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Tools for Teaching

Synchronous online teaching: introduction

Many of the approaches, techniques and tools introduced in the other sections of this guide can be applied or adapted to teaching synchronously (i.e. present with learners at the same time) in an online environment. There are however differences in teaching synchronously online, this page introduces tips, tricks and case studies most pertinent to this.

Synchronous online teaching: tips, tricks and case studies

Tips and tricks

  • If possible, use the tool(s) that your organisation supports. This will make troubleshooting a lot easier.
  • If your session involves live demonstrations of websites, preload them before the session starts so that they’re ready to go and you’re not grappling with a slow connection.
  • Record a version of the session to an empty ‘room’ — recording requires the consent of all participants, so if you have a bank of prerecorded sessions you will not have to worry about conflicts between requests for recordings, and lack of consent from attendees.
  • Use headphones to mute any distracting background noise, mute participants’ microphones to avoid feedback, and use the chat function for questions.
  • Vary content between slides, demonstrations, activities, and discussion (using polls/chat/quizzes rather than participants speaking into their microphones). 
  • Supplement synchronous teaching with alternative methods of delivering class content — recordings, slides, static content on LibGuides or websites.
  • Expect technical problems, and react to them with good humour — no one expects you to be superhuman!

Accessibility tips

  • Minimise your use of images, and if images are being used, ensure that image descriptions have been provided for screen readers.
  • Use the subtitles function (or tell users to switch it on if they want it), and if you provide slides or recordings, ensure that you provide a transcript as well (most videoconferencing software does not record subtitles, so these are only visible in the live versions of sessions).
  • If a student discloses a disability, ask them what they need from you — disabled people are the best judges of their own needs.
  • Speak clearly, preferably keep your camera on so people are able to lipread if they need to.

Case study example

Creating interactivity in synchronous critical reading training using Padlet: Our critical appraisal sessions involve sending attendees an article in advance to read. The face-to-face classes consist of one of us (the trainers) facilitating a discussion of the article, using various critical reading tools as a framework. The idea is that the trainer speaks very little, just provides prompts and lets the students do the bulk of the talking.

Due to the pandemic, we had to move all our teaching online, and critical appraisal — with its heavy emphasis on discussion — was more difficult than some of our other classes. We found after trial and error that asking students to respond to the prompts verbally didn’t work well — it affected the sound quality, some students were uncomfortable, and it was harder to manage the flow of conversation — so we now use Padlet as a way to facilitate discussion. We ‘pin’ a series of questions, and during the training session, we send the link to the board, and direct the students to post their responses to each question. They use the chat function in Zoom to ask any questions outside of the prompts on the Padlet board.

Padlet can also be used in this way to enable interactivity in face-to-face synchronous teaching settings where it might otherwise be difficult (such as lectures), so it has applicability beyond online teaching as well.


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