Synchronous eLearning is learning that takes place online in real-time and enables students and instructors to ask and answer questions immediately. Tools like online text chat or videoconferencing are considered synchronous learning.

Zoom is a robust web conferencing platform integrated with Canvas at UIS. Faculty can schedule and start Zoom meetings from within Canvas. Students can easily join Zoom meetings and access cloud recordings through the Zoom menu in Canvas courses.

Many UIS instructors keep virtual office hours in Zoom for online students.

Synchronous learning tools available

  • Canvas Chat - Canvas chat can be enabled in your course under Settings > Navigation tab. Click on the kebab menu, select Enable, and click Save. Learn more about Canvas Chat.
  • Harmonize Chat - If you use the Harmonize discussion platform, a chat tool is included. Learn more about Harmonize Chat.
  • Zoom - Zoom features many tools useful to teaching and learning, including videoconferencing, screen sharing, and online whiteboards. Learn more about Zoom from UIS ITS.

Things to consider with synchronous learning

Zoom can be an excellent platform for delivering lectures, holding class discussions, supporting group work and class debates, and enabling presentations. However, there are also some things you should keep in mind as the instructor.

What is your course schedule type?

Your course session type in the UIS Dynamic Course Schedule should inform your use of synchronous learning components. Students register for course formats that work in their schedules.

  • Online
    Students who register for courses with an "online" session type expect asynchronous courses that fit around their schedules. Requiring synchronous sessions reduces the flexibility that appeals to--and is often necessary for the schedules of--many online students.If you choose to offer synchronous sessions, they should be optional. Any information shared during optional synchronous sessions should be recorded or shared in another manner. Consider offering several sessions from which your students may choose.
  • Blended (online and classroom)
    Blended courses must meet at 25% of the time on campus in a classroom. Those dates and times should be listed in the dynamic course schedule. If you choose to hold synchronous class meetings outside those on-campus meetings, you should make an attempt to schedule the synchronous sessions with students and record the them for those who cannot attend. Keeping the same day of the week and time as the on-campus sessions can be a good place to start planning to ensure fewer conflicts with other courses and student schedules.
  • HyFlex
    Instruction activities for HyFlex courses are offered in asynchronous, synchronous, and face-to-face formats for every class session. All face-to-face class meetings should be connected to Zoom and recorded.

Common issues in videoconferencing

  • It is very common for meeting participants to use the chat feature instead of speaking. Monitoring the chat while presenting can be challenging at first, but most presenters are able to adapt.
  • Speaking at the same time and interrupting another speaker are common in a virtual meeting due to the time it takes for the audio and video to be sent and received over the internet.
  • People who connect via dial-in (calling the phone number) will be unable to see who is in the meeting, who is speaking, or any text chat messages. To minimize confusion and disengagement, ask participants to state their name before speaking and summarize chat conversations when applicable.
  • For meetings of more than five participants, microphone noise from those who are not actively speaking can be distracting or prevent others from knowing who is speaking. Ask those not actively speaking to mute.
  • Requiring participants to turn on video can be an accessibility and usability issue for participants:
    • Those with slower internet connections may not be able to connect reliably using video.
    • Video may be a distraction and increase fatigue, especially for participants with attention deficits.
    • Some participants may not feel comfortable sharing video of their place of connection due to privacy and a variety of other reasons.
    • Many participants do not have web cameras available.
  • In large meetings, instructors/meeting hosts cannot see video thumbnails of all the participants at once. This can make it difficult to gauge participant’s engagement and understanding of the discussion. It is also difficult for participants to know who else is in the meeting.


If you have a student with accommodations in your course, the UIS Office of Disability Services will continue working with the student and all their instructors. Zoom can support live captioning, if required.

There are several steps you can take to make Zoom more accessible for all students.

  • Enable automated captions for all meetings you host.
  • Ask all speaking participants to state their name before they speak to give a verbal cue that the speaker is changing. A simple, "This is Jane" can be very helpful to those unable to view the visual interface.
  • Know that automated captions do not function in breakout rooms.
  • Turning on video can help those who read lips.
  • The Zoom whiteboard feature is not accessible to those who are blind. It can also be inaccessible to those who have limited mobility and cannot use a mouse.
  • When screen sharing, describe what is being shown. Participants who are blind need this description in order to be aware of the shared content. It is also helpful for information retention for all participants.

Additional information on Zoom accessibility features is available. If you have a Zoom recording that needs to have captions remediated after being uploaded to Kaltura (My Media), please email COLRS.

Have a plan for your class time

Before your synchronous session is set to begin, you'll want to plan out your material. It might be helpful to create an outline for your session and to answer the following questions:

  • What topics do I want to cover?
  • What materials do I need to share? How will those be shared with students?
  • What questions will I ask students? What is my expectation for how they will respond?

It's also important to test your technology ahead of time. Make sure you are using a high-speed internet connection. Audio and video sharing require a stable, higher-bandwidth connection that some wireless networks aren't capable of supplying. Join the live session before the scheduled start time so you can conduct an audio check, making sure your mic and speakers or headphones are working appropriately.

Best Practices for Synchronous Sessions

To ensure that your students have the best experience possible with your synchronous sessions, consider the following best practices:

  • Inform your students. Post information in Canvas for your students explaining the technology and how they will use it.
  • Schedule a trial run. Test your web conferencing tool first, if possible, which someone who can log in from a different location as a "test audience." Then, you can run through your materials early, checking that everything loads properly. Participants can join a "test call" on the Zoom website to ensure their technology is working.
  • Orient participants to the mute, raise hand, chat, and automated closed caption features of Zoom. Do not assume that participants know how to use Zoom simply because they have been able to join to the meeting. These tools are especially useful in large meetings
  • Ask participants to mute their microphones. Learn to use the moderator override functions.
    Learn how to use host override functions, such as muting participant mics. Note that those joining the meeting via dial-in may not be able to easily mute or unmute their microphones, as they may not be using a meeting client. They may also be unaware if the presenter has muted them.
  • Mention student names. Use students' names as frequently as possible. It grabs their attention and makes the online environment feel more personal.
  • Use emoticons. Learn to use emoticons to substitute for facial expressions, and learn to interpret your students' virtual facial expressions.
  • Have clear outcomes and activities for breakout rooms. Keep breakouts short. Designate roles (or ask participants to do so). Knowing that someone should be taking notes and that the group is expected to report on their work helps breakout rooms to be productive.
  • Get comfortable with instant messaging. Learn to monitor the instant messaging feature while you, a guest speaker, or other students are using microphones. This ensures participants without microphones can fully participate. You can also designate a co-facilitator or student to monitor the chat.
  • Record sessions. Recording your sessions allows students who could not attend to listen to the recorded session presentation. Recorded sessions that show student names and faces are not appropriate to use in future semesters, as it is a FERPA violation.
  • Ask participants to state their names before speaking. 
    • Participants who are blind and those participating via dial-in will be made aware of who is speaking.
    • Sign language interpreter will convey the speaker’s name to the participant who is deaf or hard-of-hearing so that they may participate fully.
    • People editing the meeting captions will properly identify speakers.
    • If two participants speak at once, the instructor will know who to call on.
  • Ask participants to introduce themselves when entering a breakout room. This will help those who do not have access to video to know who their fellow breakout group participants are.
  • Solicit feedback. Ask for feedback from your students to help you improve content and delivery for your next course by using the polling feature.

Synchronous learning strategies and activities

One of the major complaints of online events is the lack of spontaneous interactions with other people. Hallway conversations and chatting during breaks builds relationships. The community building and engagement strategies that follow can be an antidote to the boredom and social isolation that can plague virtual events. Items that are marked with a double asterisk (**) may be especially helpful for community building.

  • ** Breakout rooms in the beginning or middle of sessions can be a great way to allow spontaneous conversation while ensuring participants don't just check out early at the end of a session. Put all the students in random breakout rooms for 5 minutes at the beginning of each session. They can debrief about the previous session or other things that they are doing or have side conversations. The key to this working is "no agenda."
  • ** Ice breakers: Pair participants up in breakout rooms and have them introduce one another. Providing a list of optional interview questions may be helpful for some participants.
  • Provide your participations with information on how and where they should communicate. Identify the preferred communication channel when you are in a blended synchronous environment. Should they use their microphones and speak? Should they use text chat? When participants must split their attention between audio and text chat, conversations can be hard to follow. Help your participants focus so that they do not miss important information. Instructors also need to make a plan for how they will monitor the text chat and the in-person and video interactions.
  • Ask for and incorporate feedback. A quick informal poll, a survey, or a discussion asking for feedback about the structure can give you valuable insight about what is working--and not working--in your course. Take the feedback and adjust moving forward. Your participants will appreciate it.
  • Use polling. Polls are another strategy to engage participants, even reluctant communicators! PollEverywhere can be used live during synchronous class time and left open for your asynchronous students to participate. A great option for polling that is built into Canvas is Harmonize polls. They can be attached to a Harmonize discussion or created as a stand-alone poll. Whichever tool you select, be sure to create a wrap-up about the poll after students in all modes have participated. What have you learned? What does it mean? Participants can also be assigned this sort of wrap-up summary.
  • Use groups or learning pods in which students support one another and share their experiences during the session. You could also use these groups to complete more traditional structured group projects.
  • ** Pair students up to work in Zoom breakout rooms to facilitate students building more personal relationships among their peers. It allows for low-pressure chatting.
  • ** One minute response. Ask a question (open-ended, no right answers; solution to a problem, etc.) and allow participants one minute to type a response in chat, but ask them not to post (hit "enter") on Zoom chat until you ask. This can allow more spontaneous responses and allow students to make connections based on one another's replies.
  • ** Birds of a feather groups. Based on a poll or other data, create affinity groups among your participants. Use these groups at various points during your course or event to help them build community.
  • Group note taking. Ask participants to collaborate on note taking during class. Create a Google Doc in your Canvas Collaborations and have them work on the notes during sessions. Google Docs can also be used for group reports.
  • Back channel text chat. Use Zoom chat or Canvas chat for a back channel during sessions. This allows participants to engage without speaking and can assist students with hearing difficulties. Zoom's chat log can be problematic. Participants may not see messages if they join late or are dropped from the session. Breakout Rooms can also interrupt chat. Remember to delegate managing the back channel to a student. Have them speak up with interesting observations and questions throughout the lesson. Consider building time into your session plan to check on this communication channel.
  • Vary activities throughout the session.
  • Participant presentations can be a great way to break up lectures. If you schedule student participation throughout the term, you will have some built-in variety.
  • Allow a 5-10 minute break every 45 minutes. This break interval allows time for participants to refocus and keep alert.
  • Using Google Docs as an activity framework for breakouts.

Additional Resources

Zoom Usability for Students with Slow or Intermittent Internet Access

Zoom is designed to work on multiple platforms (Mac and Windows, plus mobile devices). Zoom also compresses audio and video feeds to make them work on slower internet connections. Below are some strategies for providing support for students with slow, unreliable, or intermittent internet access, or other circumstances that prevent joining a synchronous session during normal class meetings times. Being flexible and forgiving will be key to helping all our students continue their learning.



  1. Remind students that they can call in to listen and participate.
    If they don't have internet access, they are not excluded from the class. Each Zoom meeting will have a phone number and a meeting ID that allows participants to call in. Remember, though, that those who connect via dial-in (i.e. using their phone) will be unable to see who is speaking and who is in the meeting. They also cannot read the chat messages. This can lead to confusion and the participant disengaging from the discussion. If you discuss ideas from the chat, summarize the conversation verbally. 
  2. Turn off video
    Turning off video 
  3. Upload all PowerPoint slides, shared resources, and websites to Canvas.
    This can be helpful for students who are calling in. They can download and/or print resources before the synchronous meeting time.
  4. Record the session to the Cloud and post it.
    Zoom automatically provides auto-captions for recordings to the cloud. Take advantage of this feature and save some steps. These recordings are saved for six months. If you'd like to keep a lecture for longer periods, upload the recording to Kaltura MyMedia or YouTube. When the recording is uploaded, post it to your Canvas course to provide alternative viewing modes for students who cannot meet at the normal, scheduled class time. Learn about Zoom recordings and uploading to Kaltura.
  5. Provide a "muddiest point" discussion forum for the synchronous session.
    The Muddiest Point is a simple classroom assessment technique to help assess where students are having difficulties. Ask each student to post a quick response to the question: "What was the muddiest point in [synchronous meeting, lecture, discussion, assignment, etc.]?" You might replace "muddiest" with "most unclear" or "most confusing." This technique also allows students who view the recording later to participate with the rest of the class.


Reducing "Zoom Exhaustion"

With classes and meetings utilizing synchronous, online models, you may be finding yourself more exhausted than normal. In the past, we have heard from both faculty and staff that online, synchronous video conversations are more tiring than their face-to-face equivalents. Dr. Steven Hickman, UC San Diego Clinical Associate Professor of Family Medicine & Public Health, provides these tips for managing Zoom exhaustion:



  • Before starting a Zoom sessions, take a few moments to settle and ground your attention.
  • After starting the session, greet each new participant with your full attention.
  • Select Speaker View to focus on whoever is speaking at the time.
  • Reduce multitasking during the session.


Dr. Suzanne Degges-White, NIU Professor of Counseling and Higher Education, provides additional tips in reducing Zoom fatigue:


  • Rather than always using your computer, occasionally use your phone to call into some Zoom sessions where you are not the presenter.
  • During Zoom sessions, consider taking notes on paper instead of on a computer.
  • Schedule breaks between sessions whenever possible.


Schedule a Recurring Zoom Meeting in Canvas

Zoom allows you to schedule meetings with multiple occurrences so that each occurrence uses the same meeting ID and settings. You can schedule these meetings in daily, weekly, and monthly increments. You can also set a recurring meeting to be used at any time. Meeting IDs for recurring meetings expire 365 days after the meeting was last started.



  1. Access Zoom from Canvas
  2. Click Meetings
  3. Click Schedule a Meeting
  4. Check Recurring Meeting
  5. Edit the recurrence
  6. Click Save and Add to Calendar
  7. Finish selecting the meeting options and click Schedule.


Research & Instructional Strategies