An online synchronous lecture (session) using a web conferencing tool such as Zoom™, Adobe Connect™, Blue Jeans™, or GoToMeeting™ can be a fantastic way to engage your students in your course material and a great way to establish a personal connection to online students who often feel isolated. I believe many of us have learned that while some students choose online learning because they do not want the traditional face-to-face meetings, students still often crave personal connection in their online courses and respond well to optional synchronous learning, in addition to their asynchronous work. This fun and interactive instructional strategy can be daunting to faculty trying it for the first-time, so this Online Synchronous Lectures In a Nutshell blog should serve as a great platform designed to help you hit the ground running.
This blog discusses some best-practices for this high-impact instructional strategy that can be utilized to increase student-to-faculty learning; as well as a practice that supports cognitive, teaching, and social presences from the Community of Inquiry™ teaching framework. To be clear, synchronous online lectures may not align with your institution’s policies and stance on online learning, but if used as an optional activity for students it can be a nice way to create community and increase feelings of security and support for our online students.
This article is broken up into three parts:
- What to do before the course starts,
- What to do before each synchronous event, and
- What to do during your synchronous event
Because I am a Zoom user, I will provide the links to the Zoom resource page to some of the technical aspects of synchronous online lectures and I am confident the other tools you can use have similar functions if you go to their websites too. And, because the word “lecture” might imply a one-way “sage on the stage” approach to learning, I will start calling this practice “synchronous online sessions” for the rest of this blog entry.
Online Synchronous Lectures In a Nutshell -- before the course starts:
- Provide the schedule of your synchronous online sessions in your Syllabus and in a Course Announcement. This is a great way to get early buy-in from your students and also gives them the chance to save those dates and times on their calendar. I would recommend doing this at least two weeks before the course starts. Be sure to emphasize they are optional (if they are!).
- Be sure that the Syllabus and/or Course Announcement includes the dates, times (in the time zone you teach), the Zoom login credentials, and a list of possible topics that will be covered.
- I would further recommend that you send out the finalized topic 3 days in advance based on learning analytics and student inquiries. Finalized topics can and should be based on the learning in your course. Access your Course Analytics to identify problem areas for your students or send a survey out to your students asking for topics of interest to them. The more you involve your students in the process, the more students who will attend!
- Provide an explanation of the importance of the synchronous online sessions--this is a critical aspect of the buy-in process. You can “easter egg” your announcement and let the students know that tips/tricks for that week’s assignment will be covered too; though, be sure you address availability by emphasizing it will be recorded for later viewing in case a student cannot attend.
- Speaking of recording, storage can be tricky. If you have the opportunity, I would recommend that you create a new Discussion Forum labeled “Recorded Synchronous Online Sessions” for storage of the recordings. You can store them all in there labeled by date and topic after the session is over.
- For those of you who cannot create a new Discussion Forum, providing the link to YouTube or another video uploading tool can be inserted into a Course Announcement.
Online Synchronous Lectures In a Nutshell -- Prior to your synchronous online session, be sure to:
- Login at least 15 minutes prior to the published start time.
- Check that you have a good and stable Internet connection, and a quiet and distraction-free environment in a semi-professional setting (e.g., please avoid presenting from a couch, a bed, or from a public place – check your background for anything that may distract your students from their learnings).
- Check your audio and video connections by clicking the Zoom Settings icon.
- Consider using the “touch up” tool in Zoom to Consider using the “touch up” tool in Zoom to soften your video image.
- Check your video for proper lighting
- While still in Zoom Settings, also check Side-by-Side Mode on the General Settings tab so students will be able to see your video, and your slides on the same screen. This helps them make the connection to you, individually, but also allows them to follow along with your slides.
- Pull up your slide deck to include:
- Welcome Slide
- Last Week Feedback
- Current or Upcoming Week Topics
- If possible, a breakout or student-involved activity (approximately 15 minutes)
- Questions (approximately 15 minutes)
Online Synchronous Lectures In a Nutshell -- As the online synchronous session is starting, be sure to:
- Turn off email and messaging apps prior to sharing your screen. No one wants to see your email popping up during the session; it is also very distracting to you as the presenter.
- Share your screen with your presentation deck (note: most users find that normal slide view, rather than Slide Show views are easier to manage over Zoom. You can use the slide rule at the bottom-right of the slide window to make the slide larger).
- Start on-time.
- Make eye contact directly into your web camera and SMILE!
- Welcome each participant by name and/or ask each of them to say hello using their first and last name; making note of the attendance.
- Ask for a volunteer to monitor the Chat to alert you to a question that needs answered during the presentation.
- Announce you will be muting everyone for the next few minutes so everyone can hear and take notes without distractions; let them know they can unmute themselves any time during the session.
- Encourage students to keep their Webcams on for the whole session, but do not require it if they are not comfortable doing so.
- Remind everyone you will be recording the session and storing in the online classroom in either the Discussion Forum you created or in Course Announcements, whichever applies.
- Ask each participant to view the session in Side-by-Side mode. This allows them to see you and your slide on the same screen.
- During the Content Slide portion of the session, be sure to stop frequently and ask questions of the students and/or to have them provide input into the session.
- This can be done verbally by unmuting participants, via chat while they are muted, or online poll (https://www.sli.do/ or https://www.easypolls.net/.
- At the end of the session thank the students for their time and ask them to rate the session using a polling application.
Online Synchronous Lectures In a Nutshell -- After the online synchronous session, be sure to:
- Ensure accessibility, by turning on Closed Captioning and/or you can upload to YouTube™ with Captioning turned on. Most of the time you will need to lightly edit the captions, so please do not overlook this important housekeeping item.
- Label your recording with the date and the topic so the students can refer to them later in the course.
- Send an email or create a Course Announcement thanking the students who were able to attend and also provide the next session details (in small classes, you might even thank the students by name, this is up to you!).
And, while this “nutshell” seems to contain several steps, after your second or third, it will seem like second nature to you and your students will love it! Happy synchronous teaching, colleagues
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About the Author
Bettyjo Bouchey MBA, EdD
Bettyjo Bouchey is an Associate Dean & Associate Professor, College of Professional Studies and Advancement Director of Online Academics