Online Synchronous Teaching

When students participate over the internet in regularly scheduled class meetings, discussion and small group interactions needs to be structured so that they feel as included and engaged as they would if they were students in a classroom. In other words, teachers should follow the Slow Ed Tech guideline of “modeling computer use on best practices to ensure learning without computers.” Appropriate practices include:

  • Structured turn-taking: Instead of students worrying about how and when to insert themselves in to discussion, use the Dialogue Process guideline: “When you think you have something to say,... put your initials into the online chat box to add your name to the queue. Then go back to listening... After you have a turn talking,... call on the next person in the chat queue.” Having turn-taking administer itself has two virtues: the student's focus is on listening, not getting a turn; and the instructor can be more a participant and less a traffic policeperson or authority that students are waiting to hear the final word from.
  • Acknowledging the presence and voices of all who are participating, e.g., by starting any session with Check-In and ending with a Closing Circle.
  • Structured feedback on presentations: Instead of making time for a short Q&A after each in-class presentation, every student can use an online form to submit Plus-Delta Feedback, which is them assembled by the instructor and distributed to the presenters. The range of appreciation and deltas diminishes the student's sense that it is the instructor who dictates what needs improving.
  • Structured peer commentary on written work: A sense of belonging to a learning community, which may be taken for granted in the classroom, can be enhanced by a routine of students providing comments on each other's initial submissions, which are then revised in response to peer and instructor comments. If installments are posted in a place where other class-members can view them, students can choose who to comment on. Alternatively, the instructor can pair up students and forward their initial submissions by email as soon as they come in.
  • Model and foster Online Mindfulness.

    As the items above indicate, the adjustments for synchronous online teaching suggest worthwhile changes in classroom teaching (whether those classes bring in students from a distance or not). Some unplanned developments may be harder to translate back to classes, e.g., when infantcare falls through for online students, they do not have to skip class but can have their babies with them, keeping the background sounds muted when they are not talking.