Teaching in a virtual environment can be challenging. When logging in to teach a synchronous Zoom session, many of my students and myself, have already spent hours that day staring at the screens of digital devices. They probably do not want to spend an hour or more listening to a boring lecture.
I successfully used two different strategies in the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters to help create a fun Zoom learning environment and break up the monotony of the virtual instruction.
Strategy One: Audio Ambiance
Thinking of how I could make the Zoom classroom more fun, I created a music playlist of upbeat, current hits. Prior to each synchronous class session, I logged into Zoom about ten minutes early and started the playlist. The music was selected with the help of my three teenage children (ages 16, 17, and 18) to appeal to the young age of most of the students in my classes. I also, though, included some classics so that I could enjoy the playlist too! Surprisingly, many of the students would share their excitement in the chat when those songs came on (songs by Metallica and Nirvana, for example). It seems the work of streaming music has introduced younger adults to songs they might not have known otherwise. The volume was purposely set loud to create a fun atmosphere and get the students in the mood for something different…not just “another lecture” (Refer to the Sharing computer sound during Screen sharing Zoom guide).
In case you are wondering, based on professional consultation with my teenagers, here are some suggestions for a playlist:
The songs listed are available as a Current Hits Playlist or the songs are linked individually below.
- Levitating by Dua Lipa
- Upside Down by JVKE
- Blinding Lights by The Weeknd
- Watermelon Sugar by Harry Styles
The songs listed are available as a Classic Hits Playlist or the songs are linked individually below.
- Walking on Broken Glass by Annie Lennox
- Whip It by DEVO
- Enter Sandman by Metallica
- Give Me One Reason by Tracy Chapman
- I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers
After doing this for the first couple of weeks of the semester, students started regularly logging into the Zoom early before class to enjoy the music and “social” time.
Strategy Two: A Little Bit of Humor
The music was played while I also tried to introduce some humor. The screen shared a recent humorous meme relevant to either the pandemic or the course content. I teach in the health sciences program, so it was generally easy to find relevant memes. Presumably, though, it would be pretty easy to find a meme in almost any discipline. I used a different meme every week, but the same meme for every class in a given week, since my classes only meet once per week. I’ve included an example meme used in a class below.
The goal of the pre-class music and humorous meme was two-fold. First, I wanted to provide some stress relief, respite, and a break in the routine. Additionally, though, it was to recreate some of what students are missing by not having in-person classes on campus: the interaction, opportunities, and spontaneity that occur while students and faculty are arriving to a classroom prior to the class time. The music and meme created a time and opportunity where students could interact in the chat with each other, or me, just as they would as I prepared to start class in person. Instead of my students joining another Zoom session and staring at a blank screen after using their digital devices for every other aspect of their lives that day during the pandemic, this provided them with some upbeat, current music, and a quick laugh from the meme, before returning to their virtual lives with the class meeting.
Creating a fun environment by playing this upbeat music and displaying the meme helped create a sense of community and loosened the students up to encourage participation during class. It also helped humanize the experience for them and make me more approachable to them; for many of the students, this was their first time interacting with me. Without these humanizing elements, they possibly would have been less likely to feel comfortable to ask questions in class and come to office hours. The impact of humanizing the course through creating a fun environment was worth the small extra effort it took.