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5 Tips for Syncronous Learning for Faculty and Students

Fri Aug 14, 2020 at 03:02 PM

Every year, Merriam-Webster releases a ten-word list of the Words of the Year. They are typically words that describe the year or have been popular in searches on the Merriam-Webster website. This year has many popular words and phrases that haven’t been as widely used in the past, including social distance, contact tracing and personal protection equipment. For those on college campuses, two new words may be synchronous and asynchronous. 

For those who have taken online courses in the past, these terms aren’t new.  In asynchronous classes, students can participate in forums, complete assignments and take quizzes up until a due date. In synchronous learning environments, class sessions are held using a web conferencing tool. The lectures are live and must be attended online in real-time. It sounds like it would be like the traditional classroom environment, just in front of a computer, but there are different considerations for making this mode of learning work. Christina Moore, virtual faculty developer for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, has tips for both students and faculty on how to maximize their synchronous learning experience. 


“I think it’s best if faculty can get in a little bit of practice facilitating a synchronous session,” Moore said. “It’s one thing to press a link that someone sent you and join a webinar. It’s another thing to be the moderator.”

Moore said practicing gives faculty confidence to handle issues that come up, such as when a student is unable to log in or there are other technical glitches. It allows faculty members to determine where to leave the chat window so they can respond to comments and questions as they come in. 

“Practice will help the faculty member focus on the actual teaching as opposed to the technology,” said Moore. 

e-Learning and Instructional Support suggests that students know how to get into the web conferencing portion of their courses before the first meeting. For more information, check out the video conferencing tools on the Current Students page of the Online Learning website. 

Get help
e-Learning and Instructional Support provides help manuals for all of the supported applications for both students and faculty. 

The Current Students website has a Help Library with documentation for Moodle, video conferencing and online learning tips--all from the students perspective. e-LIS also recommends that students stay in contact with their instructors and relay any potential concerns they may have about online learning. 

The faculty Help Library on the e-Learning and Instructional Support website has documents for various functions within Moodle, lecture recording, web conferencing and how to get help. 

Moore encouraged faculty to be open and honest with students if they are new to online learning and need assistance. 

“Even if you have practiced, be really transparent that you are still new to this. Maybe have a student or two serve as the point people to let you know there is a question or comment. We don’t want to disrupt the students from learning, but having another presence monitoring the session is helpful,” said Moore. 

Engage Differently than the Classroom

“Sometimes people don’t like to interact during a live session. Students have to completely interrupt in a different way than they would face-to-face. They really have to blurt something out. There isn’t as much visual communication going on. The chat helps get around this by allowing students to engage in discussion without interrupting the person talking,” said Moore.

Moore said there are plenty of tools to make sure that students are engaging with the material. She encouraged professors to make sure all students can see the chat window and what everyone else is typing in the chat window.  

“The most engaging professional webinars generate robust chats. Even if the occasional chat gets a bit silly or tangential, students are connecting with one another rather than surfing pages outside of class,” Moore wrote in a recent Teaching Tips from CETL on synchronous learning 

Moore said there are many simple ways for students to show they are present and engaged with the material. Instructors can encourage students to edit a Google Doc together, annotate a white board, ask for feedback as the course is going on or even participate in breakout rooms. 

“Learning to use breakout rooms relieves some of the stress on the faculty. The students, in turn, are able to talk to one another and work on problems together,” said Moore. 

Early in the semester, Moore suggests the instructors put students in groups of four and have them discuss a topic. She said it’s important to work out the kinks before participating in a learning activity during breakout rooms. 

Cameras and Microphones Encouraged, Not Required

Web cameras allow students to provide visual cues and build community, but for some students, that isn’t a possibility. Depending on technology, environment and preserving bandwidth, students may need to keep their camera off, Moore said. 

The same goes for microphones. If students aren’t able to participate in audio exchanges, using a text chat or Google Doc as listed above are other waya to facilitate class discussion and interaction. 

Stay Focused
Moore suggested that students keep only a few different tabs open in their browser windows and that all of them relate to the class. She said if faculty members provide notes, students can take notes directly on the slides in one tab, have the video in another tab and keep the Moodle course page open in yet another tab. 

While this is a method for learning that some students and faculty may not be used to, Moore has found through surveys that this is a skill graduates wish they had. 

“One thing I was seeing over and over again is that the students wished they had more experience using web conferencing and facilitating online meetings,” said Moore. She said professors can help set the tone and teach students how to lead successful online courses and meetings by their interaction in the online classrooms.