Synchronous online teaching

This semester, I’ve decided to dedicate more time to providing synchronous learning experiences for my students. I am currently teaching two courses in the uMass-Boston instructional design masters program: (1) Foundations in instructional design and learning technology, and (2) The design and instruction of online courses.

In the first course, I believe that offering regular synchronous sessions will create a more connected community among students, but will also reduce confusion around course assignments.

In the second course, I believe sync sessions will provide a demonstration for how sync can be used in online courses. Part of what I do in this course is model what I believe to be the best practices in online learning. In essence, I practice what I preach.

One challenge I have is that I’m not particularly confident in my abilities to teach in a sync format. Most of my teaching experience has been async or short face-to-face workshops. Offering a regular (weekly) sync session will be a challenge for me. However, I know that the only way I will get better at it is if I actually do it.

One thing that makes it easier for me to take on this challenge is my experience with Virtually Connecting. With Virtually Connecting, especially in the early days, I hosted a lot of hybrid conversations, where a portion of the group was onsite and a portion was online. I’ve participated on both sides of the screen. This has given me a level of confidence in my ability to host the conversation using online synchronous technology.

Another challenge I’m facing is figuring out the different activities that I can enact in a synchronous setting, and determining when the different activities are appropriate. I can find activities for online community building – I can also adapt face-to-face community building activities to the online format – but I need more than that. I’ve also done lots with guest speakers, inspired by my work with Virtually Connecting.

This semester I want to move beyond community building and guest speakers. I need ideas for activities that I can use to help learners develop deeper connections with the content.

I’m concerned that I won’t have enough things to do in a weekly session to make it worthwhile for students to attend. I also want to ensure that what I’m doing in the sync setting does not detract from the async activities. Oh ya, and I refuse to use sync to lecture to students. I use VoiceThread for my lectures, so students can watch them at the their own pace. I don’t think me lecturing is an effective use of sync time. I need ideas for activities that might increase engagement.

I’ve done some searching online, but all I’m finding are reviews of different tools. I know that I will have a shared whiteboard and breakout rooms. I am more interested in different things I might be able to do with those features, rather than the features themselves. It reminds me of my research on technology adoption, and how telling teachers about features of technology does not help them teach with the technology. They need examples of ways in which the technology can be integrated into their teaching – not an overview of features. I’m the same way with online sync. I would love to hear examples of things people do with online sync that might help me be a better online teacher.

Do you have any suggestions for activities that will work well within an synchronous online learning environment?

Feature image public domain by Giulia Forsythe via Flickr.

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