Professor Sandra Adams workig on laptop in laboratory

Synchronous Online Course Delivery

Below you will find some techniques as you prepare your course(s) for Synchronous Online Delivery. We have also included some best practices for engaging students synchronously.

Preparing for Synchronous Online Course Delivery

  • Practice using the tools you plan to incorporate in your classes.
    Try using the technology prior to the session. Get familiar with how to resize windows, use chat, share your screen, manage the “raise hand” feature, manage polls, breakout groups, share files, and mute/unmute participants.
  • For meeting times, stick to the time-slotted in the course registrar.
    Leverage asynchronous activities before or after the session as individuals or small groups to help to shorten meeting times. Zoom (or any conferencing technology) fatigue is real. Send out reminders and share materials needed in advance.
  • Consider the best use of your time together.
    Opt for active learning and other interactive engagement in place of one-way lecturing. Pre-recording lecture videos allows you to reuse them, allows students to rewatch them, and frees up class time to interact in more engaging activities.
  • Prepare your students for using conferencing technology effectively.
    Provide students with how-to guides on your conferencing technology of choice, be explicit and consistent about where students will find the meetings (within Canvas is best.)
  • Take time to establish class norms.
    How would you like students to ask questions? Will you be using the chat? What are the attendance and participation expectations? What should the expectations be around the use of cameras? Be explicit and support students in being able to participate in the way you believe is helpful for them. Consider some ideas for Zoom Etiquette.
  • Plan for technological/situational barriers.
    Keep in mind that low bandwidth issues and other technological or situational barriers may prevent students from fully participating in synchronous sessions. Supplement your synchronous course with asynchronous activities.

Build Community

Taking time at the beginning of the course to allow you and your students to get to know one another will result in deeper connections and increased engagement. Throughout the course, be intentional about maintaining a sense of community.

  • Icebreaking exercises
    Ice breakers can be used to help students feel more comfortable sharing in conference sessions. Depending on the size of the class, you can either do these together, or break up into small groups using breakout rooms. Simply ask students to introduce themselves to their classmates and share their thoughts on a course topic.
  • Social check-ins
    Allow students to share aspects of themselves to the class. For example before a class begins, or at a time you feel the group needs a burst of energy:

    • Have students create and share a personalized Zoom background in Canva.
    • Ask students to share fitness tips or TV streaming recommendations.
    • Invite students to find and share a link in the chat of a meme or GIF that best represents their current mood.
    • Ask one or two students to share their weekend plans, or to report what they did the previous weekend. Share about yours.

Engage Students with Content

In addition to live and interactive lectures, there are many options for engaging students with course content in synchronous sessions.

  • Invite Guest Speakers
    Prepare discussion topics, encourage students to prepare questions and actively engage in the sessions.
  • Watch and respond to a video together
    Share your screen to show a video. Share one or two guiding questions to focus attention. For longer videos, pause throughout to engage students in a quick discussion.
  • Apply concepts
    Use breakout rooms to have students work on a problem, scenario, discussion or any number of methods for application. Visit the rooms to guide periodically. Debrief when together as a whole group.
  • Scavenger hunt
    Periodically prompt students to find articles related to the session topic and share the link in the chat.
  • Backchanneling
    Use the chat feature and invite students to post thoughts, comments, and questions throughout a session. Periodically check to address these, or assign a different student each session to provide reports every so often.
  • Live Demonstrations and Problem Solving
    Share your screen or whiteboard to demonstrate solving a problem or provide visual explanations. Stop periodically to call on students to suggest a next step or answer a question.
  • Vary Format for Live Discussions
    Mix whole group discussions with pair or small group discussions. Change the format for variety and to accommodate personalities and communication preferences. For example, before opening a discussion fully, ask each student to think/write quietly for 2 minutes and then one by one respond in 30 seconds while incorporating part of what the previous student said. Then once everyone has shared, open the discussion to the whole group.

Facilitate Student-Centered Learning and Collaboration

Synchronous sessions can be a shared responsibility with students. It can also be a way for students to access the same online tools to collaborate in real time.

  • Set up polls to have students vote on the topic for the next session.
  • Appoint one student or let students self sign up as presenters in each group to summarize their group discussions/presentations.
  • Use breakout rooms and Google docs to allow students to work on larger group projects such as problem-based learning.
  • Incorporate Padlet, an online collaborative bulletin board to have students share and organize ideas, communicate using multimedia (memes, pictures, screencasts, videos, and more), build a time-line, mark up a map, and more.
  • Use Google docs to have students take shared notes, brainstorm ideas, or collaboratively draft an assignment or answer questions.
  • Use Perusall, an online annotation tool to engage students with written and visual texts..
  • Prompt students to build connections by co-creating a mind map (Coggle or Mindomvo collaborative mind mapping tools).
  • Peer-instruction can be accomplished with a combination of polling tools and breakout rooms.

Gauge and Provide Feedback on Student Learning

One big advantage of synchronous sessions is the opportunity for real-time feedback from peers and the instructor. Here are some ideas to prompt students to demonstrate their learning for formative assessment purposes.

  • Background knowledge probe: Use the polling or chat tool to ask students questions that assess what they know about a topic before introducing it.
  • Comprehension check: Periodically quiz students to gauge their understanding as you work through your session.
  • Cold calling/Warm calling: Let students know that you will call on them to provide an answer. To ease potential anxiety associated with this method, allow students to work out answers in pairs before calling on them individually.
  • Exit Ticket: Ask students to share (in the chat or in an external polling or quiz tool) in one sentence the main idea of the class session.
  • Session Pause: Plan to periodically break to allow students to ask questions. Put them in pairs using breakout rooms to allow them to summarize what they have learned so far. Alternatively, prompt them to stump their partner by testing them on what was covered so far.
  • Virtual Office Hours and Consultations: Invite students to log in at regular times or sign up for a slot.
  • Review Sessions: Answer questions and review content. Gamify it with tools such as Kahoot.
References and Resources