Top Ten List of Tips: Synchronous Teaching + Learning

“Online learning is not the next big thing, it is the now big thing.” – Donna J. Abernathy

I teach 100% online at The University of Texas at Arlington and have not taught a course on campus since Fall, 2013. Teaching via distance education means I like to still connect with students, so I choose to implement synchronous learning using videoconferencing to personalize the course. As a facilitator of a Professional Learning Community focused on Synchronous Learning, I also share ideas with the group as part of our sharing ethos in a PLC! The list of top ten tips for synchronous learning I shared with my PLC is below! Comments and suggestions for doing real-time teaching are welcome.

  1. It takes time and practice to learn how to facilitate (do the technical aspects) plus stay on top of designing and running a virtual classroom space. Join other people’s sessions to help out and co-produce. Also attend “other people’s webinars” to get tips and attend on a “meta” level.
  2. The ability to multi-task and stay calm under pressure (especially while piloting a synchronous session “solo”) is ESSENTIAL. Have a Plan B and C and D!
  3. Prepare the session to be highly interactive for students. This means about every 5-7 minutes do something interactive, For example, pose a question where participants respond in the chat window or with text on the virtual whiteboard. Polls (multiple choice or open-ended) can springboard into conversation with audio and/or in the chat window. Open ended prompts that the instructor will pose can be sent ahead of time so students can have time to think about them. Knowledge sharing from students in the chat window helps, depending on level of expertise of students and their background knowledge. Make them not “lecture-like” but do provide good input and information so they will want to attend the session.
  4. It helps to send students a tutorial ahead of time so they have a sense of how to login and how to do the audio setup, etc. The audio features can be the trickiest for both the moderator and participants. Provide a quick overview of the technical aspects before diving into the session.
  5. Make webinars convenient. Consider making webinars extra credit with a reflection due. Record all webinar sessions.
  6. Read books and websites about how to do synchronous learning. Videos are out there, too, on how to run good webinars.
  7. Structure the session. Send the PowerPoint and any documents that will guide the session out ahead of time and post to Blackbaord in multiple places.
  8. Have fun with it and inject your personality into the session. I include pics of my dog as appropriate and also have a few “encouraging words” (motivational type of stuff) and inspiring quotes within the webinar so it’s not all just information.
  9. If your content is better off as an asynchronous video, consider making a video instead. Use the live session for interaction, dialogue, chat, modeling/demonstration, etc. that takes advantage of the features of live synchronous sessions.
  10. Use emoticons and informal language in the chat window! LOL. Have fun with it! The synchronous session can be a mix of formal language and also informal chat.

Additional tips: Invite others to join your session and find webinars to attend to learn how synchronous learning works!

Recommended books: practical “how to get started” resources

  • Clay, C. (2012). Great webinars: create interactive learning that is captivating, informative and fun. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.
  • Finkelstein, J. (2006). Learning in Real Time: Synchronous teaching and learning online. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Murphy, K. L., Mahoney, S. E., Chen, C. Y., Mendoza-Diaz, N.V., & Yang, X. (2005). A constructivist model of mentoring, coaching, and facilitating online discussions. Distance education, 26(3), 341-366. doi: 1475-019.
  • Garrison, D. R. (2015). Thinking collaboratively: Learning in a community of inquiry. London: Routledge/Taylor and Francis. [More broad-based ideas about building online community]

Video (2-minutes) about why I like synchronous teaching and learning:

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