Simulating the Classroom Experience with Zoom

Student talks to numerous other individuals via Zoom conference call

Having to turn the face-to-face classroom into an online environment creates challenges, but it also creates many new opportunities for education. Teaching through Zoom, a video conferencing platform, this past year helped us realize that most of what we teach in the classroom can be taught effectively online, and in some cases, it can even create a better learning environment.

Preparation is key. The more we prepare, the more effective our courses will be. Some tips on preparing for Zoom classes include the following:

1. Make it easy for students to access the course on Zoom. Create a single “meeting room” access link where students can easily access their Zoom course link throughout the semester.

2. Determine course access: Do you want access to the Zoom class by means of a waiting room, a password, or a required specific e-mail extension? Keep in mind, the more limitations set, the more difficult and frustrating it is for students to access the course.

3. Post rules you can live with and follow, for example: 

  • Visibility: Do you want to see their entire face or is the top of their head or their name across the screen ok?
  • Position: Do you want them sitting upright or is lying in bed okay?
  • Pets: Do you mind pets walking by the screen or do you consider this an interruption? *Note: Students like seeing pets.
  • Outside discussions: Do you mind them talking to others while in class? Keep in mind some students may have small children who may need their attention.
  • Eating: Can they eat during class?
  • Name listing: Do you prefer students use Marsha or Marsha Smith or Toothsaver?
  • Dress code: Are pajamas okay?   

4. Determine room usage: Can students use the meeting room space outside of class for group work or is access only during class? If 24/7 access is given, students can meet together on Zoom for group projects and activities and won’t have to arrange a meeting place, saving time on travel, etc.

5. Record meetings: Meetings can be recorded to the computer or the “cloud” which can then be shared with students for future viewing and/or to keep as documentation.

6. Create a lesson plan: Vary classroom and group activities, and schedule breaks.

Advantages and similarities to face-to-face teaching

1. Each person can be viewed by “walking” around the video screen using the gallery view.

2. Students can effectively work in groups called “breakout rooms.” In our experience, students seemed to be more focused while in “breakout rooms” than in the face-to-face classroom—there was less distraction from other groups and they were able to share their screens with group members.

3. Faculty and students can share presentations, demonstrations, and videos with the entire class, or in groups, easier on Zoom screens than in the live classroom.

4. Chatting with individual students, a group of students, or with the entire class is possible using the Zoom chat option.

5. Faculty can join each of the breakout groups by participating or lurking. Students tend to direct discussion toward faculty when they are visible on the screen. If faculty mute the microphone and cover their camera, students usually continue in their discussion as if the faculty is not there.

6. Students focus on presenting to everyone on their Zoom screen versus focusing on the instructor, which they frequently do in the face-to-face classroom setting.

7. Students feel a sense of community while using Zoom in the online environment. They don’t feel so alone in the course.

8. The polling option provides opportunity to check student comprehension and encourages student engagement.

9. A pull down menu that lists participants can be used for easy roll taking.

10. Students can be engaged and observed in Zoom during activities, projects, and individual and group exams.

11. No COVID-19 risk, no masks, and their smiling faces can be seen! 

Breakout rooms

  1. Zoom allows faculty to send students to breakout rooms for group study or other activities.  Up to 50 breakout rooms can be created.
  2. Students can be manually loaded by the instructor or automatically sent to breakout rooms through Zoom.
  3. The length of time students engage in breakout rooms can be determined by faculty. Forgetting to set this will return students to the main room at the wrong time.

Breakout room activities

Most activities that can be done in the classroom can be done on Zoom, examples include: Think-pair-share, scaffolding, demonstrations, group projects, and monitoring exams. The breakout rooms help make these activities possible.

Ideas below are examples of activities to demonstrate what can be done in Zoom:

1. International food show: This is always a favorite classroom activity. In the classroom, students bring an international food dish to share and learn about. With Zoom, students prepare an international dish ahead of time. Then on Zoom, they show it, talk about it, taste it, share the recipe, etc. This activity has been a positive experience for students.

2. Scaffolding in a special needs course: Each group of students can be given a different medically compromised patient to learn about and treat virtually. Once each group of students have become the “experts” in treating their virtual patient, the students separate into a new group consisting of a member from each of the original groups. The students then teach each of the students in the new group about their patient and patient care. The breakout room is the perfect setting.

3. Demonstrations: Both faculty and students can demonstrate on Zoom, for example, when teaching suturing techniques, students are assigned different suturing methods to learn and teach. The student demonstrates the suturing method to the entire class or to a group of students. The students watch and replicate what they see.

4. Demonstration of mixed media periodontal lesion project: Individual students can be assigned different periodontal lesions. They create mixed media to explain the disease process for the lesion. Students then present on Zoom, either to the entire class or to a group.

5. Outside classroom activity: Activities can be assigned to be completed outside of class and then discussed in groups or with the entire class. One example when teaching about respiratory diseases includes having students run outside and then breathe through a straw when they stop running. The restricted airflow of the straw replicates the restricted airflow of patients with COPD. Students then discuss what may be experienced and how it applies to the topic in their breakout groups.

6. Objective Structured Clinical Exam (OSCE): The instructor sets up the different lab stations and then moves between the stations while on Zoom. The students watch each station and answer the questions which are submitted as an assignment or exam.

Course content can, in most cases, be taught effectively using video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, especially when using breakout rooms. It is important to vary these activities and schedule breaks.

Dr. Leslie Koberna is a clinical professor of dental hygiene at Texas Woman’s University (TWU) and has been involved in dental education for 31 years. Areas she has presented and published in include teaching methodology, and online instruction.

Deborah Testerman is an assistant clinical professor of dental hygiene at Texas Woman’s University (TWU) and has been involved in dental education for 23 years. Her area of interests are applying active learning techniques in the classroom.