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Online classes require you to adjust your usual learning routines. This handout offers some strategies to try before, during, and after class to get the most out of your Zoom classes.

Preparing for class

As with any class—online or in person—preparation matters. Try the following strategies before class so that you can get the most out of Zoom during class. For broader tips on preparing your space, schedule, and study habits for remote learning, see our online and remote learning tips.

Plan to participate

Making a plan to participate before class can help you be a more active and engaged participant during your Zoom class. You might try:

Preparing questions. You can prepare questions or comments in advance to share through the chat function of your Zoom class. By typing them out ahead of time, you will be ready to share them without losing track of the discussion.
Setting SMART goals. “Participating more” is a vague goal. If you want to increase your level of participation, try setting a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based) goal before you go to class. For example, set a goal of commenting two times in the chat or making one verbal contribution.
Making yourself accountable. Commit to one action that will keep you accountable during class. For example, plan to keep your video on so others can see if your attention is elsewhere or agree to share notes with a classmate after class.

Anticipate distractions

With online learning, the amount of distractions you might face tends to increase. Get ahead of distractions by trying some of the following:

Manage digital distractions. Before class, mute notifications on your phone and in your browser; leave your phone in another room; close any tabs unrelated to class; and/or use distraction blocking software to temporarily block social media and other tempting websites. See our handout on Digital Distractions for details.
Occupy your hands. If your mind tends to wander during Zoom sessions, occupying your hands can help. Try preparing a tactile activity, such as knitting, or using a sensory object, like a stress ball, to keep your hands busy and your mind focused during class.

During class

During a Zoom class, there are several components that make online learning distinct from in-person classes, from screen fatigue and asynchronous videos to breakout rooms and chat boxes. Try some of the following strategies during class to navigate these less familiar features:

Combat Zoom fatigue

During Zoom classes, you may start to feel uncomfortable after sitting in one place for a long time while staring at a computer screen. Here are some tips for avoiding Zoom fatigue:

Take a pause. When you lose focus during a pre-recorded video, pause your lecture to stretch or do some deep breathing exercises.

Do short stretches and muscle movements. When you start to lose focus during a live Zoom class, you can briefly turn your camera off, giving yourself the freedom to move or stretch before turning it back on.

Use the 20/20/20 method. After 20 minutes of looking at your computer, focus on an object around 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Get some distance. Try to put at least 20 inches between you and your computer.

Use blue light filters. Turn on blue light filters during class or edit your phone or computer’s features to automatically enable the filters when class starts. You can also purchase blue light glasses.

Adjust your note-taking style

The note-taking style that works best for you in your in-person classes may not be the style that is most effective for you during Zoom classes. The scenarios below offer examples of strategies you can use to address common challenges:

Challenge Strategy
You struggle to type your notes out when you have to watch a video on the same screen. If your professor posts the slides before class, outline your notes ahead of class to make them easier to organize. Take notes by hand. If your professor posts the slides before class, outline your notes ahead of class to make them easier to organize.
You have a hard time hearing your instructor via Zoom. Ask your instructor if they can enable closed captions on their videos. Jot any questions down and follow up via email or during office hours.
When you try to take notes on your recorded lectures, you spend a lot of time pausing and rewinding, so watching the lecture takes much longer. Watch the video from start to finish without stopping. Record timestamps for any unclear moments. Rewatch only those moments that are still unclear when the video is over.
You struggle to motivate yourself to take notes during asynchronous lectures because you know you can watch the lectures again later. Write down your note-taking goals for recorded lectures. Reward yourself as soon as you finish taking notes on an asynchronous lecture. Remind yourself that taking notes can improve your memory and save you time when you begin studying for your exams.

Be aware of Zoom’s participation features

Zoom has many tools that may be relevant to certain classes and your goal of becoming a more active participant. If you struggle to jump in to a conversation or answer a question consider doing the following:

Use the “raise hand” feature. Often there’s a hand icon available located in the bottom right-hand corner of the Participants tab. In order to avoid causing confusion, once your instructor calls on you, click “lower hand,” which is located in the same place as “raise hand.”

Use the chat. Submit questions, make comments, contribute to a discussion, or respond to questions that your instructor has posed to the class.

Ask for help in breakout rooms. Request help from your instructor by clicking “Ask for Help” located in the Meeting Controls menu. This will let your instructor know that you have a question.

Model breakout room expectations. If you are unsure how to navigate the dynamics of a breakout room, you may want to model the types of group norms you would like to see. For example, you might:

  • Ask group members who haven’t spoken yet for their thoughts.
  • Use the chat to request to speak next in a larger breakout room.
  • Keep track of time for your group verbally or in the chat.
  • Take note of time updates your instructor sends through the chat, which may disappear within a few seconds when you are in a breakout room.
  • Share your screen and take notes on your discussion in a shared document that your group can edit and view.

After class

Once class is over, it helps to follow-up. Here is a list of items to consider after class to stay on top of the material you’re learning and build connections with your classmates and instructor:

  • After your instructor has concluded class and before you exit the Zoom meeting, there may be a brief opportunity to talk to your instructor. Consider asking any pressing questions at this time.
  • After your Zoom class, review your notes. Jot down any missing points while the discussion is fresh in your mind and note any questions that come up as you review.
  • If your instructor makes live Zoom videos or transcripts available, schedule a time in your calendar to rewatch or to read, particularly if you have missing items in your notes.
  • Check in with a classmate to compare notes or ask any persisting questions. You can try sending information through the chat function during class to make these connections. If you are interested in forming a virtual study group, see our handout on Study Groups.
  • If there are any remaining items to discuss, contact your instructor. Regular communication is even more necessary and expected in Zoom classes. See our handouts for tips on Emailing Your Professor or Using Office Hours Effectively.

Works consulted

Coles-Brennan, C., Sulley, A., and Young, G. (2019). Review: management of digital eye strain. Clinical and Experimental Optometry. Doi: 10.1111/cxo.12798

https://software.sites.unc.edu/zoom/

https://help.unc.edu/sp?id=kb_article_view&sysparm_article=KB0010550&sys_kb_id=2f779494dbbf5094227afe21399619e3

https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/115005769646-Participating-in-breakout-rooms