Lesson Learned 1: Synchronous Meetings

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Lesson Learned #1: Synchronous meetings don’t always mean engaged students.

We all saw a huge spike in interest with synchronous meeting tools. These very tools have been there all along (Google Meet, Zoom, FaceTime, etc) but many had never tried them before.

About a year before COVID, I started an online webinar series for my instructors (since they are scattered across 3 counties) to share best teaching practices and tips for using Canvas. So at least my instructors had seen me giving online presentations and interacting with each other in that setting. I shudder to think what would have happened without them having some experience with it.

Here are some benefits to synchronous meetings (this is not exhaustive):

  1. They provide some “face-to-face” interaction that you might miss with a phone call.
  2. Real-time interaction means questions can be answered, and concerns addressed in an upfront way to a large group at one time, and hopefully the meaning is conveyed.

Drawbacks I noticed as instructors would use synchronous meetings:

  1. They would attempt to teach like they had in their classrooms, or for the same amount of time as they had in their classrooms (some of our classes are about 4 hours long! Can you imagine??)
  2. Lack of understanding synchronous meeting etiquette (muting, commenting with the chat, etc)
  3. They couldn’t tell if students were engaged because they were just delivering lecture-style information.

If you are an instructor wondering if synchronous meetings can be improved, I say YES! Here are my suggestions if we should plunge into another surge of COVID cases and need to go online for yet another semester or two:

  1. Let your students take turns presenting online. It will give you a break from lecturing online, and be a good learning opportunity for the students. Only do this if you feel the students have the technical expertise and enough preparation and guidance from you.
  2. Bring professionals from your field into an interactive discussion! Imagine if you taught a music history class and you could get an opera singer to Zoom in one day to talk about a certain genre, or even perform. Use your imagination!
  3. Use slides. But design them well, use them intentionally, and please, do not write sentences on slides.
  4. Use polling. Zoom has this built-in, but Google Meet does not. However, Poll Everywhere can be integrated into your Google Slides pretty easily. A little bit of interactivity goes a long way to stimulate discussion and creates greater accountability.
  5. Use breakout rooms. Again, Google Meet doesn’t have breakout rooms (yet… I’ve been sending feedback all the time about this), but Zoom does. Let students talk to each other and collaborate!
  6. Keep your meetings to less than 1 hour. I try to keep my webinar presentations to under 20 minutes so the rest of the scheduled hour is more interactive.
  7. Record your meetings. Google Meet only does this with enterprise G-suite for education, but Zoom will let you record meetings for later. Then students who couldn’t make it can see it. In the midst of an unplanned pandemic, we must make allowances for connectivity issues when students did not know they’d need a webcam prior to enrolling in your course, so being flexible here is key.
  8. Before the meeting, assign homework! If students come prepared to class (whether virtual or not) they will be more engaged in whatever you’re talking about. So don’t just schedule these meetings. Assign readings, quizzes, or something that makes them accountable for the information before they join your synchronous meeting.

I promise that if you will do these things, you’ll have more engagement in your synchronous class meetings! In the next post in this series, I’ll be tackling Online Discussion Boards. See you there!

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