Purpose, intent & planning

1. Purpose & intent

When we spoke to staff about their experiences in synchronous online sessions, we heard many stories of anxiety and frustration that could potentially be avoided or minimised through more intentional planning. The first half of this module covers the more conceptual pre-planning level of scoping your purpose and intent. The second half is a nuts-and-bolts approach to planning. You may find that this first half is enough for you to crystallise your thinking and you can be on your merry way, or you may prefer to go straight to the practical planning stage. Both are designed to work together, should you need the scaffolding. For the first half, continue reading below, or to skip to the planning module, use the table of contents menu to the left.

This is a short 10-minute set of prompts to help think through this process of intentionality. Grab a cup of your beverage of choice and something to write or type with, then jot down answers to the following question prompts. The key thing to bear in mind is that there are no right or wrong answers, there are no correct or incorrect ways to run online sessions or use Zoom, no right or wrong goals to have. Whatever you choose to do, your experience can be improved with intentionality, so let’s jump in.


What are you trying to achieve? What are your expectations? Be specific and honest. Some ideas:

  • Do you have specific pedagogical goals?

  • Do you want to foster community/connection with your students? (If you said yes, make sure you also look at our Building Community and Fostering Collaboration modules)

  • Do you want to hold a Q&A session?

  • Do you want to scaffold/support assessment?

  • Are you just doing it because you feel like you should?

  • etc


What are your students trying to achieve? What are their expectations? Try and put yourself in your students’ shoes, and bear in mind these may well not align with your own goals and expectations. Some things we heard from students:

  • Face to face equivalency/equity with on-campus students

  • FOMO - will I miss something important that will disadvantage me?

  • Pass assessments

  • Lecturer contact

  • Feel less isolated

  • etc


Is Zoom the best way to achieve those goals? Make sure Zoom is really the tool you want for the task. Some instances where it’s not the right tool:

  • If you want to lecture, record something in Echo360/Kaltura instead

  • If students are asking questions in text chat, is a discussion forum better?

  • etc


If Zoom is still the answer, then what kind of experience do you want to create?

  • Structured, efficient

  • Casual, organic, informal

  • Students as active participants or passive listeners?

  • etc


Remember most students watch the recordings instead of attending - what kind of recorded resource are you creating if you intend to record?


  • Will students watching the recording be able to read slides/screenshare/text chat?

  • Will students be able to follow if you break in the middle of speaking to answer a question?

  • Could another method better serve your purpose than a zoom recording? (Echo360/Kaltura, discussion forum, etc)?


Once you’ve worked out all this, the prime directive is to manage expectations and communicate with everyone involved. This will help ensure that nobody is left frustrated.


  • Communicate up front to students - not only the purpose/intent of the session but the experience they can expect

  • Clear expectations for student participation

  • Clear expectations for what they can expect from the recording, if one will be made

  • What production quality can be expected/level of technology available to you (eg will you be running the session from home, with variable lighting/internet/sound quality?)


Have a discussion about what students want out of zoom sessions, what they think the purpose is and what their expectations are. If that doesn’t align with your intentions, make sure you communicate and manage their expectations. You can make the point to students too that there is no one way to have an online synchronous session, and if they are bringing expectations from other domains it’s ok to put these to the side and experience different ways of interacting.


NB: Zoom isn’t just for teaching purposes - if you’re using it to meet with colleagues etc, the above still applies, just replace ‘student’ with your Zoom-ee of choice.

And that’s it - you’re done. You can proceed to the Planning half of the module now if you like, or if you would like to see an example of how to communicate and manage student expectations, use the table of contents menu. You can also hear staff talk about some of their own purposes and intentions in the Narratives videos.