Important Considerations and Practices for Online Live Classes
Doing live synchronous classes are different than in-person classes. You can't create the same experience of a live in-person class online. Instructional and presentation design is different for online synchronous learning.
Setting Up the Presentation Computer
A USB headset will provide better audio than the built-in microphone in a presentation
laptop or computer.
All of the systems have settings to optimize the quality of the audio. You will always want to run through that audio quality optimization process before each presentation.
Test all the equipment being used in advance of the class.
Use a hard-wired internet connection if possible, or make sure your presentation system is close to your router. Instructor upload bandwidth performance is usually the technical "weak link in the chain" when delivering live online classes.
Close all applications on the presentation computer except those being used during the presentation. Did you restart the presentation computer before the class so that as much memory is available as possible? Do not have any non-classroom background tasks using bandwidth or processor power during your class. Don't have anything open you would not want to accidentally share during the class.
Before the Class Starts
Upload all files and presentations you will use, or want students to download, into the learning system in advance of the class so that can be converted into streaming format. Some web conferencing systems don't provide this capability. Sharing these from the desktop during a class will always be much lower performance and quality. Desktop sharing is usually where the biggest quality and performance issues occur.
Collect information about participant experiences or expectations 1-3 days before the class with a short 1-3 question survey email. At the same time, remind them what they need to do to prepare their computer in advance of the class, and how to test they are setup correctly in advance of the class. Remind them to do this in advance of the class. Ask them to come to the class with one critical or burning question. Also tell them what to expect: "Please come prepared to …"
Know how to use all of the features you will be using in your online tool and test, with specific practices of each, the features you are using.
Many things you may have done for live classes in PowerPoint may not work in the web conferencing tool. Only some animations may display. And embedding video (and sometimes audio) in a PowerPoint may not display, may not display as you would expect, and/or may work for some users but not others (such as desktops vs. mobile apps). Video embedded within PowerPoints always requires careful and wide-ranging testing. Some systems have special tools to convert these so they do work.
You may have to make sure system audio is being passed through to the web conferencing system for the audio to play with some audio and video files.
Plan for how you will handle technical difficulties.
Beginning a Class
Plan for early arrivals. Have a "lobby" screen with some helpful info available (like how to test audio, use chat, turn on/off mics/webcams, here are the learning objectives). Do a social check-in with them while they wait for the others. Some instructors add a countdown timer to the start of the session.
At the start of the first class, provide a quick overview of how to activate and mute the student's microphones, turning on or off their webcams, and how to use the chat box.
Start with an easy "ice-breaker" question allowing each student to provide an answer to initiate interactivity and get them comfortable with using their microphones and responding.
Give participants upfront an overview of what the class is about and what the instructor expects of the participants.
Presenting the Class
Think about how you will appear. Make sure you face is pleasantly lighted and there is not a distracting background. Consider and manage (eliminate as much as possible) background noise.
Activities and stories work better than text-based presentations. Text-heavy presentations and slides are especially bad, and may be unreadable for students. You don't know what size screens your students are using, and you don't know how compressed (and less readable) they get by the conferencing system or bandwidth restrictions.
Pose a question and let them write down their answers (use chat for everyone to see, or Q&A for only the instructor to see-this may not be available in some web conferencing systems).
Pair visuals with explanations. Explain all visuals with narration. This helps with learning, but also helps with accessibility.
Engage student attention by directing them to some activity at least every five minutes. Polls are an easy way to encourage engagement. Pause and ask checkpoint questions.
Encourage questions and feedback, discussions. Help everyone participate by using breakout discussion or activity groups of about 3-4 students each. The advantage of synchronous learning is instant feedback. This works best for collaborative problem solving, peer-to-peer interaction, and step-by-step real-time guidance. Some systems have breakout rooms, some also let you set up multiple chat boxes for each breakout group. You'll need to practice how to make this work in advance of the class.
Chat usually works best for student responses. It also works well for brainstorming activities.
Discussions can take the form of consultations.
Live demonstrations need to be readable or visually understandable. Screen sharing of software can be unreadable in many cases, physical demonstrations (music, art, cooking, woodworking, yoga, etc) need to be well lit and clearly visible. Zoom in on important elements. And narrate the process step-by-step for accessibility.
Supplementary materials improve the experience, such as downloadable handouts. Curated companion materials should accompany each learning module.
All shared content should be accessible. When white-boarding make sure to describe each mark or annotation as it happens for those with visual impairments.
Share applications and screens only when necessary. Limit the use of video. Think of the movies you watch, each cut is usually under 8 seconds in length.
Keep the attendees panel open so you can address issues or respond to students.
Mute attendees for large sessions. Mute yourself when not talking. Know the shortcut key to quickly toggle this.
Keep eye contact with students by looking at your camera and not the keyboard or screen. This requires deliberate concentration.
Only promote participant permissions as needed, when no longer needed remove the added permissions.
Ask for closing questions and provide a means for answers.
Do not reuse recordings of previous students or classes as that may be a FERPA violation.
Recordings of classes are typically not very useful. If a session is recorded, you must notify the participants that it is being recorded at the start of the recording. There may be considerable legal limitations on who can view a class recording.