Making the Most of Synchronous Lectures

Synchronous lectures are likely to seem awkward for the first while, but by following the suggestions below you’ll be making the most of your time together and building a community of learners. 

Synchronous lectures mean that you and students are “together” using an online platform or tool in real time.  When you choose to teach in real time, you are deciding that a schedule will be set, you will teach at that time, and students will attend at that time. Students will need to ensure that their schedules are free and they have the necessary hardware (e.g., computer, mic, webcam) and a fast enough internet connection. The supported tool for synchronous lectures at USask is Webex.

Our suggestion, generally, is that the use of synchronous sessions are limited and are saved for topics and activities that must be done synchronously to be effective. If you identify topics like that in your course and decide that synchronous sessions will be flexible enough for you and your students and want to make the most of them, please consider the following suggestions.

Essential Strategies

  • Set norms for how students should interact with you and others in the virtual environment. For example, typically everyone should keep their microphone turned off unless speaking
  • Record the sessions to ensure that if a student cannot attend, that they are still able to review the class
  • Pause regularly and ask for questions. Direct students as to whether or not they should use the chat or the microphone to ask their questions. Be sure to give enough wait-time for students to think and respond!
  • Focus the synchronous lecture on topics and ideas that the students can’t easily learn another way (e.g., through reading the textbook)

Best Practices

  • If possible, have a second instructor, such as a TA, monitor the chat window. This person can either answer the questions in the chat as you go, or they can summarize and respond to the questions using the microphone during breaks in the flow of the lecture. It can be very hard for one instructor to keep up with a lecture and the questions, especially as the group size increases
    • If you can’t get a second instructor, consider having a different student take on this role each class
  • Do a quick social check-in off the start of class. Rather than wait in silence, take the moments while everyone is entering the session to chat with the students 
  • If the class is small in size, ask students to keep their cameras on. This will create greater sense of community
  • In the days or hours leading up to the synchronous lecture, do some polling to assess prior knowledge. This could be administered as a quiz or survey. Adapt your lecture content and delivery based on the results
  • Polling can also be used during the lecture after a point of expected difficulty. This could be done quite easily using the raise hand feature, the chat box, or even the built-in polling tool in Webex. Web-based polling tools can also work by sharing your screen.
    • Whatever method you choose, get students to pick a side and then ensure that you take the time after the poll closes to describe why the various answers are right and wrong
  • After class, create asynchronous discussions in Blackboard or Canvas to allow students to further engage with one another and the lecture topics
  • Consider using breakout rooms to split students into smaller groups for portions of the lecture. In these smaller groups they can engage in discussions around the topics you just covered.
    • Note: you will need to use Webex Training Center, rather than standard Webex Meetings to use breakout rooms