The Quirkiness of Quercus: Debriefing on the U of T Engineering Academy

Outreach coordinator Claire Heymans shares her experiences with managing (over 900!) students online.

About Claire Heymans

Outreach coordinator Claire Heymans is in charge of DEEP and High School outreach programs here at the University of Toronto. This summer, she directed the UofT Engineering Academy (UTEA) for over 900 students. This program was geared towards supporting recent high-school graduates and provides them with a refresher on core high-school level math, chemistry, and physics curriculum.

Missed the Session?

If you were unable to attend the live session, you can watch a recording of The Quirkiness of Quercus through the above BB Collaborate link. In this session, Claire shares her experiences with the UTEA and how to use Quercus to promote cooperation and engagement.

The Quirkiness of Quercus Slide deck:

Webinar Agenda


Icebreakers, icebreakers, icebreakers! If you're familiar with attending webinars on eLearning, you've probably heard that word too many times. Still, icebreakers are an important part of promoting engagement in online learning, and most of them can be done with minimal preparations!

Intro Music

Have a playlist on Spotify you want to share? Go for it! Don't have one? Don't fret - there's plenty of user-curated playlists on Youtube and Spotify.

Put on some jams while your students are still jumping on the call. Not only does having some tunes make it less awkward for everybody (who wants to sit in silence for ten minutes?), but it's a great conversation starter and it gives you (the presenter) some time to sit back and relax.


Another great way to boost students' moods is through minigames! Something low effort such as Hangman is a good choice, but make sure to choose something simple or something students are familiar with. This allows students to work collaboratively and also gives a sense of accomplishment if they do beat the game.

If Hangman (likely not the best term; see the recording for a discussion better ideas) gets too boring after a while, here are some other good games to try:


Some other ways to get to know your students and have them get to know each other is by having a discussion. Once your students see that they have a lot in common, they'll start talking right away even without your encouragement!

Good topics to discuss:

  • TV shows you've been watching (or books!)
  • Music you've been listening to
  • Your plans for the weekend

Questions to Avoid

  • "Have you ever been on a cruise?"
    • This can cause socioeconomic segregation amongst your students
  • "Describe your worst nightmare. What did you do after waking?"
    • This question can be too personal for students who have just met each other
  • "What is your spirit animal?"
    • Doesn't reveal any valuable information; students may find this question strange

Using the "Parking Lot"

While you're giving a lecture, your students may come up with a few questions. These questions can be stuck into the "Parking Lot" if they:

  • Are not immediately relevant
  • Do not have an immediate answer just yet

Students may come up with various ideas during the lecture, and the Parking Lot is a great place to park those ideas! Since links cannot be "clicked on" in a BB Collaborate presentations, make sure to shorten your URL with Bitly or have a moderator or TA post the link in the chat so your students can navigate to it easily.

The platform used in this webinar is Google Jamboard, and since this is a third party tool, we strongly suggest you refer to our guide on How to safely implement third-party tools in your course before starting.

Group Work

Working together can be hard when your students are scattered all over the world. While it might be tempting to group the students in the same time zones together, this can cause geographic bunching. Instead, you can ask your students their preferred time to meet, and group them based on their answers.

Don't forget to give your students a place to meet! We recommend giving each group their own BB Collaborate room or encouraging them to use the Groups feature in Quercus.