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Weekly Tip: Combating the Silence through Zoom Chat – Part 1

Welcome to Part I of a multi-part Weekly Tip, where we share tips from the wonderful Dr. Janet Peters on how to Combat the Silence in synchronous Zoom class sessions! This week, we focus on the affordances of chat.

Since the sudden switch to online teaching across all campuses last year, faculty have been wondering how to promote student engagement. We often hear faculty share that their students have been quiet, often with their cameras off, and that it is difficult to promote meaningful participation. We spoke with Dr. Janet Peters, Scholarly Associate Professor of Organizational Psychology, who has been experimenting with innovative ways to encourage student participation through what she considers a much-overlooked tool in her synchronous online class sessions: Zoom’s chat feature.

Many of us have acknowledged that participation in online classes is not the same as it is in traditional classes. Dr. Peters, though, has not forgotten the value of creating space for students’ voices. Only, now, she is thinking about those voices “in a multitude of ways.” The online space presents “opportunities to hear voices in really different ways than we have in a traditional classroom.”

Granted, the chat feature can be difficult to use effectively, but as Dr. Peters has found, it also encourages students to participate in new ways, even students who may never have spoken up in a traditional context. Here are some of Dr. Peters’ suggestions for incorporating chat in synchronous Zoom meetings to facilitate an interactive class session:

  • Question trends. Dr. Peters doesn’t ask students if they have questions. Instead, she combats the silence by saying, “I want everyone to type a question.” Then, she can identify trends in the kinds of questions people are asking. Sometimes, she goes a step further and instead of answering the common questions herself, she asks the students, “Who knows this? Who can tell us what it is?”
  • Advocating for peers. Sometimes students might ask a question in chat, but it is easy to lose track of those questions while teaching. This is why Dr. Peters asks students “to monitor the chat for each other.” This way, students “become advocates for each other because I’ve sort of said, ‘I need you to take on that role.'”
  • Solving daily problems. Chat also makes it easy to assign what Dr. Peters calls “problems of the day or class activities.” She asks all students to solve a problem and insert their answers in the chat. This activity wouldn’t look the same in a face-to-face class, but that is the point! To Dr. Peters, these daily problems prove that interaction is “not just [verbal].” This activity, Dr. Peters suggests, would also work through other tools like shared documents. 
  • Counting down. One activity that Dr. Peters uses strategically when she feels students need something that will rekindle their interest in the shared online classroom is a countdown activity. She poses a question and asks students to type their answer, “but I don’t have them hit enter.” Then, after a set amount of time, “I say, okay, okay, three, two, one, and then they all hit enter at the same time. It’s cool because they all get to see each other’s responses without it having influenced their own response.” Dr. Peters recognizes that this activity might depend on class size, as asking twenty-five students do this together is different than asking three hundred!

With many thanks to Dr. Peters for her time and her commitment to student engagement, we hope these tips have sparked some ideas for how you might be able to get students interacting during your synchronous Zoom meetings using chat. To hear part of our interview, check out the audio clip below.

Watch these Weekly Tips for Part II of our series on Combating the Silence, where we will share more from our interview with Dr. Peters.

This series of videos and teaching tips is presented by Academic Outreach and Innovation (AOI). We invite you to join the conversation. Share your tips and ask questions through this blog. If you would like these posts to be sent directly to your email each week, subscribe to the listserv by emailing

For more information or to schedule time with an instructional designer or emerging technologist, contact or request training on demand. You can also visit the Spark Faculty Innovation Studio in room 102 any time from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, during the academic year.