Online Lecture: Tips and Tricks for Interactive Lecturing

What Is It? 

By online lectures, we mean synchronous remote teaching: lecturers use certain tools and/or software, and students take the class in real time. A common term for this is ‘webinar’ (from ‘web’ and ‘seminar’).

As with live lectures, online lectures usually involve a large student group that you want to reach at the same time. The Education Tips on live lectures will, of course, remain relevant. Yet, there are also important differences to a live lecture: on the one hand, lecturers have much less insight into the (non-verbal) reactions of the students, and for students, on the other hand, it is more tiring to follow classes on a screen. That is why it is very important to consciously build in interactive moments. This Education Tip provides a number of suggestions.

Finally, as the lecture takes place online, you can reach various locations without having to travel yourself. This can be useful, for example, in the context of teaching from abroad or teaching international students.

When to Opt for an Online Lecture?

Completely replacing a live lecture by an online one is not always the best option. For example:

If you want to explain a difficult concept, it could be more useful to use a knowledge clip (in which the information is conveyed concisely), combined with a response lecture (in which students can ask questions about the new information).

With a (possibly edited or enriched) lecture recording that you made earlier, students can independently review the theory at their own pace at a moment of their own choosing, so you can optimally use the synchronous moments to start an online discussion, to respond to questions students might have, to work out certain parts in more depth, etc.

So, make a well-considered choice for a combination of synchronous and asynchronous teaching methods. Preferably use synchronous teaching methods for difficult subject matters and/or subject matters on which you want to interact with the students.

Tips & Tricks for an Interactive Lecture

Make Careful Preparations

Make new lecture preparations. Think about the structure and the didactic effect: interaction with your students should be a primary focus. After all, this is a time when students can ask questions, and you as lecturer, can delve deeper into the parts that are difficult to process.

As with an on-campus lecture (and sometimes even more so), students often find it difficult to ask and answer questions in front of a large group. During your preparation, think about how you can enable low-threshold interaction. Read on for tips on this.

In an online lecture it is essential to limit yourself to the core subject matter. Deal with the difficult parts of the lesson, focusing primarily on the connections students should make between chapters or themes. Or deal with the information the students have collected for the preparatory assignment (see below). This way, you can also limit ‘online class time’. This is highly recommended, as attending online classes is more tiring than physically attending classes.

A clear structure that is visible on your PowerPoint, and a compelling story will help to catch and keep your students’ attention:

  • tell a story with a clear leitmotiv and with a strong introduction and conclusion. Use e.g. a case to which you refer several times, and which you gradually develop fully during your story;
  • referring to “real stories” and authenticity always works very well;
  • if you feel up to it, humour or a witty remark every now and then is definitely an option.

Communicate carefully. Make sure your students have the link in time to be able to follow, clearly indicate the starting time and tell students what you expect from them regarding active participation (e.g. menti.com on their smartphone, chat via Ufora, use of a discussion forum).

Encourage Students to Prepare for Class 

What do you expect your students to know when they arrive in your class? Help them by setting them a preparatory assignment.

For instance:

  • Should the students have mastered some theory already? Then have them read a chapter and answer some questions.
  • Do you want students to make the link between a current problem and your lesson content? Then you can give them a current example or have them look one up themselves.

Always give clear instructions so that students know what is expected of them. Clearly formulate the assignment description.

Have students submit the preparation and go through it on a random basis. This way, you can respond to the difficulties they encounter during the online lecture. Ask to them report any uncertainties via a Ufora discussion forum so you can use this as input for your class.

Schedule Interactive Moments during the Online Lecture 

Use an Icebreaker

For example, start your class with a simple poll. Voting is often built into the functionalities of virtual classroom software (this can be done in MS Teams, Zoom etc.). Other external tools are available as well. Ask a relevant opening question to activate the prior knowledge. Think about showing a photo and ‘What do you think this is? A ... / B ... / C ...’ or ‘Do you know the phenomenon ...? Yes/No.'

Provide Opportunities for Interaction

Determine what interaction is relevant based on your learning goals and plan them accordingly. Use your PowerPoint as a framework and add extra blank slides or slides with questions at times where you want to build in a moment of interaction. This way, you will not forget about this moment, and you will also take the time for it. Some examples:

  • Do you want to find out if the students are keeping up with your reasoning? Work with statuses, or work with a 'it is going too fast' signal.
  • Do you want to know whether the majority of the students have understood a certain concept? Turn a certain application of the concept into a multiple-choice question and organize a voting. Use the results of the voting to estimate whether or not further explanation is needed.
  • Do you want to know what students think? Provide a scale ranging from ‘completely disagree’ to ‘completely agree’ and let students mark their own position by means of an annotation tool.
  • Do you want to let a student demonstrate something? Have him or her indicate something on a figure using an annotation tool.
  • Do you want to collect the students’ input? Tools like Padlet or ideaboardz (virtual wall with post-its that students can add) provide a quick overview of answers to open questions.
  • Do you want students to introduce new content themselves or to think more deeply about certain topics? Have them come up with a polling question themselves and post it in the group chat. Then organize the polling of the question(s) that you like.
  • Do you want to have students consult with each other or work together? Use break-out rooms (available in MS Teams).
  • Do you want a student to clarify or explain something? You can ask them to explain something via the microphone. (Note: this is often a major barrier for students, so check whether the student is up for this).

Tip: moments of interaction are also particularly useful to you as a lecturer. Not only will you receive confirmation that all things technical are going well, but you will also know that students are actually following what you are saying, and that you are not speaking without an audience.   

Provide Q&A Facilities

Use the chat function within virtual classroom software (MS Teams, …) to collect questions from students. It is especially useful if a second person (a colleague or a student who has been appointed for this) moderates and follows up on the chat. If there is an important question, the colleague or student can interrupt you immediately. Smaller questions can be bundled by the second person and be answered together at a specific moment. It is best not to wait until the last 5 minutes of the class. Take moments like this occasionally to make students feel more involved.

Is there no second person to count on for help? Then insert one or two Q&A moments so that you do not have to lecture and keep an eye on the chat at the same time. At the start of the lesson, indicate when the students will be able to ask their questions (for example during the break, or 15 minutes after a chapter). With certain tools (e.g. Mentimeter) your students can upvote questions. Indicate in advance that you will discuss the question with the most ‘likes’. This way you will see fewer of the same questions passing by.

If you cannot answer all questions during class, you can post the questions and answers on the discussion forum during the week. Inform the students that you will do this. Optionally, if you wish (and can follow up yourself), the discussion forum can also be the place for students to post additional questions after class. Organize the forum so that all questions about the same theme end up in the same place. Let students update each other's questions, so you immediately know what the most pressing questions are. You can then answer them in the next class or directly in the forum itself.

Go Out With a Bang

Think about a strong ending where you once again highlight the core of your message. For example, give a short summary, a telling example, a cliff-hanger, a brain teaser, etc.

You can also set students to work themselves at the end, to avoid that the attention is completely lost during those last few minutes. The following can be done by students, for example:

• Have them come up with the three core elements of the class. Use a word cloud creation tool (e.g. Mentimeter) to help you and the students see which elements come up most often. Comment as needed.

• Have them write a one-minute paper: have them answer and submit a short (reflection) question (e.g. via ‘Assignments’), and give them limited time for this. You can use the received input (randomly with large groups) in the next class.

• Have them indicate the muddiest point of the lesson (e.g. in the chat): ask the students which part of the lesson is most unclear to them. This input can also be interesting for you as a lecturer to use in a subsequent webinar.

Finally, give instructions on how students can deepen their knowledge or become more proficient in the theme (e.g. extra texts, podcast, video channel, etc.). Be transparent about what is additional information and what should be mastered for the assessment. An option is to provide a processing assignment in the form of a self-test on Ufora, the discussion of a case, a discussion assignment... Go over the solution of the processing assignment, for example, at the beginning of the next class or in a knowledge clip.

Which Tools to Use? 

Virtual Classroom Software

Additional Support Tools

Last modified March 30, 2022, 3:46 p.m.