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Facilitating Online Seminar Meetings

Hosting a synchronous class meeting brings students together in real time, much like a face-to-face session. Faculty can maximize synchronous class time by preparing activities that engage students, and open up space for conversation.

In many graduate seminars, students are assigned readings, and are expected to show up to class ready to discuss the work under consideration. Synchronous online meetings, where attention and focus are intensified and where it can be a challenge to pick up on non-verbal communication, can benefit from intentionally-designed structures, such as asking students to prepare questions or respond to specific prompts prior to signing on, by assigning student discussion leaders who come to the meeting knowing they are expected to launch the conversation, and by establishing communal understandings about how conversation will flow during the session.

Information about synchronous engagement here: Building Asynchronous Engagement Into your Course

Tips for Structuring an Engaging Synchronous Seminar Meeting

Lectures: Lectures are often necessary to clarify and contextualize the main ideas under consideration. Faculty should do their best to avoid lecturing for extended periods of time during synchronous online sessions, and instead use that time to put students in active dialogue with course topics and one another. If needed, a short lecture video can be prepared for viewing by students prior to class. Or, a longer lecture might be broken up into 5-10 minute sections throughout the synchronous meeting, giving students time to discuss or work in small groups between lectures. This provides students with a chance to work through misunderstandings or pose questions before moving on.

Whole Class Discussion: Using prompts or open ended questions can encourage students to engage in whole group discussion. However, some students may be less likely to speak up, especially in the online format where it is hard to find an opening to jump in. In Zoom or other video conferencing software, Breakout rooms, polls, the chat function, and assigning student facilitators distributes power throughout the classroom and opens avenues for engagement.

Small Group Discussion: Using breakout rooms (Zoom) or breakout groups (Blackboard) allows students to meet in smaller groups as part of a larger synchronous discussion. Setting up these small group meetings allows students space to work through ideas and questions in detail before engaging in a larger group discussion, which can emphasize synthesis. In small groups, students can discuss and apply a particular concept, focus on a specific section of text, or craft questions to pose to the group. Students can be asked to “share back” the discussions in the breakout rooms with the whole group to jump start a whole group discussion.

Polling: Online polls can help start discussion. Polls may be set up prior to  the class meeting, or created on the fly. Once students have responded to the polls, the results can be announced and discussed, or if the poll is open ended you could ask students to clarify or contextualize their responses. Polls can be useful for assigning students to smaller discussion groups, and for real-time, non-verbal input on topics under consideration. For more, see Using Online Polls to Promote Active Learning and Student Engagement.

Chatting: The chat box available in video conferencing software can be a lively space for students to share insight, commentary, and questions during a synchronous meeting. Sometimes students who are not actively talking in class are very active in the chat, sharing ideas and questions with peers. A student could be assigned to facilitate the chat during each session, taking notes and voicing ideas and questions that come up. You can also save the chat feature before the end of each class session to preserve the notes, questions, and ideas shared in the chat.

Collaborative Note Taking: Students might benefit from using a Google Doc, Padlet, PiratePad, or other real time collaborative writing platform to take community notes during a synchronous class session. You might post a rough outline of the class session to such a space, and invite students to build it out with notes. All the students could have access to the document during the class session, or selected students could be assigned the role of note taker for each class session. This approach encourages collaboration, allows students to see how others are interpreting and understanding course topics, and creates a valuable record of class conversations.

Exit Tickets: At the end of each synchronous session, anonymous exit tickets are a good way to gather student feedback on the session.This feedback can be used to plan for the next synchronous meeting. Exit tickets can be created as an open-ended poll, a link to simple Google Form, or submitted via email at the end of class.

Things to Do After A Synchronous Seminar Meeting

  • Use exit tickets to gather student feedback and questions
  • Post shared noted or assign a student to share a recap of class meeting
  • If the session was recorded (always ask students for permission!), share the video for students who could not attend the synchronous session
  • Provide ways to engage and participate for students who could not attend. See Building Asynchronous Engagement Into your Course

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