Meaningful Activities

How do you facilitate your students' learning when you can't work with them in person? Believe it or not, you do it already. Students may spend a few hours a week with you in the classroom, but they spend many multiples of that time learning on their own or with their classmates. Even if you have limited synchronous contact with students, there are many ways that you can help them attain learning outcomes. But, of course, it's possible to translate many classroom activities to a remote context with Zoom.

The active learning techniques matrix below will inform your thinking about your options. There are techniques for synchronous and asynchronous formats. Whichever you are using, implement active learning techniques. Not only are they likely to increase student performance; they will also increase engagement and serve to help build community. Active learning works best when collaboration within a learning community is fostered by the instructor.

In addition to techniques, we’ve included short descriptions that will help you implement them. Some of these are very low-tech, while others are high-tech. If at any point you would like additional assistance, please reach out to us.

Monitor Progress on Specific Student Learning Outcomes


Purposeful use of pauses to emphasize important points and provide processing and questioning time.

You’ll most likely use this technique in synchronous sessions in Zoom. Unlike while in the classroom, give an even longer pause to provide time for your students to write their question in the chat field, or to navigate to the “raise hand” button. For those students paying less attention, the pause will help to reorient them on your lecture.


Students are asked to think privately about a given question or problem before pairing with a neighbor or partner to discuss their answers. Finally, students share out to the entire class.

For synchronous class sessions in Zoom, use a long pause to give students time to think privately, and then use the Breakout Rooms feature to put students in pairs (up to 50) or triplets. After you close the Breakout Rooms, have a few students report back to the entire class.

One-minute Paper

One-minute informal written student responses to a given prompt or question.

Pause during a Zoom session and ask your students to reflect on a prompt. For asynchronous courses, consider asking your students to keep a single Google Doc throughout the course to organize their one-minute informal responses.

Student presentations

Students research an assigned or chosen topic and present it to the class in a predetermined format and amount of time, much like in a physical classroom.

This can be done synchronously by having the student(s) present and share their screen in a Zoom meeting, as other students ask questions. Another way to do it is by recording the presentation in advance (Zoom can be used for this) following the same guidelines as for a “live” presentation, and uploading it to a shared Google Drive folder where it can be viewed by other students and discussed in a Zoom meeting and/or discussion forum.

Assess Knowledge of Content/Concepts

In-video Quizzing

Quizzes that are embedded in asynchronous video, often just after an important point is made. As a learning tool, they provide immediate feedback to students on their understanding of the content at a time when they would be able to review the content if needed. In-video quizzes are often set up so that students must respond before being able to continue with the video.

YuJa Quizzes — Create video quizzes for any uploaded video in YuJa easily.

For more information, visit Yuja’s Quiz Guide.

Pose Questions for Engagement

Open Discussion Forum

Use a Canvas discussion forum or discussion tool of your choice as a venue for students to ask questions and engage in conversation throughout the quarter. Monitor the discussion and answer questions.

What are Canvas Discussions?

How do I create Discussions in Canvas?

Small-group Discussions

Students groups (of ~5 or fewer) discuss a given topic, question or problem together.

In synchronous class sessions, allow students to engage with each other over specific discussion topics in Breakout Rooms.

Large-group Discussions

Engaging the entire class in discussion surrounding a topic, question or problem.

In synchronous class sessions, make consistent use of the discussion forum and specifically as students respond to their peers’ postings. Large-group discussions can also work well in Zoom, but make sure you have help from a TA or student to assist with monitoring the chat.


Podcasts can be thought of as an alternative to student presentations that allows students to explore topics in a contemporary and intimate medium. Podcasts are not students reading papers, but rather narrative expressions that demonstrate composition, critical thinking, and research skills in a creative format.

Developing podcast assignments requires a bit of planning, but it will likely be worth it. Support for this process is available!

Don’t overthink this assignment. Students don’t need to use fancy hardware and software, but they do need to focus on the content, write a script, and practice before they record.

Build Student Connections and Collaboration

Study Groups

Regular peer-to-peer communications through study groups help build community in online courses. Encourage or require students to form study groups as a way to receive points toward their final grade for the class. They can arrange meeting times and use the communication tools of their choice. All of your students have their own Zoom accounts that they can use for meetings.

There are two ways to arrange study groups:

  1. Student-initiated: Have students use the discussion forum to invite their classmates to join a group.

  2. Instructor-initiated: Use the Groups feature in Canvas

Peer Assessment

Students are asked to provide oral or written feedback to their peers. This is yet another way to encourage students to engage with each other.

To learn how to do this in Canvas, start here.

Use a simple rubric to focus peer review on the essential elements of the assignment while modeling how you would review student writing.

Demonstrate Knowledge of Content or Concepts

Concept Mapping

Illustrating relationships between studied terms or concepts with connecting lines & phrases. As a learning tool, concept maps ask students to organize and structure knowledge to increase understanding and comprehension.

Have students read, research or explore a concept, then create a concept map in groups or individually and post them in the discussion. Following their initial posts, instructors could ask students to respond to the differences in the concept maps shared by others. In Canvas you can set up a Discussion so that students can not see other posts until they have made an initial post. You might choose to use this setting so that students won’t just copy each other’s maps. is an excellent free option that is integrated with Google Drive and includes real-time collaboration.

Concept maps can also be created on paper, or Microsoft PowerPoint / Google Slides.

Authoring Quiz Questions

Students write sample quiz questions related to what they have been learning and then create an answer sheet to go with the questions.

There are a variety of options for students to do this. Regardless of the method you use, collect the best questions in one place and use some of them on exams or in future iterations of this course.

Apply Knowledge of Content or Concepts

Problem-Based Learning

Students apply course concepts to describe and potentially solve a selected problem.

Use a real-world situation that resembles something students may encounter in their future careers or lives, and which requires fundamental concepts from the course to answer. Have students work in groups. Consider having them take on different roles or divide the work amongst themselves. The project could also require them to assume various perspectives, such as those of government officials, local business owners, etc.

Experiential Learning

Knowledge, skill and value development from direct experiences often outside a traditional academic setting (i.e. internships, service, undergraduate research, residency programs). Experiential learning opportunities will often give students the chance to engage in reflection and critical analysis, to take initiative and be responsible for the results, to engage intellectually or creatively, and to include the possibility for students to learn from the consequences of their actions. Options will be more limited than usual, but consider ones that may be available to your students.

Think about discipline-specific simulations that can immerse students in the field.

This article from Boston University's Center for Teaching & Learning explains experiential learning in more detail, while this article looks at what service learning looks like in the context of online courses.

Help Students Reflect on Learning

Common Reflective Questionnaire

Students are given the same five questions at different points throughout the course. They write their reflections to each question and see how their knowledge has grown as the course progresses.

Write questions that are tailored to the content in your course by connecting them to your learning outcomes.

Consider writing questions that will encourage students to engage in reflection that is backward-looking (prior knowledge), inward-looking (growth), outward-looking (impact, particularly for others), and forward-looking (opportunities and improvement).

“What? So What? Now What?” Model

This process facilitates critical analysis of a given circumstance or experience. It allows the student to begin to make meaning and take initial steps towards developing a plan of action to address the concern.

Ask students to use a Google Doc for their journal entries.

For examples of questions that you can use as prompts, take a look at this resource from the University of Cumbria: Rolfe et al.'s What? So what? Now what? reflective model.

Concept Map

A concept map is a visual organization and representation of connections. It allows students to organize their knowledge and deepen their understanding. Concept maps can be used to assess students’ understanding of abstract and complex subject matter.


  • Google Jamboard


  • PowerPoint / Google Slides

  • Paper and pencil + camera (for upload)


  • Individual or collaborative group assignment

  • Ask students to write a short paragraph explaining the concept map they’ve created or reflecting on the process

  • Provide specific instructions and expectations such as a grading rubric

Move Students from Passive to Active

Collaborative Documents

Have students engage with each other collaboratively during class sessions.

Use a Google Doc to get students to engage (even in large courses of up to about 125 students). Create a Google Doc and share it with your student giving them editing privileges. You can then put students in breakout rooms and have them work on questions together. You will see them participating in real time without having to jump into their breakout room. You can also do this while lecturing to the big group.

If your course is larger than 125 students, divide your students into groups and assign them Google Docs that are copies of the original. The key is not having more than 125 students editing the same Doc simultaneously as it will crash.


Using technology or a simpler way of displaying an answer to rapidly assess student understanding, and to address misconceptions.

For synchronous class sessions in Zoom, use the built-in polling feature explained here. Polls have to be set up in advance of the session. For more spontaneous polling, use the chat feature in Zoom asking your students to give simple one or two word responses. Alternatively, you can ask them to choose between two options using Zoom “reactions” (thumbs up or clapping). You, and your students, will quickly see results come in.

On-the-fly Research

Ask students to pause from the lecture to use the internet to investigate a question or to find additional information.

This works well in synchronous or asynchronous courses. Carefully consider your prompt to ensure that your students will have some constraints to work within. Send them off to do research and have them report back through the discussion forum, in Zoom, in a reflection paper, etc. There are endless options for this useful activity.

Online Office Hours

Alternative office hour forum providing additional access for students.

Host office hours using Zoom or set up a Slack workspace for your course.

Full-course FAQ

If you are teaching a large course, you are likely to be asked the same question many times. It is our recommendation that you keep a Google Doc as a course FAQ that you regularly update throughout the quarter. Students should be expected to view the FAQ before emailing you with their question.

How to Create a Google Doc

How to add your Google Doc to your Canvas