As I prepare for another round of online teaching, I am, as usual, pondering new ways of making my online classes more dynamic and synchronous. I have used synchronous classes for several years via the Blackboard Learning System’s WIBMA classroom that we use at Dalhousie. The list below summarizes some of the main guidelines for running these types of classes:
1. Web Classes Go Fast: The time will go much faster than you think. You will cover less teaching content than you would like. Leave plenty of time for process and for questions.
2. Tech Problems Happen: Technical issues with some participants are inevitable, and may slow things down and hinder the efficiency of the live meeting time.
3. Pay Attention to Timing: Open the Web meeting 15 minutes early to give everyone the chance to log-in (and encourage students to do so). Always start and stop the meeting on time.
4. Post an Agenda: Always post an agenda for the meeting at least a day in advance in your learning management system.
5. Take Turns: Always go down the list of all students in the meeting asking for questions or comment.
6. Stress Community and Logistics Rather Than Content: Synchronous meetings serve a very important community building and logistical purpose. Do not try to cover too much curriculum or do too much teaching during this time.
7. Be Inclusive: Successful web based synchronous class meetings include comments, questions and ideas from everyone present (if possible). 30 participants is about the maximum size possible for an inclusive online class.
8. Less Is More: When you are synthesizing the previous week or looking ahead to the next week, a simple and concise slide deck for sharing on the Web meeting is appropriate.
9. Maintain a Firm Hand: It may become necessary to (gently) cut someone off, and to make sure that the agenda is covered and that everyone has the chance for input.
10. Continuously Learn: Always make time for a postmortem with the faculty and staff about what worked well and what did not, so adjustments can be made quickly for subsequent meetings.
The points above are well taken and certainly reflect many of my experiences with synchronous Web teaching sessions. I’ve not made these sessions obligatory, since it is becomes difficult to find a time that works for all distance students, especially given the many time zones that exist in Canada. About two-thirds of the students do participate in any given class, however, and those that don’t follow the archived session. What I find challenging is getting students to participate verbally; most seem to prefer texting the questions and answers, rather than verbalizing them. To be honest, this system is easier for me to monitor, since the screen that shows the raised hand where students indicate that they wish to speak is very small and is not effective with larger classes (I average 30 students for any given online session), since I need to scroll up and down this screen constantly. Conducting these synchronous meetings is rather like watching many news channels now, where you have to divide your attention between listening and watching the news announcers, and reading the ticker tapes that scroll across various parts of the screen. My plan for this year is to spend less time talking, and more time involving students in the session, so I would welcome any suggestions or experiences.