Delivering Distance Synchronous Courses

A Distance Synchronous course (with an Instruction Mode Code of “DS”) is a course where there are scheduled meeting times in Mainestreet, and you are connecting with students during those times using web-conferencing technology, like Zoom of Google Meet.

There are some great advantages to teaching a Distance Synchronous course, instead of an Online course section, including:

  • You are able to see and communicate with distant students in real-time
  • You can ask for course feedback, and formatively assess how students are doing as naturally as you do in your face-to-face classroom
  • You can create interactive polls, activities and small-grouping strategies to engage students in
  • Creating opportunities for active participation and communication can reduce the transactional distance with students, and work to meet a variety of student learning preferences.


Key Considerations

Distance Syncronous ≠ Lecture while Distance Synchronous courses can be a great space to provide direct instruction, you should avoid using this modality as a ‘lecture-over-Zoom‘ opportunity.  Instead, take advantage of using your valuable ‘together’ time to group brainstorm, probelm-solve, engage in peer-to-peer collaboration and workshop or apply ideas!

Consolidate access if you are teaching a Distance Synchronous class, you should be using Brightspace (at a minimum), to post your Syllabus and important course success information, to link to your Zoom meetings, and to access to submit course assessments (and review feedback and grades).  It can save you time, posting keey resources students will need to access in the LMS as well, as it becomes students one-stop-shop for essential access.


Developing webcasting-friendly materials

Creating Course Materials for Webcasting

You can utilize both hard hard copy and web-casting based visuals while web-casting. This checklist provides some guidelines for producing course materials that are Zoom-ready and accessible to all learners, both in the classroom with you, and at receive sites. Let’s look at some common materials we may use in a web-conferencing classroom:

Screen-casting a presentation

  • A horizontal (landscape) format will display better
  • Use only keywords or phrases. Don’t try to include the entire text of your lecture
  • Do not use all capital letters–it is hard to read, as well as against common netiquette
  • Limit each slide to seven lines of text. And follow accessible sans-serif fonts  size recommendations:
  • Headings: 36-point (approximately ⅜ inch high)
  • Subheadings or body text: 24-point (approximately ¼ inch high)
  • Avoid using  hard to see color combinations 

Utilizing a document camera 

  • Use a dark-colored felt-tip marker
  • Use pastel-colored paper instead of white to reduce contrast
  • Use large, legible letters. Print if necessary!
  • Preview lighting display and adjust as needed.
  • With printed materials, avoid thin lines and tight patterns as they tend to flicker over video.
  • Zoom the document camera closer to focus on specific parts of a document when necessary.

Displaying content on a web site

Orientation is key!

image of checklist with checkboxes checked

Orienting Students on the First Day of Class

Familiarize students with the technology

Taking some steps to make students comfortable with the technology can help to minimize the sense of distance and make students more comfortable participating in class.

  • Before the first class session: Reach out to students with information about how and where to access class meetings.
  • During the first class session, give students a few minutes to become familiar with the controls they will be using in class.  Model how to update the Zoom thumbnail, name, and backgrounds, if you will be using.
  • Consider a low-stakes ice-breaker type of activity, to allow students to practice joining and leaving small group rooms, and screen-sharing.
  • Review your class procedures and norms, including clear communications about camera expectations and requirements.
  • Ask students to practice muting and unmuting the microphone.

Developing participation norms

Establish protocols for participation

When raising their hands is not an option, how will distance students signal their desire to ask questions or participate in the discussion?

  • Allowing students to just speak out can result in disruptive switching between the speaker view, as the system attempts to decide whose audio it should follow.
  • Ask students to mute their microphones, and wait until specific discussion times, or when prompted, rather than just “jumping in.”
  • A slight delay between the audio and video means that you should give a few more seconds than you think you need, for students to contribute.
  • You can also use the ‘Chat’ feature to encourage students to post questions as you teach–or you can use the ‘Chat’ feature to engage (and save) students with specific formative assessment-type questions, or to check-in.  
  • As an instructor, you can allow (or not allow) students to Chat with you or each other–be sure to let students know when it is appropriate to ask questions, contribute to the discussion, and engage with peers.

Reduce distractions

  • Encourage students to plan on joining from a quiet space, where they will not be distracted by environmental chaos.
  • If you are using small groups, consider providing clear parameters for how long the small group session will be, and what students are expected to complete within that time and space.

Quick tips for Teaching with Zoom success

Yale University’s FAS Task Force reviews the how and why to actively engage students when teaching with Zoom

Explore Strategies with CTL

Join CTL, as we review how to structure your Brightspace course to support Distance Synchronous delivery, as well as look at specific engagement strategies

Resources and strategies we love to use in a DS Course

If you would like to brainstorm about how to utilize any of these tools and/or strategies, please reach out to schedule an appointment!

Wondering about accessibility?

A great advantage to using Zoom, is our ability to cart-caption Zoom connections, which is great for students with hearing impairments.  Check out the great resource below, for more info on UDL with V/C, as a modality!

Jam with Heather

Jamboard is a free (from Google) whiteboarding app that can 1+ your Zoom sessions–let’s take a look:


Planning & Flexibility

Stephen Hersh outlines some really great strategies in Inside Higher Ed, with a focus on student prep, instructor flexibility, and flexing to meet needs:

Tips to look great on camera

One challenge that many people have, is feeling nervous about how they look on camera–and whether clothes, jewelry, and lighting are distracting.  Tech-norms has some really practical advice on how to feel your best during video (conference) calls–pay extra attention to the ‘eye-contact’ bit!