Rethinking Synchronicity

Concurrent Session 8

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Blended learning often leverages synchronous video conferencing or asynchronous text-based interactions for the online portion of courses. In this lab we will explore several strategies for facilitating synchronous text-based interactions and discuss whether these instructional techniques might lend themselves to blended courses.


Allen works as an instructional designer in Wake Forest University’s Office of Online Education and in partnership with the Teaching and Learning Collaborative. With an MA in Teaching from USC - Rossier, he has experience designing, delivering, and taking online courses at several levels of education. His role at WFU involves collaborating with faculty and administrators in course and program development for face-to-face, online, and hybrid learning environments.

Extended Abstract


Participants will receive instructions for joining 1-3 shared online workspaces as they arrive. During the initial portion of this session, participants will collectively engage with each other both in person and online via these workspaces to explore questions surrounding synchronicity in blended/hybrid learning experiences. A central question we will approach together:

How might we best design synchronous, text-based class sessions to facilitate online learning in a blended course?

By the end of this session, participants should be able to: (1) Include a real-time messaging platform in support of their blended, face-to-face, or online course; (2) Contrast the strengths and weaknesses of synchronous text-based sessions with synchronous video sessions and asynchronous discussions for blended courses; (3) Apply design thinking to a technologically-mediated instructional strategy in their own blended course(s).


Topics that we will explore together in the initial portion of the session include:

  • Existing practices for managing the online aspects of learning in blended/hybrid courses at your institution.
  • Ways in which different types of interactions, discussion structures, and tools might privilege specific skills, personalities, and abilities.
  • Potentially novel strategies for leveraging the various modalities (i.e. face-to-face, online, synchronous, asynchronous) available to those teaching and learning in blended and online environments to maximize learning and promote connectedness between students and their peers, their instructor(s), and the content.

Workspace organization: The workspaces will include at least one of the following: a synchronous messaging platform; a shared document editing space; a threaded messaging platform. Participants will engage in discussion around the session topics both aloud in the room and online in these text-based spaces. Special attention will be given to the following areas:

  1. Orienting Learners: The beginning of class presents several unique challenges in online, synchronous sessions. What strategies might assist with the orientation to this space to maximize relevant interactions online.
  2. Small group vs. whole-class discussions: Flexibility in structuring interactions so that learners might engage both one-on-one, in small groups, and as a whole class can be helpful in achieving various learning outcomes. How might I design my online learning environments to support movement between small group and whole-class discussions?
  3. Facilitating reflection: One of the potential drawbacks of synchronous, online sessions is the lack of time for reflection as compared to asynchronous discussions online. What strategies might promote reflection both during and after synchronous meetings?
  4. Connecting the Sessions: Blended courses are sometimes structured such that the online and face-to-face times to feel wholly separate from each other. How do I structure these experiences such that learners are able to perceive the common thread among them?


During the reflective period, participants will consider the experiences that they just shared and consider their various strengths and weaknesses, and the extent to which they might influence their own blended course design.


In the remaining time, we will engage in a question and answer focused discussion. While the floor will be open to questions and reflections that have arisen, the following prompts might guide this time, as needed:

  • Do any of today’s practices show promise for supporting blended learning at your institution?
  • What are some of the potential strengths and weaknesses of synchronous, text-based sessions as part of a blended/hybrid course?
  • Have our experiences today raised questions about other aspects of blended learning courses that might be worth exploring?


Findings from the following inform this session:

  • Broadbent, Jim, and W. L. Poon. "Self-regulated learning strategies & academic achievement in online higher education learning environments: A systematic review." The Internet and Higher Education 27 (2015): 1-13.
  • Keengwe, Jared, and Joachim Jack Agamba. Models for improving and optimizing online and blended learning in higher education. 2015.
  • Martin, Florence, Chuang Wang, and Ayesha Sadaf. "Student perception of helpfulness of facilitation strategies that enhance instructor presence, connectedness, engagement and learning in online courses." The Internet and Higher Education 37 (2018): 52-65.
  • Thomas, Rebecca A., Richard E. West, and Jered Borup. "An analysis of instructor social presence in online text and asynchronous video feedback comments." The Internet and Higher Education 33 (2017): 61-73.
  • Vuopala, Essi, Pirkko Hyvönen, and Sanna Järvelä. "Interaction forms in successful collaborative learning in virtual learning environments." Active Learning in Higher Education 17, no. 1 (2016): 25-38.
  • Whalen, Zack. “Notes on Teaching with Slack,” Zack Whalen (blog), February 24, 2016,