how to access and use Zoom). 

Teaching a live, or synchronous, lecture via Zoom can create a sense of community and allow students to get immediate responses to their questions and comments. If a faculty member takes advantage of some of the interactive features that Zoom offers (see Increasing Participation and Engagement in Zoom for ideas), a live lecture will make it easier to get feedback on how the students are responding to course material. 

However, some of your students (students who do not have high-speed internet access, for instance) may not be able to regularly participate in a live lecture. If you do decide to hold live lectures, we therefore strongly recommend that you also record the lecture (see Pedagogical and Technical Help for instructions). We recommend that you post the video for a defined period of time, giving structure to the course and limiting the risk to your intellectual property.

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Record and Share Your Lecture 

You have a number of options for recording a lecture and sharing it with your students, rather than delivering it “live.” You may, for instance, record the lecture via your camera’s video feed or directly in Zoom. The video can be uploaded to your Canvas course site through Panopto Note that videos recorded to the Zoom cloud are automatically added to your Panopto meeting recordings folder. You can share them with your students by moving them into a shared course folder following these instructions on our Canvas Field Guide, Sharing Videos with Students in Panopto.

A recorded lecture does not have opportunities for the social interaction that a live lecture has. For that reason, we suggest that you hold virtual office hours or offer other avenues for your students to discuss the course material with you. (You could also choose to upload your lecture materials to Princeton’s Google Drive as a document or slide show and allow students to annotate them.)

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Narrate Your Lecture Slides

If you use lecture slides, you can narrate them and share them with your students on your course website in Canvas. You can find a description of how to record a narrated PowerPoint or Keynote presentation on the Pedagogical and Technical Help. 

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    Seminar, Precept, or Small Class 

    Rethink the Format

    Faculty can set up and structure a discussion on your Canvas discussion board, which doesn’t require students to participate at the same time and has a low bandwidth requirement. We suggest writing specific prompts or questions for students to respond to as well as defining the purpose, or purposes, of the discussion (to make sense of a dense course reading, to generate a rich interpretation of a shared text, to evaluate an approach or idea, to develop a solution, etc.). You may also wish to be explicit about how this discussion will help prepare students for other components of the course.

    Teach a Fully Online Precept, Seminar, or Small Class

    You can conduct discussions online through video conferencing tools like Zoom. Zoom is an interactive tool that allows you to share audio, video, and screen presentations with your students in real-time. 

    You can conduct virtual discussions through Zoom, an interactive web conferencing tool that is integrated with Canvas. Zoom offers a number of ways for you and your students to interact, including a live chat, screen sharing, and breakout rooms. We provide suggestions for increasing participation and engagement in Zoom here. For instructions on how to access and use Zoom, , see Pedagogical and Technical Help.

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    Lab-based Courses

    Labs usually rely on specific equipment and hands-on activities and might be difficult to translate to an online format.  The following ideas, however, may help you modify your labs for virtual instruction: 

    • Continue active lab experiments, from a distance. If you would like your students to continue active lab experiments and record their observations, you may consider using some lower-tech approaches, such as mounting an iPad on a tripod, activating the time-lapse setting on the camera, and recording or transmitting the visual data, as well as higher-tech approaches like Motif, a system made to record experiments remotely. This system has many features that allow you to remotely control lighting, focus, etc.  A do-it-yourself version can be found on Biorxiv's website.

    • Consider altering lab activities. For instance, shift the focus from data collection to data analysis. Provide students with sample data, perhaps in the form in which it would have been collected, and ask students to complete the analysis as if they had collected the data themselves. For cases where observations are part of the process, consider recording yourself or an AI completing the lab and ask students to take the necessary measurements and observations from the video. Students can then complete the analysis and reflection as usual. Students can collaborate on analysis and reporting using email, the LMS, or other collaborative tools.

    • Explore online simulations. Online simulations, which allow students to interact virtually with the equipment and lab conditions, may offer valuable practice for students. Many online resources are available, including many that are free. A few that may be of interest include (but are not limited to)
      • LabXchange. It offers a suite of lab simulations with assessments that focus on basic molecular biology techniques, as well as a wide variety of high-quality, interactive content, the ability to remix content into customized learning pathways, and private classes and discussion forums.
      • Merlot Collection: Free access to curated online learning and support materials and content creation tools for all disciplines, including science and technology.
      • PhET: Interactive Simulations for Science and Math.  All simulations are free and cover topics including physics, chemistry, math, earth science, and biology.
      • Physics Simulations. A free collection of physics simulations with changeable parameters and real-time animation.
      • ACS: Virtual Chemistry and Simulations. A collection of chemistry simulations and virtual labs compiled by the American Chemical Society (ACS).
      • Virtual Labs Project at Stanford. Online interactive media created and shared by Stanford, largely focused on human biology.
      • HHMI BioInteractive. Videos and interactive activities provided by HHMI (Howard Hughes Medical Institute) focused on biology.
      • Molecular Expressions: Virtual Microscopy. A collection of virtual microscopes with controls similar to those on physical microscopes.
      • Phone apps such as “Oscilloscope” or “Speed Gun” that allow students to interact with instruments or lab setups.

    Reach out to the Council on Science and Technology (CST) if you would like to speak with specialists who can address your particular online lab instruction needs. 

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    Studio Courses

    Like labs, studio courses typically rely on experiential learning. We recognize the challenge of teaching experiential courses virtually. Certain digital tools, however, can be helpful. Web conferencing tools (like Zoom) can be used to organize group meetings, run rehearsals, or record short tutorials; file sharing services like Google Drive or OneDrive allow students to submit recordings of their work for faculty and other students to review and respond to; VoiceThread allows students and faculty to add text, audio, and video annotations and feedback on work submitted in various formats. Annotations on audio and video can be tied to specific times in the playback. Video recordings uploaded to the Panopto video tool in Canvas can also be commented upon. Comments can include time-coded links to specific points in the video.

    We also invite faculty to consult several external resources: 

    Also, consider whether students can complete an experiential component of your course independently and then engage in structured reflection. Students’ individual reflections can be exchanged over email or on Canvas for peer comments.

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    Encourage Participation and Engagement in Zoom

    Zoom offers a number of ways for your students to participate in the lecture or group discussion. 

    For instructions on how to use these features in Zoom, please visit the Zoom section on our Pedagogical and Technical help page or Zoom’s help center. Please note: to use some of these features you will have to enable them in Settings on your account. 

    • Set clear expectations for your students about how they can prepare for the conversation. Talk to them about your goals for the session and the way you’d like them to participate.  Consider sending students questions in advance or asking them to submit questions to you in advance.

    • Set some ground rules for the discussion. Explain to your students how you are planning on using Zoom, and how they should use it, for instance how they can interject a question or comment. Ask them to position the camera so it is easy to see their face (avoid being backlit), join from a quiet space, and mute their microphone when they are not talking.

    • Take breaks during your lecture or small class to allow students to ask questions, reflect on the content, or complete exercises. 

    • Use the raise hand function to allow students to signal that they have a question. Invite students who have raised their hands to unmute their microphones and ask their questions to everyone in the Zoom call. 

    • Use the chat feature to allow students to write short comments to you and their fellow classmates. Chat can be particularly useful for points of clarification. 

    • Share your screen to allow students to see images, documents, and slideshows. Zoom’s annotation feature also allows you to draw on your shared screen, and the whiteboard allows you to write on a blank screen for everyone to see.

    • Use non-verbal feedback (i.e. symbols) which allows your students to place an icon next to their name to communicate with you and the other students. Symbols include raise a hand, yes, no, go slower, go faster, clap and need a break. 

    • Use breakout rooms to create smaller discussion sections of your class. It is difficult to sustain an online conversation with more than 5-7 participants. Zoom can support breakout rooms that divide a larger class into smaller groups, then rejoin those breakout groups to the larger class after a specified amount of time. Please note that you have to sign in to and enable "Breakout room" in Settings: In Meeting (Advanced)

    • Use the Zoom polls feature to create a single choice or multiple choice polling questions that students can respond to during the class. You can make polls anonymous, and you can download a report of polling after the meeting. 

    • A comprehensive table of Zoom’s interactive features can found on this page.

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