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

Why You Should Use Modules When Planning Your Course

DOWNLOAD: Planning for Modules Excel Template

LINK: Module Checklist

Take a look at your course syllabus.

What do you want learners to be able to do by the end of the course?

Review your learning outcomes and consider these questions:

  1. What type of learning activities are needed?
  2. What type of assessment activities are needed?
  3. How will students practice?
  4. How will they receive feedback?
  5. How will they demonstrate their abilities (to get a grade)?

In standard 13-week term, you would likely have one module every 1-2 weeks. Modules replace thinking about a course in units of time, but instead, as units of content or objectives. Modules can be thought of as topics, chapters, units, etc.

An online learning module should aim to include:

  1. Module title
  2. Purpose, outcomes, and to-do list
  3. Activation of prior knowledge and pre-assessment
  4. Learning materials
  5. Active & social learning with practice and feedback
  6. Major assessment
  7. Summary

20-minute video describing these 7 steps in detail

Here is an example of how to plan for weekly modules. Please note that the components of learning materials and active & social learning are not limited to the three subcategories in this template. Feel free to adapt to your disciplinary needs. If your course has a lab, please refer to the second sheet in the Excel template. 

DOWNLOAD: Planning for Modules Excel Template

Building Community, Remotely

In an online remote context, virtual learning communities (VLCs) allow us to plan for:

  • Interaction
  • Communication
  • Collaboration

This video highlights some of the reasons we might want to develop rich VLCs in remote teaching. Below are some strategies framed from instructor competencies.

Some strategies for developing interaction:

Model participation and practice good nettiquette

  • Use Discussion Forums and participate actively
  • Steer conversations in the right direction
  • Motivate and encourage

Create a safe and supportive environment/network 

  • Moderate Discussion forum 
  • Temper the dominant voices in the forum
  • Set the tone by being positive
  • Encourage and motivate students
  • Use introductions, online office hours and e-mail to promote interaction

Incorporate collaborative learning and increased opportunities for students to participate and contribute

  • Post short 10 min lectures
  • Modify course content to to include Active Learning in between lectures
  • When will students contribute and share?

Facilitate meaningful and inclusive interactions 

  • Organize small group sessions or small group study groups.
  • Be willing to put in extra effort to contact students
  • Allow anonymous discussion posts

Some strategies for developing communication:

Build a foundation for participants to introduce themselves

  • Icebreaker
  • Discussion thread

Model prompt, effective and responsive communication

  • Answer emails within a certain timeframe 
  • Set up collaborative FAQs or virtual café where students can share questions and answer them. 
  • Communicate deadlines and expectations clearly (syllabus)
  • Provide prompt feedback on assignments

Evaluate role and monitor amount of instructor contribution to discussions

  • Checklists to make sure students are contributing to conversations.
  • Check-in with ‘under-performers’ to see if there are accessibility concerns. 

Model netiquette

  • Demonstrate respect, patience and responsiveness
  • Don’t ignore questions.
  • Steer conversations in the right direction
  • Keep a positive tone

Some strategies for developing collaboration:

Foster Learner-centeredness

  • Included Group work
  • Incorporate enquiry based and problem based learning
  • Promote reflection and self directedness
    • journalling
    •  blogging

Promote and support peer learning

  • Peer reviews
  • Peer feedback

Encourage, acknowledge, or reinforce student contributions

  • Provide opportunities and choice for students to contribute and share
    • Posters
    • Video, etc.

Empower students to work independently

  • Help groups set norms
  • How to use breakout rooms or their own webex rooms
  • Promote reflective practice 
    • Provide rubrics
    • Encourage journaling


Transforming Your Online Teaching From Crisis to Community

Five Qualities of Transformative VLCs

How to Prepare and Moderate Online Discussions for Online Learning


Farmer, H. M., & Ramsdale, J. (2016). Teaching competencies for the online environment. Canadian Journal of Learning & Technology, 42(3), 1–17.

Smith, T. C. (2005). Fifty-one competencies for online instruction. The Journal of Educators Online 2(2). Retrieved from 

Schwier, R.A. (2001). Catalysts, emphases and elements of virtual learning communities: Implications for research and practice.

Thank you to Nazreen Beaulieu for your support in preparing these resources.

Start Here…Pick Two

Let’s boil this down. What’s most important for us to rethink as we use our precious hours to redesign our courses for remote learning? Work with a colleague, friend, or student to talk through your answers after you fill this out. Still stumped? Contact

PDF Version: Start Here – Break it Down – Pick Two

First, let’s take a breath and focus on the big picture.

What are two GUIDING PRINCIPLES that you want to keep in mind as you redesign and teach during this time?



Next, let’s settle on some technologies or processes that feel comfortable to us.

What are two TOOLS that you might use to support your teaching during this time?



Let’s think about what course content is most important for students to cover.

What are two CONTENT CHUNKS that you want students to know and understand by the end of this course?



Let’s look beyond content and think about skills our course hopes to develop in students.

What are two SKILLS OR DISPOSITIONS that you want students to have or demonstrate by the end of this course?



We are not in this alone. Let’s include our students as partners in this challenge.

What are two ways that STUDENTS CAN PARTICIPATE in helping you to redesign elements of this course?



Let’s find the teaching moments, and help students understand how our field is affected by and contributes to discourse around this global pandemic.

What are two ways that you can link your coursework to current events related to COVID19?



Because panic and misinformation are common and because we all need to help to flatten the curve around COVID19, let’s talk about public health in all of our courses.

What are two things you want to stress to your students about keeping themselves and others HEALTHY during this pandemic?




This work was adapted from which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


Panopto for Student Presentations

We’re receiving a lot of questions around how to use Panopto for student presentations. To do this, there are a few different approaches that could be taken. The first thing to consider is whether or not the video/audio presentation of information is necessary. If not, please consider the other options here. Learning how to use Panopto without any in-person support may be difficult for some of your students.

Another thing to recognize is that Panopto could work well for individual presentations, but will be difficult if students are expected to present as part of a group. In those cases, WebEx would likely be a better option.

You also need to decide if the other students in the classes are expected to view the presentations. If they are, what structure can you put in place to make this meaningful?

Option A: Student Submits Presentation to the Instructor Only

Step 1: Provisioning Your Blackboard Course in Panopto

The first step in using Panopto is to provision your course within Blackboard. This creates a location for videos to be saved. Access your course within PAWS Course Tools or log in to your Blackboard course at  View video here

Step 2: Creating a Link Directly to Your Panopto Folder in Blackboard

Add a link directly to your Panopto folder for students to access and submit. View video here

Step 3: Enabling the Student Assignment Submission Folder

In order for students to be able to submit videos, the instructor needs to set up a submission folder. This gives students permission to submit in this location. View video here

Step 4: FOR STUDENTS How to Record and Submit a Video Assignment (Using Panopto Video Assignment Folder)

  • This video shows students how to record a video using Panopto on a Windows PC.
  • This video show students how to submit a video using a mobile device (e.g., iPhone). If students are using an Android phone, the process is a bit different as they must record the video first, and then submit it using the Panopto app.

Option B: Student Submits Video Presentation to be Viewed by Both Instructor and other Students

Complete all four steps from Option A. The instructor also needs to turn on viewing privileges on the assignment submission folder. View video here

Option C: Student Submits Video Presentation to be Viewed and Discussed by Both Instructor and other Students

Complete all four steps from Option A.

  • Next create a discussion forum on Blackboard for students to post and share their presentation videos
  • Students will then need to create a Thread or Post in a Discussion Forum to post share their presentation video. The specific instructions around the posting should be provided by the instructor (e.g., only the video, video and explanation, video and questions for viewers, etc.). View video here
  • The rest of the class can now view the presentation video and comment on it, ask questions, and so on

Hopefully that helps you in deciding what to do next. For further support, please visit the Support Page.

Featured instructor: Martin Gaal

Course Innovation Community CIC 2019

Martin Gaal, Lecturer

Faculty Member in Political Studies

Image provided by Martin

Martin teaches Political Studies 112, Justice and Injustice in Politics and Law to 100 students. He participated in CIC to help address his concerns regarding how to link learning outcomes to active learning strategies that ladder-in formative and summative assessments. Martin has noticed that student support for success is much more difficult with 100+ students than it is when he has smaller classes of 30 students. He continues to look for ways to tighten the course structure with technology and teaching strategies that increase student engagement and maintain a personal connection with students while seeking to maintain a manageable workload.

“Moving from what I am going to teach, to what are students going to learn”

For Martin’s large class context, having formative assessment strategies such as self-assessment and peer-reviewing allowed student development without becoming unmanageable. He has tried journaling, self-administered quizzes, peer-review feedback, and reflection assignments (amongst other strategies). One way in which reflection assignments helped was that he was able to share responses with the class. For example, if a student was successful at a certain task, their reflection about why they thought they were successful was a great formative feedback to share with the class.

In the future, Martin is going to try integrating a software called “statecraft sim” to allow students a virtual platform to test ideas. He also used some of his CIC funding to hire a student assistant. The student was helpful in creating TopHat assignments that students can answer via their mobile devices during the lecture.

In his own words:

The CIC has influenced my practice as a lecturer in three ways:

1. It has shifted how I conceptualize the classroom

– Moving from what I am going to teach, to what are students going to learn

– Use explicit learning outcomes for each class and include these on the presentation slides

2. It has shifted how I conceptualize assessment

– Move the balance of core assessments to the student through formative exercises

– Ladder these formative assignments towards the summative assignments

3. It has shifted how I conceptualize an active classroom

– If the class space or size is an obstacle to active learning, move the engagement online

– Use groups to engage in active learning that can bring their findings into the classroom

With students in Brussels – engaging with students is foundational to Martin’s teaching practice. Image provided by Martin.

Featured Instructor : Colleen Bell

Image provided by Colleen

Course Innovation Community CIC 2019

Colleen Bell, Assistant Professor

Faculty Member in Political Studies

Colleen teaches International Studies 110, Global Studies, to a class of over 80 students. By participating in CIC, Colleen was able to gather new ideas on structuring student debates, improve her use of rubrics, and better able to select and sequence the content necessary to engage students (which sometimes felt like a sacrifice!). She used some of her CIC funding to support grading and coaching and another part to have a team-based competition in class. The competition motivated students to watch and evaluate videos made by their classmates.

Image provided by Colleen

Colleen’s concerns with large class teaching were that students at the back of the room often feel less connected and that class sizes were determined by factors outside her control – and beyond sound pedagogy. Through the CIC experience, she was able to get helpful ideas such as how to structure large class debates by watching a colleague’s class and she spent more time getting in touch with students outside of class time. In her own words, here are some practices she was able to implement:

  • I created rubrics and posted them in advance of assignment deadlines
  • I expanded my use of visual material and high profile events to explain and demonstrate concepts
  • I used class time to discuss academic and life challenges
  • I took significantly more time to explain assessments, and the learning benefits associated with them.
  • I demonstrated the political significance of content.
  • I positioned learners as researchers who could make discoveries
  • I designed a debate for the largest class I have ever taught to deepen learning and apply ideas
  • I took more time to gauge student understanding and talk it through

Colleen also took this opportunity to develop a first-year research experience (FYRE) where her students were exposed to the research cycle of questioning, investigating and disseminating findings. Students got to peer-review each other’s work and get formative feedback this way.

Through these changes, Colleen observed that students seemed to have a higher attendance level and that course evaluations were quite positive. By changing some of these small practices, students were more comfortable approaching Colleen for help outside of class time and she felt that this student rapport improved their learning.

Overall in the CIC 2019 cohort, Colleen met her goals to build connections with students, build foundational academic skills, improve attendance and enthusiasm, motivate students to collaborate productively, and most critically, develop the political consciousness and agency of students.

Feeding Learning: Mark better work, in less time

In the last two decades we’ve learned a lot about feedback.  We know Our Learning Charter tells us that as educators, we’ve agreed to “Provide prompt and constructive feedback for students on their learning progress at regular intervals throughout the course.” What does that actually mean, and why does it matter?

What do we know about prompt feedback?

  1. The most useful feedback occurs early on in the learning process (formative), not at the end (summative), because feedback is most useful when students do not yet have mastery. In both cases, feedback closer to when the task is completed is usually more useful.
  2. When students have clear criteria or examples to compare themselves to, they can give themselves early feedback.  This is important because the feedback is more timely, and it requires less work from educators.
  3. Students with high agency are more likely to understand, act on, and internalize feedback they receive. Prompt feedback increases student feeling of agency, but only when a student can still alter their work.  Feedback that occurs so late that it can only be used for another course you take in this subject is rarely used by any students.

What do we know about constructive feedback?

Constructive feedback is feedback that helps students improve.  Educators report giving feedback much more often than student report receiving it, especially if it is directed to the whole class, as most students assume it does not apply to them.  In order to improve student results, the best feedback is:

  1. Focused on the goal of the task: Rather than saying how well you did relative to others, the feedback is directly focused on the knowledge or skills student were trying to demonstrate by doing the assignment or test.
  2. Actionable: The feedback tells the student information how to make changes, not just what to change, and is timely enough it is possible to actually make the changes.
  3. Individual: The feedback tells each student what they will need to do to improve, rather than generalizing about what students in general could do.
  4. Designed to be heard: The feedback is framed in a way that is positive, but still describes how to improve over time. It uses simple language so students who have been confused are likely to be more clear about how to improve over time.
  5. Agentic: The feedback uses language that implies student agency in solving issues.  For example, asking questions designed to promote reflection about a specific issue and its impact or praising a place int he student work where something has been do correctly and noting other places that need to be done the same way.

Yeah, but who has the time…

The process of giving early feedback is time consuming, but so it marking terrible student work, or writing notes on an end of term essay that no one will ever read.  Some tips to save time:

  • Construct clear criteria and have student self-assess against it in class. Practice with a sample as a large class, then give students time to assess their own work individually. It takes a bit of class time and saves you a lot of marking time.
  • Use peers to give feedback on early drafts.  It avoids all the issues of peer marking, because it is just feedback, and is more timely than summative feedback at the end of an assignment or project.
  • Use well-written rubrics because bad ones don’t have the same benefits. Rubrics are especially important if more than one person is marking your students’ work.  Good rubrics, even single-point ones, can clarify what students did wrong and how they can improve. They also save time and create greater consistency amoung markers.

You can read more tips about efficient marking in other posts.

Learn more

Featured Instructor: Derek Postnikoff

Course Innovation Community CIC 2019

Derek Postnikoff, Lecturer

Faculty Member in Mathematics & Statistics

Sessional Lecturer in Philosophy

Derek teaches Math 100, Mathematics for Elementary School Teachers, to a class of 85 students. By participating in CIC, he was able to attend two math education conferences: First Year Math and Stats in Canada in May 2019 and Canadian Mathematics Education Study Group in June 2019. Both of these events provided him with many specific ideas for themes and activities to incorporate in MATH 100. He is planning to use what remains of his CIC funding to attend both of these conferences again this year.

Image provided by Derek

Some of his struggles were that physical spaces for large classes are not conducive to active learning. Also, students in this course have a wide range of skills and knowledge of mathematics from secondary school (some have calculus, some have difficulty multiplying integers).

However, a great success was organizing ‘halftime’ or midterm meetings one-on-one with each student in lieu of a written exam. This allowed for greater interaction and formative feedback for both him and the student. Even with 80 students, these meetings took the same amount of time that would have been required for marking a traditional midterm exam.

In his own words:

“The supports that the CIC provided – instruction, a cohort of peers, and funding – helped accelerate the innovation process I had undertaken independently several years earlier.

◈ Training sessions reinforced familiar best practices as well as introducing new ideas and techniques. The structure this training provided helped focus and strengthen my course development.

◈ One-on-one discussions with each of the CIC instructors generated helpful suggestions and sympathetic encouragement.

◈ Innovating alongside the rest of the CIC cohort provided useful perspective and motivation, drawing into focus the commonalities and differences in the instructional challenges we face.

◈ Bespoke feedback from my CIC partner provided valuable insights into my classroom dynamic.

◈ Funding made it possible for me to draw inspiration and discipline-specific ideas from interactions with an international community of like-minded math educators.”

Aligning assessment and experiential learning

I didn’t know what to expect as I rode the elevator up the Arts tower to interview for a research assistant position for a SOTL group. I certainly didn’t expect the wave of information and Dr. McBeth’s joyful energy. She, Harold Bull, and Sandy Bonny explained the project in a unique dialect; a mix of English and their shared academic speak. I hope they didn’t catch onto my confusion when they were throwing around the term MCQ, or multiple choice question, (which refers to the Medical Council exam in my former profession). I realized that I had quite a lot to learn if I was going to succeed in this position. I’d need to learn their language.

The scholarship of teaching and learning cluster working group shared the project through a concept map that linked “Assessment” to different kinds of students, subjects, and teaching strategies. The concept map itself was overwhelming at first but organizing information is in my skill set so creating an index was a straightforward matter. Connecting that index to resources with EndNote was quite a different affair. I closed the program angrily after multiple failed attempts to format the citations in the way I wanted. I had listened carefully and taken notes with Dr. McBeth, but the gap between theory and practice was large. With some perseverance, I am now able to bend the program to my will. It is a useful tool but like a large table saw or pliers used to pull teeth, it still frightens me.

Working with the SOTL concept map, I had identified the three areas, and their sub-topics, which the group is most interested in exploring:

  1. Examination/Assessment
    1. Ease of grading
    2. After experiential learning
    3. Multiple choice questions (MCQ)
  2. Type of Experience
    1. Designed
    2. Emergent
    3. Prompted reflection and relativistic reasoning
  3. Subject Permeability
    1. Alignment to common knowledge
    2. Access to affordances for self-teaching and tangential learning

Well I might as well move my things to the library and stay there until May. These topics cover a huge swath of pedagogical research. As I began reading, though, I soon saw that there were emerging patterns and overlaps among topics. Designed experiences overlapped with assessments. Multiple choice questions and cognition intersected. It was clear that while my index was neatly laid out in discreet cells in Microsoft Excel, the reality of the discourse was a lot more fluid and messier; more accurately reflected in the hand-written topic names, lines, and stickers of the concept map.

An interesting thing I discovered was that although I struggled at times in my methodology class in Term 1, the information and skills I learned there were useful in evaluating sources. I can ask questions and identify gaps where methodological choices aren’t outlined clearly. To be able to use my skills in a practical manner immediately after acquiring them is very exciting.

“…student views and assumptions about experiential learning and peer assessment may not align with data on actual learning.”

Currently I am focused on the topic of Examination/Assessment, which has the broadest scope of all topics identified. Two articles about student perception of experiential learning and peer assessment were intriguing to me. They make clear that student views and assumptions about experiential learning and peer assessment may not align with data on actual learning. This resonates with all the learning I’ve been doing about subjectivity/objectivity and research ethics. Our perceptions and assumptions can be very powerful but they shouldn’t be taken as dominant knowledge without further inquiry.

Some authors make strong claims about their findings even though the description of their methodological processes is lacking. Little, J. L., Bjork, E. L., Bjork, R. A., & Angello, G. (2012) assert that their findings “vindicate multiple-choice tests, at least of charges regarding their use as practice tests” (p. 1342). I am hesitant to completely agree with their claim based on this article alone because certain methodological details aren’t addressed, such as participants’ demographics and level of study. They also changed variables (feedback and timing for answering questions – those without feedback got more time to answer) in Experiment 2 and used a pool of participants from another area of the county (United States). The work of Gilbert, B. L., Banks, J., Houser, J. H. W., Rhodes, S. J., & Lees, N. D. (2014) is also lacking discussion of certain design choices such as appending their interview and questionnaire items and explicating the level of supervision and mentorship (and any variation thereof) that different students received in different settings. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the authors didn’t make very careful and thoughtful choices, but that either the description of their research needs to be amended or further study is necessary before making definitive claims.

Conversely, the work of VanShenkhof, M., Houseworth, M., McCord, M., & Lannin, J. (2018) on peer evaluation and Wilson, J. R., Yates, T. T., & Purton, K. (2018) on student perception of experiential learning assessment were both very detailed in their description of their research design and the methodological choices made.

I wonder if the variability in data presentation is reflective of the varying skills of researchers as writers. Perhaps it is more reflective of the struggle of researchers to move toward an evidence-based practice in the scholarship of teaching and learning. Maybe it is both.

While I will not be creating a nest in the library and making it my primary residence, there is still a lot to read, learn, and uncover. I look forward to journeying together with you.


· Sources must be carefully evaluated to ensure quality of research design and findings.· Delayed elaborate feedback produced a “small but significant improvement in learning in medical students” [Levant, B., Zuckert, W., & Peolo, A., (2018) p. 1002].

· Well-designed multiple-choice practice tests with detailed feedback may facilitate recall of information pertaining to incorrect alternatives, as well as correct answers [Little, J. L., Bjork, E. L., Bjork, R. A., & Angello, G. (2012)]

VanShenkhof, M., Houseworth, M., McCord, M., & Lannin, J. (2018) have created an initial perception of peer assessment (PPA) tool for researchers who are interested in studying peer assessment in experiential learning courses. They found that positive and rich peer assessment likely occurs in certain situations:

  • With heterogeneous groups
  • In a positive learning culture (created within groups and by the instructor)
  • Clear instructions and peer assessment methodology

Wilson, J. R., Yates, T. T., & Purton, K. (2018) found:

  • “Student understanding is not necessarily aligned with student engagement, depending on choice of assessment” – Journaling seemed best at demonstrating understanding but had a low engagement score by students, (p. 15).
  • Students seemed to prefer collaborative assessments – seen as having more learning value in addition to being more engaging, (p. 14).
  • This pilot indicates that student discomfort doesn’t necessarily have a negative impact on learning, (pp. 14-15)

This is the first in a series of blog posts by Lindsay Tarnowetzki. Their research assistantship is funded by and reports to the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning Aligning assessment and experiential learning cluster at USask.

Lindsay Tarnowetzki is a PhD student in the College of Education. They completed their Master’s degree at Concordia University in Communication (Media) Studies and Undergraduate degree in English at the University of Saskatchewan. They worked at the Clinical Learning Resource Centre at the University of Saskatchewan for three years as a Simulated Patient Educator. They are interested in narrative and as it relates to social power structures. Lindsay shares a home with their brother and one spoiled cat named Peachy Keen.