Your Education…is Live: There is a Time for Real-time Online Teaching

Access and Inclusion July 21, 2016

Distance education used to include synchronous teaching. China’s Radio and Television university was a live broadcast system, using radio and television to reach students at diverse locations. In 2015, the Open University system enrolled 3,503,872 students. In some other places such as Saudi Arabia, where gender differences may pose cultural challenges for teachers and students to be in the same classroom, closed-circuit TV (CCTV) is used and growing rapidly.  According to “Saudi Arabia CCTV Market Forecast & Opportunities, 2019”, the revenues of Saudi Arabia CCTV market are forecast to grow at a CAGR of around 23% during 2014-19 (Research and Market, 2014). 

In the developed world such as the United States, synchronous teaching has atrophied as the dominant mode of online teaching. Easy availability of the Internet has reduced the need for real time teaching, but more importantly, there is a strong pedagogical preference for asynchronous teaching as it can be accessed by students anytime, anywhere. Instructional sessions are increasingly chunked for students to find exactly the type of learning objects they think they need. Repeated play of short videos is encouraged as a way to gain mastery of content. Sometimes universities even have policies against using synchronous components in online teaching, for fear of defeating the purpose of online teaching, which is supposed to overcome differences in time, place and learning pace. 

Teachers, on the other hand, do not mind synchronous teaching online. When we introduced conference – a function of Instructure’s learning management system Canvas-  to our faculty, it was embraced with enthusiasm. Live broadcasting is resurfacing in online teaching. Blumenstyk wrote an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education illustrating how the University of Texas at Austin uses synchronous teaching as a “gateway drug” for teachers to move online (Blumenstyk, 2016). The myth that lectures are bad is also being challenged, as shown in Whorthen’s article Lecture me.  Really for the New York Times. This interest in synchronous teaching should be more than a passing retro trend. Synchronous teaching has many potentials for online teaching. Better technologies also make synchronous teaching a viable choice. Synchronous teaching is also least intrusive on faculty and students as lectures can be recorded while live classes are going on, instead of us instructional designers negotiating for faculty time to produce short videos in front of a camera and a wall.  More importantly, you do not want “student-free” talking heads for online lectures. Interaction with students gives life to good teaching sessions. Teachers can get energy and feedback from the audience through the interaction. Pre-recorded sessions cannot do that.

Please note, however, that real time teaching is not going to be easier, nor should it be deemed as a video copy of what you already do.  To make such teaching work, I would give a few suggestions for those pondering the use of real time sessions for online teaching:

  1. Choose the appropriate technology. Or rather, choose the appropriate environment for teaching. If you intend to teach at a distance, think of tools that allow you to present, see faces, poll or chat. If you intend to reuse lectures, make sure the tools you choose allow you to record your sessions and share with students who may not be present at the time.  I have helped professors to use Canvas conference and Adobe Connect and I am pleased with both of them.
  2. Prepare digital assets beforehand.  If you intend to share images, presentation files, links, and questions with students, make sure that these assets are ready to use when you present.  You do not want to spend time searching for them from folders and subfolders you cannot easily access, or worse, from sites you will need to download from at the time of presentation. Load such assets to your virtual classroom beforehand if possible.
  3. Organize your computer.  Keep your desktop clean if you intend to share your desktop to students. It might even be ideal to create a separate presentation account on your computer so that your calendar reminders and Facebook notifications do not pop up to be distractive to yourself and students. 
  4. Test your audio, video settings beforehand so that you do not waste precious class time to troubleshoot. Try a mini session with a friend or colleague to make sure everything works on your end.  In the meantime, get students ready for class.  Prepare tutorials for them to get their audio and video settings ready for the live show. Or you can schedule a pre-session for orientation. 
  5. Set rules for engagement. Do you intend for students to use chat in the middle of a lecture? Do you allow chat among students? When do you expect them to raise hands and ask questions? Do you anticipate them to share their video? Do you want to discourage the sharing of irrelevant information during a session? All such questions ought to be communicated before a live session.
  6. Go live. All traditional lecture and presentation guidelines should apply. I would just like to add a few specific suggestions. It is a good idea to use dual monitors with assets on one window and your presentation on another for the ease of presentation. If you intend to use your session repeatedly, consider whether you refer to specific time and people which may not help future students. It is a difficult balance as you want the lecture to be embedded in the current class environment and you also want it to be general. Each class can be different.  
  7. Record while broadcasting. Remember to press the record button when you present so that other students can access it later on. Also please remember that some recordings have time limits. Your recordings, for instance, will be kept for two weeks in the system. Download them, if appropriate, for future use before these recordings expire. If downloading is not possible, consider playing it and recording with another software if the software agreement allows it.
  8. Edit your content for reuse. While editing chunks of videos around discreet topics is still easier, and pedagogically attractive, it is also a good practice to shift the making of lectures to post-production. Enlist the help of a media specialist if necessary. 
  9. Consider an online flipped classroom.  Traditionally when we talk about the flipped classroom, we talk about having part of recorded lectures and content online, and the “active learning” part in face-to-face sessions. You can also flip purely online, keeping certain content (short videos, lecture notes, readings, assignments, quizzes) online to be accessed anytime, while scheduling synchronous web conferences for the “active learning” portions of your teaching.
  10. Reflect on the delivery methods. So far as I know, there is not a single method or medium of teaching that will be better than everything else. After a few sessions, consider whether and where this method works for you. For instance, if reusing the current session outweighs interaction with the current class, you might want to consider recording your lecture in a studio. It is not my intention to argue that we have found a new panacea for teaching online. Rather, I’d like to emphasize that there is a time for real-time, different-place teaching, and at other times, asynchronous teaching may be a better choice for you.  

I hope I have challenged some assumptions about online teaching.  I would like to reiterate that same-time, different-place type of online teaching is not an easier mode of delivery. Prepare thoroughly and rehearse often. Balance current and future student needs. Then go live for greater impact!



Blumenstyk, G. (2016) Same Time, Many Locations: Online Education Goes Back to Its Origins. (2016). The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 25 June 2016, from Chronicle

Worthen, M. (2015). Lecture Me. Retrieved 25 June 2016, from Nytimes

Research and Market. (July 1, 2014). Saudi Arabia CCTV Market Forecast and Opportunities, 2019. Business Wire (English). Retrieved on June 25, 2016 from Business Wire

About the author:

Berlin Fang is the director of Instructional Design at the Adams Center for Teaching and Learning at Abilene Christian University.  He can be reached at  For more information, check