7 Ways to Improve Your Online Synchronous Sessions

Concurrent Session 4

Brief Abstract

One of the biggest challenges for online faculty is to elicit participation in their synchronous sessions.  What’s the best way, they ask?  This session will present 7 tried & true methods; participants will share ideas; resulting in a crowdsourced set of shared best practices by the end this session.


Reginald Jackson is a Senior Learning Engineer at Northwestern University for the Medill School of Journalism Integrated Marketing Communications Online Program where he is provides course development as well program management services for both online and traditional courses. While completing his Masters degree in Instructional Design from Roosevelt University, he became a corporate trainer then instructional designer in the banking industry. He then transitioned to higher education as an Academic Technology Analyst at University of Chicago after completing his doctorate in Adult Education. He is also adjunct faculty at Roosevelt University in their Masters Program in Training and Development.

Extended Abstract

When a faculty member is being prepared to teach their class online besides the instructional design, there is another piece that includes the actual execution of the class.  Sometimes faculty who have taught for years in person find that making the transition to an online format difficult in terms of how to get the same level of engagement when they are not there in person. 

One of these challenges in an online class is the synchronous session when a faculty member wonders after the first or second sync session: “why is no one participating” or “why are there crickets when I ask a question”.   The answer could be that there is not be a real roadmap to elicit the necessary participation. 

In working with faculty, a list has evolved on ways to elicit participation in a synchronous session:

  • Learn student names
  • Have an agenda for the synchronous session
  • Give them something to do
  • Provide useful information about upcoming assignments
  • Asking for volunteers to lead a discussion
  • Participation counts – whether the instructor wants to attach points related to the participation in the sync session
  • Student recaps – at the beginning of the session, ask students to give a recap or reflect on the last session or the previous week’s readings/assignments.

In this session, I will use the list as a springboard to start the conversation about engagement in synchronous sessions.  Participants will crowdsource in groups to create best practices that they use with faculty at their institutions or have experienced in an online class. Each group will compile their lists into a Google doc.

Finally, participants share their ideas with the larger group for questions and comments from the larger group.  After the session, all participants will have access to all of the ideas and best practices from this session.