College of Education Tech Center

Specific Strategies for Engaging Students During Synchronous Online Classes

Before you start

It’s a good idea to have a shared space for organizing your time together that you and your students can access, like a page in Canvas where you include any shared Google Documents, Google Slides, and/or other resources that they’ll need access to during the session. You may send an email or announcement that points students to where they should go inside Canvas over the course of the quarter. For the first few weeks, you may need to send reminders about where they will find these course details.

Synchronous Session Activities

Small group discussions using breakout rooms

  • Think about your groups ahead of time. You can randomly assign students to groups of a particular size OR manually assign them. 
    • If you have discussion board groups or group projects, you can assign the same groups for breakout rooms.
    • It can be nice to keep groups consistent for a few sessions so that students get to know one another.
    • Groups of about 5 tend to be a nice size. You want the groups to be small enough that it’s easy to jump into the conversation, but big enough that there are different ideas and perspectives, even if someone has technical difficulties or steps away from their computer.
  • When students go to the breakout rooms, they won’t be able to see your slides any more. If there are particular questions that you want them to be discussing, have those available on a Canvas site or in a shared google document.
  • You can visit breakout rooms to participate in their conversations and answer questions. You can also send a co-host to a particular breakout room (once they’re in a breakout room, they are able to move between different rooms).
  • Ask for help: Students have an “Ask for Help” button that will send you a request to join their breakout room if they have a question.
  • Broadcast message: Send a message to all of the breakout rooms. It needs to be fairly short. This can be helpful in giving a __ minute warning before bringing them back to the main room or clarifying a question you’re hearing from multiple rooms. They won’t be able to respond to you, so this isn’t a good tool for asking questions and getting a response.
  • There is a default setting of a 60 second countdown for breakout rooms to close. You can modify this before assigning people into breakout rooms from the “Breakout Rooms” window by selecting “Options” and changing the countdown timer.
  • After a small group discussion can be a nice time to open up the conversation
    • Prompt groups to share what they discussed
  • Only the Host of the meeting can assign students to breakout rooms, send them to the rooms, send broadcast messages, or end the breakout rooms. It might make sense for courses with a TA to make the TA the host and the instructor be assigned the role of co-host. This would allow the TA to be managing breakout rooms while the instructor is facilitating the session. 
  • Hosts and co-hosts won’t be able to chat with each other if one or both are in breakout rooms. You might plan a way to be in touch about when to end the breakout rooms or any announcements that need to be broadcast out (eg. text message, chat application).

Entry/exit tickets

  • Poll Everywhere is a UW-supported student response tool that allows you t0 prepare a poll in advance, and students can see results display in real time. Choose from a variety of question types, depending on your purpose and whether you plan to display results or review them after class (in the case of exit tickets).
  • Zoom Polls can be created in the settings for a scheduled meeting. You can see the results and share results to show students, and you can download a report of the poll results after the meeting. 
  • Google Forms provide an easy to read and grade spreadsheet output of student responses, so this is a great tool for exit tickets with longer, more detailed responses.
  • Google Documents allow students to see their classmate’s responses. You can use tables or page breaks to keep the document from moving too much as others type.