Speech Communications in the Virtual Classroom

Developed by Kyueun Kim and Mei Ling Chua

In spring 2020, many of us were pushed to communicate and conduct classes through our electronic devices. The move to the virtual classroom, however, was not a simple 1:1 shift. Our interactions are being flattened to different degrees by video, audio, and textual modes that may or may not be happening at the same time. The move had effects that ranged from the subtle dimension of (not) seeing the physical expressions and reactions of others, to drastically rethinking how to accomplish different classroom engagements like lectures, students’ presentations, and discussions. Acknowledging this context, this workshop aims to explore the differences in how information, behavior, and activity are perceived/received in online settings, and to develop strategies to foster clear and effective communications on digital platforms. 

We consider talking, listening, responding, and non-verbal communications, and hope to compare and contrast the affordances of different virtual modes and how they may have both common and differing elements when it comes to how we communicate. We will use these considerations to then also plan how to hold a direct discussion about clear communication practices in the classroom as part of the first day/week of teaching and how this can help set up awareness, reflection, and openness for feedback with and among students as part of the classroom community.

Learning Goals

  • Reflect on different modes of speech communications in the virtual classrooms
  • Develop strategies to enhance clarity in a/synchronous video-audio-chat conversations
  • Lesson plan for  to hold a direct discussion with students about speech communications in the virtual classrooms on the first day/week of teaching (i.e., set criteria for good speech communication in the classroom or draft a section for the syllabus)


The range of ways people have used Zoom has included everything from work meetings to conducting classes, to happy hours, and even weddings! Many have also discovered that “Zoom fatigue” is a real phenomenon. This fatigue has been attributed to the different ways we have to pay attention when focused on a screen, and the challenges to gleaning nonverbal communication that is much easier to pick up in person. Add in the regular connectivity issues and general stress of the moment, and it’s easy to see the challenges to clear communication these days. After a partial semester of taking on digital means for distanced communication and learning, it is helpful to take a moment to reflect on our experiences across different tools and situations as a practical approach to help us better communicate for the coming semester. 

It’s possible to use the deep and forced immersion of the Spring 2020 semester to hone our strategies for intentional speech communications in the virtual classroom. In this workshop, we will practice making the best use of various digital media platforms while acknowledging and mitigating the challenges and constraints of those tools. This may include designing multimodal teaching and learning experiences, combining synchronous and asynchronous modes so that synchronous times can be strategically planned for best attention and engagement before Zoom fatigue sets in. 

Exploring the different modes of speech through the activity below will be helpful in acknowledging the challenges/difficulties instructors and learners face when participating in virtual classrooms. We encourage those who read on to consider generously and creatively what should count as engagement or participation in a course, and what ways might it look across different mediums? How might instructors adjust evaluation criteria for classroom speech communications? 


Step 1. Critically read the table below and reflect on the experiences of participating and/or observing speech communications in the virtual platforms. 


Format Live Webinar Live/Recorded Lecture Mixed Platform Social Annotations
Mode Synchronous Synchronous Asynchronous Asynchronous Asynchronous
Tools Zoom Zoom Zoom


Recorded audio (website) Manifold

Google Docs



Video  Video  Video/Audio Audio  Text


Chat  Video, Audio, Chat Video/Audio Comments  Annotations




Chat, Poll, Q&A Video, Audio, Chat Mixed platform Instagram reflection/




Hosting Options Small group Instructor Instructor Pair (host/guest)
Audience Present, only list of participants visible Present, visible Not present synchronously Not present synchronously (or scattered) Not present synchronously (or scattered)
Example TLC SI 2020 Plenary  CUNY summer courses On Being Book Club TLC Handbook annotations


Step 2. Watch or listen to different models of speech communication below. Instead of content, focus on meta- or structural analysis of different digital formats and modes of communication. Do you notice any similarities and differences in receiving/listening, sharing/talking, interacting/questioning across different formats and modes? What is missing from the table and what would you add to it? 


List of Examples and Models

We gathered a few models below but you can also observe and reflect on your experience in the different virtual platforms for the past months (i.e. TLC Summer Institute seminars or webinars from other institutions). Or, you may reach out to instructors teaching summer courses at CUNY and virtually attend/observe the class. 


Step 3. Reflect on your observations engaging with the guiding questions below and share them on the Teach@CUNY Institute Slack for #SpeechCommunication. We may collectively come up with a list (i.e. in a format of checklist, protocol, criteria) for clear speech communications that instructors can use for holding a direct discussion about it at the beginning of the semester. 

  • When did you feel speech communication is not clear or ineffective in the virtual platforms? Why? What are some ways to enhance clarity in those situations? 
    • Think about the moments when receiving/listening, sharing/talking, interacting/participating/questioning are not working well. What did you do (verbally, non-verbally, or else) to make it better? 
    • How did the synchronous presence of the audience influence the speech communication process or your feeling?
  • How do different formats, modes, and tools of engagement facilitate, hinder, and/or challenge the dynamics of intentional speech communications in the virtual classroom?
    • As an instructor, does it feel different to use a medium where you can see your students versus when you do not get to see them?
  • Do you see ways you would want to do it differently? For example, a shift or remix in medium or approach?
  • What is one way you might adapt or adjust from the models you watched? Why?

Optionally, participants who have teaching experience may re-design an activity, assignment, evaluation rubric tailoring to a different mode of communication (a/synchronous video, audio, text) and reflect on the challenges/differences. 

  • For example, if you did a think-pair-share in the physical classroom setting, how might you do it in a/synchronous audio or video chat? How might a/synchronous text chat scaffold it?
  • How might we plan and facilitate students’ presentations?
  • How might instructors evaluate students’ participation? What are some differences? 



  • Participants may record their video/audio lectures and share them for feedback at individual check-ins in August. 
  • Participants may design/redesign an activity, assignment, evaluation rubric tailoring to different modes of communication (a/synchronous video, audio, text, etc.)