Hints and tips on running real-time online lessons – synchronous

Over the last 3 to 4 years I have run around a dozen real-time online cohorts of an online course. The course was for teachers, NOT school pupils, it was the BCS Primary Programming course.  Each cohort met once a week, in the evening for 90 minutes for eight weeks. Over the dozen cohorts, I tried different ways to keep teachers active and engaged with their learning. Cohort sizes varied from six to twenty participants.

Whether the final approach that I settled on was the best way to deliver an online course, I am not sure, but I always had very good feedback on the course.

Whether the techniques I used are useful for those teaching pupils in school, needs to be explored!

Automate stuff e.g. scheduling/recording etc

Webex was used to schedule and manage the online session. All sessions were recorded, using a built in webex option.  Recordings had to be copied manually to a shared “learning platform” for the course.

I now use a different product to deliver online sessions for undergraduates, in this product the recordings are automatically shared to the learning platform.

Top tip 1: Automate as much as possible, e.g.it’s much better to have a product that automatically uploads/links recordings to the learning platform that not #TeacherWorkload

Spend time on routines/rules

The first session had limited content covered, this was to give time to get people online, introduce people to the process for teaching.

Top tip 2: The first session will be spent getting everyone used to the technology

Top tip 3: Set up methods for working e.g. navigating the google doc, adding your initials to anything typed in the google doc, using tools available in the meeting software to show you can hear/ are ready to move, using the google doc – rather than the chat window for asking questions (the google doc persists and can be referred to later etc)

Active rather than passive – Activity management

As well as using a PowerPoint to share learning activities and “deliver content”, I used a google doc. Overtime the google doc became more important than the PowerPoint. I switched from a passive talk and chalk to ask and discuss/type. The google doc was what facilitated this.

When planning each lesson, I added activities to the google doc e.g.

In your pairs answer the following questions

  1. What is repetition?
  2. How do you teach it?
  3. How do you assess it?

Pair work, not wholeclass. Type not talk – Manage your classroom – pairings 

I found that talking did not work well unless there was a very small group of say 2 participants. In the google doc, I created a table at the start of the document, where participants signed in each week. Then for each lesson, I added a groups table and allocated participants to a group (Blue, Green, Red, Purple …) At first participant allocation was random, but as I got to know participants I allocated pairs ahead of times. Sometimes I put people with similar experience together, other times mixed. Just as we do in normal teaching.

Train your participants on how to use your resources overtime

At the start of the course, I would create a copy of the activities in each groups’ “Section” of the google doc. But as the participants became accustomed to the process, they started to be able to copy the activities into their own “sections”.

Differentiation/ scaffolding

Whilst participants were answering questions, undertaking activities. I would then “move” between groups and ask extra questions, prompt ideas, nudge learning along. Just as we do in normal classroom teaching.

After answering questions, I would ask groups to look at other groups responses and contribute if they wanted to. This provided some peer-teaching.

I was careful to put more groups on different pages and put more experienced participants later in the document. This was just to encourage teachers to contribute their ideas, rather than getting used to reading others ideas straight away.

Value everyone

The most important thing was to create a safe collaborative environment, where everyone’s contribution was valued.