Managing large online classes 

The strategies, tips and resources below have been developed by the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) to address the challenges of teaching large classes.


Preparing for a large class

Before delivering a large class to students, it is essential to prepare well ahead of time. This section covers the key considerations and elements to prepare ahead of time.

Choice of Platform

The recommended platform at Southern Cross University for large online classes is Zoom Meetings.

Please note;

  • You must request a Zoom license for large classes of 500+ students through Technology services in advance.
  • Students will need to install Zoom on their computer or laptop before class. This can take up to half an hour to complete, so needs to be communicated to students in advance.
  • Students will require a webcam and microphone (or mobile device) to participate in Zoom meetings effectively. 
  • For international students, Zoom does not have a firewall.

For more general information about Zoom, see the following article: Teaching online classes with Zoom

Can't I use Collaborate Ultra?

There are several limitations with using Collaborate Ultra (CLASS) with a large number of students:

  • Collaborate Ultra supports a maximum of 250 students, and the experience degrades the more students that join.
  • Classes larger than 250 students require the Large Class setting to be enabled in Collaborate Ultra, or some students will be unable to join at all.
  • Classes with over 500 students must use Zoom, as Collaborate Ultra cannot support this number of students.

Preparing the teaching space

Check out your physical meeting room to see what equipment (projector, camera, speakers, phone) is available and how to use it. Invite a colleague or two to a practice Zoom meeting to get familiar with sharing your screen, using polls or whiteboards, and to confirm that your audio and video work. Carefully arrange your background to remove clutter or distracting elements, or choose a virtual background image to use. If you are using a Hybrid classroom space it is essential that you are familiar with the equipment ahead of time.

Testing out Zoom

You can go to at any time to test your audio and video. Students can also use this link to verify their equipment and internet connection are working correctly.

Zoom Settings for large classes

Prepare your online Zoom meeting to start with student cameras on (or off); mute participants upon entry; recording options, and set non-verbal feedback options such as emoticons and appropriate chat settings. Having these settings decided ahead of time can reduce nasty 'surprises' at the start of a Zoom meeting.

Enable additional Zoom reactions and emoticons

You can more easily gauge how a large group of students are going by encouraging them to use a larger range of Zoom reactions and emoticons. Note that Zoom reactions and emoticons must be enabled prior to the start of the meeting.

To enable all Zoom emoticons

  1. Open Zoom settings:

  2. Scroll down to meeting reactions. Click All emojis to apply the full range. 

Assign a Co-Host

It is highly recommended to ask a colleague to act as the meeting co-host. This person can assist with managing the chat and participants, raising/answering questions and keeping everyone focussed.  You can assign the co-host role to your colleague during the meeting, or set this ahead of time.

With your cohost, make a plan for how the meeting and participants should be managed. Will you use the waiting room to streamline the meeting start time? When will student be able to ask questions and how? Also check that all participants are muted when they join the meeting. If your co-host is unfamiliar with managing Zoom meetings it is a good idea to test the teaching space with them ahead of time so they can become familiar with using the tools.

The Co-host role can support

  • Ensuring the meeting is recorded.
  • Monitoring the in-meeting chat window.
  • Reading chat questions to the presenter, or responding directly through typed responses. 
  • Managing the Zoom Q&A tool to support student questions
  • Letting the presenter know about issues with sound or other meeting logistics.
  • Unmute/mute participants as necessary.
  • Turning off cameras where these are distracting.

What if I don't have anyone who can help?

You can assign a co-host role to a trusted student. This may be someone you have taught in a previous unit who has volunteered their time, or a student who has demonstrated leadership qualities. You could also rotate this role among interested students.

You could also ask a guest lecturer to present to the class. During this time you could manage the chat and participants.

Starting a Zoom class

Double check students are muted at the start of a meeting to avoid distracting interruptions and noise feedback. You can always ‘mute all’ or mute individual participants at any stage. Also don't forget to start the Zoom recording! You can set the recording to start automatically if you are concerned you may forget, or ask your co-host to double check.

To receive quick feedback during class ask your students - Please choose an emoticon to show how you are feeling right now about this topic? This is a useful technique where students are not sharing their camera.

Set expectations for students early

Set the expectations for students and have a starter page with ground rules so that you can manage the digital space to suit your needs. Explain what, when and how students should interact. Examples: Use the Chat when invited only, use the Blackboard Discussion Board for questions; encourage students to answer each other’s questions - especially with generic questions such as where do I find the assessment overview etc. You can also make group discussion spaces on Blackboard and limit the group size to support group assessment. 

You can set expectations by

  • Having a PowerPoint slide that outlines basic instructions/rules/ preferences/netiquette.
  • Stating how you will use student reactions/ emoticons to gauge reactions
  • Directing students when it is appropriate to use the chat space for questions
  • Providing alternative avenues where unanswered questions can be addressed outside the class space (e.g. discussion forums, email, office drop in)

Clarify what students can expect from you

Avoid student frustration by clarifying what students can expect from you during class. When and how will you answer student questions? How can they contact you?

Set ground rules and let students know what they are responsible for, and how they can appropriately request support. For example: You will answer discussion board questions on a Monday and students are expected to check the board weekly. Students who email you a question that has already been answered will be directed to the discussion board. Emails which are rude, unprofessional or missing important details will be ignored.

More about managing a Zoom Class

For more detailed guidance around using the features of Zoom in a class environment see the article on Zoom Class Management.

Make students active learners

Recognise the value of approaching students as co-leaders, facilitators, and co-creators of learning spaces and give them leadership responsibilities. Active Learning in a large class can be more challenging and chaotic, however there are Zoom tools you can use to streamline learning experiences include Polls & Quizzes, Q&A tool, Annotation, Whiteboards, or Kahoot! quizzes.

Online polls 

An all-of-class discussion may be impractical with a large class. You can use online Zoom polls instead to gauge interest, knowledge, feedback, and opinions. These can be run during a live class, or shared as a link for students to complete in their own time.

To activate Zoom Polls/Quizzes

  1. Go to and login using your Southern Cross University credentials.
  2. Click Settings > In Meeting (Basic) and ensure that Allow host to create advanced polls and quizzes is ticked for meetings and webinars:

Using Zoom Polls and Quizzes

See the following article for more guidance on using Zoom Polls & Quizzes.

Leveraging student questions and interactions 

Emailing responses only supports one student, instead consider how best to leverage student questions as your. You could add a question and answer (Q&A) section to your unit. This will allow you to respond to a student question where the whole class will benefit from seeing your answer. If you use the Zoom Q&A Tool you can access reports which list the questions students have asked during a Zoom class.

Post answers to the Discussion Board and let the students know they need to check there routinely. 

Use once a week announcements to useful effect. Example: Draw attention to ‘this week’s best questions’ on the Discussion Board to encourage and reward the original student, and to encourage other students to go look and to engage in the future.

Breakout Rooms 

Breakout rooms can be used to divide a large class into more manageable groups to encourage active learning.

Give students a self-reflection activity while you set up the breakout rooms. Auto allocate students to breakout rooms or they can self-allocate. You determine the group parameters. It is always important to remind students that they can participate in breakout rooms by typing if they don't have a microphone or camera otherwise they leave the class and breakout room activity.

You can ask students in breakout rooms to critique and mark an assessment and then regroup to discuss. You can use exemplars of student work, these don’t need to be High Distinctions or ‘entire’ assessment examples. If you are teaching programming you could provide a debugging guide and ask students to debug each other’s code.  

Using Breakout Rooms


Whiteboards normally work best in smaller breakout groups, but you can turn the annotation settings off, so it is only you who can write. Alternatively, you could ask just one person from each group or every other group to write on the whiteboard. 

General tips for large classes

  • Explore the many tools are available. Examples: Padlet, VoiceThread, Twitter, Qualtrics. Kahoot! can be used as questionnaire resource. 
  • Provide students with instruction and opportunities to develop core skills. Examples: How to Google effectively, using useful terms. 
  • Pre-populate slides for breakout groups.
  • Use the Chat, whiteboard or emoticon buttons of tick or cross to see if students are on track. You can use those indicators to allocate students to a relevant breakout room.


Further Resources 

Deakin University. Cradle Resources and publications.  

Lake, B. (2018, Sep 20). Best Practices for Large-Enrollment Online Courses, Part I: Managing student expectations, leveraging quizzes, and reducing grading load. 

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(Please note - it's better to refer to the Online version rather than export, as it's always up to date)