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Building relations online

How can we get to know each other in a digital space, and how can we safeguard the psychosocial learning environment online? This article will provide you with specific advice about building relations with your students and fellow teachers online using the Zoom video conferencing tool.

Illustration of two people placed inside two mobile phones, communicating with each other
Illustration of two people placed inside two mobile phones, communicating with each other

Creating a safe and secure learning environment 

Creating a healthy learning environment is all about promoting stability and security. For this reason, it is useful to establish good communication with your students and to tell them about your expectations as to how you will be working together as the term progresses. The same applies to online teaching, although here you have to remember to be clearer than ever. Everyone has to learn about becoming online teachers and students.  


At the start of a series of lessons, and preferably at the start of each online lesson, it is important to make the following clear to your students: 

  • The ways in which they can contact you between lessons. 
  • Whether they should use the chat function, ‘Raise Hand’, or interrupt with some form of audio signal when they want to ask a question. 
  • Whether you are going to take questions as you go along, or to stop from time to time for a question and answer session. 
  • What you and they are going to cover during the lesson, and what you expect of them. 


Establishing a secure learning environment is also about building relations. You have to get to know your students. One idea, to set the tone, is to make a short welcoming video in Canvas before the start of term. It is also important to provide your students with activities and space to work among themselves when they come together. We encourage you to read through the following examples, which provide specific tips about building relations online. 


Building relations during online lessons using Zoom  

Building relations with your students is taking place even before they enter the Zoom room. Here are some tips about what you can do in advance, and while you are in the room. 


Before the lesson 

When you set up a Zoom lesson, you can choose whether the participants shall have access to a camera and audio. If building relations is an objective in itself, it makes sense to use video and to turn off the sound. This means that all the participants with their video on will automatically be attending the lesson, and will actively have to turn it off if they don’t want to use it. You ensure that the sound is turned off in order to prevent noise.  


Prior to the lesson, you can send out an agenda, a reading list, videos, and three questions that you want the students to discuss in so-called ‘Breakout Rooms’. This will prepare the students for what they can expect to get out of the lesson. 


If you have an open Zoom link it may be a good idea to use the ‘Waiting Room’ function. So remember to make your waiting room entertaining! If you don’t want to use a waiting room, it makes sense to start the lesson with a clear PowerPoint presentation, with the first slide containing a pleasant greeting such as ‘Hello and welcome! Get yourself a cup of coffee. See you all at 3 pm.’  

Getting Zoom started

Activate Zoom immediately. When everyone is in place, and you give your students access to the Zoom room, you will want them to be connected so that they can participate in the lesson. 


Start informally by activating them with a thumbs-up, and praise those who have their cameras turned on. By chatting informally at the start, you are saying something about the culture we have here in the Zoom room. When all the technical details have been sorted out, and the last participant has entered the room, you can adopt a more formal tone.  


Starting the lesson

Start with a formal welcome and make it clear that you are pleased to see everyone. Introduce yourself and anyone else who will be making a presentation.  

Remember clearly to state your expectations of the lesson (its content and aims, and what you expect of the students) and communication rules (whether we are going to use the chat function and/or ask questions out loud, etc.).  


In order to be as clear as possible when introducing your agenda, you can use the ‘I DO ARRT’ meeting organisation tool:  

  • Intention of the meeting: Explain why the students are attending this lesson  
  • Desired Outcome: Say something about what the students will be getting out of the lesson  
  • Agenda: Introduce the lesson topics  
  • Rules: What rules apply during this lesson? Do you want the students to take an active part? And if so, in what ways?  
  • Roles: Explain who is leading the lesson and who is administering the chat function, etc.  
  • Time: How long is the lesson going to take? Will there be breaks during the lesson?  


The ‘I DO ARRT’ approach is an effective tool for explaining your expectations of your students, and will answer many of their questions. 



Ice-breakers and ‘getting-to-know-you’ exercises A safe introduction to dialogue and collaboration  


How can we promote healthy and productive interaction between lesson participants online? It is important that ice-breakers and similar exercises are perceived as safe, and that participants do not have to be afraid of saying something stupid. The aim is to get everyone relaxed and laughing. Students learn better when they are relaxed. The following are some specific ice-breaker suggestions. 


Hello, everyone!

This activity enables you to loosen up the atmosphere, activate your students and train them in the use of the Zoom functions. 

Ask the students to turn off the video and turn on their microphones. Tell them to count to three, turn the video back on and all shout loud and clear; HELLO, EVERYONE! 


Checking in

The aim of checking in is to activate all of your students at the very start, either by asking each of them to speak in turn, or by using the chat function. This can be done simply and informally using questions or remarks such as; 

  • Where are you sitting? 
  • What did you have for breakfast/lunch? 
  • Share something surprising about yourself. 
  • What have you been reading/watching recently? 

Don’t be afraid to activate the chat function while you are giving information. This link offers you some suggestions for checking in questions.   


Where are you?

Use Zoom’s Collaborative Annotation functions and ask the students to stamp their location on the map. This activity will get everyone involved and provide information about where the students are located. It is also a fun way of getting the lesson started. Perhaps there is a student living in Italy about whom you had no previous knowledge?  

 Where are you?


You can use Zoom’s Annotate function. Share the display containing the picture and ask the students to find the green field with ‘you are viewing XXX’s screen’. Click on view options and select annotate and stamps.  

An alternative is to use ‘Pin on Image’ type questions available in Mentimeter. <LINK TO A BLOG ARTICLE OR THE MENTIMETER RESOURCE PAGE>




This stamping function works on many different kinds of images. Here are some examples: 


Magic hands

As an alternative to ‘Annotate’, you can use the Zoom function ‘Raise Hand’. Remember to explain clearly to your students where they can find the function, and then ask them to ‘Raise Hand’ if they recognise themselves in the description in the image. 

Now you can ask a question to one of those who has clicked on ‘Raise Hand’, and the lesson can begin.  


Remember during the lesson to invite your students to reflect and comment on what is displayed on the screen. This is a safe and simple way of getting your students involved. You can also use these functions to encourage students to reflect on topics that they encounter during the lesson. 



  • In this podcast from Kompetanse Norge you can hear Stine Fridtun Brenden and Maiken Spjelkevik from NTNU talking about building relations online (norwegian). 

  • Do you wish more information about I DO ARRT? Click here.