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Using synchronous learning as part of your online course

Combining synchronous sessions and engaging asynchronous learning creates a rewarding experience for instructor and student.

By Ann Obermann, Ph.D.

June 8, 2020

Anthony Baker working on laptop in Confluence park.This spring, Metropolitan State University of Denver faculty members moved face-to-face courses online in a hurry, replacing on-campus synchronous learning with online synchronous learning. As faculty members prepare for fall, there is a bit more time to reflect and implement best practices in online learning.

Online synchronous sessions are a great addition to a well-designed online course. Combining synchronous sessions and engaging asynchronous learning creates a rewarding experience for instructor and student. Faculty members report loving the use of synchronous time to connect with their students and to get a read on how they are doing with the course content. Students have reported overwhelmingly that they enjoy the time to work and connect with their peers while getting to know their instructor. This article includes lessons learned from the fully online Bachelor of Social Work Program, which recently started requiring synchronous time for all core courses.  

The BSW Online Program requires online students to participate in synchronous sessions by scheduling a weekly time for each course. Students know about this requirement for live sessions when they apply to the program. This allows students to understand they are required to attend and to plan with work and life when they register for the online course. Though the courses have a weekly scheduled time, instructors decide how frequently to use the synchronous meeting times in their courses based on learning objectives and usually meet around six times over the course of the semester.  

Here are a few ideas on how to make sure these sessions are effective: 

  • Intentionally plan how to use synchronous time to meet the objectives of the course and to balance it with other engaging asynchronous content (e.g., videos, activities). 
  • Limit synchronous sessions to one hour to maintain student attention, encourage session effectiveness and encourage balance with students’ other required life duties.
  • Make sure the students understand your expectations and what they are getting out of the synchronous time. If students know the schedule and the purpose of these sessions upfront, they can be more effective.
  • Synchronous learning may be new to students, so make sure to go over your expectations with regard to netiquette (online etiquette) and how to use the synchronous tool (e.g., Teams).
  • Plan for technical problems and how to enable security features. Not everything goes perfectly in a virtual space, but if you stay calm, your students will be flexible with you.

Some uses of the one-hour synchronous sessions include:  

  • Individual project consultations between students and faculty
  • Group work with students
  • Presentations
  • Guest speakers
  • Test review and preparation
  • Community and relationship-building
  • Active learning (games, polls, observations, etc.)
  • Debriefing a movie, video, assignment or activity

MSU Denver CTLD Ready:  

  • MSU Denver Ready is a wonderful tool that can help you choose your synchronous platform and learn to use it. There are also tutorials on effective asynchronous learning and how to create these opportunities in your Blackboard course.

Synchronous sessions and online teaching tips:  

Online-learning tips:  

Topics: Academics, Best practices, Center for Teaching, Learning and Design, Excellence, Student Success

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