Teaching in a Synchronous Learning Space

Synchronous Learning Spaces are designed to facilitate videoconference and streaming class sessions. While you can view our instructions for using the rooms' technology to conduct your class, holding an effective synchronous class also requires that you think about how to best engage in-room and remote students simultaneously. To help you prepare to teach a class in a Synchronous Learning Space, we have curated a list of tips and best practices gleamed from past classes for you to consider using in your class. Click on any topic below to learn more. Please contact us with any suggestions for issues or solutions that could benefit the Rutgers community. 

Create Equitable Experiences for Remote and In-Person Students

It is natural to want to focus more on students who are sharing a room with you. However, this inclination can quickly lead to teaching in a manner that makes your remote students feel less important and, as a result, less engaged. Consider using the following approaches to ensure your remote students are given equal opportunity to be a part of the class.

  • Opt for methods of communication available to all students. While how students interact is highly dependent on your class plan and enrollment, look for ways to put those interactions on the same plane. For example, if remote students are asked to raise their hands but in-room students can just speak - they will be more able and likely to participate. If you have a larger class in which remote students participate via chat, consider having your in-person students also ask questions by chat. The physically present students may also be more inclined to type their questions and will then be on equal footing with their remote peers.
  • Have in-class students connection to the remote session. Not only will this allow all students to utilize group chats, see other students, or view class materials up close, it can also serve as a way for in-room and remote students to work collaboratively in breakout rooms.
  • Ensure that your writing is viewable to all students. Consider annotating digitally or writing on the document camera so that remote students are better able to read your writing. If you use the blackboard, select the blackboard camera setting and check your camera self-view to ensure you write large and on-screen.
  • Repeat questions. Make sure all students are able to hear a question from another student by summarizing or repeating it before answering.
  • Avoid referring to and treating remote and in-person students differently. Subtle references to remote students as "virtual students" or in-room students as "present" students can snow ball into a sense that there are two classes of students. Similarly, directing students to do something that only one group can do (e.g. conferring with your neighbor) will leave out a segment of the class and contribute to the feeling that they are not getting the same experience.
Foster Engagement form Remote Students

One of the biggest challenges relating to teaching to remote students is keeping them engaged in class. While completely online classes can be tailored entirely to remote instruction, Converged classes - in which some students are in-room and some are remote - present the added challenge of engaging different types of students simultaneously. To foster engagement in your synchronous class, consider doing the following:

  • Employ flipped teaching techniques. Students are more likely to disengage during long stretches of lecture, especially when viewing class remotely. Consider flipping portions of your class by delivering class content outside-of-class via video, tutorials, readings, or other means. You can then use the freed up portion of class for discussion and group work in which students can more actively participate. You can join and view the resources of the Active Learning Community for help using filled techniques.
  • Articulate how remote students should participate. If remote students do not know how they should answer or ask a question, they will be reluctant to do so. Indicate in your LMS, syllabus, course description, and/or first class whether remote students should physically raise their hand, virtually raise their hand, speak, or use the chat box to participate.
  • Draw in students early and often. Ask your remote students to participate on the first day of class. This will set the tone early that they can and should be a part of class discussions. Consider initiating participation with a low stakes question to help them gain comfort with speaking. 
  • Refer to remote students by name. Using  names is always a great way to help students feel connected to the class. Referring to a remote student by name is an especially important way to identify who you are talking to or calling on.
Leverage Synchronous Tools

When used effectively, synchronous learning can be more than a way to connect with faraway students. It can also add value in ways that traditional learning cannot.

  • Record class for future viewing. If you are teaching synchronously you can likely record the session with the click of one button. Students can then view class recordings to review. Visit the recording section of our instructions page for step-by-step guides on using Synchronous Spaces to record.
  • Have students give presentations. In videoconference sessions, you can give permission to students to share images from their screen. This provides a way for students to easily give presentations, report out, or share content as part of a discussion.
  • Invite guest lecturers to speak in your class. Without the difficulty of travel, experts from around the globe can more easily connect with your students.
Preserve the In-Class-Experience

As you strive to create an engaging experience for remote students, you don't want diminish the experience of in-class students. You can do so by helping your in-person students experience what the remote students are able to see.

  • Ensure that presentation materials are viewable in the classroom. Rather than trying to squeeze remote students, chat windows, and presentation materials like slides into one screen, in many classrooms you can put them on separate screens to make them larger.
  • Display remote students at the front of the room. While you may elect to keep students on the rear monitor so you can see them without distracting in-room students, consider moving them to the front screen when you engage in Q&A, discussion, or whenever remote students are speaking for extended times. This will help your students feel that they are part of the same dialogue.
Reduce Technical Friction

So that you can focus on teaching, rather than troubleshooting, we recommend the following:

  • Provide connection details early. Let your students know what platform you will use, how they can connect, and any technical requirements for your course.
  • Hold a test class. Use the first class meeting or a pre-determined time before then to let your students make sure they can properly connect.
  • Articulate how you want expect students to be present. Do you want students to turn on their cameras and microphone? Do you want students to remain muted until they speak to reduce distracting noise? The answers will depend on your course and enrollment and should be communicated to students at the start.
  • Utilize a remote helper. Ask a Teaching Assistant or student volunteer to join class remotely and let you know if there are any issues with the online experience.