Tips and tricks for synchronous sessions

Tips and Tricks for Synchronous and Videoconferencing Sessions

Hosting a videoconference or live session can feel daunting at first. Even if you are completely comfortable in front of a class, having to be on camera feels different for some people.

Before you start:

  • Have at least one test run with the technology. Synchronous tools like BlueJeans can feel intimidating because it’s an additional layer of technology. Try logging into an online room at least once before you try it live. If you can, invite a colleague, friend, or family member into the videoconference room so you can practice; they can help you feel more confident that your microphone is working slides are visible, and your camera is in a good spot.
  • Make sure your home studio is prepared. Have a microphone, make sure your camera is centered. Find a spot to minimized extraneous noises.
  • Have an agenda for your synchronous session and share it with the class. The addition of technology may feel like just one more thing to have to worry about. Take that pressure off by setting clear goals for the call, topics and approximate times for each. It will help you stay focused and students will stay more engaged. The best sessions are planned.
  • Open your room at least 10 minutes ahead of time, if possible. Your students may be nervous about trying to access the space as well. Opening the conference room early allows them to test their own technology. You don’t have to have your camera on – share your screen with a slide that informs students of what is to come.

During the session:

  • Make sure you hit record! You will want to capture this session for students who were not able to attend.
  • Remind students of videoconferencing etiquette. Students should put themselves on mute, have a protocol for answering questions, understand how the chat will be used.
  • Having students’ videos on can be great, but it also takes up a lot of bandwidth. Consider asking students to “mute” their video and audio until they have the floor in the session.
  • If you are giving a presentation and using notes, try to have them close to the camera. You want your eyes to be looking at the camera as much as possible, and looking down to read your notes may be distracting.
  • If taking questions via the chat window, it is a good practice to restate the question aloud, otherwise those viewing the recording may not know what question was asked.
  • If technology fails, don’t panic. It’s okay.

After the session:

  • Post the recording of your videoconference for students to view later.

References & Resources

Canvas: Using Canvas conferences

UM ITS: Getting started with Blue Jeans

Setting up your home studio

 

Vancouver Island University: Tips for teaching via videoconference

University of Oregon: Tips for teaching with videoconference systems

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Setting up a home studio office

Setting Up a Home Office for Online Learning

What you will be able to do after this section:

  • Translate appropriate studio preparations to your own home or space
  • Recognize ways to strengthen telecommunication delivery

Just as you would set up your face-to-face classroom prior to the start of each class, it is equally important to do the same for you online class. Appearance, sound, and visual aspects of video correspondence significantly impact how information is delivered and received.

Sound
Lighting
Webcams and Framing
Sound

Sound

When preparing your home studio or office for online teaching, take the time to explore the ways in which sound carries in your space. A common issue that must be mitigated is reverberation, or echo. It is important to reduce reverberation as much as possible to ensure that your voice is clear to your students. One tactic for lessening the echo in your space is to use soft fabrics, such as towels or blankets. Since hard surfaces such as walls, floors, and windows enhance reverberation, consider covering them with heavy curtains, rugs, and quilts. These softer materials will absorb the sound and provide better acoustics for your space.

Many computers and laptops are enabled with built-in microphones, though you may use a headset or lavalier microphone. Consider where the microphone is placed and how it may impact your delivery. Best practice for microphone placement is at least 12” from the mouth and out of camera view. This position prevents the face from being blocked and avoids breath noise interference. Keep an eye out for unwanted noise such as keyboard sounds, rubbing the microphone cable, or banging on the desk area. If it’s possible, reduce outside noises such as HVAC or other mechanical sounds, as they create distractions from your video. Other distracting noises can be created by phones, fans, or house pets as well. Plan to test these variables prior to your official recording session.

Lastly, there are several benefits to using headphones while you record. Your participants may be using headphones to listen in, so it is recommended that you review a sample recording as a sound check with them as well. Consider using headphones or earbuds throughout your session to ensure you can successfully hear what participants are saying. Remember that traditional computer speakers tend to ruin sound by bleeding noise into the microphone.

Lighting

Lighting

Have you ever taken a picture and it came out too dark or washed out? This is all due to light exposure! To prevent your face from showing up too dark on camera, avoid sitting with a bright light or window behind you. Since the backlight is typically brighter than your face, it can create shadows and reduce the appearance of light from the eyes. If you are interested in learning more technical tips on temperatures of light and production, check out “How to Shoot Professional Video Interviews”. 

Webcams and Framing

Webcams and framing

Setting the scene is vital to a successful video. Body location and perspective can dramatically change how the video is received by the audience.  While you probably don’t want all your videos to be a talking head, we all want to look our best onscreen. Start by looking at the position of your computer’s camera. Being too close to the camera can feel like an invasion of personal space for viewers. If you are using a laptop, perhaps try propping the computer up on a couple of books to align the camera with your eyes. Take note of how much space is around your head as well. Extra space can make a person look very short, while cutting off part of the head can give the illusion of cramped space. One last step is determining a background. The goal of a great background is to give depth to the video without distracting from the speaker. Textures, shadows, and plants can all be used rather than flat backdrops. However, be careful of what types of objects you place behind you. Books, phones, art, and other detailed items will have the learners’ focus instead of the course content. 

Practical Tips

Before you start video taping with a camera, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I centered on the screen?
  • Are my eyes level with the camera?
  • Do I notice any background distractions?
  • Am I too close or too far from the camera?

References and Resources

Resources

UM ITS: Using BlueJeans for videoconferencing

Epiphan Video: 5 steps to create the ultimate lecture recording studio

References

Mader, Cheryl, & Ming, Kavin. (2015). Videoconferencing: A new opportunity to facilitate learning. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 88(4), 109–116. Original Articles, Routledge.

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Introduction to Communication Tools

Online Now: Introduction to Communication Tools

What you will be able to do after this section:

  • Differentiate the uses and purposes of synchronous and asynchronous tools.
  • Identify the benefits and limitations of each communication method.

Within all disciplines, we develop and utilize tools that can make our lives easier. Some tools can allow tasks to be completed more efficiently, while others may assist in fostering meaningful conversation. The online classroom is just as well-equipped for these needs. There are a variety of tools available that can enhance the learning and teaching processes, so it is important to explore what the learning platform has to offer.

While you may think about what you are going to say in a classroom, you may not take into consideration the length of time it will take for the class to process it.. In a face-to-face classroom, a lot of our communication with students happens at the same time, in the same place. You may be accustomed to holding full class discussions, where the students can participate all together in real-time.. In contrast, if you were to record a lecture, learners might watch the video at a time that is most convenient for each individual student. Therefore, it is imperative to consider how communication time frames shift in the online classroom.

Much of the process of learning is rooted in communication. As the instructor, you communicate to students, either in a lecture or facilitation. You also have less formal communications, perhaps through one-on-one interaction with students, answering questions in office hours, emails, or perhaps announcements in a learning management system.

In an online environment, communication can feel more complex due to the many possible tools and functions of communication technology available in the online space. Generally, when we talk about interaction in online environments, we talk about whether those communications are synchronous (everyone is on and participating at the same time) or asynchronous (participation is generally bounded by time, but not necessarily at the same time).

Which is the right tool for me?

Neither asynchronous communication or synchronous communication is the “right” tool for learning. The tool itself does not directly impact learning, rather it is the design of the learning experience and method of instruction that really matters. Remember, the point of communication is to bridge the gap from learner to the classroom community. Some tools are more adept at certain tasks than others, so it is important to weigh the advantages and challenges of both synchronous and asynchronous communication tools.

Synchronous Tools:

Good for: quickly building community, answering questions quickly, small group work, students who are all in the same time zone, continuity of a “typical” class.

Challeges: Learners with time constraints or different time zones can’t always participate, learners who depend on extra time for writing/reflection struggle with the syncronous nature, need to build social etiquette.

Types of tools: Instant messenger/chat (Google hangouts), Video conferencing (Zoom, Blue Jeans), Slack

Asynchronous Tools:

Good for: Developing more thoughtful and reflective answers, students who may not be comfortable speaking, geographically dispersed populations or adult learners who may struggle to be able to be online at the same time

Challenges: Students lack immediate feedback, careful moderation is needed to make sure all students participate, tends to be a lot of text which can be overwhelming

Tools used: Email, discussion boards (Canvas, Coursera, Piazza), Slack, annotation tools (Perusall), blogs, wikis.

Practical Tips

  • Think strategically about your course goals and learning objectives before choosing communication tools, particularly your first time teaching or designing a course. Sometimes more tools for communication only breeds confusion, so try to limit your choices to a select couple tools
  • Help students understand the logic behind which communication tools you are planning to use. For example:
    • Email will be used for personal communication with the instructor, as well as weekly updates about the class
    • The discussion tool will be used for weekly topic discussions
    • The web conferencing tool Zoom will be used for learner’s bi-weekly small group synch chats, and for office hours.
  • Become familiar with the technologies that you plan to use. There will most likely be instances in which students need troubleshooting advice or things do not go according to plan. Deeply explore your tools and become proficient in their usage.

References & Resources

University of Michigan

CRLT: Teaching and learning with Piazza

Other Resources

Research

Harman, K. & Koohang, A. (2005). Discussion board: A learning object. Interdisciplinary Journal of E-Learning and Learning Objects, 1(1), 67-77. Informing Science Institute. Retrieved December 9, 2019 from https://www.learntechlib.org/p/44867/.

Kannan, J. (2017). Fostering a Community of Inquiry using the Flipgrid video response system – a Pedagogical Inquiry. 1–6.

Osborne, D. M., Byrne, J. H., Massey, D. L., & Johnston, A. N. B. (2018). Use of online asynchronous discussion boards to engage students, enhance critical thinking, and foster staff-student/student-student collaboration: A mixed method study. Nurse Education Today, 70, 40–46. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.NEDT.2018.08.014

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