Live/Synchronous Activities

Synchronous activities such as class discussions and group work can serve to complement your pre-recorded lectures, giving learners the opportunity to ask questions as they arise and interact with their peers. You may even choose to deliver your lectures in a live/synchronous format. However you integrate synchronous activities in your course, this page offers strategies to help maximize engagement and accessibility while being mindful of privacy concerns. To better understand the advantages and disadvantages of both synchronous and asynchronous content delivery review the content below.

Remote-Live Delivery Tips

Courses delivered using a remote-live mode have three distinct learner audiences to consider when planning — live students located in person, live remote students in the Zoom, and students who may view the recording asynchronously after the session. The following offers suggestions to common questions and issues that may arise in a remote-live class. 

After establishing a plan, it is important to communicate the plan to the students, so they know what to expect. This demystifies the process and helps manage student expectations.



Handling Student Questions

Establish a strategy for managing student questions. Some possible options are:

  • Designate times throughout the class where you will review the chat or pause for remote questions.
  • Ask remote students to use the raise hand or chat functionality and request that a GSI or class volunteer notify you when there is a question or hand raised in Zoom so you do not have to monitor it while lecturing.
  • Establish norms that students can unmute themselves to ask a question. Please note, this can interrupt flow or cause overlapping sound if multiple students try to ask questions at the same time. 

Be sure to repeat or paraphrase them as you address them. This ensures that other learners across modalities are able to clearly hear the question/response and they’re captured in the recording.

Planning Class Exercises

Consider what technology is needed to enable remote-live students to participate in class exercises. For example, think-pair-share activities will require more intentionality with Zoom setup.

Set up all Zoom settings according to your plan, including breakout rooms if applicable, and test settings prior to class.

For polling, some faculty use the functionality within Zoom and then ask in-person students to raise their hands for their answers (e.g., “Who thinks A is correct? Who thinks B is correct?”). Alternatively, consider using a third party tool (e.g., iClicker Cloud, Poll Everywhere, Kahoot) so that it is accessible to students not within the Zoom room.

Sharing Logistical Information and Norms

Communicate clear expectations about how you’ll be facilitating based on the selected technology tools and your plan for student questions.

Post all session instructions in a text/visual collaboration tool (e.g., slidedeck) as well as in a session logistical tool (e.g., Canvas course site).

Consider how to manage any Zoom session logistics or technical issues. 

  • How will you manage breakout rooms, polls, or other tools?
  • Who will be the primary contact should a participant have technical questions?

Consider communicating norms around in-person students who also join in remotely via Zoom to ask questions. Some students may prefer to voice questions this way.

Capturing Whiteboard Annotation

Annotate, draw diagrams, or write out problems using a blank PowerPoint slide and stylus instead of the whiteboard. This makes it easier for students on Zoom to see what is being drawn (i.e., better contrast and clearer capture.)

Additional Resources

Tools & Technology

Video conferencing and other collaborative tools allow for robust and engaging synchronous activities. Here are some tips for using these technologies in a planned, deliberate manner.

Zoom for Video Conferencing

While there are several video conferencing options available through U-M, consider using Zoom to facilitate synchronous activities. Zoom is reliable and offers intuitive functions like breakout rooms, Q&A, and chat.

Zoom Breakout Rooms

Zoom breakout rooms are a great way to encourage group work and peer-to-peer interaction that might not otherwise be possible in an online setting. As an instructor, there are several new features and best practices to consider when planning breakout rooms, each of which can help foster engagement and ensure a seamless experience for your class.

When to Use the New Breakout Rooms

Instructors now have the option to create breakout rooms that enable learners to choose their own breakout room without any additional assistance from the instructor or co-hosts. While much group work operates best with pre-assigned groups, there are times when allowing learners to self-select their breakout room is preferred. For example, in a manufacturing class, you may plan a round robin discussion with different topics (e.g. design, production, testing, logistics) and enable learners to choose where to begin their discussion. Self-selecting breakout rooms also allow learners to freely move between breakout rooms without any further intervention by a host or co-host. Using the broadcast feature, the host or co-hosts could inform learners in each breakout room when to move onto the next discussion topic, before finally bringing everyone back into the main session for reflection. 

Using the Ask For Help Button

Before a recent Zoom update, the only way a learner could pose a question to their instructor while in a breakout room was either by waiting for the instructor to join their breakout room, or rejoining the main session and waiting for the instructor to return. Now each learner has access to an Ask for Help button inside the breakout room. Using the Ask for Help button will alert the instructor that the learner has a question and provide a link back to that learner’s breakout room. The instructor can then answer the question directly in the breakout room, which allows for a more personal interaction. Something to consider is that in a class with a large number of learners or breakout rooms, it can become difficult to keep track of which learners have used the Ask for Help button. Smaller classes or fewer breakout rooms make it easier to track learners’ questions. To mitigate confusion, you may consider asking each group to designate one person responsible for using the button.

Rearranging Video Windows During a Meeting

One of Zoom’s best features, its Gallery View, can also become one of its biggest frustrations due to the way the video windows shift as participants enter and leave throughout a session. A recent Zoom update now allows for the host to rearrange the video windows using a simple drag and drop, and to lock this view so all participants see the same fixed view of video windows. This feature is especially beneficial for class discussions, such as introductory sessions, where you want to ensure you’ve heard from all learners. Additionally, placing the instructional team at the top of the gallery view ensures that your class will always be able to see their instructors’ video window.

Using the Spotlight Feature for Group Presentations and Accessibility

Previously, Zoom only allowed for one video to be selected as the Spotlight, which enables learners to only see pre-determined primary active speakers (e.g. the instructor). Recently, Zoom updated this feature to allow for up to nine video windows to be selected as the Spotlight. This update is hugely beneficial for group presentations, enabling the instructor to select all of the group members as primary active speakers. This eliminates the need to swap Spotlight between group members and allows for a more seamless group presentation. This new feature is also important for accessibility. If any learners in your course are deaf or hard of hearing, you can spotlight the video of both yourself and an interpreter to ensure those learners are able to follow along.

Provide Learners with a Plan for Communication and Assistance

When using breakout rooms, it is important to provide your learners with a clear plan for communication, especially if something does not go as planned. Incorporating this communication plan into your verbal or written presentation and placing it prominently in your syllabus will go a long way towards ensuring that learners feel supported and comfortable asking questions. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Remind learners that they can use the Ask for Help button in the breakout room to reach out to the instructional team. Also let them know they can leave the breakout room and return to the main room to ask a question.

Have one host or co-host remain in the main room to act as an extra layer of support if the primary host experiences technical issues, or to answer questions. This will ensure that questions are answered in a timely fashion, especially if the host is unavailable for any reason. Setting up alternate hosts, such as a GSI or a learner(s), is also a great way to ensure continuity if the main host experiences issues with their connection during class.

You can also use the broadcast tool to send short reminders, time left on task, or clarifications out to all rooms. Please note that such broadcast messages don’t stay up for long, so you may wish to broadcast important information more than once. Also keep in mind that the host and co-hosts can visit any room they want, though co-hosts must be manually placed in a breakout room by the host before they are able to move among the other rooms.

Provide Learners with Clear Directions and Expectations

In addition to a clear communication plan, consider putting these instructions on a slide and reviewing them with the entire class before sending learners to breakout rooms. This gives learners a chance to review the task and ask questions before leaving the main session. Additionally, you may choose to supply this information via the File tool in the Chat window so your learners have access to the slide while in the breakout rooms. Some important information to include:

  • Zoom software update (5.3 or greater required for breakout rooms)
  • Time allowed for task
  • Topics for discussion
  • Expectations for group members

Deliverables post-breakout rooms, such as:

A low stakes way to reduce anxiety and create a comfortable space for your learners is to hold a short introductory Zoom session at the beginning of the semester. The session can be short, serving as a way to work through any technical issues before beginning the course work. It is also the perfect opportunity to walk through class expectations, the communication plan, and any directions you want to provide prior to breakout sessions. Place learners in their breakout rooms to share introductions and supply them with a reason to try out the Ask for Help button. This also gives you and any alternate hosts the opportunity to test the Broadcast to All button, as well as moving between breakout rooms. 

Breakout Room Ideas & Examples

Best practices can only take you so far, especially if you’re not sure when or why to use breakout rooms in your course. The section below outlines different ways to use breakout rooms during the semester. Consider varying how you use breakout rooms to help keep learners engaged and sharing ideas.

Small Group Discussions

  • This is one of most common uses of breakout rooms. Brainstorming, group presentations, and discussion sections are all great ways to use breakout rooms.

Round Robin / Birds of a Feather

  • Self-selecting breakout rooms are ideal for round robin or “bird of a feather” sessions, where learners bounce from topic to topic. Begin by posing a question to the learners, allowing them time to think independently, and then allow them to enter the breakout room of their choice for a timed discussion. Use the Broadcast to All tool to keep learners on task and aware of time remaining. Once time is up, alert learners to switch to a new breakout room. As noted above, self-selecting breakout rooms allow learners to move independently between rooms without the need of a host or co-host to manually move them.

1:1 Peer Discussions

  • Think-Pair-Share is a great way to enable learners to experience a paired breakout session. Begin by posing a question to the class and allowing learners time to think independently. Then separate the learners into paired breakout groups where they discuss the question and share their thoughts. Bring all learners back together in the main session and allow for time to share what they discussed in their breakout rooms.

Peer review is also a great way to use paired breakout rooms. Separate the learners into paired groups and allow them the time to peer review the other learners’ prepared assignment or document. Using a collaborative tool such as Google Docs allows learners to easily peer edit documents.

Incorporate Simple Collaboration Tools

In addition to Zoom, document-sharing tools such as Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Jamboard offer great ways to increase engagement and support interaction.

Make a Recording Available within 24 Hours

This is important to help learners stay on schedule if they were absent from the synchronous session or had technical issues. In addition, offering a backup recording allows learners to review content at their own pace and understand what they may have struggled with learning during a synchronous session.

Establish a Contingency Plan

Determine your course of action ahead of time for situations where you or a learner encounters a technical difficulty.

Engagement Strategies

There are different ways to use Zoom and other collaborative tools to foster meaningful synchronous participation. In some cases, your strategy may depend on the size of the class.

Ask Learners to Turn Cameras on (if they're comfortable)

It can be easier to lecture when you can see learner expressions.

Utilize Gallery View

Leave room at the top of slides so that you may see learners in gallery view over your screen share.

For small or medium-sized classes, encourage them to use chat

To minimize disruption, ask learners to turn their microphones off and encourage them to enter questions via the Chat function in Zoom Meetings.

Use Zoom Breakout Rooms

Breakout rooms allow online learners to engage in smaller groups with classmates.

For larger classes, consider using the Q&A feature in Webinar Mode

To help you stay on top of learner questions during larger classes, consider using Zoom’s Q&A in Webinar mode instead of Chat. The Q&A feature can either be set to private — where the questions only show in your inbox — or public, where learners can answer each other’s questions and, if enabled, upvote each other’s questions. To determine whether Zoom Meetings (Chat) or Zoom Webinars (Q&A) are right for you, click here.

Repeat or Paraphrase questions

Repeating, paraphrasing, and restating questions from learners posed during live classes ensures that other learners are able to clearly hear questions/responses, and they’re captured in the recording.

Require some (not all) note-taking

This helps keep online learners engaged.

Student Privacy & FERPA


The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), is a federal law designed to protect the privacy and ensure the accuracy of student education records. It gives current students and former students the right to inspect, review, and challenge the content of their own education records, and prohibits the release of “personally identifiable records” without consent, except under limited circumstances.

For a more detailed introduction, this 30-minute FERPA training is offered by the Registrar’s Office.


Recordings of course activities in which students can be identified are educational records and fall under FERPA regulation. The requirements to create FERPA compliant recordings differ depending on if you do or do not plan to use the recording outside of the course and term in which it was recorded. Generally, recorded class activities can be shared with class participants but may not be shared with others outside the class without the written consent of students identifiable in the recording. 

The following resources and scenarios provide information about specific instances of recorded class activity. For course-specific suggestions, contact Nexus to schedule a 1:1 individualized instructional consultation.


Scenario: I would like to record and post group office hours or review sessions for students who are unable to attend, but do not plan to use that recording in any future terms

If you are using the recorded material for the current course and term in which you recorded it there is no real concern, as long as you follow these guidelines:

  • Add syllabus language notifying students about the plan for recording synchronous sessions, including how long the recordings will be retained. 
  • Verbally remind students at the beginning of every recording that the session will be recorded.
  • If students disclose information that should not be recorded, pause the recording beforehand if possible or go back and edit the recording before posting.

Scenario: I want to record a lecture or other course activity to create a supplemental resource for use in future semesters of the course.

If you create course recordings with student faces or full names, you cannot use these in any other terms without the consent of the students. If you think you may want to use the recorded material for other terms or purposes, follow these guidelines to make sure you comply with FERPA regulation.

  1. Record audio and video only of the instructor. This greatly minimizes the possibility of identifying class participants.
  2. Do not identify or refer to students by full name or by other means that allow identification during the recording. 
  3. Have students ask questions without identifying themselves. For example, they can pose the question in chat and you can read it and respond.
  4. Alternatively, gather the consent from all students that you’d like to record the class, which may include their face, comments, or name, and use that recording for X purpose in the future. Without this consent, you cannot share the recording with other individuals unless the recording is “de-identified” using the steps above.

Scenario: I want to give my GSI access to a previously offered Canvas course so they can copy the content into this term’s course.

You should not give a GSI access to a previous semester’s course with student information or records. Instead, you should copy the content or ask a Nexus designer to support and then give the GSI access to the new already-copied course. Alternatively, you can make a request to 4Help for a Canvas Practice Site, or course shell, that does not contain any student information. Then you would have the ability to add GSIs and others who can copy the content from that shell into any other course.

Scenario: I want to use an online tool or application as part of my course and am unsure about FERPA compliance. 

FERPA does not address the use of specific apps. To ensure compliance with FERPA requirements and promote a safe, secure computing environment, instructors should consult with CAEN to see if that application or service is approved. (1)

1 United States Department of Education, Student Privacy Policy Office

Scenario: I would like to have a guest speaker or other non-student visitor attend my virtual course.

If you intend to invite a visitor to the online course, you should notify students in advance and inform them that the visitor will attend. This will allow students to determine how and whether to participate in the presence of the visitor.

Scenario: I would like to have a virtual meeting from home with a student to discuss an assignment or would like to host office hours from home. My spouse or roommate is also at home and in the same room.

This is okay as long as the instructor does not disclose PII from the student’s education record in hearing or view of the spouse/roommate during the conversation or office hours. (2)

2 United States Department of Education, Student Privacy Policy Office

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