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Is anybody there? Engaging learners in synchronous online classes

Author Sara Kyofuna
Abstract This paper investigates the challenges, opportunities and practices of synchronous online teaching in higher education. It reports on preliminary research insights arising from an ongoing blended learning program that mainly involves synchronous online instruction. The approach taken involves interviews with lecturers at different stages of the online courses, and observations of the live online classes. To-date, a number of synchronous forms of communication media have been developed specifically for educational purposes and are increasingly integrated in higher education practice. Particularly, virtual classroom environments like Wimba classroom, BigBlue Button, WizIQ, Adobe Connect, WebEx, and Blackboard collaborate, among others. These allow real-time interaction among geographically dispersed learners thus add aspects of immediacy and engagement. But, we ask, what is it like, for practitioners and educators, to integrate synchronous media forms in teaching practice. The findings highlight challenges of learner engagement and interactivity, dealing with silence and isolation, learning and adopting new instructional strategies and having to re-evaluate the perceived role as lecturers and the instructional practices. Some of the lecturers also questioned the effectiveness of online synchronous instruction in learning and teaching. Findings also indicate that often, the practice is to transfer traditional habits of face-to-face instructions to the online classes. Nonetheless, opportunities for new forms of student engagement that can be used in the traditional face-to-face instruction were also highlighted.
Keywords Online Learning and Teaching, Learner engagement
Published In ICEP Proceedings 2013
Date 2013
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