Virtual Classrooms

Deliver engaging and inclusive virtual classes using technology supported by the University.

Virtual Classroom

Virtual classrooms offer synchronous (live) video and audio interactions between students and teachers for learning online. They include a variety of tools, such as breakout groups and text chat, to create engaging learning experiences that can be integrated with asynchronous learning activities. There are three platforms available for teaching in virtual classrooms:

  • Blackboard Collaborate Ultra 
  • Microsoft Class Teams 
  • Zoom 

These platforms enable you to host a range of online learning activities such as seminar discussions, small group collaborative learning and interactive lectures.

Minerva remains the primary learning environment for online and hybrid learning. It should act as the ‘way in’ to everything related to student education, and the prime location for learning and teaching resources. Virtual classrooms should enhance learning in Minerva and not replace it.

The University has also developed guidance to support students based in China to help manage their specific challenges.

The resource Design and deliver engaging sessions in the virtual classroom will guide you through the basic and advanced functions of the three virtual classroom tools that the University offers. It also provides tips and guidance on how to design and deliver activities in the virtual classroom to promote student engagement.

The resource Online Breakout Groups – Synchronous Learning may support colleagues to reflect on their practice when planning and designing breakout groups. The focus is on using Collaborate Ultra but the case studies and pedagogical guidance are relevant for all platforms.

Selecting a technology for your virtual classrooms

Decisions about the technology you use for your virtual classrooms should be made at the module or programme level, to ensure that students have a consistent experience across classes. The technology should provide an inclusive learning experience. It is imperative that you are explicit with your students about which tool will be used, and that you provide clear guidance to ensure they can easily access and use it.

Blackboard’s Collaborate Ultra is integrated with Minerva and offers a wide range of tools for online teaching.

Microsoft Teams (i.e. MS Teams) offers additional functionality through its Class Teams. If a module’s Class Team is activated by the teaching staff, MS Teams’ meetings can be used as virtual classrooms. They have good functionality to support interactive, synchronous teaching activities, with new features being added all the time (e.g. breakout rooms). Members of a module’s Class Team are automatically updated from Banner, in line with enrolments on Minerva. MS Teams is also accessible and stable in China.

Zoom offers good functionality for interactive, synchronous learning activities including live chat and breakout rooms. There is also a Zoom integration with Mediasite which enables scheduled meetings (teaching sessions) recorded to the Zoom cloud to be automatically imported into Mediasite.

Delivering inclusive and accessible virtual classes

There are a variety of measures you can take to ensure that your virtual classroom offers an inclusive and accessible learning experience to your students:

  • Consistent platform: Aim to use the same platform across all virtual classrooms for a module or programme.
  • Planning and preparation: Provide students with an outline of the activities planned for the live session (such as group work using breakout spaces) and the what they need to do to engage effectively.
  • Optional camera: Make cameras optional where possible, as some students may be uncomfortable appearing on camera or allowing others to see their study space. You may want to review the Policy on Audio or Video Recording for Educational Purposes for how a student can request to opt out of a recording.
  • Adding a virtual background: Some of the virtual classrooms allow a virtual background to be added when on video. See the guidance noted under each classroom type below.
  • Orientation: Give students and staff time to orientate themselves within the platform, e.g. by using simple icebreaker activities to introduce breakout space, chat or the whiteboard.
  • Live captioning: MS Teams video calls offer live captioning, which students can switch on for a session.
  • Provide recordings: Advise students that live sessions may be recorded. Provide a link to the video of a recorded session.

Setting up and scheduling live sessions

Student timetables will indicate how their teaching will take place. For instance, whether an event is ‘ON CAMPUS’ or ‘ONLINE – LIVE via Collaborate’. Teaching staff must provide clear instructions, links or guidance to students for the method for accessing the chosen virtual classroom.

It is not possible to automatically setup and schedule teaching events on Minerva for Collaborate Ultra, Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Staff will need to set these sessions up and ensure that students are able to access them.

To support the delivery of timetabled activities using Collaborate Ultra, Minerva support have produced two guides for setting up sessions as either lectures or tutorials.

Lectures are set up as an ‘open room’ in Collaborate Ultra that students can access at any time through Minerva. Most modules will use this category of room when setting up live sessions: students simply enter the virtual classroom at the time it states on their timetable. This room can be used for different lectures where they do not run concurrently.

Tutorials are Collaborate Ultra sessions with a start and an end time students access on Minerva. Students can only join when the session starts (though you can setup a waiting room). This category are most suitable when modules have concurrent live sessions (as it is not possible for a module to have more than one lecture room categories).

SES staff have also produced additional guidance on selecting tutorials or lectures, with further detailed guidance on how to set these up.

Guidance:

For further help, please contact Minerva Support.

Using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra for virtual classrooms

Collaborate Ultra is a real-time video conferencing tool which also lets you add files, share applications, and use a virtual whiteboard to interact with your students. It opens in your web browser, so you don’t have to install any software to join a session. Before running a Collaborate session, you need to create it in Minerva.

Taking a register for Collaborate Ultra sessions

In Collaborate Ultra, the Session attendance report provides an overview of when attendees joined and left sessions. It also gives you an idea of how long attendees were present in the session on average. 

If guest links are used to give students guest access to a Collaborate session, be aware that reports will only reflect the name the students provide.

Guidance: 

How to run Collaborate session reports 

Guidance:

Using Microsoft Class Teams for virtual classrooms

Class Teams allow you to communicate and collaborate with students on and off campus. Standard MS Teams functionality includes video meetings, posting messages and collaborating on files. Class Teams have further unique permissions and features for tutors and students:

  • Teaching staff have the option to create a Class Team for a module and link to it from Minerva.
  • As owners of a Class Team, teaching staff can start meetings, share class content and control who can post.
  • Video calls on MS Teams can be used as a virtual classroom via the Class Team.
  • Class Teams utilise the same data as your Minerva modules, meaning that staff and student enrolments are automatically updated.
  • MS Teams is accessible and stable for users based in China.

This functionality makes Class Teams a valuable tool for creating student-centred active learning experiences in virtual classrooms. This guide covers tips for using asynchronous and synchronous functions in Class Teams (see below).

How do I Create a Class Team

Rather than create class teams for all modules, we are going to only create them on request. This will help to ensure that colleagues’ Microsoft Teams apps are not cluttered with unwanted Class Teams and will help to drive better ownership of the Teams that are created. 

Requesting a Class Team in Microsoft Teams is simple, just fill out a request form. You will need to say which module it is for and confirm that you are either the module leader or are acting on their authority. We require at least two staff members to become the initial team owners. You need to use this new form for all requests for Class Teams – all outstanding requests received before the point at which these communications are issued will not be processed.  

Guidance: 

How should Class Teams be managed?

Once the team is created, you will be able to add and remove staff as owners at any time, but students will be assigned to it automatically, from their module registration data in Banner. Staff membership of Class Teams will not be synchronised with Banner staff registrations to modules.

Teams will be created in the order they are requested, and we aim to get them set up as soon as possible, as we understand that they are needed now. If you previously requested a Class Team and were told this would be done automatically, please make your request again and it will be processed.

Basic functionality for teaching in Class Teams

To ensure a high-quality learning experience, Class Teams should only be used by teaching staff who have a clear understanding of the tools available and should not be used experimentally with students. 

Using Channels and Files in a Class Team 

Teams are organised into Channels. All Teams have a General Channel by default (it is not possible to delete or change the name of the General channel). You can name and create your own Channels. 

Messages and files shared in channels will be visible to all users registered on a Class Team. It is possible to set channels to private and add selected users to them manually. Using private channels for Class Teams is strongly discouraged as there is no automatic enrolment of users on private channels and users can leave private channels without the owner knowing. Teams is designed as a space for open and transparent collaboration – do not be concerned about students seeing discussion in different groups, they would have this experience in a face-to-face classroom as well. 

Each Channel contains Posts for discussion and Files for saving shared documents. In Posts, you can share messages to other users for everyone in your channel to see. You can also reply or react to messages, share files and links, and post animated gifs. Any document shared in the Posts is automatically saved in Files. You can create folders in the Files to organise different types of work. Avoid creating large numbers of subfolders as this makes it difficult for users to find information quickly. 

Channels can also be integrated with other Microsoft Office 365 applications, such as Class Notebook (a customised version of OneNote for Class Teams) and SharePoint. You can also add a link to website (this is useful for including a link to your Minerva Module). 

Planning and organising your Class Team 

When you activate a Class Team you should have a clear plan for how you will use Channels, Posts and Files to organise students’ learning. When planning your Class Team, consider how this will align to the overall Learning Journey you wish for your students to follow: 

  • Will students use channels for discussion about a specific topic or will they discuss on-going work with a group of other students? 
  • How are messages shared between small groups and the larger cohort? 
  • What kinds of files will students collaborate on and how will they be organised in the Files? 
  • What role will the tutor play in facilitating discussing with students? 
  • How will students know when and in which channel to have discussions? 

A good starting point is to use the General channel for announcements and welcome messages. You can set this channel to Read Only, so that only teachers can post messages. Then you can create other channels for focussed discussion on a particular topic or collaboration in a study group. Channels are automatically organised alphabetically, so numbering channels can help create a sense of order.

Live virtual classrooms

MS Teams meetings can be used to deliver live teaching sessions. Teams’ tools for facilitating active learning experiences include:

Share your presentation, your screen and other files

Use the Share tool to display your presentation slides on your students’ screens. You can also share other files and what is visible on your screen. The later is useful for doing demonstrations – but be careful not to show emails or other private information by accident.

Guidance 

Breakout Groups 

For larger sessions, you can put students into smaller breakout groups for discussion and then return them back to the main class.  Make sure you: 

  • Clearly state the activity or question that you want groups to perform/discuss when in the breakout space. 
  • Clearly state the duration for the activity (display this on a slide and ask students to note it down). 
  • Ask your students to nominate a record keeper or spokesperson to report back to the rest of the class. 
  • Give your students a warning when you are about to end the breakout groups. 

Guidance 

Chat 

You and your students can post messages and emojis in the Chat on the right-hand side of the screen. For example, during your lecture, you could ask your students to:

  • use Chat to respond to a question 
  • share their questions in Chat 
  • elaborate verbally on a comment or question they have put in Chat.

Chats can also be limited to one-to-one or small group communications, and can be hidden or muted. 

Guidance 

How to get the most out of Class Teams 

While Microsoft Teams is a powerful product, the way you use it can have a big effect too. Microsoft’s education site has lots of information to help you get the most out of Teams in higher education 

Within the University, there are several qualified Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts (MIIEs) who you can contact for advice.  

  • Sean Gledhill, Learning Technologist in LUBS  
  • Rachel Hartshorne, Learning Technologist in LUBS.  
  • Catherine Wilkinson, Blended Learning Enhancement Manager in LUBS.  

MIE Experts share their learning with colleagues and other educators through local training programs in their own school systems, presentations at conferences, blogs, social channels, and more.  

Find out more about how educators are using Teams in other institutions:  

Finally, read about some case studies of the successful use of Microsoft Teams in education:  

Taking a register for Microsoft Class Teams

Meeting organisers have the option to view and download a meeting attendance report within Microsoft TeamsAttendance reports can be downloaded as a .CSV file (file format for data that can be opened in Excel). 

The report can only be downloaded by the meeting organiser during the meeting. So, make sure that you download the report before you end the session. 

Guidance: 

Microsoft Teams Meeting Attendance Report 

Important information about using Class Teams for assessment

To ensure a consistent and rigorously defined student experience, assignment submission functionality will not be available in Class Teams. All assessments must still be submitted via Minerva using Blackboard submission or Turnitin.

Class Teams can be used by students to collaborate on group assignments and presentations.

How to add a background on a Class Teams call

You may want to consider using a background when on video and to advise students to do the same. This is done in the same way as a standard Microsoft Teams call. You may also want to review the Policy on Audio or Video Recording for Educational Purposes for how a student can request to opt out of a recording

Guidance: Change your background for a Teams meeting

Class Teams FAQs

I want to use Class Teams as my primary learning environment. Is this OK?

Minerva is the University’s primary learning environment, and this should not change. Microsoft Class Teams can be used to enhance the quality of the student experience, but not to replace Minerva.  Please see the policy on use of MS Class Teams on the Digital Practice website.

I have already requested a Class Team. What shall I do now?

You’ll need to submit a new request for a Class Team for your module – the request form has been changed to reflect the updated process, and we need you to submit a new form.  

Why are there no students as members of my new Team?

When the Class Team is first created, only the two requested staff members will be added, as owners. Student enrolment will be automatically populated from the data in Banner overnight. 

Why are other teaching staff not enrolled in my Team?

Other teaching staff will not be added automatically, so you will need to add them as team members and promote to owners, as required. 

Will changes to Banner faculty assignment be reflected in Class Teams?

Only student enrolments will be maintained automatically. Staff enrolments will have to be done in Teams. 

How will I know when the Class Team has been set up?

You will receive an email when the Class Team request has been processed. 

I need a Class Team for a ‘merged module’ – is this possible?

This is not currently possible with the solution being released for the start of term.  

What happens to my Team once teaching has finished?

  • All Class Teams will be active for 2 years and membership maintained. 
  • After 2 years, a Class Team will automatically be archived for 1 year. This means that the content cannot be changed, but it is viewable by all Team members. 
  • After 3 years, a Class Team will automatically be deleted. 

How do I link to my Class Team from the Minerva module page?

Adding a direct link from Minerva to your Microsoft Class Team will help students easily access their Class Team. Minerva Support have produced the following guidance: 

Guidance: 

Using Zoom for virtual classrooms

The University has purchased an Enterprise licence for Zoom.  Zoom can be used where staff feel that it can provide a high-quality student experience (e.g. for cohorts of students in China).

Zoom is integrated via Single Sign-On (log-in authentication) which will improve the security of the sessions. It has good functionality for a range of interactive, synchronous teaching activities.

How to schedule a teaching session in Zoom

Read the IT knowledge base article to learn how to login to Zoom using your Leeds account.

Follow the Zoom guide to schedule a meeting.

Zoom sessions must be appropriately secured. Further guidance can be found in the IT knowledge base but the main security considerations are:

  • Do not share the meeting URL via publicly accessible social media platforms and other public online resources
  • Use Security and Options/Advanced Options to manage access and participants
  • Use a secure password for access to meetings. (This should be on by default)
  • Enable the Waiting Room option for meetings. (This should be on by default)
  • Share the meeting via email (which can be generated in Zoom) to intended meeting participants only
  • Avoid using your Personal Meeting ID (PMI) to host public events
  • If you know your meeting participants have a Zoom account you can choose to select the option Require authentication to join. This means only participants using a Zoom account will be able to join the meeting
  • Consider locking the meeting after it has started so no one else can join. This is via the security icon
  • Follow the advice from the Zoom blog: How to Keep Uninvited Guests Out of Your Zoom Event
  • If someone does join who shouldn’t be there you can remove them from the meeting via the security icon or participant panel

It is recommended to schedule your sessions with the following settings:

  • Add a meaningful title to your meeting
  • Check that the scheduled times for the meeting match your timetabled event, taking into consideration the time zone
  • Allow Zoom to Generate Automatically your Meeting ID

Copy the meeting link you are given and then follow the guide on how to add an external link to the module page in Minerva to add the meeting.

How to record a teaching session in Zoom

Recordings of Zoom sessions for educational activities must take place in accordance with the University’s Audio Video Recording Policy. 

Zoom offers two ways to record a meeting. For either way, you are responsible, as meeting host, for securely handling any recording file. Once the recording is available, it should be transferred to MediaSite and any other copies deleted. 

  • Local Recording is where the recording is made by your Zoom app. The recording file will be available in your Zoom app (as meeting host) to download. 
  • Cloud Recording is where the recording is made by Zoom on their servers. The recording file will be made available on their website for you (as meeting host) to download. Cloud recordings offer more features than Local Recording and place less strain on your PC. More information, including instructions on how to download your recording, is available in the Zoom article on Cloud Recording. 

Meetings can be recorded automatically or on-demand. 

To record automatically, within the scheduled meeting settings, select ‘Automatically record meeting’. 

If you want to start recording once your meeting has started, you can do this within the app. Click the Record button and choose where you want to record to. 

Automatically upload Zoom recordings to Mediasite

For recordings to be automatically uploaded to Mediasite the following actions should be taken:

  • The teaching activity should be set up as a scheduled meeting
  • Select “Yes” when answering “Is this teaching content?”
  • Choose the recording option “Record to the cloud.”

Once saved within Zoom, the recording will be imported to the meeting owner’s personal folder in Mediasite. The recording transcript will also be imported as a separate file which will be attached to the video recording. The time taken to import the recordings and transcript will vary and may take several hours during peak times. Once in Mediasite, the recording can be moved to the relevant module folder. For detailed guidance, read the IT Knowledge Base article.

How to download attendance information in Zoom

15 to 30 minutes after a meeting has finished on Zoom, attendance information is available to download. The Usage report option in the Reports dashboard allows you to view a list of meetings, participants, and meeting minutes for meetings you have hosted. 

  • Visit https://universityofleeds.zoom.us/account/my/report to see recent meetings. 
  • Set the date range and press ‘Search’. 
  • In the list of results shown, click on the link for the number of participants. 
  • In the pop-up where the participants are shown, you can optionally click ‘Show unique users’ to consolidate information. 
  • Click Export and save the .csv file somewhere secure.

Remember this report includes personal information so it must be handled carefully. This file will open in Microsoft Excel like a spreadsheet. 

How to add a background on a Zoom teaching session

You may want to consider using a background when on video and to advise students to do the same. You may also want to review the Policy on Audio or Video Recording for Educational Purposes for how a student can request to opt out of a recording.

Zoom provides guidance on how to add a virtual background..

Guidance:

Policies and other important documentation

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