Know when synchronous activities are appropriate

It is known from working with students in online environments that the opportunity to meet with teachers and other learners in real time is highly valued by learners, and probably by teachers too! However, there are a number of caveats when considering whether synchronous activities are appropriate. These include internet access, keeping the class active, use of platform tools, facilitation of the online class sessions and encouragement of peer-to-peer interaction.

Why would a teacher use this approach/tool, and link to the 4C features

By synchronous we mean working or learning together at the same time. In face-to-face learning this might refer to a lecture in a lecture theatre, labwork or workshop in which staff and students are in the same room at the same time. In the online learning world, chat rooms and online “live” seminars are examples of synchronous communication. Learning from synchronous communication is enhanced because real-time conversations allow people to explore topics, whether through writing or talking.

Given the move online from face-to-face teaching, teachers will need to think through how and when they convene online synchronous activities, which may replicate activities normally conducted in the face-to-face environment. Synchronous activity supports community building and, if planned in the context of other asynchronous activities, creates a coherent learning experience.

How to use this approach/tool

When we teach online, our main role is that of facilitator. An online synchronous class is not the place to introduce new or difficult conceptual knowledge, but offers possibilities to explore what is important for student learning in your online module, course and programme. Ideally, any content should be available in other asynchronous formats for students who are unable to access a synchronous session or wish to further consolidate their learning.

The teachers and the supporting programme team needs to feel confident and competent with the use of the available platforms for synchronous online learning. Always undertake a practice run of anything you are planning to deliver synchronously and estimate how long it takes. If the programme team requires training, then please ask your Faculty DMELD in the first instance.

Password-protect the synchronous classrooms and never share links publicly. Links can be posted in Moodle.

Welcome students as they enter your online classroom to make them feel at home. Encourage them to announce their arrival by muting their microphone and posting in the Chat channel. Invite the students to identify what they would like to achieve during the synchronous session. Introduce the platform tools the students need to use in order to participate and allow time for practice. Do not move on until everyone feels comfortable.

If you are teaching a large class it may be helpful to co-teach with a colleague or a teaching assistant so that the chat channel may be monitored and facilitated. Some synchronous platforms, e.g. Zoom, have break-out facilities. These may be helpful for group work and encouraging peer-to-peer interaction. Ensure the session is recorded and made available in bite-size chunks of up to 10 minutes. Ensure students are aware that it will be recorded so they may wish to turn off their cameras and remind them to all mute their mics.

The planned synchronous sessions for a unit of study should be available on the Student Study Plan and the Programme Study Map and need to be coherent throughout the module and programme.

Inclusivity and Accessibility review

Ensure all relevant activities are added to the Student Study Plan for the module in question.

All online resources should be compatible with the UK Digital Accessibility Standards 2020. See Creating Digitally Accessible Learning and Teaching Materials Brookes Moodle course.

Use the Blackboard Ally tool to help check the accessibility of the content you have prepared (available within Moodle late July - early August 2020).


  • Marion Waite