Monday, March 1, 2021
A home office set up for Zoom

Even as many of us long for a return to an in-person, on-site work life, we’ve also been learning valuable new practices—for teaching, for meetings, for collaboration, and more. Over the past few months, the Obermann Center has been collecting Pandemic Practices to share, practices we want to remember and refine. The following is a list of practices submitted via our webform and/or discussed at our December 15 event, Peer-to-Peer Exchange of Pandemic Teaching Practices, which saw faculty and students discuss virtual teaching and learning practices practices they found worth keeping.

If you have a particularly effective practice that you'd like to share, we hope you'll submit it via our webform [link removed]. In May, we'll award Prairie Lights gift certificates for the five most promising practices!

The following practices have been as successful by students and instructors:


  • Frequently checked in with class about how they were feeling. Students expressed feeling unmotivated, isolated, and overwhelmed. (Hyaeweol Choi)
  • Began class with a simple five-minute meditation (“Just close your eyes and breathe, observe your thoughts coming and going, feel centered in your body”). Some students said the meditation brought enormous relief and was refreshing, especially amidst the omnipresence of digital learning technology. Sometimes Choi adds a few simple yoga poses. (Hyaeweol Choi)
  • Shared with students her own struggles and invited them to share their own. This created a sense of shared venture and intimacy. (Naomi Greyser)
  • Made a deliberate effort to extend compassion to herself and her students. (Naomi Greyser)


  • Bought a few items to enhance home office “Zoomspace”:  a sun lamp to direct toward his face when on camera, and a cell phone stand to keep his phone handy. (Adam Hooks; see photo above)
  • Connected cell phone to laptop and used phone as a document camera, allowing him to show students his own handwritten notes in books. (Adam Hooks; see photo above)


  • Played 10 minutes of music (from a curated playlist) before class, allowing students to socialize. (Adam Hooks)
  • Audio recording lectures can take pressure off students and allow students to watch course material with their families if they want/if necessary.
  • Used different Zoom modalities to “replenish, expand, and deepen,” including playing a lighthearted “This or That” game in Zoom chat (in which students would indicate which of two things they preferred). This refreshed and focused students. (Naomi Greyser)
  • Sometimes used a moment of silence. (Naomi Greyser)
  • Sometimes asked everyone to turn their videos off and just type to each other. (Naomi Greyser)


  • “Instead of using slides (or worse, open browser tabs) as a place to park images and video that I would show in class to elicit in-the-moment student responses, I embed questions and prompts within the slides, using text and audio elements. Many students cannot participate synchronously but watch the course videos later. The questions have caused them to analyze the material at greater length, and respond with greater depth and more precision. This is in part because they had additional time and access to the documentation via the downloadable slides, but also because the slides gave them clearly stated and concrete work to do. Students present for the ensuing Zoom discussions not only responded to the prompts in ICON Discussions, but also came to the synchronous sessions better prepared to participate. Those restricted to asynchronous participation also posted to ICON Discussions in response to the same prompts, so it felt like we were all part of the same conversation, albeit one happening across several hours or days. I want to continue offering students multiple ways of contributing to discussions at different times, and to preserve the feeling of temporally extended, geographically expanded conversation that ICON + Zoom offered us.” Jen Buckley also says embedding questions and prompts within the slides made her, as an instructor, think more carefully and be more articulate about what tasks, exactly, she wanted students to do and why. (Jen Buckley)


  • One professor organized their ICON page very effectively. For modules, there was an overview page with everything separated by dates/deadlines, tasks that needed to be done by the next date with a link to that reading and/or assignment page. This reduced the time students had to search around ICON for assignments and readings. The one-stop calendar was very effective and helpful for students. Also, the professor gradually released content/modules (as opposed to releasing everything at the start of the semester), and this prevented students from feeling overwhelmed and anxious. It also kept them on a realistic timeline. (Elizabeth Janey, undergraduate)
  • The Center for Teaching has created an easy-to-use ICON template that faculty can adapt/adopt:


  • “Microsoft Teams has gotten rather a bad name because of its steep learning curve and not much support on campus, but once I weeded through its many possible features down to a few really useful ones, I found it much more flexible and versatile than ICON for both hybrid teaching and working with a small group of students on an ongoing project. I used the Meeting Notes to post an agenda for class every day, then added links to material that came up in discussion so we could go back to them in subsequent sessions and students who missed class could see what they missed. I used the Class Notebook for brief in-class assignments that each student could put in their private “notebook” and I could read them later, quickly, when I didn’t plan to grade them but wanted to see what they had done. I also encouraged them to bring notes for preparation in that space – sometimes I did assign points to those – and gave credit/no credit. I used the Files function A LOT. It’s like Google Docs. I had groups post results of discussion in those, then as a class join them into one which I then edited for clarity and correctness; I posted review questions and clarifications before quizzes; I posted PowerPoints there so that after I talked about them, they could go back to them. I often met with small groups on video in Teams. Trying to have the entire class there did NOT work as well as Zoom – something about the sound quality isn’t as good – but for up to 6-8 people it’s fine, and you can have all the other class material right there at hand. Teams lets you set up sub-channels for project groups to meet in, like ICON does, so you can devote some time in an online class to group work. I found this easier to do in Teams than in ICON plus Zoom.” (Kristine Munoz)


  • Instead of administering a traditional exam, one professor asked students to read a recent paper from a high-ranking journal and then give a 300-500 word review of it. Students appreciated engaging with the field in its current state. (Oliver Chalkley, undergraduate)
  • Co-created syllabi with students. Chunked semester into thirds. She designed the first chunk, then assessed it with students, and together, they’d put together the next third (and later, the final third). (Jean Florman)
  • Map the virtual classroom space together. On the first day of the semester, I invite students to consider the various components of online courses that they about/have experienced, from ICON features (assignments, discussions, peer review, etc.) to Zoom (all-class group, breakout rooms, etc.) to other tools and apps (Slack, Flipgrid), and to do a bit of thinking and writing about what they think works best and what is to be avoided at all costs. Then I do brief breakout rooms with students who each have an assigned role (facilitating, taking notes, etc.), and each group crafts a shared list of must-have and must-not features/activities/approaches. I take their ideas and turn them into a shared set of practices. Last semester it was invaluable: my Rhetoric students talked about how much they disliked "Zoom TV," how much time they thought we should spend in synchronous meetings, what kinds of asynchronous activities they were most excited about, and so forth. In mapping the classroom as a virtual space, I find it's also useful to ask students to consider interaction and affect during synchronous meetings––things like having cameras on, how to handle the mute button, how to take turns during discussions, what to do if your wi-fi is acting up, how to use chat constructively—and set some shared parameters there, too. They had strong feelings about how people should behave in the shared space, and we used their ideas a lot—this is where being a bit out of my depth as an instructor paid off in that it made me be MORE open to inviting students' input and putting them in charge of establishing our course charter.” (Megan Knight)
  • Engaged with live, open questions that connected the course’s curriculum to students’ lives in the time of COVID. The conversation was intense, real, and provocative, and it really stayed with students. (Naomi Greyser)
  • Had students work on a collaborative, semester-long project. This was especially helpful for lonely, isolated students. (Harry Stecopoulos)
  • For art critiques, she had students put up their physical artwork in the art building, and their classmates had a week to go review it and compose a written response. (Prior to COVID, she had not required a written response.) Then, in the virtual classroom, they’d all verbally reflect on the artwork together (do a “live critique”). It was very effective to have students do both written and verbal critiques; doing the written assignment helped the students articulate their responses and prepare for the live critiques; and using both modes ensured that all students’ voices were heard, especially students who tended to be quieter during verbal critique. (Heather Parrish)


  • The Center For Teaching offers Cornerstones for Course Design, a 4-part webinar series about virtual teaching strategies:
  • The Language Media Center taught her how to create short videos that give students instructions about assignments. Video explanations were more effective than written instructions and allowed her to record her computer screen. (Kristine Munoz)


  • Professors held virtual office hours as well as in-person office hours. Virtual office hours were very useful for students who didn’t want to or couldn’t come to campus. Students felt like their profs were more available to them. (Emily Silich, undergraduate)