Tips for digital lectures

From Sustainability Methods
Type Team Size
Me, Myself and I Group Collaboration The Academic System Software 1 2-10 11-30 30+

What, Why & When

Digital lectures have been common for years, but especially during the COVID-19 crisis, we saw the challenges - but also benefits - that came with presenting content and having seminars in online formats. This entry provides a list of tips for both teachers and students in online sessions.


  • Improve engagement in online teaching.
  • Make more out of online sessions as a student.

Getting Started

Tips for lecturers

Tips for better (video) lectures and Zoom sessions

  • It is tempting to record yourself in front of the camera, talking over slides. While this may be useful for many lectures, sometimes, it might be easier for your students to understand and engage with your content when you record your lecture as a conversation with a relative, a colleague, or someone from your household to which you explain the lecture's content. Don't stage this - if you listener does not understand your lecture, you students probably won't, either. Let your listener ask questions, and explain things in more detail, if necessary.
  • Include interactive elements in your (pre-recorded) lectures, such as small tasks or questions for the students, which you come back to during or after the lecture, or in a Zoom session.
  • In Zoom calls, 'use Mentimeter to facilitate participation for your students. You can create quizzes or ask for thoughts and let students rank items, but also show them slides or videos. You can also host Q&A sessions via Mentimeter, where students can upvote questions, which brings order into Q&A. However, a Q& A may best be supported by letting students raise their hands in the Zoom call so they can also speak and listen to fellow students, and not just read, type and click.
  • In Zoom sessions, use breakout rooms for the students to discuss questions that you posted, or questions that came from the students themselves. After some minutes, you can let the students share their thoughts, for example via Mentimeter. The breakout rooms also make some students keep their camera on, which may improve the atmosphere in the session.
  • In Zoom sessions, use gimmicks to maintain a positive atmosphere. Hold a contest about the best virtual background, or let students share their favorite snacks during a short break. It always helps when as many students as possible have their cameras turned on, so think of ways to achieve this.

Some ways to jumpstart and foster an open and collaborative atmosphere when teaching a class or leading a team

Quick personal meetings From time to time, give participants the opportunity to briefly (e.g. 5-10 mins.) talk with you one-on-one. You can offer an open Discord channel for this, or a Zoom room, in which you are approachable during pre-determined timeslots. Here, let students and team members join you individually. This fosters a more personal relationship and gives everyone the possibility for the type of interaction that is more spontaneous and less guarded (and therefore more personal). Give it the atmosphere similar to an exchange during a coffee break, while walking down a hallway, or similar situations to break the behaviour patterns that are typically prevalent during a class or a formal meeting.

'How is everyone feeling? Start and end sessions with giving the participants the possibility to say a one-sentence statement about their current (subjective) personal status/mood/thougths/feelings without anyone commenting on them or referring to them (in the sense of a non-judgmental environment). The participants should be free to say whatever they feel like (it is not a round of feedback on the subject matter or the class, but more a statement of "where each person is" at the moment). This requires a certain amount of trust and openness in the group and needs a bit of getting used to (risk-taking).

Personal object bring-along Encourage each participant - in a smaller seminar, or workshop - to bring a personal object into the class, or meeting, and ask them to place it so that everyone in the digital room can see it. Encourage to choose a different object sponanteously each time based on instincts (e.g. while they are preparing for the meeting or while they are leaving their place to attend the class). These objects can foster dialogue and enjoyment as well as express the person's attitude and mood which are vital clues to socially connect - especially in online meetings (but also in in-person gatherings). It can be a good starting point when getting to know new people. Optionally, you can introduce a game variant (that should be non-competitive) by asking participants to take into consideration previously chosen objects introduced by other participants - in that way reacting to them.

Wiki entries on Skills & Tools that can support learning and teaching

Tips for Students

Being a student in home office times is rough, and even when the COVID pandemic is over, you will still encounter online lectures, seminars, conferences and MOOCs. To some extent, luckily, being at home instead of in a lecture hall also has its merits. That being said, the following are some (not so) obvious tips for you to improve your online learning experience.

  • Always have something to drink (water/tee/coffee/mate/...) or to a snack with you. You could also have proper meals while listening to someone talk, or even prepare food, but be aware that this might distract you and result in you not really taking away much from the online session.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and create a nice atmosphere in your room or wherever you study at the moment. In Home Office situations, you do not necessarily have to sit at your desk, although it can create a more 'official' atmosphere and stimulate learning and engagement. For some, however, other spatial arrangements work, too, so find the spot in your apartment - or even outside - that does not distract you, but supports a comfortable learning experience.
  • Put your phone away from you so you do not get easily distracted from messages or tempted to do something else. We are all used to having second or third screens, and it is already tempting to browse on the computer while in a Zoom session - so don't burden yourself with the temptation of another device. Check your phone regularly, if you want to, but do so in breaks between sessions.
  • Make sure you have a system to organize yourself that works for you and helps you to structure your everyday life during online classes. For this purpose, we can highly recommend Notion, which allows you to organize pretty much everything, presumed that you prefer digital documentation. For analoguous notes, you might want to consider a DIN A3 sheet to summarize your courses, or a specific course's content.
  • Try to use the breaks in between classes to do things that do not require much brain power, such as walking outside, doing the laundry or dishes, talking to your room mate etc. Especially some physical activity - a walk, a jog, yoga, or some workout at home - can do wonders between online sessions.
  • Make sure you "zoom" away from your screen every now and then. Your eyes aren't too happy to be kept in the same position for too long, and sometimes this might even result in a headache. So make sure to sometimes look out of the window, or - as mentioned above - go into nature without any screens.
  • If you have to read a lot for your studies, consider printing texts on paper. Reading on paper can be a nice alternative to reading on the screen. Or - fancy - take a walk to the library and lend the book.
  • Though we all try to avoid too many distractions, using the chat function in Zoom may help to refocus your attention from time to time. If you write a short message to your friend taking the same seminar, exchanging on how you are, and how you perceive the class, you emulate the classroom experience to some extent, which can help an follow the content afterwards more easily. We cannot stay focused in 4 Zoom sessions à 90 min. a day, so it is ok to allow us some pleasant distractions every now and then.

Wiki Entries that can help students to learn in digital times

  • Learning for exams, which includes tips that are still - or even more - valid for digital exams.
  • Mindfulness, some guidance on how to clear your mind.
  • Overcoming Exam Anxiety, since the last thing you need in digital teaching is to be afraid of the exam.
  • Notion, which is an online workspace that can be of great help to manage your own work.

Further Information and guidance for digital teaching

  • Of course, the Sustainability Methods Wiki, both as a resource for content and for its Skills & Tools section, is relevant beyond the aforementioned entries.
  • A selection of available textbooks from Cambridge University: 1, 2
  • Tips on digital teaching by Kiron University
  • A Checklist for virtual teaching from hochschul-didaktik
  • Twig Education - Bespoke curriculum-aligned videos, supporting lesson materials and hands-on activities that you can do with limited resources. Ages 4-7, 7-11 and 11-16.

The authors of this entry are Christopher Franz, Matteo Ramin, Elisabeth Frank, Carlo Krügermeier and Iman Aoulkadi.