Six Ways to Prepare for your Synchronous Online Course

If you’re getting ready to teach a synchronous online course, this guide will help you set up your classroom so that students experience fewer issues once it begins to meet.

What are Synchronous Online Courses?

Synchronous online courses use some form of web conferencing software and video hardware to connect instructors with their students. Their configuration can range from a broadcast classroom with dedicated hardware streaming to students at remote sites to an instructor and students all connecting through personal devices in their respective homes via a web conferencing application.

1. Decide where you will teach.

By default, no classroom is assigned to a web synchronous course. If you need one, contact Instructional Technology and Media Services (ITMS) to identify and reserve a good space. Then, you’ll want to

  • find out whether the room has the technology you’ll need to deliver a quality experience to remote students (microphones, camera, etc.);
  • become comfortable with the classroom’s hardware, i.e., its control panel and computer; and
  • consider how the room should be arranged to maximize participation of both in-person and distance learners. For example, ensure that no one sits with their back towards the screen.

2. Identify the web conferencing platform you plan to use.

Research your options:

Note that the platforms on this list are supported by the IT Help Desk. If you opt to use something different, carefully consider how will you’ll support students who need technical help.

3. Provide all the materials for your course in Blackboard.

Find your course’s “shell” in Blackboard. They’re automatically created several weeks before the semester in which they’ll be held starts, so your course’s shell is probably already available in Blackboard. At the bare minimum, you’ll want to post your syllabus in Blackboard and provide information on how students can join your course’s synchronous meetings.

Set up a consultation with a CTEL Learning Designer if you are not familiar or comfortable with Blackboard or teaching online.

4. Prepare to record your class sessions (if applicable).

  • Familiarize yourself with the process of initiating recording in the web conferencing platform you’ve chosen.
  • Consider how you will make the recording available to students.
  • In your syllabus, clearly define your expectations of how students will use recordings in your course. For example, are they optional or required?
  • Review CTEL’s Creating Course Video Guide if you plan to use these recordings in a future asynchronous version of your course

5. Develop your course syllabus.

To save time and provide a consistent experience for students, use CTEL’s Syllabus Template as a starting point, or if you already have a syllabus for your course, verify that information about the technology you’ll be using is correct and up-to-date.

Include information about the web conferencing platform you’re using for the course in your syllabus, including

  • instructions for accessing the platform;
  • who to contact for technical support;
  • links to “how-to” videos and documentation;
  • browser plugins students should install before the first class and where to find them; and
  • hardware students will need. Consider making a Logitech headset and webcam required course materials so students can use financial aid dollars to purchase them, and consult with IT or ITMS for recommended models.

6. Consider course design issues.

Create a video welcome for your students that explains how your course will work logistically and what expectations are for students to be successful in your course. Be sure to explain which technologies you plan to use in the class and how they will be used.

Ask students to contact you immediately if they have potential challenges with participating fully with these technologies so that you can devise accommodations, e.g., Maine has a lack of broadband access in rural areas, making synchronous online participation challenging for students in these areas. Let them know about University College Outreach Centers, which provide high-speed internet access on site.

Incorporate visuals that are accessible to all learners if you plan to use presentation slides during your class sessions. See University College’s Accessibility Guidelines for more information.

Incorporate active learning strategies in your course:

  • use a flipped classroom approach to minimize the amount of lecture and maximize dialogue and interaction;
  • include live group work during class meetings;
  • incorporate mixed groups of in-class and distance students;
  • demonstrate instructor presence during in-class group activities by virtually “walking around the room” and joining different groups to observe, prompt, and answer questions.

Consult with a CTEL Learning Designer for help developing skill in these methods.