1. Resources and Technology
  2.  » 
  3. Instructional Technologies
  4.  » 
  5. Teaching in All Modalities
  6.  » From Online to Face-to-Face–Keeping What Works

From Online to Face-to-Face–Keeping What Works

As instructors and students reflect on their pandemic teaching and learning experiences, many are recognizing benefits and positive changes remote teaching technologies brought to the classroom. New ways to hold spontaneous discussions, post questions, poll students, and facilitate group work have emerged as instructors and students collaborated in the remote space. With the return to in-person teaching and learning, many faculty are looking for ways to maintain student engagement by integrating these new strategies and modalities into their face-to-face classes.

This resource provides strategies for translating online teaching practices that promote student engagement into the face-to-face classroom. Here you can find suggestions of Columbia-supported tools to engage all of your students as you return to in-person teaching and learning.

Cite this resource: Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (2021). From Online to Face-to-Face–Keeping What Works. Columbia University. Retrieved [today’s date] from https://ctl.columbia.edu/resources-and-technology/teaching-with-technology/teaching-online/keeping-what-works/

Bringing “chat” into the face-to-face classroom to maximize participation

Zoom chat allows students to participate actively throughout a class session, creating a space for real-time engagement between students, the professor, and/or TAs (when applicable). Many instructors were pleasantly surprised by how using chat while teaching remotely/online encouraged more students to participate actively and in different ways.

Zoom chat creates a “back channel” of discussion that progresses simultaneously with the on-screen lecture or course activities. Offering a back channel to students expands the opportunity students have to ask questions, share resources, help each other, and build community. Below are a number of options for bringing a back channel to your face-to-face class.

  • CourseWorks Tools: Chat clients and discussion board tools are simple tools for a back channel that may be projected on a screen for all to see. For example, instructors may direct students to open up CourseWorks Chat or Discussion tools to crowdsource ideas and questions during class. In addition to these two options, Ed discussions may be integrated into CourseWorks for a feature-rich back-channel discussion. 
  • Google Tools: Outside of CourseWorks, Google Apps for LionMail has a chat feature that allows for users to chat individually, create channels, and organize video meetings. Faculty may create a room for class discussion and invite students to join. For faculty using Google Slides, the Q&A feature may prove to be handy for opening up discussion during class lectures. You can learn more about using Google Slides collaboratively from our resource on Collaborative Learning. CTL also created this video on using Google Slides collaboratively.

To successfully implement any of the above suggestions for creating a back channel, some advanced planning is required. Create the discussion threads or chat groups in advance and plan how students will view them to support in-class engagement. Plan a time in class to have a conversation with students about how the back channel will be used and co-create discussion guidelines. See the CTL’s Learning Through Discussion resource.

Gathering responses from students through quick polls

Polls expand opportunities to engage students in the content of a lecture or discussion. Polls may be used to ask students to reflect on their prior knowledge, apply a concept, make a prediction, and/or engage in peer instruction. When used strategically, polls provide instructors with data on how well students are engaging with the concepts of the course and areas where the faculty may need to review or elaborate on course concepts.

The Zoom poll feature allows for quick single or multiple choice polling questions, gathering responses, and sharing aggregate data in real-time. This feature can be used to check for student understanding or to collect anonymous feedback. Columbia faculty have a number of options available to integrate polling into the face-to-face classroom including the CourseWorks Quiz tool, Poll Everywhere, and Google Forms:

  • CourseWorks: Quiz tool may be used to poll students with graded ungraded quizzes or surveys. Fully integrated into CourseWorks, the quiz tool makes it easy for you to set up a graded or ungraded quiz or survey question to be administered before, during, or after a face-to-face quiz session. To learn more about quizzes, self-enroll in  the CTL’s self-paced course on assessment. Instructors using Ed Discussion, a question and answer tool integrated into CourseWorks, can create simple polls within discussion posts. This provides a space to collect poll answers outside the live classroom space.
  • Poll Everywhere: Poll Everywhere, a Columbia-supported tool, allows students to respond to a variety of question types (including Q&A and open-ended questions) using a mobile device they bring to the classroom (students without devices can pair up with a student that does). See the CTL’s Audience Response Systems resource to learn more about the mechanics of Poll Everywhere and CTL’s resource on developing poll questions for inspiration.
  • Google Tools: Google Forms, part of Google Apps for LionMail, has a number of survey question types for creating polls that collect data into Google sheets. This data may then be filtered and sorted or turned into a graph or chart that may be embedded into CourseWorks for classroom discussion. 

Polls are also a powerful tool for collecting formative feedback that can help both faculty and students get a sense of how the course is going and the best areas to apply their time going forward.

Getting students talking to and learning from each other without breakout rooms

When students are given the opportunity to participate in a structured collaborative activity, they often experience improved learning, reduced feelings of isolation, stronger peer-to-peer relationships, and overall improved performance toward course outcomes. Zoom breakout rooms allowed pairs or small groups of students to engage in discussions with each other, participate in icebreaker activities, engage with course materials, and work together on an assigned activity or project. 

With the return to the face-to-face classroom, students can be asked to pair-up or form small groups in class. Having a set of ground rules, or protocols, for the discussion will improve the chances that any group activity goes well. When planning and considering implementation, consider the physical classroom space. For example if you are teaching in a lecture hall where seats are bolted to the ground, getting students to face each other for group discussion may be a bit more challenging. Read more about space considerations in our Flexible Learning Spaces resource. Additionally, various technology tools can be used for students to document their work together. See the CTL’s Collaborative Learning resource for more information on using Google Apps for LionMailDocs, Slides, and CourseWorks groups and group discussions for collaboration. 

Sharing student work

Scheduling time for students to share their work in class gives each student an opportunity to practice their presentation skills as well as their listening skills. It also contributes to an inclusive learning environment where students are able to think about the core concepts of the course through a diversity of viewpoints. Zoom screen sharing and whiteboard features allowed students to share their work with the rest of the class. In the face-to-face classroom, instructors can project student work whether students worked in Google Apps for LionMailDocs, or Slides or other digital spaces. To share student work successfully, plan in advance. Test out the classroom technology available (e.g., the projector), learn how to amplify the audio, increase the magnification on images, and otherwise manipulate the set-up that exists in your classroom to make sure all your students can see and hear what is being shared.

Keeping what works for your teaching context

As you return to face-to-face teaching, spend time reflecting on what worked and what changed in your practice while teaching remotely. Identify the engagement strategies, activities, and the instructional technologies that were effective in achieving the desired student learning. Consider how you will integrate practices and tools into your courses moving forward. A few questions to consider include: 

How was student engagement different during the remote teaching period, and which new aspects of this engagement worked for you? What are your expectations of student engagement going forward? How will you communicate your expectations to your students? What instructional technologies will you use and why? How will you know that the strategies and tools used are engaging students and supporting their learning? 

As you plan forward, reflect on your practices, and reimagine your student engagement strategies, you may find the CTL resources outlined in the Resources section to be helpful, as well as seeking out CTL consultation services. 

The CTL is here to help!

For assistance with the integration of instructional technology into your courses and the implementation of any of the suggestions above, please request a Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) consultation by emailing ColumbiaCTL@columbia.edu; connect with the Learning Designer assigned to your department or school; or get help during office hours.


The following resources are available on the CTL website for further reading:

Four Virtual Teaching Practices to Bring into the In-Person Classroom
This resource was created by Columbia undergraduate students as part of the Students as Pedagogical Partners initiative. 

Reflecting On Your Experiences with Remote Teaching: Making Meaning of Pandemic Teaching
Whether you are seeking to recover the joy of teaching after an online pivot during the pandemic, be a better online teacher, be more responsive to student needs, prevent teaching burnout, or plan ahead to teach an in-person, hybrid, or fully online course, it can be important to hit pause.

Transition to In-Person Teaching
In preparation for the transition to more in-person teaching, this resource encourages you to reflect back on your pandemic teaching experiences and identify what you plan to carry forward.

Collaborative Learning
Introduces the benefits of collaborative learning, highlights some strategies for effective collaborative learning, and overviews some of the Columbia-supported tools to facilitate collaborative learning.

Audience Response Systems
Audience Response Systems (ARS) are used in classrooms of all sizes to engage participants by facilitating interactions among the students and the instructor. Instructors use audience response technologies to communicate with learners and collect feedback on questions. Learners respond to these questions using their own web-enabled devices, such as a phone, tablet, or laptop computer.

Assessment & Grading in CourseWorks (Canvas) 2.0 (links out to CourseWorks)
This online self-paced course provides an in-depth look at the assessment and grading features in CourseWorks. It covers assignments, quizzes, discussion forums and the gradebook.

Early and Mid-Semester Student Feedback
The CTL recommends capturing student feedback at various points within the semester, including mid-term. The goal is a dialogue about students’ learning, not an evaluation of the instructor’s teaching. This resource outlines two approaches for collecting feedback from your students.

Teaching in Flexible Learning Spaces
Flexible learning spaces encourage adaptable pedagogies and approaches to teaching and learning. While these spaces may vary in nature, this resource offers some best practices that can be applied regardless of space.



Barkley, E.F., Major, C.H., & Cross, K.P. (2014). Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty, second edition. Jossey-Bass. 

Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (2005). Discussion as a way of teaching: Tools and techniques for democratic classrooms (2nd edition). Jossey-Bass.

Cornell Center for Teaching Innovation. (n.d.). Getting started with establishing ground rules. Cornell Center for Teaching Innovation. 

Harvard Teaching and Learning Lab. (n.d.). Discussion protocols. 

Mazur, E. (n.d.). Peer instruction

Weimer, M. (2013, February 21). Student presentations: Do they benefit those who listen? Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning.

The CTL researches and experiments.

The Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning provides an array of resources and tools for instructional activities.