Best Practices in Live Synchronous Online Teaching

By Vikrama Dhiman

Moving from an offline classroom teaching to live online synchronous teaching without pre-recorded videos is a giant leap, not only of technology, but also of preparation, etiquette and conduct.

A lot of what works offline in preparing for your class -- engaging your students, using illustrations and examples, giving meaningful homework – works as well online. Some things change, however. For the best results in your online classroom, consider the following critical points:

1. Keep all your equipment ready and test it in advance. There is nothing worse than checking if the computer, microphone, webcam and headphones are working in the middle of the class. Test all your devices once, twice or as many times as is necessary. Use standard equipment to minimize the compatibility issues. If possible, test the devices with the students as well.
2. Check your connection settings. You can never have enough bandwidth. Use at least a 512 kbps or higher connection and make sure you do not download, use Skype/ messengers or stream videos during the live online class. The more bandwidth used for the virtual classroom software, the better the learning experience.
3. Be mindful of processor speed and memory capacity. Whiteboards and online virtual classrooms are memory-intensive applications. Close all heavy applications like Adobe Photoshop, PowerPoint, pdf Writer to allow maximum processor usage as well as memory available for the Virtual Classroom.
4. Always do a test. Even if you are a seasoned online teaching pro, always perform a test for students new to your classroom. This will help you see if they suffer from device incompatibilities or poor bandwidth problems. Testing before the actual class can make the difference between smooth or disrupted classes.
5. Schedule your class in advance. Always schedule your classes in advance by a week at least. Have the class at the same day and time to establish predictability to online learning. This also helps students plan their day and week in advance. In case of any doubt, always ask the students for their preference for class time.
6. Prepare your class in advance. Attention spans on Internet are low. Hence, you need to be ready the minute the clock says "Go." Have your whiteboards ready with graphs and drawings as well as the files (PDF/ PowerPoint/ Word/ Excel) you need and check the links being used (YouTube/ Slideshare/ Scribd/ authorStream) again to see they're working. The smoother your class is, the better the learning experience will be. WiZiQ allows teachers to prepare all these factors in advance when using the site's premium features.
7. Have a moderator. If you are not that familiar with technology or you have more than 10 students in a class, consider having a moderator who can transfer controls to the students (speaking, writing, streaming video) and answer students' technical queries.
8. Have a holding slide. For example, your live online class starts at 10 AM. Everyone starts logging in at that time and it may take everyone about 2-3 minutes to join the class. Have a holding slide with the class title and objectives. An example might read: "Welcome students. Please wait for two minutes; we will start the class shortly."
9. Use Illustrations. Computers and Internet open up endless opportunities for going visual and aural. Make use of graphs, diagrams, emoticons, images, video and audio. This will bring your class alive and helps students learn by associating with visuals and sounds.
10. Anonymous Feedback/Chat. One of the advantage online classes is providing the learners with a way they can communicate privately with the teacher without worrying about what the rest of the class hears or says. Make use of this feature to the fullest. Let the class know they can send you a private message. This will allow each participant to get their doubts and queries resolved and answered.
11. Audio, video and writing controls. The more people with audio, video and writing controls, the more chaotic the class may become. Limit the number of students with access to speaking in a class or writing on the whiteboard. This will allow others an opportunity to listen and wait. If they have something to contribute, they can always type it in the chat area.
12. Two hours is an "epic" online. Try keeping your classes under two hours, by focusing on key learning objectives and including only as many learning objectives as you can cover in two hours or fewer. If necessary, meet daily but keep the live meetings or classes shorter rather than longer.
13. Engage students asynchronously as well. Students should be able to take back class material and notes through content sharing and class recordings. If possible, also have tests at the end of one or more classes to check students' grasp of the subject. Send them interesting videos, content and blog posts periodically as well.
14. Analyze student feedback. Your best guide will be your students. Talk to them, gather feedback and analyze their behavior. This will help you in your next classes.
15. Handling Exigencies. You should know how to handle exigencies. If a class can not be conducted for any reason or one of the attendees is having a problem, try to extend the session, reschedule the session or ask the attendee to watch the recording later. Then, during the next class briefly review the topic of the previous class.

Not every eventuality can be perfectly planned for. However, incorporating the above ideas will make your online learning efforts more effective, smooth-running and enjoyable for both you and your students.