Digital Learning & Design

A Note Concerning Urgent Remote Accessible Requests

In some cases, instructors may already be assigned to a remote accessible classroom. In this case, the room’s cameras and microphones can be leveraged to host an ad hoc Zoom meeting directly from the instructor’s laptop. The instructions below will help instructors who find themselves in this situation.

If instructors find themselves in a classroom without additional cameras and microphones for Zoom, they may still create and host a Zoom session from their laptop. However, instructors should keep in mind that remote students will be limited to viewing from the Laptop Camera/screen share and listening from the laptop’s microphone.

Each day of class, instructors should try to arrive at least a few minutes early. They should then:

  1. Place their laptop at the teaching station. 
  2. Plug in the device to its power source.
  3. Connect the room’s HDMI cable to the device to show presentation and/or whiteboard applications.
  4. Connect the room’s USB cable to the device. (This USB cable will be found alongside the HDMI cable and will allow the device to use the room mics and camera.)
  5. Optional: connect the Wacom drawing tablet via a second USB port. For some devices, such as new Macs, this will require a dongle. Most classrooms are equipped with the necessary dongles, but it is still wise to bring one just in case.  Launch the class Zoom Session. Be sure to click “join with video” to enable the video from the classroom. Also, click “join with computer audio” when the prompt appears.
  6. In Zoom, switch the active audio (and video) sources to the room equipment
  7. Check the volume levels for the Zoom Meeting by “Testing the Speaker & Microphone” under the audio options. 
  8. If the room features an external camera, make sure the video feed is active and the camera is properly positioned. Read our knowledgebase article about controlling the classroom camera. 
  9. Share the device’s screen in Zoom so remote students can see the PowerPoint presentation or whiteboard application. 

In a remote accessible class, instructors will need to adjust how they teach, as well as their expectations for student interaction. They should:

  1. Replace white- or blackboard writing with digital annotation. We understand that “wall writing” is a fundamental element in many courses. However, instructors should know that remote participants will have limited or no visibility of any wall writing. To ensure an equitable educational experience for remote and physically present students alike, instructors are strongly encouraged to use a digital writing application along with a Wacom writing tablet, and to share their screen over Zoom. 
  2. Remember to pay attention to students on Zoom. In the midst of teaching, it is easy to forget that some students are joining remotely. And as the number of remote students increases, the more difficult it will be to give them all equal attention. In such cases, we recommend assigning one or more TAs to monitor the remote students during class. We also advise using a digital platform such as Zoom Chat or Top Hat’s Slate to capture student questions.
  3. Alter how attendance is taken. Marking attendance for remote students is not straightforward, and it may be worth rethinking the feasibility of marking attendance at all. Brown instructors who are committed to attendance-taking have two options. First, they can leverage Top Hat’s attendance function. For instructors who don’t wish to use Top Hat, attendance logs can be found within Zoom. However, this option requires that all students both remote and physically present join the Zoom meeting to earn attendance credit.
  4. Use breakout rooms for group work. We advise instructors to use Zoom’s breakout room feature to conduct group work. While it may be tempting to group together physically present students, it will likely be easier to allow them to group with remote students. In this situation, instructors should be sure to mute the microphones on their teaching device to avoid unnecessary audio feedback.

With some students physically present and others online, typical activities such as asking questions and engaging in discussions require special consideration. With masks and physical distancing, typical visual and aural cues for in-person conversations will also be missing. Instructors should remember that:

Instructional Goal: Use short, small group activities periodically during a class meeting to deepen student understanding of the key concepts.

Recommendation: To minimize confusion associated with conflicting noise levels of in-person and remote students simultaneously engaging in Zoom breakout rooms, instructors can group students based on their location.  The instructor may consider placing in-person students of physically distanced groups of 3-4 in the classroom, establishing one person as the group leader to report back to class. (If Zoom recording is enabled for the class, the recording can be paused during this time to ensure that discussions in the classroom remain private to each group.) The remote students can be placed in Zoom breakout rooms with an assigned group leader and/or a TA to facilitate students’ conversation. At the end of the assigned group time, the instructor can close the breakout rooms and provide each group an opportunity to briefly share out their groups’ findings to the rest of the class.  To increase collaboration between remote and in-person students, the instructor may consider implementing asynchronous and reflective group activities outside of class time, such as Canvas Discussions.

A Note About Recording: Unless it is for accessibility reasons or a specific use case, recording breakout rooms is generally discouraged, as they can only be recorded locally (by a participant in the breakout room), and recordings can easily be shared creating privacy concerns. Also, keep in mind that breakout rooms often provide an opportunity for students to speak freely, so recording may not be desirable. If recording is necessary, instructors should consider giving students in a breakout room the option to only share the recordings amongst themselves, via a shared Google folder. Learn more about how to record breakout rooms

Instructional Goal: Use small groups for in-depth and sustained course activities.

Recommendation: Instructors can build an effective community in their course by creating longer opportunities for students to engage with one another through in-depth small group discussions.  Instructors can divide their course meeting times into two separate purposes: (1) lectures; (2) collaboration.  For example, in a course that meets twice a week, an instructor may decide to dedicate one class meeting time to lecture and then dedicate the second meeting time to remote small group collaborations through Zoom.  By using Zoom breakout rooms when all students are remote instructors can create mixed groupings of students and not have conflicting noise levels.  

Instructional Goal: Give students opportunities to ask questions during the lecture


Written - Ask students to submit questions or answers via a digital platform such as Top Hat, Zoom Chat, or Slate. All students will be able to read the questions, so instructors need not worry about auditory comprehension or interruptions. However, instructors must monitor the digital platform, or assign a TA or student leader to monitor the questions and relay pertinent questions to the class.

Verbally - Students can speak their questions. Remote students’ questions will be heard over the room speakers. Room microphones will capture the questions of physically-present students. In some instances, it may help if instructors repeat the questions before giving an answer for remote participants to confirm their hearing of the original prompt. Note that spoken questions require students’ to manage how and when they speak so they can be heard and do not interrupt others. Before starting these conversations, give students a little time to formulate their answers or questions. To promote greater participation and prevent students speaking over one another, it is useful to create a queue by asking for a specific number of volunteers and then ordering them.

Instructors may encounter a situation which prevents their own in-person attendance. In such cases, we recommend that students also do not come to the classroom, and that instructors teach the class session in a fully remote fashion. If students are physically present in the classroom, they will be able to join the class via Zoom on their own laptop. However, instructors should coordinate with their TAs and/or Media Services to arrange for another device to be set up to run Zoom and integrate with the room camera, microphones, and speaker. Again, while it is possible to do this, it is logistically ill-advised, and we strongly recommend that all students remotely join class in these situations.

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