What is it?
Synchronous web conferencing typically involves real time communication with geographically dispersed participants through the medium of text, audio or video (or all three). It enables students and staff to reach out to different populations and expertise that would not otherwise be possible with the physical restrictions of face to face interactions.
How might I use it?
The role of the teacher changes depending on the purpose of the conference and whether you are co-located or remote from the students/participants. There are broadly four aspects to the role; pedagogical, social, managerial, and technical. The examples below illustrate how the role changes with purpose of the conference.
- Geographically dispersed research collaborators convene a virtual meeting to discuss a research proposal – even with a few participants more organisation is required than with face to face meetings. It helps to provide an agenda or some aims and objectives for the meeting. Using a shared document to keep track of outcomes helps to. If you are convening the conference you may also need to troubleshoot technical issues
- Distance learning students meet to discuss a group project – students will need support in using the synchronous conferencing tool and in ‘chairing’ their own online meetings.
- A lecturer gives a tutorial or seminar for students working at a distance – if the students haven’t met before then some ‘ice-breaker’ activities may help to develop social connections between the students. Seminars conducted in this way are best kept short and shorter than their face to face equivalent as it can be hard work to keep track of contributions.
- A remote speaker is brought in to participate in a live teaching session – in this case interaction with the students is easier to manage as you are generally co-located. You will need to develop a plan to manage Q&A with the guest which could be within the conferencing tool or outside it using Twitter for example.
- A local expert delivers a guest lecture (webinar) to a large remote audience – the main challenges in this scenario are to do with managing different communication channels and dealing with the speed of Q&A via the synchronous chat which generally runs alongside the audio visual presentation. It can help to recruit some support. Technical help is always useful as a large audience increases the likelihood of an attendee facing a technical issue. Help in monitoring and responding the chat comments and questions is also worthwhile.
The following tools are centrally supported and available for synchronous conferencing at Bath.
How do staff and students use tools effectively?
A synchronous web conference is usually facilitated via a web service or desktop app.
To participate in a Synchronous Conference you will need a device connected to the internet, a microphone and webcam. It is possible to use the microphone that comes with your device but better results are generally obtained with an external mic. A simple headset similar to the one below works well.
If a remote speaker has been brought into a face-to-face class via a synchronous conferencing tool then the students in the class will not need any special equipment.
To make the best use of the time you have available:
- Choosing the best time of day to hold your conference – use a time zone meeting planner like https://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/meeting.html
- Provide an agenda or set of goals for the session beforehand and build in time for interaction with the audience.
- Provide protocols for the session and guidelines for participation, including how to deal with questions. Inform participants if the session is going to be recorded, and the purpose for doing so. Permission should be sought if the recording is going to be reused, from anyone who contributes to the recording.
- Have someone available to respond to ‘chat’ or at least collate ‘chat’ so that questions can be answered.
To minimise the likelihood of technical issues :
- Provide technical requirements and an invitation to test the technology/connectivity in advance of the session.
- Conduct your own practice session in order to gain confidence with the tools and to test any presentation materials.
- Have technical support on hand to troubleshoot problems during the session.
- Let participants into the conference ahead of the start time to check everyone’s audio and video are working.
You can also contact the TEL team at email@example.com if you have any issues or queries.
Pros & Cons
- One-to-one support can be offered for remote students.
- Authentic interactions with native speakers for language learning.
- Integrating a multi-cultural perspective through global interaction.
- Use a research tool for interviews or gaining feedback from students.
- Virtual office hours can be offered.
- Opportunities for inviting guest speakers into class into add expert view or multiple perspectives.
- Dispersed student groups can discuss collaborative projects.
- Distance learners can deliver presentations.
- Difficult to schedule when multiple timezones are involved.
- Technical/network issues that disrupt the communication e.g bandwidth issues.
- Can be challenging to manage if you are new to using the tool.
- Faculty of Engineering and Design - Blended Workshop Using Adobe Connect - Blog Post
- JISC article: Using videoconferencing and collaboration technology to reduce travel and carbon emissions
- User tutorials on specific features https://www.connectusers.com/tutorials/
Skylar, A. A. (2009). A comparison of asynchronous online text‐based lectures and synchronous interactive web conferencing lectures. Issues in Teacher Education, 18(2), 69‐84. Online at: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ858506