Course Delivery: Synchronous Material in STEM

Prioritize synchronous time to build community, engage students in active learning, and provide them with a rich experience. Fordham students savor their faculty connections. Use this opportunity to connect with them.

  • Save lecturing for the asynchronous sessions. Students have many opportunities to get distracted and it’s very difficult to keep students engaged if you are talking at them. Use a flipped classroom model, where synchronous sessions intentionally build on the asynchronous work that students have done, and incorporate active learning into course meetings; 
  • Faculty should consider each course unit ahead of time to determine what is best taught through live sessions and what can be best learned through asynchronous work. For example, for a given topic there may be a motivational portion which is largely conceptual, then some derivations to a final result, then calculational parts. The motivational sections could be done asynchronously before the synchronous meeting and the calculations could be assigned after that meeting;
  • Begin each synchronous session with an outline of what you will cover. For example, give students a list of questions that they should be able to answer by the end of the meeting, or send out a slide with an outline of the goals for that meeting. Take time at the end of the meeting to summarize progress toward the learning goals. This will help students stay focused on the material and will allow them to chart their own progress;
  • Keep the synchronous sessions concise and focused;
  • Take advantage of online tools to engage students during synchronous sessions. See, for example, Kahoot! and classroom icebreakers;
  • Consider dividing the class into cohorts and meet with each cohort for synchronous sessions. This would involve repetition of the same content for each cohort but would allow for much greater interaction;
  • If you use Zoom, you can split the students up into breakout rooms to discuss a problem or do an example. You can put a question in the chat and ask all students to answer it in their own words (this is particularly helpful while you are waiting for all students to appear in the Zoom session) or you can use the polling function;
  • Set the expectation that students should complete the asynchronous work before the synchronous course meeting. Try not to undermine this by lecturing on the material that students were supposed to learn. Instead, develop a set of guiding questions to help students think more deeply about what they studied.

Fordham Examples
Some faculty in the Natural Sciences Department will divide the class into thirds, with each third meeting with the instructor for one hour of the three hour “lecture” class time. The synchronous sessions will build off of a set of questions that students will answer before class and will focus on problem solving and discussions. The groups will shift every two weeks.

The Computer Science Department has used MIMIR classroom for introductory sequences. This tool (currently free) allows a student to work at a Linux terminal level or using a higher level integrated development environment. It offers automated and interactive testing and grading of student programs, as well as support for plagiarism testing.  

For one faculty member in the Mathematics Department, synchronous sessions regularly began with questions about key concepts in the asynchronous material. After a discussion of the material, students went into breakout rooms to work on a set of problems collaboratively. Students took turns sharing answers when the group came back together.