Advancements in digital tools have made synchronous activities a common and valuable part of online courses. I personally find synchronous chat tool ineffective for groups larger than two or three, so I tend to favor video or audio platforms that have chat tools available as a back-up.
Step One. Articulate the goals of the synchronous activity (include when the activity will occur within the course sequence, as well as whether or not it is graded and what kind of feedback/participation students should expect from the instructor).
Below, you’ll find a list of examples of synchronous activities:
- Full Class Webinar. I recommend using polls or surveys to promote student engagement in these webinars. If you are using AdobeConnect, you can also create breakout rooms that allow you to divide your students into small groups. An introductory webinar can be especially effective; most video chats allow you to share your screen with the students, so you can walk them through how to use course tools. To focus my webinars, I usually ask students to respond to a poll that indicates what features of the course they have questions about. You can also record webinars, which is especially useful for tool demonstrations.
- Outside Expert. You can also use webinars to bring in outside experts who give presentations to the class.
- Small Group Webinar (with instructor). I meet with students in groups of 5 or 6 every two weeks of my online courses. We all use webcams and I ask students to respond to discussion questions; I also leave time for questions about the course or the course website. This is also a good way to have students give presentations.
- Small Group Work (without the instructor). I regularly recommend that students complete group work through video chats, but they rarely do this–students seem to prefer meeting in a shared Google Document.
- Office Hours. I offer virtual office hours in the Adobe Connect room. But in that time I also regularly check email and am available in the course chat room.
Step Two. Identify what tool(s) is appropriate for the activity. You’ll want to think about what platform you will use as well as what equipment (webcam? headset?) both the students and the instructor will need. Then, write instructions for how students are to engage in the activity; you’ll want to explain how and when students should access the synchronous meeting as well as instructions for what to do once they are there.
Below, you’ll find a list of tools to facilitate synchronous meetings:
Step Three. Log on to your institution’s learning management system and think through how you will embed this activity into the course (this will likely require you to write additional instructions for how the students will access the activity).