Leveraging technology to support teaching and learning

Strategies for Providing Feedback in Online Courses

The video below is from The Center

Moderator Michelle Pacansky-Brock discusses the power of the human voice (depth, warmth, and intonation) with two faculty who give feedback to their own students using video and voice.  They share their own processes for giving feedback in this manner.

Hangout Archive from: The Center

  •  Use Audio and Video Feedback. Using voice and video when grading assignments humanizes the process and allows students to “hear” the intent of the message and better understand the feedback. 
  • Communicate clear expectations. (the assignments, the weight each assignment carries, due dates, and an indication of evaluation criteria for the course as well as for each assignment is important to show up front.)
  • Office Hours. (maintain and communicate your office hours for all students not just face-to-face students)
  • The 48 hour rule. (Return graded assignments to students’ personal mailboxes within 48 hours. Provide substantive critique, comment, and/or evaluation for work submitted by individual students or groups, referring to additional sources for supplementary information where appropriate. Feedback on grades must be PRIVATE communication.)
  • Call out Critical Thinkers. Discussion posts that demonstrate critical thinking and meet the expectations for a substantive post should be applauded publicly.  

Tips adapted from: http://www.ion.uillinois.edu/resources/tutorials/communication/feedback.asp and http://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/speaking-to-students-with-audio-feedback-in-online-courses/

Faculty Satisfaction Teaching Fully Online Courses

Posted July 5, 2013 on The Faculty Commons:

The demand for online courses has increased dramatically–so has the number of faculty teaching online. Online pedagogy has evolved over a short period of time, creating challenges with changing delivery methods, training, support, and course development. As faculty reflect on their experiences, are they satisfied teaching in the online format? Are they satisfied with the student learning achieved? Do the benefits of online learning, like flexibility and accessibility, outweigh the obstacles?

Whitney Kilgore, vice president of academic services at Academic Partnerships, conducted research to answer theses questions. Kilgore explored factors grouped into three categories: student, faculty, and institutional. The hypothesis stated that based on previous research faculty members are satisfied with teaching and with student learning outcomes in fully online courses.

Survey says? Yes—overall, faculty are satisfied with teaching online. Check out the infographic to better understand how faculty responded to the research survey.

Share your thoughts in the comments section! Do the survey results align with your experiences teaching online? In which areas of online teaching are you most satisfied, and which areas are more challenging? (Click infographic to enlarge.)


Humanizing Online Instruction

Humanizing Online Instruction:

An analysis of the literature regarding

the Community of Inquiry


Ice, P., Curtis, R., Phillips, P. & Wells, J. (2007). Using Asynchronous Audio Feedback to Enhance Teaching Presence and Students’ Sense of Community. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11(2), 3-25.

In this article, Ice et al. (2007) state student satisfaction is increased due to audio feedback as opposed to text feedback. The study consisted of a total of 27 graduate students. The researchers found that students were three times more likely to incorporate audio feedback from their instructor rather than text feedback. Not only did students prefer audio feedback they also indicated that they would use this characteristic as a deciding factor for taking future online courses. Students found that audio feedback was helpful in understanding nuances and decreased social distance. From the instructors’ perspective using audio feedback reduced time by 75% and it improved the quality of feedback by 255%. This technique also increased retention and helped facilitate deeper learning on content.


Akyol, Z,, & Garrison, D.R. (n.d.). The Development of a Community of Inquiry over Time in an Online Course: Understanding the Progression and Integration of Social, Cognitive, and Teaching Presence. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 12(3-4), 3-22. Retrieved from http://sloanconsortium.org/system/files/v11n1_8garrison.pdf

Akyol and Garrison (n.d.) focused on how social, cognitive, and teaching presence evolved over time, as well as how these three presences influenced each other. The study sample was 16 graduate students. While the majority of the course was completely online and asynchronous, the instructor did host synchronous office hours and consisted of one synchronous Elluminate meeting. During this Elluminate meeting students were given the opportunity to ask questions in regards to course content and process. Akyol and Garrison generated transcripts based on the nine weekly discussion posts. In the coding process, social presence was coded on “affective expression, open communication, and group cohesion”. Cognitive presence was coded on “the triggering event, exploration, integration, and resolution.” “Teaching presence was coded for design and organization, facilitating discourse, and direct instruction” (p. 10). Akyol and Garrison found that students reported higher teaching presence and claimed that cognitive presence increased their level of their perceived learning. In addition, the research shows that affective expression decreased over the three time periods; however, group cohesion increased as affective expression decreased. Students also revealed a higher rate of integration contributions (using other resources to express and support their statements) than exploration. In addition, this study reified pervious research, it found “positive relationships between teaching presence and cognitive presence, teaching presence and perceived learning, teaching presence and satisfaction…[However,] compared to teaching presence, cognitive presence was found to be a more influential factor on students’ learning” (p.17).
Ke, F. (2010). Examining online teaching, cognitive, and social presence of adult students. Computers & Education, 55, 808-820, doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2010.03.013.

Using mixed methodology with a study sample of 10 online courses, Ke (2010) found that instructors that provided clear expectations and were flexible with assignment due dates were perceived by students to be more caring and approachable. Students found individual assignments to be more effective than group assignments. According to students, the top two desirable characteristics of online instructors are social presence and individual student attention. Furthermore, Ke (2010) found that instructor self-disclosure coupled with discussion post feedback on individual student’s posts strengthened the sense of connection and motivated students. Synchronous conference calls received mixed feelings in regards to effectiveness and had low attendance. Based on this research, instructors should stay away from synchronous sessions, provided feedback timeline, and create discussion boards that consist of student-instructor, student-student, and student-content interaction. Backing up other research, Ke found that high online presences and a sense of strong community were positively correlated with learning satisfaction.


Brinthaupt, T.M., Fisher, L.S., Gardner, J.G., Raffo, D.M., & Woodard, J.B. (2011). What the best online teachers should do. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7 (4), 515-524. Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol7no4/brinthaupt_1211.htm.

Brinthaupt et al conducted an analysis based on Ken Bain’s book “What the Best Colleges Teachers Do”. Brinthaupt et al concentrate on outlining behaviors and examples of how an online teacher can foster student engagement, stimulate intellectual development, and build rapport with students. Granszol and Grandzol (2006) argue that the quality and quantity of interactions among peers and faculty create a sense of community and fosters student engagement. Brinthaupt et al point out that student-student interaction based on quality and quantity correlate to student success. In addition, scholars highlight that lecturing should not be the only mode used as a teaching strategy because it increases learner isolation. To facilitate effective and desirable student engagement scholars recommend use of humor, multimedia (videos, podcasts, etc), blogs, and discussion forums. Brinthaupt et al. support Bain’s assumption that the best teachers explain their teaching philosophy and learning opportunities which ultimately helps the student “get to know” the instructor. Therefore, they recommend an introduction instructor video, presenting assignments as learning opportunities as opposed to course requirements, creating small group discussions and group projects. Posing provocative questions is key for stimulating intellectual development. It is recommended that these question be created by students and be posted in a discussion board. Lastly, posing interesting and creating interactive questions is ideal. For building rapport with students, it is recommended that instructors get to know their students by outlining a “getting started” section in the course in which the student is given the opportunity to self-disclose and learn about the instructor. The main instructor characteristic needed to build student rapport is flexibility. Overall, Brinthaupt et al reveal how different methodologies, techniques, and technologies can help create an ideal student learning environment and experience.


Nagel, L., & Kotze, T. (2010). Supersizing e-learning: What a COI survey reveals about teaching presence in a large online class. Internet and Higher Education, (13), 45-51.

Nagel and Kotze highlight the peer review success in the 2009 course, which consisted of an 87% course completion rate in a cohort of 186 students. This study consisted of a mixed methodology, qualitative and quantitative. This study revealed that consistency in course design is essential for creating a positive online experience for the student. Nagel and Kotze debunk the myth of an ideal class size and argue that an effective and desirable online learning experience is not something that will occur in the future but rather is already occurring. Due to the large number of students, the instructor created a document checker template that was used by 67% of the class. A peer review process was an addition to the previous course due to instructor time constraints. Student perceived the peer reviews as positive. In this investigation, three themes emerged based on student’s least favorite thing about the peer reveals; which were high feedback expectations, higher cognitive review feedback, and dissatisfaction with the lack of grade association to the peer review assignment. In addition, the peer reviews increased cognitive presence and a sense of student belonging.


Hostetter, C., & Busch, M. (2013). Community matters: Social presence and learning outcomes. Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 13 (1), 11-86. Retrieved from http://josotl.indiana.edu/article/views/3268/3623

Hostetter and Busch examine the correlation between student’s learning outcome and social presence. They define social presence as degree to which an individual is perceived as a real person through mediated communication. The study sample consisted of 121 participants in completing a survey on social presence. In addition, an analysis was conducted on the student’s discussion posts. The analysis revealed that students found the discussion forums to help them create a feeling of belonging and community. The students that had the highest amount of social presence also had the highest scores on the Classroom Assessment Technique (p. 82). The research results reveal that students with high social presence did better on assessments. Ultimately, the researchers found that social presence increased student performance and argued it can be a helpful tool for retention purposes, as well as help build a sense of community.


Broup, J., West, R., & Graham, C. (2011). Improving online social presence through asynchronous video. Internet and Higher Education, (15), 195-203.

Broup, West, and Graham examined three courses to investigate if video-based strategies such as voice thread and YouTube influenced student perception of the instructors’ social presence, their perceptions social presence and their own. One of the instructors in this study used voice thread to facilitate student-instructor interaction, which consisted of a weekly topic discussion. The second instructor used VoiceThread to for instructor to small group interaction. The instructor used VoiceThread to explain assignments to students, facilitate small group discussion on course topics and to provide feedback to the completed projects. The third instructor used YouTube to give class announcements, introduce weekly assignments, and pose questions to student. This instructor required students to respond with videos. The results revealed that many students found the videos diminished the distance between them and their instructors. They found the videos were natural and helped clear up confusion on content. Students also found that instructor self-disclosure and fidelity made them feel like they “knew” the instructor. Furthermore, students attributed the videos to their feeling of closeness and sense of commitment to their instructors. Some student found the asynchronous videos to have some disadvantages because other students did not see their videos due to the assignment only required posting a video once a week. This found that this requirement of posting only once a week limited the possibility for having an extended conversation. Many students commented on the ability to see personality and learn about their peers’ background due to the asynchronous videos. Researchers found that some students did not feel connected to other students due to students used text instead of video, lack of emotional expression present in postings, and lack of student feedback or viewing of other students’ videos. The researchers advocate for the ability to have extended threaded conversations to help facilitate student-student and student-instructor interactions. In addition, they advocate for further research to be done on student performance as opposed to student perception.


Dunlap, J.C. & Lowenthal, P.R. (2009). Tweeting the night away: Using Twitter to enhance social presence. Journal of Information Systems Education, 20 (2).

Dunlap and Lowenthal (2009) argue that Twitter is an effective and desirable way to enhance social presence. The researchers state that Twitter allowed students to present themselves as “real people”. While Dunlap and Lowenthal did not make it a class requirement to participate in tweeting, they found that students used Twitter for multiple purposes. Through Twitter the instructors and students were able to collaborate, brainstorm, solve problems, and create experiences. According to Dunlap and Lowenthal Twitter brings the following benefits to an online learning environment: it helps address student issues in a timely manner; it forces the participants to write concisely. Furthermore, due to Twitter being an open community, it influenced students to be thoughtful and sensitive to their audience. Because Twitter consists of a professional community, students were able to discuss and get feedback from textbook authors. Students were given support and resources that facilitated informal learning which they incorporated into their coursework. In addition, Twitter broke the bounds of a LMS structure and extended duration time for student-student as well as student-instructor interaction. Time consuming, additive and promotion of bad grammar are the drawbacks that the researchers outline. Dunlap and Lowenthal provide five guidelines for using Twitter in the classroom. The first guideline is the instructor should establish how using Twitter is helpful and relevant to the student. Second, the instructor must articulate clear student participation expectations. Third, the instructor should model effective Twitter use and be an active participant. Four, the instructor should encourage students to use information and resources provided in Twitter interactions into their coursework. The fifth guideline advocates for instructors to continue using twitter after the course is completed to achieve a desirable level of social presence as well as creating future interaction with past students.

Networked Learning about Analytics

A conversation with Sandeep Jayaprakash…

A few weeks ago I reached out to Sandeep Jayaprakash in order to connect and learn more about the work that he has been doing in the field of learning analytics.  Today, we met via Google Hangout and he shared his project with me.

The learning analytics project that we discussed was the early alert system that was developed at Marist College and this work was published in the inaugural issues of the Journal of Learning Analytics which is published by SoLAR out of Athabasca University in Canada.  Early Alert of Academically At-Risk Students.

The goal of this open source learning analytics project was to build upon the original framework proposed by SoLAR in 2011.

Learning Analytics

Sandeep explained that there are several agencies that are working to develop standards for data compliance SoLAR is one of these agencies, as well as IMS Global, and ADL (through the TIN Can API or Experience API). Once there are data standards across systems, much like the banking industry or medical records then the data mining will be much more standardized rather than customized.

The project takes a look at a wide range of data dimensions (trends and patterns) regarding learning.  The software is quite complex and can handle many complex tasks starting with extraction, transformation and analysis during which point is handles missing values. Then using matching learning the data mining looks for correlations after being trained using historical data and becomes “smarter” the more data it churns.  The final output categorizes the learners into levels of high, medium and low risk of failure.

After building the model to be ideal for Marist College, they tested the model using a couple of community colleges and a HBCU and found the model to be somewhat (65% – 80%) portable with modifications being necessary to improve the accuracy of the early alert system based upon the particular student population.

While there is still much work to be done this team is leading the charge on some very innovative thinking and it was my pleasure to talk with Sandeep.  I should note that Sandeep is a member of a larger project team and he continually reminded me that the his team is very talented.  This project was funded by an Educause and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant.


Jayaprakash, S. M., Moody, E. W., Lauría, E. J. M., Regan, J. R., & Baron, J. D. (2014). Early Alert of Academically At-Risk Students: An Open Source Analytics Initiative. Journal of Learning Analytics1(1), 6–47.

#DALMOOC – Day Zero

The weekend offered an opportunity to catch up on the Google Hangouts that occurred late last week. Both the designing DALMOOC video and the Introduction to DALMOOC video were very helpful in setting the stage for the course and what is to come over the next few weeks on edX and beyond.  If you haven’t watched either of these videos yet and want to join #DALMOOC, then I suggest that you start here: https://plus.google.com/events/cogu12ad55n2dhlqjvek5hb4ki0 with the Orientation to the course.  And, then take a little time to watch George Siemens and Matt Crosslin share how the MOOC was designed: https://plus.google.com/events/cuhu0le7sutfqbksg4opnglf1tg

I’m looking forward to learning more about Dragan Gasevic’s new tool ProSolo and to have time to explore and use the Visual Syllabus created by Matt Crosslin. Matt is creating some really fantastic new design standards that others will likely be utilizing in their future design work. Well done, #DALMOOC team it looks to be a great course.

Seriously? MOOCs again?

For those of you who reading this, please note that this is the topic of the week in my PhD course.

Is Sebastian Thrun on to something?

When thinking about the questions posed this week, I prefer to begin by talking about Udacity and Thrun’s aha moment.  I watched the news closely when Sebastian Thrun was quoted just over a year ago calling Udacity “a lousy product”.  There are two major elements of the Udacity shift that are very telling; (1) the learning outcomes are improved with coaches increasing completion rates from 10% to 60%, (2) They focus on project based learning and not video lectures.  There are two ways to participate, you can still access the courses for free, but for $150.00 per month you have access to a coach that will give you feedback on your assignments and review code that is written.

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 12.09.15 PM

Thrun has created an alternative path to education in a discipline (computer science) where the degree means less than the certifications and alternative credentials that demonstrate the ability to perform certain IT related tasks.

Why all the hype?

The MOOC Phenomenon began with the hypothesis of Connectivism as a learning theory for the digital age in 2005.  To test this theory, Siemens and Downes offered the first cMOOC or Connectivist MOOC called Connectivism and Connected Knowledge or CCK in 2008.  There is debate as to whether Connectivism is a learning theory of a pedagogical view, which is one reason that MOOCs have received attention from various scholars that have been involved in online education for some time. Fast forward to 2012 and the first xMOOC.  Why x?  See Rob Power’s post on this topic for more information, but suffice to say that it was too course like to be considered a MOOC by the creators of the MOOC.

In a recent Forbes article, Anant Argarwal mentions that edX is giving away their platform for free.  However, to join edX and offer MOOCs as an institution it costs an institution $750,000 and they have to agree to develop 4 MOOCs per year.  According to the report produced by Columbia Teacher’s College, the average MOOC costs approximately $250,000 to build.  So that means that an institution spends nearly Two Million dollars to offer 4 MOOCs on edX for free.  This begs the question, are we driving down the cost of an education or driving it up? 

There is an option of obtaining an honor certificate for free in most courses or an ID Verified certificate for around $90, which they refer to as a minimum contribution.  Will this equate to a return on investment for the universities who are involved? Is there another revenue option?  How is this spending sustainable?

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 12.44.42 PM

What does the future of MOOCs look like? 

I expect that we will continue to see MOOCs available and alternative models of MOOCs emerge. There will be more MOOCs created for K-12 educators as professional development opportunities and more universities will develop online programs and blended learning options that integrate MOOCs into instruction.  The MOOC will become a textbook replacement and a supplement to traditional education in both K-12 and higher ed.  Universities will offer credit for MOOCs and create pathways to tenure and promotion for faculty who develop and deliver them.


Deamicis, C. (2014, May 12). A Q&A with. Retrieved September 21, 2014, from http://pando.com/2014/05/12/a-qa-with-godfather-of-moocs-sebastian-thrun-after-he-disavowed-his-godchild/

Kanani, R. (2014, June 21). EdX CEO Anant Agarwal On The Future Of Online Learning. Retrieved September 21, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/rahimkanani/2014/06/21/edx-ceo-anant-agarwal-on-the-future-of-online-learning/

Hollands, F., Tirthali, D., (2014) MOOCs: Expectations and Reality Full Report, Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education Columbia University http://cbcse.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/MOOCs_Expectations_and_Reality.pdf

9 things educators can do to help retain online students

How do Faculty impact retention?

Retaining students means to ensure that students are ultimately successful in achieving their goals and the institution is successful in achieving their mission.  There are many things that will get in the way of student success and as a professor of online courses there are little things that you can do that go a long way.

Educators make a difference through their relationship with the student.  Demonstrating that you care about a student’s success goes a long way!

Here are 9 simple tips to increase the possibility of retaining your students online.

  1. Organize content by topic: Research shows that knowledge retention is enhanced when content is served up in manageable portions.
  2. Encourage Collaboration: Connected students are engaged learners.
  3. Instructor Presence: Try to spend some time with your online course every day. See what’s new with your students, and keep them updated.
  4. Maintain a strict class schedule: To-Do lists with due dates and timelines are effective. Don’t alter your plan.
  5. Develop rapport: Online communications should develop rapport with students and build peer relationships.
  6. Timely feedback: Encourage students to perform at their peak with constructive and timely feedback.
  7. Be available: Encourage students to e-mail you with any questions they have related to the course.
  8. Encourage Self Reflection: Students who are self directed and reflective are more likely to be retained.
  9. Student Peer Mentors: Empower students to facilitate discussions, monitor participation, peer review work, help other students with technical questions.


YOU MUST Create Compelling Instructional Video

Video is EVERYWHERE!  But is it any good?  What videos do you watch and find compelling?  Does production value matter?

Here are a few tips that you need to remember before producing video to add to your online course.

Rules of Thumb:

  1. Script it and Practice it
  2. Keep your video short (3-5 minutes)
  3. Relate the video to a specific instructional activity (assignment or assessment)
  4. Add only Audio or Visual elements that demystify content
  5. Production value matters when students are paying for the class

Create Compelling Instructional Videos

Use video strategically to explain key concepts, set expectations for assignments, tell students exactly what they need to do in your course, and of course to create a sense of instructor presence.

From research and practice we know that images or visual cues explain and amplify text which facilitates the recall of new knowledge and that using images to aid in learning assists with memory making.  Video can aid in motivating learners by bringing the content to life in an online course, it can validate knowledge and even explain or illustrate difficult concepts.

Try new tools to create video:

TouchCast – This tool is not for the novice video creator it is a more advanced tool with really AMAZING functionality.  And, they have taken the time to create a guide for educators.

Explain Everything – Tablet application for explaining everything.  If you own a tablet you simply must try this app.

WeVideo – collaborative video creation tool for laptop or mobile device.  Easy to use.

PowToon – Cartoon-ish animations made easy with drag and drop functionality.  Easy to use.

For more information visit:




4 Social Media Tools to Promote Connected Teaching and Learning

What social media tools should instructors use to engage students outside of the LMS?  Here are 4 simple examples of how to engage students using readily available and mobile friendly tools.


Having students blog about their learning is a great way to chronicle their experiences and reflect on the overall process.  The more students write the better writers they become.  One of my favorite bloggers: Stephen Downes has a blog titled Half an Hour which is how long he spends writing every day.  His recent post chronicles the last 19 years of blogging: http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2014/04/oldaily-over-years.html 

Blogs make thinking visible by allowing students to reflect on the course, lessons, activities and chronicle their experiences and connections to the content, their peers or instructors’ experiences. It is the connections to prior knowledge and to others that aid in the deeper understanding of new information.

Expanding visibility of your learning and thoughts connects learners to a professional Community of Practice.  Learners who are encouraged to share their blog posts with communities of practice may receive feedback from a larger audience than their peers and instructor.  This may aid in reflection or evolution of ideas into actionable items.

This student shares his concerns about blogging and how he overcame his hesitancy and fears about sharing his learning out on the open web.


Twitter is an effective and desirable way to enhance social presence. The researchers state that Twitter allowed students to present themselves as “real people”.  Through Twitter instructors and students are able to collaborate, brainstorm, solve problems, and create experiences.

Benefits of using Twitter:

  •  it helps address student issues in a timely manner; it forces the participants to write concisely.
  • due to Twitter being an open community, it influenced students to be thoughtful and sensitive to their audience.
  • because Twitter consists of a professional community, students were able to discuss and get feedback from textbook authors. s
  • students were given support and resources that facilitated informal learning which they incorporated into their coursework.
  • Twitter broke the bounds of an LMS structure and extended duration time for student- student as well as student-instructor interaction.
  1. The instructor should establish how using Twitter is helpful and relevant to the student.
  2. The instructor must articulate clear student participation expectations.
  3. The instructor should model effective Twitter use and be an active participant.
  4. The instructor should encourage students to use information and resources provided in Twitter interactions into their coursework.
  5. Instructors should continue using twitter after the course is completed to achieve a desirable level of social presence as well as creating future interaction with past students.

Dunlap, J.C. & Lowenthal, P.R. (2009). Tweeting the night away: Using Twitter to enhance social presence. Journal of Information Systems Education, 20 (2).

Google+Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 10.12.40 PM

While there are many ways to use Google+, there are a few worth highlighting:

  1. Circles: Create a community for your degree program so that students can be a part of the community during their time in the program.  A community could also be created for a course.  Many Massive Open Online Courses (like #ETMOOC) have used Google Communities as their “hub” location.
  2. Hangout: Live video streaming service that allows students to connect, instructors to hold synchronous office hours, and even allows for ScreenSharing.  Hangouts on air allow for not only broadcasting live to an open audience but the video can also be archived on YouTube for later viewing.
  3. Google Docs: This service has been around longer and may be more familiar but combine this with google hangouts and now students can collaborate on google docs in real time while talking through the project.
  4. For more ideas see: 31 ways to use Google+ in Higher Education


University Pages – This feature allows potential students and alumni to become connected and remain connected to their institution.

Relevant ePortfolio - Developing your LinkedIn profile will connect students to possible future employers.  This tool becomes a relevant ePortfolio tool.

Learn about Career Options – Exploring LinkedIn can give students insight into possible career options and the skills required to pursue certain career options.

Connect with Mentors and Colleagues – Expanding your connections may lead to job opportunities after graduation.

For more ideas on how to use LinkedIn in Higher Education: http://www.colourmylearning.com/2013/02/how-linkedin-works-for-education/ 

Asynchronous or Synchronous? Which do you prefer?

The battle between synchronous and “A”synchronous communication tools


This poll is closed, but you can see the results of a quick twitter poll on the use of synchronous sessions in online courses here: http://twtpoll.com/brv493cq58em9jx

When I consider my experiences as a student, I much prefer asynchronous communication tools.  This is not because I am an introvert, but rather due to my work schedule.  I work with international higher education faculty.  I teach them how to develop accelerated online courses and train them how to facilitate the teaching and learning process using technology.  Due to timezones, I am online with faculty on the other side of the planet at times when my classes are meeting online.  I have also had terrible experiences with synchronous sessions as an online student.  A terrible synchronous event is worse than a bad asynchronous course.  A student can muscle through the content in a poorly designed asynchronous course by asking questions of the instructor or other students.  But, when students are all forced to be online at the same time or face grading penalties and the experience does not meet expectations (value for their money spent on the course) then the course is better left to asynchronous tools.

It is true that synchronous learning decreases transactional distance if it is done well (Offir, 2008).  However, there are some important things that the instructor needs to understand in order for synchronous learning to improve the overall student experience.

The excellent synchronous online instructor does the following during the live event:

  1. establishes instructor presence.
  2. creates a sense of community in the course.
  3. listens to the students.
  4. holds students accountable for the work they are doing by using Socratic questioning techniques.
  5. comes to the synchronous class with an agenda and sticks to it.
  6. creates opportunities for breakout groups to work on tasks and come back to share (ex. jigsaw activity).
  7. does not change the meeting dates and times after they are set.
  8. gives students a voice so that it is not a one-way delivery of information (“he who teaches learns”).
  9. uses different features within the synchronous tool in order to keep students engaged like: polls, screensharing, note taking, breakout rooms (Martin & Deale, 2012)
    Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 6.20.39 PM

Synchronous teaching is more complicated than teaching asynchronously and requires different skill sets.  In order to be effective as a synchronous instructor you must have proficiencies in the tools, the content, and be confident presenting in such a format.  Bower 2011 defines the competencies required as: operational, interactional, managerial, and design competencies (p. 79).

With the right teaching techniques, the average grades of participants can prove to be significantly higher for students who experience synchronous events (Strang, 2012).  However, “deficiencies in synchronous collaboration competencies at best resulted in less efficient collaboration and learning” (Bower, 2011).  The real issue is that you can have the best tools in the world, but if you don’t know how to use them effectively then the tools are of little value.


Bower, M. (2011). Synchronous collaboration competencies in web‐conferencing environments–their impact on the learning process. Distance Education, 32(1), 63-83.

Martin, F., Parker, M., & Deale, D. (2012). Examining interactivity in synchronous virtual classrooms. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(3), 227-261. Retrieved from:http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/download/1174/2254

Offir, B., Lev, Y., & Bezalel, R. (2008). Surface and deep learning processes in distance education: Synchronous versus asynchronous systems. Computers & Education, 51(3), 1172-1183.

Strang, K. (2012). Skype Synchronous Interaction Effectiveness in a Quantitative Management Science Course. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 10(1), 3-23.

Originally posted: January 24, 2014 – Blog rebuilt: April 20, 2014

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