Distance Teaching Do’s and Don’ts

This list is meant to help you have a high-quality remote teaching experience. As you gain more practice in the distributed environment, many of these suggestions will come naturally.

Do follow the appropriate etiquette when placing a Zoom call. Make sure you are in a quiet area where you will not be interrupted for the duration of the call. Do not multitask on the same (or different) device while using Zoom. Turn off or silence all other applications except the ones you need for your class while you are teaching. Dress and act appropriately since your students will have (at the very least) a partial view of you in a non-formal classroom setting. Be mindful of what appears on camera behind you. Try to set up your computer in a neutral space that avoids distractions. Make sure your students also understand that this etiquette applies to them as well.

Do check your internet connection. Since you need a stable connection to handle the load of a multipoint video session, try whenever possible to use a wired Internet connection to connect to Zoom. If you are connecting via WiFi make sure you have a strong signal. If your signal is weak, try moving closer to the router to get a stronger signal. If you have enabled the feature on your router (this will be the default on many routers), cycle through your 2.4 GHz and 5GHz wireless frequency bands to find the one with the strongest signal. 5GHz provides faster data rates at a shorter distance. 2.4GHz offers coverage for farther distances, but the trade-off is that it may be slower. If despite everything you find your Zoom session is still lagging, turn off your video feed. Video uses significantly more bandwidth than audio.

Do ask students to use a laptop or a desktop computer to connect. While it is possible to connect to a Zoom meeting using a mobile device, the user experience will be significantly degraded. If your students connect to your Zoom meeting using an iPad or their mobile phone, they will probably not get much out of the class.

Do be mindful of the digital equity gap. You should anticipate issues of access and inclusion. Now that most students have left campus, some of them may have to connect from areas that have low or limited internet access and consequently may have a problem fully participating in all class activities. Take a minute to ask your class if anyone is having an issue with the quality of their connection. Depending on the answer, adjust your content and teaching style to ensure maximum participation and equal access to course materials, activities, and assignments. Be ready to handle requests for extensions or accommodations equitably.

Do use a headset and an external microphone. If at all possible, use headphones and a microphone or earbuds to back on background noise and interference. This will help you hear everyone more clearly. Encourage students to also use headphones or earbuds instead of the built-in speaker and microphone in their computer.

Do ask your students to mute their microphones unless they want or have to speak. If you are presenting and are the only person speaking, it is a good idea to ask your students to mute their microphones, since background noise can be an annoying distraction and there is the risk of picking up feedback. Your students can press down and hold the space bar to quickly unmute themselves for a few seconds, if they have set this preference in their settings.

Don’t forget to check if your microphone is unmuted when you speak. It can be frustrating to realize that no one has heard you for the past 10 minutes.

Do adjust your camera appropriately. Your camera should be set at eye level and you should be positioned in the frame so the camera is seeing you from the chest or waist up, instead of just focusing on your face. This is more natural for the viewer and is especially beneficial if you tend to gesture a lot. Remember though that too much movement can cause the video to pixelate and degrade the image seen by students.

Do encourage students to turn ON their video feed unless there is a pedagogical or technical reason to have it turned off (i.e. limited bandwidth). Video is crucial in building trust and engagement when you engage in virtual communications.

Do look at the camera when you teach. This takes a bit of getting used to since your natural tendency is to want to look at the other participants faces on the screen. But do try to look at the camera when speaking to the class. This tactic will mimic the in-person feeling of eye contact. While looking at the screen is also important, especially to gauge reactions and see if anyone is trying to get your attention, looking at the camera makes the audience feel like you’re really talking to them.

Do light the front of your head, not the back. If your source of lighting is behind you, you will be backlit and participants in the Zoom meeting will only see a silhouette. Check that any light shining on your face is stronger than the light behind you. That includes natural light coming in through a window. Shut the blinds or pull the curtains if you have too. Make sure your students do the same.

Do be careful about the documents or screens you share. If you use the Share Screen function to share content with your students, make sure you remove anything from your desktop that you would not want your students to see. Be sure to close documents you don’t want to share and temporarily disable or block apps, pop-ups and automatic notifications that can be annoying and take away from the class session.

Do establish a backchannel. It is important that you set up a way to communicate with students in the event that students cannot connect to the Zoom session or if Zoom is overloaded and crashes. Do not neglect this possibility. With more and more institutions as well as K-12 schools moving to remote instruction, Zoom will be put under a real strain and the network might be overloaded. In the event of connectivity issues, it pays to have a back-up plan. Email is probably the best solution. Everyone has one and everyone knows how to use it. Consider setting up a group with all your students addresses for quick messaging.

Do make sure you know where your students are connecting from in the world. Unlike a face-to-face classroom environment, distance education is by definition place agnostic. Now that they have left the Columbia campus, your students could potentially be connecting to your Zoom meeting from anywhere in the world. Not only might this fact raise fundamental issues of digital equity, but some of them could also possibly be trying to connect from a different time zone. While changing class time to accommodate them might not be possible, being aware of that fact could help you anticipate and address problems of attendance.

Do communicate clearly and often with students.“Teacher presence” is an essential element of an effective language class. Students need to be aware of when you will respond to their questions, and in what venue you will respond. Because you no longer have a physical classroom in which to assemble, it is important to establish clearly-defined channels of communication.

Do get help when you need it. The Columbia Language Resource Center is here to help you get up to speed with teaching from home. We have workshops, drop-in hours, mock teaching opportunities, and a repository of videos and materials meant to help you. You can reach us at lrc@columbia.edu.