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.



2 responses to “Maximizing Your Synchronous Sessions – Part 1: Technology

  1. Jackie,

    This information is most helpful.

    I’ll be teaching a course in the spring, “Victorian Decadence: British Literature of the 1890s.” I don’t know how many students we’ll have (it’s a blended online course, and we hope some students enroll who are outside the Chicago metro area). At any rate, I want to do synchronous sessions on Bluejeans with both audio and video for participants. What are the logistics on that? In other words, how many participants are too many for the video hookup?

    I have previous experience with synchronous sessions at Kaplan University, where we used a completely different platform, and video was generally discouraged for a variety of reasons. My own philosophy is that when students can’t see each other, there’s a “disembodied” quality to the session that I’d like to avoid. I’d like online education to come as close to the experience of the face-to-face classroom as possible.

    I’m developing my course with the learning designer team at NU this fall and winter…

    Be in touch.

     

    Dan

    Daniel Born, PhD

    Lecturer, MA Literature program

    School of Professional Studies

  2. Hi Dan,

     

    Blue Jeans allows up to 100 participant users. Courses hosted by the School of Professional Studies cap enrollment at 25, so that will hardly be a limitation. Blue Jeans does have web cam video as an option for each participant, and there is no limit to the number of participants who can have their web cam active.

    Within the Blue Jeans application there are toggle switches for how participant web cams are displayed against the backdrop of desktop presentations and other application sharing within the window, and each participant has control over their own view.

    The challenge will be getting your participants to share their web cam, but I see that as a function expectation setting for your course, which you can work through with your course design team.

    I’ll refer you in the short term to NU’s info page for Blue Jeans: Blue Jeans Conferencing Service. The overview of which contains a Training Guide, and some How-to videos.

    You’ll likely experience Blue Jeans quite a bit during your course design project. And if you plan to attend any of our monthly webinars featuring online teaching techniques and best practices, these are also hosted in Blue Jeans.

     

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