Zoom Classrooms: Tips for Students Taking Online Classes

Published January 6, 2021 · 5 Min Read

Today's students increasingly pursue their education online. Many schools supplement or replace traditional classroom instruction with a variety of remote learning modalities. In addition to addressing current public health concerns, the move toward distance education also expands educational opportunities. However, learners accustomed to in-person classes sometimes struggle with remote learning.

Many schools conduct live online classes through Zoom. This guide covers common concerns for students learning to use Zoom, including tips on how to set up your home workspace, navigate video conferencing etiquette, and get the most out of your Zoom classroom experience.

Setting Up for Success

Before joining your first Zoom class meeting, set up your classroom space and familiarize yourself with the app. Advance preparation helps many students focus on learning, contributes to a productive class environment, and avoids disruptive distractions. Read on for a list of tips to get you started.

Put Your Computer at Eye Level
While lounging in bed or relaxing on the couch often sounds tempting, sitting or standing at a desk during online classes helps maintain focus. For optimal visibility and comfort, position your computer at eye level before logging into class. Doing so ensures that you can see the screen without neck strain. A stand, box, or stack of books helps elevate the monitor. Avoid joining Zoom classroom calls from your phone. Small phone screens prevent optimal viewing, and frequent notifications create a distraction.
Set Up Your Background

When setting up a space for attending Zoom meetings, think about your background. A neutral background -- ideally, a blank wall -- helps reduce visual clutter. Choose a clean, well-lit workspace with nothing distracting behind you.

Some students opt for a digital background, especially if they cannot easily eliminate background clutter in their physical space. Schools typically recommend a simple background appropriate for a class setting. Some instructors provide a set of approved backgrounds.

Make Sure the App Works

Many students who attend online classes through Zoom benefit from downloading the app and practicing before their first meeting. Installing Zoom ensures reliable access to the latest version. Download the app for free through Zoom's website.

Make sure the app works by joining a test meeting. Adjust the placement of the monitor, check that the microphone and camera work properly, and get comfortable with the app's features. Many users need to update their system preferences to allow Zoom access before screen-sharing for the first time.

Double-Check that You Have Any Necessary Passwords

To protect students' privacy and prevent unauthorized users from entering a Zoom meeting, schools and instructors rely on a variety of security measures. Many meetings require a password when joining. To avoid running late, check for a password in your class syllabus or your professor's emails in advance.

If Zoom prompts you for a password, reach out to the meeting host by their preferred method. However, the host may not respond after the beginning of class, so arrive early. Other common safeguards include using waiting rooms and restricting chat or screen sharing.

Zoom Classroom Etiquette

Just like an on-campus class setting, appropriate behavior remains important in a Zoom classroom. Read our top Zoom etiquette tips below to become a considerate and effective distance learner.

Remember to Mute and Unmute

When not talking, remember to mute your microphone to reduce background noise. Many professors automatically mute students in a lecture course. However, in a conference format, get comfortable with quickly muting and unmuting yourself.

Before speaking, make sure that your microphone is on. To turn your microphone on or off, select the mute/unmute button in the lower left corner of the Zoom window. Holding down the space bar while talking also temporarily unmutes the speaker (similar to a walkie-talkie). Additionally, pressing Command+Shift+A on a Mac or Alt+A on a PC toggles the microphone on and off.

Pay Attention to the Speaker

Whether attending classes online or in person, give your full attention to the speaker. When joining classes remotely, choose a quiet spot with a closed door to limit distractions. Ask roommates or family not to disturb you during class hours. Turn off or silence your phone during Zoom meetings.

Participants demonstrate engagement with the conversation by keeping their focus on the screen. Looking at the camera simulates eye contact and helps reassure speakers that their listeners remain engaged.

Be On Time

Join Zoom meetings on time or, preferably, a few minutes early. Being punctual not only helps you avoid missing essential content, it also demonstrates respect for your instructors' and peers' time.

Many instructors lock their virtual classrooms shortly after the beginning of the session to avoid losing instruction time because of latecomers. Arriving early provides a time cushion to resolve any contingencies, such as connectivity or password issues. If you are running late, notify your professor or a classmate ahead of time.

Consider How You Are Taking Notes

When taking live classes online, ensure that the videoconferencing window remains visible while taking notes. Using pen and paper or a writing tablet allows participants to dedicate their entire screen to the meeting.

Some learners with a dual-monitor setup reserve one display for Zoom and the other for taking notes. Other learners position the Zoom window to one side of the screen and open a note-taking app on the other side. Many students use keyboard shortcuts to toggle between Zoom and their note-taking app. Some schools allow screen-recording lectures, but learners should ask the instructor's permission first.

Top Tips for Zoom Classrooms

In addition to the recommendations listed above, we offer a few general suggestions to help students make a smooth transition to remote learning. Read on for more tips on managing screen time, using Zoom effectively, and getting the most out of your online class experience.

Be Aware of Your Screen Time

Switching to distance learning means that students now spend more time on their computers. Long periods of screen time often proves both physically and mentally taxing. Researchers link prolonged screen time to a variety of health concerns, including obesity and depression. Being mindful of your screen usage when engaged in lengthy classes alleviates some of the harmful effects of increased screen time.

Taking breaks away from screens helps prevent fatigue, eye strain, and repetitive motion injuries. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends that computer users take frequent short breaks to stretch, walk around, or accomplish off-computer tasks.

Remember to Turn Your Computer Off Sometimes

Turning computers off periodically benefits both the machine and the user. Powering your computer down helps applications run more smoothly. It clears the device's short-term memory cache, closes background applications, and allows the machine to perform system updates.

Turning the computer off at set times also helps users take full advantage of their work periods. Many individuals find that establishing a routine based on proven time management strategies, including blocking out specific times for work, helps them study more productively and achieve a healthy work-life balance.

Consider Using Headphones

Many schools recommend that students use headphones in Zoom classrooms. Headphones improve incoming sound quality and filter out background noise. Students select from a variety of different styles, including earbud, on-ear, and over-ear types. On-ear and over-ear styles typically provide superior background noise cancellation. Wireless headsets often produce more lag than wired models.

Some headsets feature built-in microphones. These pick up less sound from the surrounding environment and generate less feedback than most computers' internal microphones. Zoom requires you to enable access to your microphone when joining the meeting.

Know that You Can Hide Yourself in a Call

Some students feel self-conscious or distracted when watching themselves speak on camera. If you need to remain visible to your class but prefer not to see yourself, hide your own video feed with Zoom's "Hide Self View" function.

To use this feature, start in "Gallery View" and right-click on your own video. When a menu pops up, select "Hide Myself" or "Hide Self View." To restore your video, right-click on any other participant's video, and select "Show Myself" or "Show Self View."

Understand that the Zoom Chat is Public
Zoom provides a useful chat option for communication during meetings. It allows students to interact with each other or ask questions of the instructor without verbally interrupting. Remember, though, that Zoom chat is public, so other participants can read whatever you type. Many schools record and archive class chats, and professors typically expect students to refrain from side conversations.

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