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Top tips for a successful virtual classroom

20 Mar 2020

In these testing times of social distancing as Ireland comes together (while staying apart!) to battle the COVID-19 virus, the School of Law, like the rest of UCC, has switched to remote working.

This means that all lectures and tutorials are now being conducted online, using applications like Canvas and Google Meet. While this “new normal” is of course posing some challenges, School of Law staff and students alike have been thinking creatively and putting huge effort into ensuring the new structures are working as effectively as can be.

As the School of Law adjusts to working remotely, we will share some tips and reflections on what’s working well, lessons we are learning from online teaching, and creative ways we can enhance the learning experience for students in these unprecedented circumstances.

First up, Professor Maria Cahill shares her top tips for leading a virtual classroom using Google Meet.

On Monday – the first day of online teaching – Professor Cahill delivered LW3310 Advanced Constitutional Law to 22 students through Google Meets. The class had never been delivered in this way before, but Professor Cahill and her students were pleasantly surprised to find that – by following a few simple steps – it worked well.

Tip 1: Scaffold the novel online meeting with familiar technology

In advance of the class, Professor Cahill recorded a PowerPoint presentation with audio voiceover introducing and covering the substance of the material and made this available to students through Canvas on Saturday. Scaffolding the online meeting with something we are all familiar with helps in two ways. It means that the precious time of the online class can progress students’ understanding beyond the initial introduction and towards a deeper appreciation of the material. It also provides a sense of security for all students, who can always look back over the main themes over the class again afterwards, and it is particularly important for any students with a poor internet connection or who experience any technical difficulties during the live session.

Tip 2: Make the class size as small as possible

Since the risk of technical difficulties and loss of connection increases with the number of participants, Professor Cahill divided the class of 22 into two smaller groups of 11 students each and conducted an online class with each group. This also gives each student a chance to meaningfully contribute to in-class discussions and to have their voice heard! Obviously, this is much easier to do when the class size is already quite small.

Tip 3: Turn off those cameras!

Professor Cahill asked students to turn off their video cameras when they weren’t speaking. Video cameras use a lot of bandwidth, so this simple measure can ensure a better connection for everyone. Good news for anyone studying from home who hasn’t had time to clean their room yet!

Tip 4: Don’t forget the Chat function

When video chatting, it can be hard to avoid talking over each other, which can make it really difficult to run and follow a class. Google Meet has a useful Chat function which can be used for comments, questions, and general engagement. As Professor Cahill explains:

“I used the Chat function extensively – asking students to confirm through Chat that they had listened to the PowerPoint presentation, to type ‘speak’ if they wanted to say something, to write ‘yes’ to indicate that they were following the explanations I was giving or ‘no’ to indicate that they did not, and inviting them through chat to request that we focus on a particular element of the material that they felt a need to focus on.”

Tip 5: Send clear instructions

Working remotely is new for most people, and everyone is adapting to the online classroom and various apps we use to facilitate it. The easier we can make the process for everyone involved, the better. Professor Cahill developed a how-to guide for her class, which anticipated and minimised any technical difficulties that students had. Naturally, unexpected technical difficulties will arise – and indeed, one did during Monday’s classes. Keep your how-to guide updated with any emerging issues and remember to share it before each class.

Tip 6: Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

At the School of Law, we are extremely lucky to have an IT and Multimedia Officer on hand to set up our various remote working structures, ensure everything is running smoothly, and assist with any queries. Of course, not everyone has the luxury of an IT expert to fix any glitches, but the key thing to remember is, if you are having technical difficulties, don’t suffer in silence – ask for help, be that from colleagues, classmates, family or friends. In this time of social distancing, it’s even more important that we continue to communicate with and learn from each other.

We hope these tips for a successful virtual classroom are helpful. Watch this space for more tips and reflections in the coming days.

COVID-19 advice for UCC students and staff

Remember, for information and advice on UCC’s response to COVID-19, visit:

School of Law

Scoil an Dlí

Room 1.63, Aras na Laoi, T12 T656