IT Teaching Resources

Direct instruction in online environments

Toolkit and recommendations for delivering content in a virtual classroom

Article Promising practices

This article is part of a series around bridging synchronous and asynchronous learning, including guides on questioning and discussion, learning activities, and assessment and feedback. To learn more about the basis for synchronous and asynchronous learning, see our guide here.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for dividing direct instruction across synchronous and asynchronous modalities. Depending on the course content and learning objectives, instructors may opt to use an asynchronous class (pre-recorded video) to introduce content and a synchronous class for Q&A and activities to support understanding. Alternatively, they may use a synchronous class (live lecture) to introduce content and assign an asynchronous discussion activity to support understanding. Here we present some challenges and promising practices around direct instruction in digital environments.

Challenge: Engage students during lectures

  • Make lectures as interactive as possible (Course Hero Virtual Education Summit ’20)
    • For live Lectures: 
      • Use polls (e.g. Google Forms, Mentimeter, Poll Everywhere, Zoom polls) to ask content related questions, to assess for misconceptions, or for community building (to ask fun/less serious questions), interspersed throughout the lecture
      • Make sure there is an avenue for students to ask questions. For example:
        • Have students utilize the chat function, a course Slack channel, or a shared Google doc for sharing questions and ideas. Make students aware of the avenue by which they can ask questions.
        • If you have a TA or DA, they can serve as moderator, helping to monitor and bring forward questions and ideas from the chat. Have the moderator keep track of all questions in a Google doc, group questions by topics, and share them with the lecturer at specific points in the class
        • As a lecturer, stop regularly to take student questions 
        • If you are unable to address all questions during the lecture, you can provide answers later on in a follow-up email
      • Invite students to keep their cameras on (if possible). Set up norms around the technology, such as use of status icons (Psychology Teaching Town Hall: Lessons Learned from Spring Online, July 29, 2020)
      • Give students problems to work on that build on the lecture content. Encourage students to ask questions as they are working, then have students breakout into groups to share out and discuss how they reached the answer. Lecture for less time, and in shorter chunks.
    • For pre-recorded lectures:
      • Include prompts to pause the video and answer questions/do exercises to be debriefed and unpacked in the next session (Psychology Teaching Town Hall: Lessons Learned from Spring Online, July 29, 2020)
      • Include in-video questions as part of the recorded lecture. For example, you can use Panopto to display the questions and connect student answers with a participation grade in Canvas
      • Consider matching students who want to watch lectures together, which can build a sense of community and accountability (Psychology Teaching Town Hall: Lessons Learned from Spring Online, July 29, 2020) 
  • Incorporate real-world examples and media to illustrate content
    • For example, if you are teaching about poverty and inequality you can begin by asking students about channels through which COVID-19 has affected people and then share with them some standard poverty measures. A survey from Digital Promise found that of students whose instructor incorporated real world examples in Spring 2020, 67 percent were satisfied with the course, compared to 42 percent among those whose instructor did not (Digital Promise, 2020)
  • Promote connection by adding a personal touch (e.g., adding a clip with your pet or kids, sharing a personal story) (Psychology Teaching Town Hall: Lessons Learned from Spring Online, July 29, 2020)

Challenge: Make sure session operations run smoothly

  • Make live lecture materials available to students in case of connection problems
    • Record live lectures and make them available through your Learning Management System for students with internet connection problems, those in different time zones, and to allow students the opportunity to review content
    • If you use presentation slides, make these available for the students either before the lecture (allowing them to add notes) or after
  • Set up a contingency plan for technical problems
    • For example, if the main lecturer loses connectivity, another member of the teaching team is ready to take over the lecture (with previously shared access to slides, notes, etc.)
  • For pre-recorded lectures:
    • Depending on the content, preferably break up lectures into 7-15 minute videos by topic. This will make content more digestible and decrease upload time to your platform. 
    • Review videos for clarity and edit before uploading to remove mistakes and add professional elements such as intro music (Psychology Teaching Town Hall: Lessons Learned from Spring Online, July 29, 2020)
  • If you offer a combination of synchronous and asynchronous classes, try to make any pre-recorded lectures covering material related to a given synchronous session are available at least one week in advance, giving students time to watch and come prepared to the live session
    • Provide a space (e.g., Google Forms) to collect and answer student questions from the pre-recorded lecture or assigned readings in the live lecture.