Synchronous Class Meetings

To sync or not to sync, that is the question....

There’s a strong case to be made for including weekly synchronous class meetings in a fully online course. That weekly contact can be the single strongest thread connecting a student to the instructor, classmates, and course content. The opportunity to get questions answered as they arise rather than a delay via discussion board for example is extremely important particularly when the course delivery mode is fully online. Since those class meetings can be recorded they can be revisited if needed and are available in cases where a student has a conflict and cannot attend an online meeting. This quite simply is a win-win situation.

To be effective, care must be taken in the set up and implementation of online synchronous meetings. They are distinctly different from in-person meetings. Some key factors to keep in mind follow.

It is critical to structure the synchronous meetings so that you as the instructor are most comfortable. For many this will mean ignoring the availability of for example a white board in eluminate and working with software on your own computer. What tools you use and how you use them should be driven by your comfort and understanding which will grow over time. Just because you’ve seen someone demo a cool way to do something does not mean you should jump in the deep end from the start.

There needs to be a clear and simple structure to your online class meetings. One example:

  • Greet students at the beginning via video and audio. Then turn video off. This will improve the speed of screen refresh since less bandwidth is needed.
  • Share your whole screen. This means that students will see what’s on your computer screen.
  • Have an agenda for the class meeting showing on your screen at the start (e.g. word document). This has the benefit of letting students know what will be covered and helps students find the content they want to review later when they are viewing the recorded session.
  • Have one primary resource to base your lecture on. This could be text information in a word document, video, powerpoint slides, ....
  • When you want to move to web resources during the lecture, have the URLs ready in your slides/text, or have them ready in your browser before the online synchronous session starts.
  • Know ahead of time where your stop out points are for questions. It is not as feasible online as it is in person to have students ask questions throughout. At the stop out points go back to the eluminate board and ask for questions. Students can raise hand (via icon) and you can pass microphone to them for question. Be prepared the first meeting for students to forget to pass microphone back to you. Remind them at the start of the first couple of lectures how audio works. They’ll catch on quickly.
  • To wrap up each session, show on your screen the Modules page in Canvas for the week you are on to remind them what’s up for that week.
  • Finally, turn video back on for whatever your final remarks are for the session.

Before the first lecture (on Canvas home page for the course or discussion board) explain what the back up plan is if internet or the Canvas somehow not available to you during the time planned for an online synchronous class meeting. Remind class of that at beginning or end of first synchronous meeting.

Yes, entire courses can be delivered online with no synchronous meetings. Still, do consider having them particularly early in your venture into online instruction. You will find it quite manageable on your part and very much appreciated on the part of the students.

One last observation. Just as when you meet a group in person you have the connection needed to modify plans and directions, you will have this same ability to move quicker or slower from one week to the next if you have synchronous meetings each week.