Ohio University

Digital Toolbox: Delivering Synchronous Instruction

by Jeff Kuhn, Audra Anjum, and Patrick Mose from the Office of Instructional Innovation

At a Glance

Which tools to use?

  • Choose Adobe Connect for “one to many” presentations with limited audience activity

  • Choose Microsoft Teams for discussion or meeting formats with high levels of engagement

  • Use Microsoft OneDrive for class activities such as notetaking, presentations, or group work

Important considerations

  • Use synchronous content delivery sparingly in your online class. Consider student Internet access issues and bandwidth issues before scheduling a semester of synchronous classes 

  • Consider flipping your classroom. Deliver lectures via recorded videos and save synchronous class sessions for question and answer discussions, group activities, or reviewing homework concerns

  • Synchronous classes are more than video conferencing and encapsulate activities such as writing peer-review via OneDrive, or instant message discussions via Teams Chats. 

Feature Comparison

For a deeper dive on each tool, see Which tools do I use? later on this page.

Feature Adobe Connect Microsoft Teams Microsoft OneDrive
Best used for Online classes or presentations (aka "one to many") Meetings where everyone participates equally Small group work, presentations, or shared document storage
Requires installation? Yes, both students and instructors must install Adobe Flash Player No, but installing the Teams app is highly recommended No
Hardware requirements Computer with a camera & microphone Computer with a camera & microphone Computer, web browser (e.g. Chrome)
Bandwidth usage High High Low
Session recording Yes Yes No, but all changes to documents save automatically
Video chat layout Grid view if audience webcams are enabled Up to 49 visible participants in a gallery view N/A
Communication tools Video/audio chat, polling, text chat, file sharing, raise hand feature Video/audio chat, text chat, collaborative documents, file sharing, raise hand feature Text chat, comments, version history for tracking revisions
FERPA compliant Yes, if used appropriately Yes, if used appropriately Yes, if used appropriately

Making the most of synchronous instruction

Synchronous courses should be reserved for classes incorporating active learning strategies or other activities with high levels of student activity: 

  1. Poll students for topics – Instead of faculty determined synchronous classes, provide students advanced notice of the synchronous session and solicit topics they would prefer to see covered. This could be a review session of asynchronously delivered content, elaboration on previously covered material, or a more informal session where students connect course content to current events or topics of their interest. 
  2. Have students take the lead – Use synchronous class time for student delivered content such as individual or group presentations. Another option is to assign students a section of the course content and have them deliver mini lectures on the topic. This provides them more agency during the synchronous class while still receiving feedback on the content they deliver. 
  3. Make content connections – During an online course, students will complete much of the coursework on their own. Synchronous meetings can be reserved for informal discussions where course content can be connected to current events, other fields of study, or to incorporate a guest lecture into the course. 

How do I make synchronous class sessions engaging?

Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (1999) highlight the need for educators to balance between three spheres of presence in any community of inquiry. In traditional face-to-face class contexts these spheres of presence come naturally to most instructors, but in the move to distance education, these spheres require more planning and consideration than faculty may initially realize. These spheres of presence are defined as: 

  • Social Presence – The ability of participants in the class to assert their personalities into the classroom discourse and activity and represent themselves, and relate to others, as real people 
  • Cognitive Presence – The ability of the participants in a class to construct meaning and develop and understanding of content through social interaction. 
  • Teaching Presence – This presence encompasses the overall design of the teaching experience from content selection, to creation of learning activities, to how students are assessed. The second aspect of this presence is the role of facilitation and encouraging full participation among the participants in the class
A three-way Venn diagram depicting the intersections of Social, Cognitive, and Teaching Presences, which all meet at Educational Experience. Other combinations: Supportive Discourse (Social + Cognitive), Setting Climate (Social + Teaching), and Selecting Content (Cognitive+Teaching)

When planning for a synchronous class, evaluate the lesson plan against the above Venn diagram. For example, it may be enticing to have a live class discussion to check in with students and help them feel connected to the rest of class, but if it is largely a faculty-controlled lecture, the social presence may be lacking.

During a semester of online instruction, consider having synchronous classes at the end of each major unit of the class or just before mid-term exams. These sessions can then be framed as "what have we learned?" which increases the cognitive presence required by shifting onto the students the task of making meaning of the content or synthesizing course content and generating new ideas. This meaning making can then be amplified through student discussion time or tasking students to work together to synthesize information thereby increasing the social presence of the class as well. 

Which tools should I use?

When considering software applications for delivering synchronous content, consider how each of the spheres of presence will manifest within the class based on the functionality of that software application. Listed below are OHIO’s three leading synchronous software applications and how each sphere of presence is represented in each.

Tool 1 – Adobe Connect 

Adobe Connect is OHIO’s virtual classroom platform and web-based video conferencing tool for rich interaction with multiple participants. It gives easy access to participants with student or guest accounts. Content creation can be done by those with host accounts.

Tool 2 - Microsoft Teams 

Microsoft Teams provides group chat, channeled conversations, instant messaging, live document collaboration, audio or video calls, and meetings (from one-on-ones to fully featured audio/video conferences). Teams works in conjunction with other Microsoft applications such as OneDrive, OneNote, and Office 365 via Microsoft Groups. Persistent histories make it easy to review past conversations and shared documents. 

  • Social Presence:
    • Gallery view video display allows participant to see up to 9 other participants on screen (up to 49 in Fall 2020)
    • Chat function that allows for file uploads, link sharing, and gifs/emoji integration 
  • Cognitive Presence:
    • Integration with OneDrive allows participants to share and co-edit files for real-time group work and knowledge application
    • Participants can turn on both microphones and video for enhanced information exchange (note that this may not be an option for slower internet connections)
  • Teaching Presence:
    • Ability to share presenter screen
    • Upload and present PowerPoints
    • Whiteboard functionality
    • Sessions can be recorded for later viewing 

Tool 3 – Microsoft OneDrive 

OneDrive is file storage and sharing with collaborative editing capabilities through Microsoft’s suite of productivity tools: Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote. 

  • Social Presence:
    • Low bandwidth opportunities for collaborative work such as group presentations or peer review
    • More spontaneous interactions are limited to text-based comments through Review/Comment functionality of Word, PowerPoint, etc.  
  • Cognitive Presence:
    • Group editing functionality allows for students to edit content collaboratively, provide feedback, update information, refine ideas, etc.
    • OneDrive storage allows participants to exchange new information through document sharing
    • OneNote allows for students to work together on note-taking during lectures.  
  • Teaching Presence:
    • OneDrive document storage allows for faculty to disseminate course content from a centralized location and for students to respond on the same document, reducing the issue of multiple copies of documents moving from participant to participant
    • Ability to share coursework materials with students while retaining the ability to edit/revise course content on an ongoing basis