Distance Learning | School of Professional Studies | Northwestern University

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How-To Guide: Sync Session Tips

Overview

All SPS online courses should include at least one sync session, a web conference in which all students are given the opportunity to be online at the same time as the instructor. Most courses host a session in the first week of class to allow students to introduce themselves and go over the syllabus and instructor expectations for the class. Other common times to host a session are a final exam or project review, about a week before any major assignment is due, or a mid-course check in. SPS currently supports Blue Jeans and WebEx for web conferencing. The majority of classes use Blue Jeans, which is integrated automatically into each Canvas course site.

All sync sessions in SPS courses are optional for students, meaning students cannot be graded on the basis of attendance or participation. The sessions should always be recorded so anyone who cannot attend can review it at their convenience.

This guide contains tips for making the best use of the limited synchronous time in your course.

1. Plan ahead.

Prior to the meeting, develop an agenda. What do you want to accomplish during the meeting, how much time will it take, and what technology will you need to use? Once you’ve figured out these three things, you are ready to decide which web conferencing platform to use and test it to ensure that you are able to do all of the things you want to do.

2. Communicate your expectations to students.

Across courses, faculty have different expectations for student participation in sync sessions. Some faculty prefer that students submit any questions or comments using the text chat tool, while others prefer to have all of their students connect via audio and video so the whole class can see each other. Prior to the session, send an announcement or e-mail to your students including your agenda and instructions for their participation. Include instructions on how to test the web conferencing technology.

You can also assign students who plan to attend the session some preparation activities. Should they come prepared with questions for your guest speaker, or ensure that they’ve completed a specific reading prior to the session? Students who won’t be able to attend the live session can submit questions based on the agenda ahead of time so you can ensure you cover them during the session.

3. Arrive early to test the technology.

Log on to the session about 15 minutes prior to the start time, and let your students know you’ll be doing this. Test your audio, video and screen sharing functionality. If you run into any issues, contact Blue Jeans support or WebEx support.

4. Thoughtfully select interactive activities.

Students can watch lectures on their own time. Sync sessions provide the opportunity for students to interact with each other and their instructor in real time. Some activities that fit well into sync sessions are:

  • Create a list of questions based on the week’s discussion boards and ask students to have a real-time conversation about them.
  • Allow students to work collaboratively to solve a problem - you can even allow students to take control of your screen to manipulate data.
  • Invite a guest speaker to interact with your students. If the guest speaker is comfortable, they can record a video that students can watch ahead of time so they can spend the synchronous time in a question and answer session.
  • Walk students through a process by sharing and annotating your screen and answering questions as they arise. 

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