Half-built bridge span

Building the bridge as we cross it: Zoom as a tool for learning design

In one of the graduate courses I teach at Steinhardt, we talk a great deal about the power of storytelling and media to support learning. Throughout the course, we explore whether and how media undergirds learning opportunities for different audiences and contexts. We look at everything from graphic design and games to coding and social media.

After discussing how to approach remote instruction as a class, we decided on (and the students asked for) as much synchronous time together as possible. We use Zoom for weekly sessions to see each other, connect, and converse. We are lucky that our time zones are manageable enough to do so.

I had used Zoom before. But what did my students and I need to know about Zoom as a tool that could support storytelling and learning? We decided to try to figure that out.

Each week in the second half of the class, two or three students facilitate a session about a different media and learning project. An element of our collective learning is how to effectively utilize the affordances of Zoom in structuring the discussion as storytellers. Assigning speaker roles and dual hosts, managing multiple participants and breakout rooms for ice-breakers, leveraging the chat and hand-raising functions—all of these aspects of video-conferencing and more have become new competencies for them as design practitioners and storytellers.

How synchronous online tools can be used to engage learners has thus become a vital theme of the course. “Building the bridge as we cross it” is not how I would have preferred we approach this semester, but the resulting creativity is a powerful shared experience.


Ben Maddox is adjunct professor at Steinhardt and NYU’s Chief Instructional Technology Officer.