Marybeth Koon—Sometimes the most efficient way of addressing the needs of students in an asynchronous online course is to hold a synchronous session. While web conferencing with a tool such as Zoom offers the immediacy of a face-to-face classroom experience, these sessions require careful planning.
Set Goals and Expectations for the Session and (Re-)Learn the Tools Much of the success of a synchronous event depends on careful preparation and planning. First, articulate your expectations and goals for the session by answering questions such as these: “What do I, the students, and other presenters need to accomplish by the end of the session?” “How will I present content during the session?” “What type of participation am I expecting from everyone during this session?” “Will I need captioning for Deaf or Hard of Hearing students?” “Who can I contact to help me with these and other questions?” (See later in this paragraph for the answer to that last question.) Second, whether you are learning the web conferencing tool’s features and system requirements for the first time or already familiar with them, examine the tool with your activity in mind. TLS’s Instructional Design and Academic Technology teams can assist you with the design of your activity as well as with training on tools like Zoom through one-to-one or small-group consultations.
Start Out Simple Depending on your comfort level with the technology, use only those tools that are essential to accomplishing your goals. For example, if you are not comfortable with managing audio for your participants, have them use the chat function to post questions or provide comments.
Consider Your Location Where you are and the conditions surrounding you can have an impact on the quality of your session. In general, presenting in a smaller room or office will provide better sound quality. If you plan on using web conferencing in a physical classroom environment, consider contacting TLS’ Classroom Technology team. They can provide advice on your physical room set-up and, in many cases, can assist you during the first 15 minutes of your live session to ensure room audio is functioning properly.
Consider the Size of Your Class The web conferencing features you use and how you will facilitate the session will depend on the number of participants. A smaller group size, between 6-10 people, is ideal for informal, collaborative sessions. A larger group will require a much more guided approach in which only 1-2 people are presenting and have control over audio and content-sharing tools.
Use a Quality Microphone and a Reliable Internet Connection Use a quality USB headset and a fast, reliable Internet connection for any web conferencing session you run, no matter who else is joining you and what other technology you are using. Using a USB headset, rather than your computer’s built-in microphone and speakers, helps minimize audio feedback and background noise. It also ensures that you will maintain a consistent proximity to the microphone. A reliable, preferably wired, broadband Internet connection is very important, especially when using multiple features within the web conferencing tool.
Recruit an Extra Pair of Hands You’ll need help the first few times you use a web conferencing tool. It can take some time to become proficient with juggling content, student questions, and navigation. Ask a colleague, or even a student in the session, to assist you with things like starting the recording and moderating questions.
Practice and Schedule a Low-Stakes Dress Rehearsal If you follow no other advice in this list, pay attention to this. It is extremely important to give yourself, your students, and guest or co-presenters informal opportunities to orientate themselves to the web conferencing environment. Open up the web conferencing meeting room a few days prior to the official session. Or, schedule an informal Q&A during which students can log in, access the tools they will be using during the scheduled session, and ask any questions they may have about using the tool. Use the same computer, location, and hardware (i.e., headset, microphones, web cams) that you will use for the scheduled session to have an informal Q&A with your guest or co-presenter. You can also use this opportunity to review the material for the session, assign tasks, and load any content or slides in advance.
Establish Ground Rules Communicate your expectations for how the session will run, and let your students know up front what the plan is for asking questions or commenting. They will need to know how you would like for them to get your attention when they have a question. Students will also need to be prepared for how they are expected to communicate. They will need to know whether they should send questions and comments to the chat area or whether they will be granted audio access to speak.
Send a Reminder to Everyone the Day Before Send an email reminder out to both your co-presenters and students with the time, meeting-room link, and any web conference-specific test links that help them confirm they have the necessary system requirements. Many web conferencing systems, such as Zoom, provide a systems check link, which helps users confirm whether they meet the needed system requirements and whether any additional software or plug-ins are needed to access the meeting room successfully.
Review a Recording of Your Session Not only will a recording of the session be a valuable resource for students after the event, but you can also use it as a means to assess your own participation in the session. By reviewing the recording you can determine how the session went compared to what you expected and whether you met your goals. Reviewing the recording and revising your web conferencing plan will help you fine-tune your approach for the next session.