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April 2013 - Dr. Keith Restine, Associate Director of TLT

Attention to planning and managing a synchronous session is the difference between a successful and unsuccessful session. Multiple communication mechanisms, the ability to share files, and more are at your students' fingertips. It is quite possible to have one student speaking using live audio, another chatting with a classmate via private text, and others sharing applications and files simultaneously. As the designer and facilitator, it is your task to carefully and thoughtfully manage the tool to maximize learning. If you just enable all options and expect students to manage the tools and their interactions, you and the students will not have a successful experience the first few sessions. You will spend more time correcting mistakes and managing tools than you will spend teaching and communicating with students.

We present some ideas and tips to help you make your Bb Collaborate session a success.

Build Your Skill Set

Don't try to do too much too fast with Bb Collaborate. This is a powerful tool but you need to spend some time getting familiar with this environment. The cues that you see and hear from students are different. The pacing of a session is different from the F2F and the online classroom. How you check for understanding is different.

Start slow and then begin to add new elements to your session.


  • Start with scheduled office hours. Blackboard IM (BbIM) is a good tool for this activity. Inform students that they must schedule a time during your office hours for one-to-one assistance. Also inform them of the need for a microphone if they want to talk to you via BbIM. Starting with office hours will give you experience using chat and managing audio.
  • Overwrite your instructions for the use of the tools and use visual indicators to show students where certain tools are located. Demonstrate how to use tools if possible.
  • Pace your first two or three sessions as you move to Bb Collaborate. Present for about 7-10 minutes with all tools (chat, audio, whiteboard, etc.) disabled for student use. Use directional language and visual indicators to inform students to move to the chat or another area for questions. Turn the tool on for the students for a limited amount of time. Turn it off when the activity is complete. Present for another 7-10 minutes and repeat.
  • Intentionally insert placeholders in your presentation to check for understanding. The polling tool in Collaborate allows you to build your questions into your presentation with little difficult. 

As you become familiar with the environment and the cues that make this environment operate, you can release more and more control to the students.

Communicate for Focus

Using audio, direct your students to the appropriate tool for certain activities. Provide some transitional and directional language before moving to the tool. Intentionally and directly provide audio instructions on what should be done next.


  • Let's all turn our attention to the chat area.
  • Watch Heidi present her project. She will use Application Sharing to share her project with us. Hold your comments until directed to ask questions.
  • I am now opening a web page. You should be able to see the web page on your screen. Click "yes" after you have read the first two paragraphs on the page to let me know that you are ready to discuss.
  • Let's all pause and read through the comments in the chat window. In a few minutes, we will discuss how you can go into more depth on some of these topics.

Establish Ground Rules

You should specify which communication avenues are available for certain types of interaction. Instructions should be detailed and specific to the activity. Enable or disable certain communication features based on the activity and expected outcome.


  • I have placed a great amount of information on the whiteboard. You will be moving this information around and placing it into categories in your breakout rooms. Do not delete any of the information! You are expected to place all information into a category.
  • Give your full attention to the speaker. Do not send chat messages until asked to do so. If you have a question during the presentation, write it down until it is time for the speaker to take questions.
  • You can ask questions using audio. Raise your hand and I will call upon you.

Use the Technology to Focus Attention

Verbal instructions are one way to direct students' attention. Some synchronous technologies allow the moderator to enable/disable certain tools on-the-fly. Disabling certain tools focuses attention and can also be used as a management strategy. Interactions, such as illustrating on the whiteboard, may benefit from disabling other tools that may distract students. Some technologies allow you to show your cursor or use a laser pointer to direct attention to certain areas on the screen.

Manage the Environment

You want students to focus on the content and your explanation. Just as in F2F classrooms, some students get off task and may distract others. It is up to you, as moderator, to manage these sidebar activities. You will need to intentionally determine your comfort level with such issues and direct students appropriately. What is distracting to one student may be engaging to another. Students typically respond well to verbal instructions. Another strategy is to poll the audience and jointly determine next steps. We also encourage you to anticipate behaviors and include specific written instructions before the issues arise. Spontaneity is one of the strengths of the synchronous environment and can approximate F2F activities but it must be managed. Off task conversations using text during a presentation should be directed offline and you should be comfortable asking students to do so.


Do not ignore distractions during a live session. Students will concentrate on the distractor and not on the message. Mention the distraction, refocus students, and move on. For instance, if the telephone in your office rings while you are delivering a session - mention that you forgot to turn off the ringer and that you will be more careful in the future. Turn off the phone or turn down the volume and continue with the instruction.

Adapted from Finkelstein, J. (2006). Learning in real time: Synchronous teaching and learning online. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

page last updated 4/15/2014 8:32 PM