Resources: Designing to Engage During Times of Uncertainty and Crisis

Adrian LEE and Kiruthika RAGUPATHI
Centre for the Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL)

In a survey sent out by CDTL, NUS colleagues were asked about their experiences teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic, their intentions for the upcoming semester, and share their teaching hacks. Adrian and Kiru share these teaching hacks in two parts: (1) Building a community that extends care and compassion; and (2) Designing to engage. This is the second part of the two-part blog series – you can read the first post here.

Image courtesy of Express Photo

In the past several months, we have all become familiar, whether we wanted to or not, with the affordances and vagaries of teaching with either Zoom or Microsoft Teams, or indeed, both. In the midst of the transition to remote teaching, most of us looked to replicate the learning experience we envisioned for our students using these digital tools. As we learnt about these tools, we recognised certain advantages and also attempted to mitigate some of the disadvantages.

In this post, we share suggestions and ideas from our colleagues on designing to engage students.

Many colleagues who responded to the survey recognised that video conferencing technology suppressed the kind of spontaneity that they were accustomed to in their teaching, and that successful teaching required careful planning and structure. Further, colleagues argued that synchronous sessions should be reserved for more interactive learning experiences or for opportunities to chat with students about projects and assignments, and that lectures could be pre-recorded so that students could view them at a time of their choosing.

To this end, colleagues recommended the following:

Plan ahead and design to engage

Plan a clear structure for any given teaching session. This might include a short presentation of a topic, followed by dialogue in breakout rooms, and a return to the main room for further discussion.
Identify and prepare the type of prompts that would encourage lively discussion, and give each member of a group a role to play—most importantly, assign a leader for each group.
Familiarise yourself with any technology, and practice the use of any feature you intend to employ.
Have checkpoints planned that would allow students to reflect and ask questions.


During the sessions

For the first few sessions, build in extra time so that you do not feel rushed. This time can bespent orientating students with the online platform and to encourage the online etiquette you expectyour students to follow (e.g., using the “raise hand” feature, muting microphones, using the “chat”feature to ask questions).
Make use of features available in these video-conferencing technologies, including breakoutrooms, polls and chat.
Use third-party tools to monitor student work (e.g., requiring students to respond to questions inGoogle Docs while in breakout rooms) or to evaluate student understanding (e.g., utilising PollEverywhere to pose multiple-choice questions).
Have resources, such as documents, simulations, digital canvasses, etc., open and ready to be shared, and to organise these resources so they could be accessed in the desired sequence.
Avoid the use of video; instead, get students to view any such resources beforehand.
Use activities to prompt the asking of questions and reflection. Instead of asking if anyone has questions which invariably results in silence, a classroom assessment technique such as the “3-2-1” approach can be an effective alternative in which students are asked to identify three things they have learnt, two examples of how the ideas could be used, and one burning question or muddiest point. This is an excellent technique for ending a session and can be captured using an online survey tool, and can be used to start the next session.
Give clear instructions, for example, maintain a collaborative document (e.g. Microsoft OneNote or Google Doc) as a way to communicate with the whole class. Such a document allows you to communicate effectively, especially when students are in breakout rooms. They also capture student answers to discussion questions, and thus form a rich student resource.

Additional Resource

NUS Quick Guide to Online Teaching: Teaching online with Zoom or Microsoft Teams (2020, Mar 23). Wiki.nus.


Adrian LEE is Deputy Director (Professional Development) at CDTL, as well as a faculty member of the Department of Chemistry. His interests in education are wide-ranging and include technology-enhanced learning, especially blended learning, interdisciplinary education, and student living-learning experiences. In academic development, Adrian looks to build programmes within a collegial culture and furthering conversations that support reflective practice.

Adrian can be reached at

Kiruthika RAGUPATHI is Associate Director at CDTL and co-leads professional development programmes and oversees the centralised teaching quality instruments at NUS—student feedback and peer review. Her research work focuses on assessment, student living-learning experiences, academic development, and technology-enhanced learning.

Kiruthika can be reached at


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