Synchronous conference

Web conferencing

What is Synchronous Conferencing?

Synchronous 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 does it work?

A Synchronous Conference is usually facilitated via a web service or desktop app.

The following tools are available for synchronous conferencing at Bath.

Compare the features of these tools

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.

head set

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.

Why Should I use Synchronous Conferencing?

The educational uses of Synchronous Conferencing are many and varied:

  • one to one support 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
  • dispersed student groups can discuss collaborative projects

Synchronous conferences can be motivational, providing immediacy and opportunities for direct feedback. In dispersed student groups they can be good for developing social connections and presence. Synchronous conferences can be used in conjunction with asynchronous communication. This table summarises the sort of activities that best suit these modes of interaction when working with dispersed and remote groups of students.

Read more about Synchronous vs Asynchronous Conferencing
Are there any issues of which I need to be aware?

Potential advantages of synchronous conferences

  • Allows those not physically present to participate
  • Immediate response and feedback
  • Allows for body language (video) and tone of voice (audio/video)
  • Increased motivation and engagement
  • Increased social presence
  • Recordings can capture the experience for absentees or other potential audiences
  • Recordings can be reused or re-purposed as part of a future learning activity or experience

Potential disadvantages of synchronous conferences

  • Difficult to schedule when multiple timezones are involved
  • Technical/network issues that disrupt the communication e.g bandwidth issues.
  • Challenging to manage – they are typically not as productive as their F2F equivalent.
  • Difficult for those who miss the conference to catchup – playing back a recording can be tedious.

Whichever Synchronous Conferencing tool you use there are some generic principles for successful conferencing. In general planning and preparation are keys to success.

To minimise the likelihood of technical issues 

  • Provide technical requirements and an invitation to test the technology/connectivity in advance;
  • Conduct your own practice session in order to gain confidence with the tools and to test any presentation materials
  • Have technical support on hard to troubleshoot problems during the session
  • Let participants into the conference ahead of the start time to check everyone’s audio and video.

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/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
  • Have someone available to respond to ‘chat’ or at least collate ‘chat’ so that questions can be answered.
What are the Implications for Teaching and Learning?

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.

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
Summary

This case study outlines the use of Adobe Connect (web conferencing software) for students based off campus to make presentations online.

Read about the context, technical considerations and student suport

This summary report briefly outlines how the introduction of different web conferencing software was received in a taught masters programme.

Initial trials in using technology to support students
Other Recent Examples

Case study: Streaming a conference with Adobe Connect

Case study: Using VScene for widening participation

  • Synchronous conferencing: fitting tools to purposes
    Over the last couple of years I have noticed that synchronous conferencing tools are being deployed more frequently and by more academics for research and teaching. Having a virtual meeting or teaching session is no longer seen as a novelty. ... read more
    Source: Geraldine’s Blog (Synchronous)Published on 2017-04-21
  • VidHub: Collaborative review of Video
    A colleague recently approached me with a problem. How could a group of researchers, located in different countries across the world, collaboratively review and comment on video footage that formed part of their data from a research project. This led ... read more
    Source: Geraldine’s Blog (Synchronous)Published on 2017-03-31
  • Demonstration of Microsoft’s Surface Hub: an interactive whiteboard
    Date: Tuesday 21st June Venue: 3W 4.1 Microsoft's Surface Hub is a large interactive whiteboard which can be used as both a collaboration and videoconferencing device and has the ability to help with learning and teaching. A representative from Microsoft ... read more
    Source: LITEBox (VideoConferencing)Published on 2016-05-27By Tim Maulin
  • Technology Panel Debate
    The first LITEbox event of the new semester kicked off on 15 October with Professor Peter Lambert, the University's recently appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Learning & Teaching), chairing a debate on the uses of new and existing technologies to a packed lecture theatre. A ... read more
    Source: LITEBox (VideoConferencing)Published on 2015-10-21By Tim Maulin
  • Videoconferencing & Innovative Teaching in Social Sciences Classrooms
    How and why Dr Aslam uses and combination of Skype and Twitter to engage his classes in conversations with students, academics, aid workers and journalists across the world. The LITEbox seminars continued on Monday 20th July with an engaging event ... read more
    Source: LITEBox (VideoConferencing)Published on 2015-07-27By jmf22
User-Submitted Examples on this Website
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Who can I speak to @Bath?

There is lots of help and advice available to you from across a range of Professional Service departments at the University.

This includes, but is not limited to:

Some departments and Faculties also have an active academic community which support and promote the use of Technology Enhanced Learning. We recommend that you talk to your Director of Teaching and Learning and your Faculty Learning Technologist who will be able to put you in touch with another academic who can share their own experiences and offer pedagogical advice.

Guides and Support Material
Step Two: Ask the Community
Step Three: Raise a Support Request
Suggested Reading
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How would synchronous conferencing help with my application for Fellowship of the HEA?