Maximizing Your Synchronous Sessions – Part 1: Technology

by Jackie Wickham

Online courses at the School of Professional Studies make use of a limited amount of synchronous sessions – where students and the professor are all online at the same time – to build community and reinforce key course concepts. All faculty are required to host at least one synchronous session per quarter; the majority host between one and four throughout the ten weeks. In this two-part blog post series, I’ll explain how to make the most of synchronous time. This post will focus on technology, while next month’s post will discuss the session agenda.

The technology involved in meeting live online can sometimes be intimidating, especially to new online students and faculty. However, if the meeting is set up thoughtfully and students are given the opportunity to test the technology beforehand, time spent dealing with technical issues rather than focusing on content can be minimized. Here are three tips to ensure that you spend the most possible time interacting with your students during synchronous sessions.

1. Choose an appropriate web conferencing tool.

Faculty can choose either Blue Jeans or Adobe Connect for synchronous sessions. Blue Jeans integrates seamlessly with Canvas and automatically posts recordings to the course site after they are done processing. Blue Jeans provides basic web conferencing functionality: audio, video, screen sharing, and chat. Most faculty should use Blue Jeans for synchronous sessions.

Adobe Connect provides more functionality than Blue Jeans: a customizable layout, polling, and a whiteboard function are just a few of its features. However, Adobe Connect requires students and faculty to have a separate login and password, and recordings must be posted manually to the course site. For more information about the differences between Adobe Connect and Blue Jeans, see this blog post.

2. Communicate your expectations to students.

Different faculty have different expectations for student participation in synchronous sessions. In previous classes, your students might have only submitted questions via the chat function in a web conference, or they may have been present via both audio and video. Prior to the session, ensure that your students know how they will be expected to participate so they can plan accordingly.

3. Give students the opportunity to test the technology and troubleshoot prior to the session.

If you are using Blue Jeans for synchronous sessions, students can have a test meeting with a Blue Jeans representative at http://northwestern.bluejeans.com. During the test meeting, the representative will assist the student with any necessary troubleshooting to ensure their audio and video are functioning prior to the meeting.

If you are using Adobe Connect, you’ll want to recommend that students log in to the session early to ensure that they can troubleshoot any connection issues prior to the meeting starting. Any students having audio issues in an Adobe Connect meeting should first run the Audio Setup Wizard via the Meeting menu. If audio issues persist, students should call SPS IT at 312-503-3333.

If you have questions regarding choosing a web conferencing tool or how to communicate with your students regarding a synchronous session, please feel free to reach out to me at jackie@northwestern.edu.



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