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Considerations for planning your teaching

If you're unsure about choosing between live (synchronous) and asynchronous teaching approaches, check out the the Basics of Teaching Online page.

 

In this section:

Enhancing your live (synchronous) teaching

Key Points

  • Creating discrete learning segments for live teaching
  • Didactic exercises - sensemaking questions / short quizzes
  • Creative use of the online chat box
  • Using virtual breakout groups for small-group discussions

There are several things you can do to maximise the student experience of synchronous teaching. As we discussed above (‘Enhancing your asynchronous teaching’), you might consider dividing your teaching session into smaller segments (sometimes called ‘chunking’). Attention spans are shorter in online learning contexts, and so splitting your session into discrete ten- or fifteen-minute sections and constructing distinct learning segments, will make it easier for students to follow and remain engaged.

You may want to engage students after each segment. As we described above (‘Chunking your asynchronous teaching’), you could use questions at the beginning and / or end of each segment to ‘bookend’ them in ways which will hold students’ attention in a virtual setting and help them progress in the processing of the material you’re discussing. 

You may ask students to take a minute to reflect on each segment or to enter answers to your questions or their brief reflections into the chat box. You may give a short quiz or ask a sensemaking question, such as ‘How does today’s topic connect to what we discussed last time?’ in order to help students make connections. To give further focus to these activities, you could disseminate key questions or points prior to the session.

There are several ways to make creative use of the chat box during a live session by encouraging students to make comments, solve problems, pose questions, or answer your questions. This interactivity can be enhanced by providing students with a lecture or session outline, a set of questions or a few problems to think about ahead of time. Keep in mind, however, that it can be challenging and time consuming to follow chat box activity while you’re teaching. You may decide to check it only at designated times (in between chunked segments) and then to limit yourself to only one or two minutes of reading or responding live to students’ activity in the chat box.

Even if you are unable to engage or respond to every comment students enter into the chat box, it is good practice to copy its content post-session into a Word document and distribute it to students or post it alongside the session recording. Students usually find it helpful to see their peers’ questions, comments or attempts at problem solving. You might want to consider sharing your lecture notes with students or posting them as well alongside the recording of the session.

Most digital platforms include a function to create small breakout groups, which you can activate automatically. Assigning students to breakout groups is more likely to occur in classes and seminars rather than lectures. As the host of the discussion, you can dip in and out of small groups helping to facilitate their discussions, before bringing the whole group back together. In a digital environment, having students connect and work together is another way of cultivating a sense of presence with each other and with you. If you make regular use of breakout rooms, you will create a culture of interaction and co-working among your students.

Related information

Blending live (synchronous) and asynchronous

Key points

  • The benefits of combining pre-recorded and live teaching sessions
  • Creating a video library of key terms and concepts
  • Establishing discussion fora and encouraging student engagement

It is possible (and can be very beneficial) to combine live and pre-recorded modes of online teaching. You could post short, recorded teaching segments that students watch on their own and then follow that up with live sessions in which you further explore the material, facilitate interaction with students or guide them through an activity. For lectures, this approach would be similar to the practice of ‘flipped classrooms’, where students engage the material individually and then connect with the instructor to process it, ask questions about it or work through practical or applied exercises related to it.

Blending synchronous and asynchronous teaching is a particularly good strategy if there are fundamental concepts you need to explain and that students might want to refer back to for clarification. By pre-recording certain segments, you can design clear, succinct explanations, a video library of key concepts or terms. You might also consider continuing to use these videos after we return to in-person teaching. Pre-recording fundamental definitions or ideas can free you up to cover material in more depth in a live teaching session.

Another approach to blending synchronous and asynchronous teaching is to consider creating a discussion forum via Moodle or another type of text-based chat. You could pose questions and post problems to solve in this forum and ask students to respond or to describe how they approached a given problem. You could ask students to take turns looking after it or curating it – posing questions or problems themselves and summarising it during teaching sessions. This is yet another way of encouraging group work, fostering active student engagement and building an intellectual community with and among your students.

Blending pre-recorded, offline and live elements is a creative way to bring about different forms of engagement with students in your lectures, classes or seminars. It might be helpful to aim for a balance among different modes of engagement: base your choices on your assessment as to which mode best addresses specific learning objectives. Take into consideration that teaching – whether online or in person – must be inclusive. Try also to build in flexibility so that you and your students can adapt to changing circumstances in a straightforward and timely way.

Finally: recognise that splitting up the elements of your teaching into recorded, offline and live elements takes time and planning. This may be an approach you work towards and develop after you have had a chance to grow more familiar with online teaching and learning.

Asynchronous teaching

Key points

  • Tips for making an effective recording
  • Creating a clear narrative when recording teaching sessions
  • Ensuring your recorded teaching is accessible
  • Organising the online storage of your teaching session on Panopto

 

For some, though not all, the practice of pre-recording lectures or classes will be a completely new endeavour with seemingly no likeness to in-person teaching. In particular, speaking a lecture or teaching session into a laptop or a mobile device while seated in your home office or dining room is very different from presenting it in person to students and even somewhat different from presenting it live online.

Recording lectures for students to listen to at a future date has a podcast feel to it—while recording you will be speaking to an imagined audience and presenting ideas or uncovering problems/questions without the benefit of any kind of immediate feedback or even the opportunity to make eye contact with someone. This method can initially feel awkward or stilted, but it has a lot of creative potential. As with face-to-face teaching, all pre-recorded sessions must be accessible and inclusive.

To get started, identify the important learning objectives for your students, then develop a clear narrative to structure your teaching. Remember that attention spans are shorter online than in person and aim to pre-record elements which are no longer than 15 minutes: it may help to plan to address one learning outcome in each 15-minute element (see Chunking your asynchronous lecture). Once you have tightened up your narrative, aim for a conversational style of speaking, which will be engaging for your students to follow. Again, it can be helpful to imagine yourself actually speaking to your audience.

Obviously, when pre-recording you won’t be able to respond to verbal and nonverbal feedback from students. Some find that in the absence of an audience, they become prone to wordiness or over explaining a concept or idea. It helps to jot down some precise language to convey key points and it may be helpful to rehearse a few times before recording. Editing can become very time consuming and it’s worth putting some time instead into trying to get the recorded element right first time. Remember that your students are not expecting high production values, but pay attention to decent image quality, good sound quality and a clear narrative to your recorded elements.

For sound clarity, you might want to use headphones or a microphone if you have one. It is a good idea to test these devices before recording, as some microphones or headsets can produce an unpleasant tinny sound, which can be distracting. Aligning your spoken commentary with your slides usually does not require advanced technological knowledge, as most platforms automatically synchronize the voice and visual recordings.

Your Department or Faculty may have guidelines on how to store pre-recorded sessions. We strongly recommend uploading recordings to Panopto. This provides important accessibility features for disabled students. You can also use features in Panopto to help your students to engage actively with recorded content, including timings for each topic covered, so that students may anticipate the structure and direction of pre-recorded elements, or posting questions in the ‘discussion’ box, which also sits beside the video.

Related information

Chunking your asynchronous teaching

Key points

  • Recording in small segments ('chunking')
  • Didactic exercises - short quizzes / the one-minute paper
  • Organising the storage sit  for recorded segments
  • Combining pre-recording segments and interactive discussions

Attention spans are shorter in online learning contexts, lasting usually around fifteen minutes before a student begins to drop off or become distracted. Splitting a teaching session into discrete ten- or fifteen-minute sections, inserting pauses at logical stopping points or constructing distinct learning segments, will make it easier for students to follow and remain engaged. 

In organising the chunked segments, you may find it necessary to reduce your teaching goals and identify a few specific things you want students to learn or engage with. In an online learning environment, where students are compelled to learn through screens, sometimes the most effective teaching choice is to be succinct, abridging the content you would have taught in a face-to-face setting and where appropriate augmenting this with a reflective or collaborative activity.

To encourage richer student engagement, you may decide to frame each recorded segment around a question, and then conclude each segment by asking students to pause and think about their responses before starting the next recorded section. Depending on subject, you could end sections with a short quiz or a one-minute paper, where students take one minute to write an answer to a question or to write a description of the concept or material you’ve just presented. When you begin the next segment, you could briefly refer back to the important terms, concepts or ideas of the previous segment. Bookending the chunked segments of your lecture or classes in these ways will hold students’ attention in a virtual setting and help them progress in the processing or sensemaking of the material you’re discussing. Doing this may take some practice, and it may feel awkward or over-structured initially, but it will likely enhance your students’ learning experience. Disseminating key questions or points prior to a teaching session can be a valuable way to give further focus to these activities.

When uploading your recorded sessions to Panopto, you can provide further structure and clarity to your teaching by titling each section and drafting a brief description or an overarching question in order to add further framing around each section.

For classes and seminars, which typically involve more discussion and student interaction than lectures, the practice of pre-recording brief teaching segments can be an effective and creative way of moving your teaching online. Indeed, in these teaching contexts, combining asynchronous and synchronous modes of teaching is an approach many people find particularly appealing. You might consider posting short, recorded segments that students watch on their own and following that up with live sessions in which you further explore the material, facilitate interaction with students or guide them through an activity.

Related information

​Enhancing your asynchronous teaching

Key points

  • Making a recorded segment dynamic
  • Using didactic exercises in an asynchronous session
  • Experimenting with short films

If you have more time to plan and develop your pre-recorded sessions, there are several things you can do to help your students learn more effectively from them.

For example, you might want to consider the dynamic elements you could add to the recording. Students generally prefer to see their instructors so enabling your webcam for all or parts of your recording is helpful, though this might take some practice if you also intend to use a whiteboard.

Designing didactic exercises, such as the ones described in the previous section —brief quizzes, one-minute papers, short questions to consider—will also encourage your students to engage in active listening. You could follow up each chunked segment with a quiz or brief writing exercise, which you can then refer to or review briefly in the next recorded section.

There is a lot of potential for experimentation with asynchronous teaching and using didactic exercises can be a particularly creative way to interweave the theoretical and applied elements of the material you’re covering and to encourage students to engage actively in their learning.

If you have time to further develop your online teaching, you may be interested in experimenting with short films to succinctly or imaginatively cover a topic, idea or concept. White board animation software or PowerPoint video editing have tools for making brief animations and films. These tools can be used in a variety of creative ways—explaining key concepts in your discipline, modelling modes of thinking or enquiry in your field, or using an analogy to illustrate a difficult concept. There are numerous possibilities. To add interactivity to short films (or to any pre-recorded teaching elements), you could prompt students with a question before they view the videos.

Related information

​Live (synchronous) teaching

Key points

  • The basics of teaching via live broadcast
  • Tips for connecting with students in live online sessions
  • Reflecting on students' experience of online teaching
  • Recording live teaching and making it accessible and available to students

Teaching via live broadcast, synchronously, may seem like the most straightforward way to do online education as it replicates several key elements of an in-person session: instructor and students are together in a live meeting and interaction with and among students can take place in real time. As the instructor, and thus the host of the session, you activate the meeting, admit the attendees into it, and simply begin broadcasting. You can make yourself visible to students via webcam and share your screen or whiteboard throughout the lecture, adding to the dynamism of the experience.

Most classes and seminars will involve ‘live teaching’. Some Departments and Faculties have specified arrangements for lectures; for others, this may be a choice for lecturers. Keep in mind that teaching online is not a simple process of transferring face-to-face teaching approaches to a virtual venue. In general, a more deliberate structure may be required, using learning objectives as structuring principles.

Taking time in advance to share the session’s learning objectives with students – identifying what you think your students should learn and be able to do (for example, focusing on certain problem-solving abilities, or their capacity for interpretation or critical evaluation) – will help you to make the most efficient use of the time spent in a live session.

Try also to consider ways of building in interaction between students or of fostering a sense of community (see Basics of teaching online). For example, you might encourage students to enter any questions or comments they might have in the chat box a few minutes prior to commencing a teaching session. Depending on the number of students attending, you might ask those who wish to do so to activate their webcams for a few minutes in the beginning in order to greet them, perhaps review the aims of the session or how it links to previous sessions, or to engage the questions and comments they may have entered into the chat box. You may try doing something similar at the end of sessions. Establishing a pattern of these brief moments of connecting with students can help cultivate in the online learning experience the feeling of being together and engaging in a common endeavour which is automatically built into the in-person experience when you’re in the same room with students.

During the disrupted period, if you teach synchronously, you will need to make accommodations for students who are unable to follow the session at the designated time. All live lectures must be recorded and subsequently made available to students. Disabled students with permission to record face-to-face teaching must be permitted to record online seminars or classes, to help to improve their learning. Students who wish to record a seminar or class should indicate this at the start of (or in advance of) the session. You should then ask whether the others are in agreement and confirm that the recording would be purely for study purposes and would not be posted online. 

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