Online Faculty

Conducting a Successful Live (Synchronous) Session with Ease

One of the most common questions we receive from online instructors is, "what's the best way for me to engage with my students in real-time (live) within my online course?" It's a great question since USF has a number of live online conferencing tools, each with advantages and limitations. In this edition of Online Insights you will learn:
  1. The 3 live online conferencing solutions available to USF faculty
  2. The advantages and limitations of each so you can select the one best suited for your teaching needs
  3. Strategies to ensure an engaging and productive session, free of issues

The 3 conferencing tools available to USF faculty are Canvas Conferences (aka BigBlueButton), Blackboard Collaborate, and Blackboard Ultra Experience. Use the following table to chart out the one best suited for your needs. This may also give you some new ideas for increasing the engagement with your online students.

Platform Comparison
  Advantages Limitations Great to Use If
Canvas Conferences
(BigBlueButton)
  • Quick, easy, & intuitive
  • No heavy plug-in required
  • Most students are familiar with it
  • Students have the freedom to create their own sessions
  •  Limited features (no scheduling or breakout rooms)
  • Recording only lasts 10 days
  • Flash based (accessibility limitation)
  • You want to conduct online office hours
  • You want to quickly just "cue up" a meeting session
  • Your students need a group collaboration tool
Bb Collaborate
  • Feature rich (includes scheduling, breakout, & other tools)
  • Recordings will last all semester 
  • More options means more difficult to use
  • Requires a Java plug-in
  • Interface is more difficult
  • Playback of students is not a strong
  • Will be phased out 
  • You are comfortable with it conducting something more than office hours but are not ready to switch to Ultra 
Bb Ultra
  • Best of both worlds...easy to use and install without the loss of great features
  • Recordings will last all semester
  • Built in Captioner role for those classes needing to provide live captions
  • Does not require a clumsy plug-in. Instead, it is a browser extension
  • Optimized with Chrome
  • You need functionality beyond what Canvas Conferences offers or require recordings


Based on our own testing we recommend Bb Ultra to those faculty needing to record the session or employ additional functionality such as breakout rooms. If however you simply need to conduct online office hours then Canvas Conferences is a great option. More important than the actual tool is the quality of the session and its value to your students. There's a wealth of information on the best practices of online conferencing but listed below are the top 5 strategies we have identified while working with USF faculty. 

1. Conduct a Dress Rehearsal
Make the first session a required dress rehearsal. By this, we mean that each student will need to simply enter the session and say hello using their microphone or chat. This will ensure that any student technical problems are addressed early and do not compromise future sessions.

2. Think "Active Learning", not passive intake
You've most likely heard of active learning and its importance within online conferences cannot be underestimated. By active learning we mean that you are engaging the students regularly and requiring them to do something. Here are some examples of active learning strategies in action: 

3. Have a technical support strategy ready
A dress rehearsal will most likely alleviate any student technical support issues but its still good to have a strategy at hand. For example, if you have a TA make him or her the the troubleshooting expert, handling all student issue so you can conduct the session. Does your TA require training for this ? Email us.

4. Keep the sessions limited to 30 participants or less
Too many attendees can be difficult to manage especially if you are employing active learning strategies. Do you have more than 30 students in your class ? Easy, you can assign your TA to conduct concurrent sessions or sessions at different times. You can also put your students into groups and assign them to specific sessions time slots.

5. Flip it
Consider flipping your session. This means that the students will do work in preparation for the session. The session will then be used to discuss the concepts, work in teams, or develop something based on what they learned.

Collectively, these strategies along with choosing the proper tool should provide you and your students with a successful live synchronous session. If however, you would like to schedule a consultation for additional information please email us anytime.

By Lindsey Mercer M.Ed.
Digital Learning