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  • Writer's pictureBethany Huebner

Block the Naps: How to make online lectures interesting

I’m not much of a napper…I tend to be go, go, go until about 9PM when if I stop moving for a minute, I crash into a deep sleep. I remember vividly during my manual therapy certification that I became a napper…not really by choice, more by accident. My manual therapy certification was based online…it was module after module of online learning with several discussion board posts intertwined. There I was trying to learn about a hands-on skill through a computer and a monotonous lecture. It was the time of my life I tell you…because I got to nap. We also had the occasional weekend intensive where I was mesmerized and energized actually learning in person. But, after those two days we headed back to the internet to hide and listen for several more weeks.

I’m a millennial who despises online learning…probably only one in a million, but none the less…here I am. I know what you’re thinking, not a good place to be in this timeframe…but there is just something to live in person lectures, discussions, activities…they all just work. I mean I signed up for a PhD program that is 2 hours away instead of completing one entirely online just so I could be in person with my professors. Learning to me is a social necessity and one that needs to include hands on, in person activities. The current world situation doesn’t bode well for me as all schools have adopted the move to the virtual classroom for at least the next two weeks (at least….). We all will be doing a lot of virtual learning and all scrambling to figure out how to stream our content in a virtual environment. For some, this won’t go well…for others they may find their content works better in this type of format. One thing is for sure, we will all learn some things throughout this process.

Although my preference is to be live and in person…I can adapt, we can adapt. As I scour the learning literature and best practice for this transition, I thought I would share some tips to help you continue to deliver top notch content.

1. Picture a room full of people and stand up

One choice you may make during this transition is to create recorded lectures using a platform such as Panapto. This can be a great tool to deliver your content because you can deliver you typical lecture with PowerPoint with voice over and annotation capability. The one drawback with this type of platform is the lack of energy. As I mentioned previously, I have watched tons of recorded online lectures and mostly they are BORING! As a student watching, I thought how can this person be so boring? Now as a professor, I rewatch my Panapto’s and think how can I be so boring??? The trick is, when you are lecturing to no one, you have no energy. You lose your highs and lows because you can’t see nonverbal cues from those around you. As a speaker, I gain energy from the room. When I see head nods and eyes peeled on me, I know I have my audience and I am invigorated…I do better. When I can’t see my audience…I am boring. So, two things I have adopted when recording an online lecture: 1) Visualization of a room full of people and 2)Stand up. Our brains are powerful little organs that can set the stage for just about everything we do, so if we use that to our advantage in this learning environment, we can be more dynamic and interesting even when we are just talking to our computer. I like to transform my kitchen (that is where I typically do my recorded lectures) into the classroom, I even visualize certain students in their typical seating arrangement to really put myself in the role. Standing up aids in keeping my energy up and replicates how I normally deliver this type of content…it helps me get into the zone.

2. Keep it short and sweet

Online lectures are a great tool and a great way to weather this storm we are in, but they can get long. There is a big difference between a 2-hour lecture in person compared to a 2-hour lecture on video. Often times students are watching these prerecorded lectures in the comfort of their couch with the TV on in the background and roommates wondering around causing easy distractions. Or if the student is aware enough, they may put on headphones and shut the door to their room freeing themselves from any distractions except for the super comfy chair they are sitting in…and after 15 minutes they find themselves drooling on the chair. (That was my experience with online lectures…I often had to watch the hour and a half videos 2-3 times before making it through the entire content due to falling asleep). Breaking your content up into short 18-20 minute videos can be a game changer. Have you ever wondered why TED talks are 18 minutes long? Exactly for this reason, our brains can’t last longer than that. We can pack a powerful learning punch in 18 minutes then combine that with some type of learning activity. My typical in person lecture may be setup for 3 hours of time including hands-on lab practice, in-class discussion, and breaks but in the virtual environment I need to adapt that content to short bursts. For example, in the online environment I may lecture 18 minutes about ankle sprains – how they happen, how to diagnoses them, how to intervene with them and what discharge needs to look like. This short video lecture could then be combined with an activity online with asking probing questions and students answering via FlipGrid or in a live Zoom meeting. The tendency to get monotonous can occur after that 15-20 minute time frame, but hitting the short and sweet time spot allows us as professors to keep energy up and students engaged.

3. Go live when you can

Utilizing pre recorded lectures and other online content will be a must in the current environment, but going live may allow us to keep the student engagement and energy we feel in a live classroom. Platforms like Zoom which allows you to have up to 300 participants for unlimited minutes can provide just the environment of live lecture we may be looking for. This platform can allow students to interject questions during your lecture as well as you design some discussion breaks or activities throughout your content. You can work in a Kahoot! quiz live or utilize Poll Everywhere to have your students interact. You can share presenter mode with your students and allow them to present information. These types of platforms (Webex, FreeConferenceCall, Zoom, etc.) can give you a feel of a face-to-face classroom in many ways. The one drawback with going live, at least for me, is the fact that my 3.5-year-old may be joining me and my 50 students in class. He is pretty darn cute, but that can only take us so far when interrupting class. Going live isn’t a fool proof method, but it does help hold students accountable by limiting their distractions, completing the review of content in a timely manner, and engaging and interacting with other classmates during this time. This also allows real time interaction that prerecorded lectures and discussion boards can’t always replicate.

This abrupt transition to the virtual classroom will either be good or bad, but most likely be somewhere in the middle. The biggest thing to control at this point in time is not how our content is delivered, but our attitude towards this situation. There are lots of different attitudes we can choose to have during this time. Fearful, anxious, frustrated, excited, happy, curious…I am deciding despite my previous experiences with online education that I am going to choose to be happy, curious and encouraged. I truly believe our team at the University of Evansville will come out of this crisis ahead and our students will receive the content they need. I’m looking forward to the things we learn from this process and the fluff areas that we may need to consider trimming when face-to-face instruction returns.

If you want more information on the platforms I suggested in this blog, head over to My Top Lists where I go in depth into the top 5 technology platforms I use in the classroom. You can also check out a list of online educational resources here.

Next week, I plan on posting a blog about incorporating learning activities into the online environment. I would love to hear from you on how you are making some changes to your content delivery and what has gone well (and what hasn’t), so feel free to email me at

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