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Let’s do it live! Reimagining Synchronous Engagement in Teach-Outs

Benjamin Morse, Design Manager

We can watch live video of just about anything these days, from tuning into a close friend’s wedding a few thousand miles away, to watching a test launch of a rocket designed to travel to Mars. Live video for any event has almost become the status quo, and people from all over the world are beginning to expect all events to be livestreamed.

While we have the technology to make live video the status quo, we are also living in a time where people have access to an unlimited amount of content. For anyone hoping to create an event that is streamed online in real-time, they need to figure out how to cut through the noise and offer something truly unique.

This challenge also exists in online learning. Any of us who work with higher education institutions to create online learning experiences are often weighing our options about whether or not to “do it live.” Within the Center for Academic Innovation, we believe that we must come together with other higher education institutions to collectively reimagine how we engage with the global public and how we can create engaged learning experiences with diverse learners.

One way that we do this is through the Teach-Out Series. Teach-Outs are designed to bring participants together from around the world to learn about, and discuss, salient social topics and consider actions to take within their own contexts (more at As we reimagine what engagement with the public looks like online, this model challenges how we define expertise and the way in which we connect scholars with engaged citizens.

Each Teach-Out is active for about one month. During this time, global learners engage with the content (i.e. watch videos, read articles) and interact with others (i.e. participate in discussions with peer learners, submit questions to the experts). One way learners interact is by submitting questions throughout this month. Our team collects these questions and invite a subset of the expert contributors back into the studios to respond to these questions in a recorded video. It is during this phase of the live Teach-Out that our team considers “doing it live.” We have only streamed live question and answer sessions a few times, but one of our most recent experiments has us excited about what the future of live, synchronous engagement looks like within the Teach-Out model!

The Experiment: The Understanding Impeachment Teach-Out

Instagram live screen capture of Benjamin Morse working at a table In Mid-October, we created and launched the “Understanding Impeachment Teach-Out.” Rather than focusing on current events that are changing daily, this Teach-Out aimed to provide context to learners by exploring the legal and political processes of impeachment, the history of impeachment in the United States, and the implications impeachment may have on the U.S. moving forward. As part of our engagement strategy for this experience, we decided to host a live question and answer session with Barbara McQuade, JD, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan and professor from practice at the U-M Law School, and Richard Primus, AB, PhD, Theodore J. St. Antoine Collegiate Professor of Law at the U-M Law School. Throughout the first three weeks of this Teach-Out, we collected questions from learners that surfaced as the foundation of the live session. While live, we also collected questions from learners as they came in from YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

During this live stream, we were able to reach about 1.5k learners in total with a concurrent number of about 100 people participating in the conversation.

What are the advantages of live streaming the question and answer segment for Teach-Outs:

Access to knowledge

To start, we acknowledge that the Teach-Out experience isn’t without barriers (i.e. a learner needs access to the Internet), and we strive to make our experiences as accessible as possible. Adding a live event to the overall learning experience allows a broader community of learners to engage with the topic and with the other learners and experts in real-time. There is still a long way to go to ensure equitable access within online learning, but within the Teach-Out Series, we view live events as one tool we have to take a step in the right direction.

Expand the reach of the content

Instagram live screen capture of a discussion from the Impeachment Teach-Out discussionStreaming the question and answer segment live gives us the opportunity to engage learners outside of the traditional learning management systems (LMS). For the Understanding Impeachment Teach-Out, we were able to reach a large audience of learners that may not be participating in the Teach-Out on Coursera,but engaging with the live video on one of our social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Interaction with learners

While we were streaming live for the “Understanding Impeachment Teach-Out,” we were able to collect questions from learners in real-time and bring those into the conversation with our experts.

Jeff Butler, Media Designer on this project, explored the benefits and challenges of learner interaction within the live stream event:

“I think the opportunity we have with livestream is to connect in real-time with the audience. It provides us a platform to see what the learners want to know, verses trying to come up with questions we think would interest them. The challenges are having a lack of vetting. I think we had a great setup for our impeachment live stream but it can be off the cuff. While we are asking for discussions and answers from our guests, we don’t have the opportunity to curate their responses.”


Going live on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook is free, with enables our team to open up these types of segments to a much larger learner population. We would have already scheduled the question and answer segment as part of the Teach-Out and going live is just a few steps beyond the prep for that segment, plus we are able to expand our reach by doing so. With new technologies, our collective ability to take an event and stream it live is ostensibly unlimited.

Would we do it again?

Absolutely! We are excited to explore future opportunities to stream different parts of our online learning experiences and incorporate new ways to connect scholars with engaged citizens through the Teach-Out model.

View the recorded livestream conversation from the “Understanding Impeachment Teach-Out” below.

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