Synchronous online teaching recommendations

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Guidance on class sizes for synchronous online teaching

In the move to fully online teaching and learning, class size is widely acknowledged as a key factor in determining the effectiveness of online learning and the extent to which students can be supported to engage actively online. There are particular considerations in relation to synchronous online teaching and learning, including where we are seeking to translate real-time and large class tutor-lead teaching (including lectures) to a fully online context.

The research evidence (including the selection provided below) is consistent in recommending the following

  • an upper class size of between 25 to 30 students maximum for synchronous online teaching and learning for lecture-style sessions with at least some opportunities for activity and interaction;

  • smaller class sizes of up to 12 to 15 for tutor led synchronous sessions that are intended to be highly interactive;

  • and up to 20 for synchronous seminar style sessions.

These recommended class sizes relate to formal taught undergraduate and postgraduate courses, not online self-directed learning (e.g. Massive Open Online Courses or variations on this model).

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Recommended class sizes for synchronous online teaching

In alignment with evidence and accepted good practice in the sector, the university is recommending the following for synchronous online tutor-led teaching and learning:

For class sizes that exceed 30 students content

For class sizes that exceed 30 students

For class sizes that exceed 30 students

  • We strongly recommend replacing lecture-style sessions with a ‘flipped classroom’ approach in which short recorded lectures of up to 30 minutes duration are made available in advance of synchronous tutorial sessions;

  • Synchronous tutorial sessions should be limited to a maximum of twenty students and offer opportunities for active engagement and discussion based around the lecture recordings;

  • Consider the recording of online tutorials for any students who are unable to attend due to conflicts in scheduling, issues with technology, personal work or caring commitments, and to allow students to easily revisit the discussions that took place in the session;

  • Complement recorded lectures and synchronous tutorials with asynchronous opportunities for engagement, for example a Questions Forum for general questions your students have;

  • You could add more structure to asynchronous discussion by having an individual discussion topic for each recorded lecture to which students can post questions in advance or following synchronous tutorial sessions (this may work well with particularly large cohorts);

  • Consider asking students to co-create learning materials, for instance by asking them to curate definitions for a module/unit/course glossary based on your lecture and/or other module/unit/course learning materials.
For class sizes of up to 30 students content

For class sizes of up to 30 students

For class sizes of up to 30 students

  • Teacher-led lecture-style synchronous sessions should be as interactive as possible, including structured opportunities for questions and discussion, use of visual and interactive examples and, depending on which synchronous tool you are using, provision of chat room and opportunities for break out groups;

  • Record your online lectures or other tutor-led synchronous sessions for any students who are unable to attend due to conflicts in scheduling, issues with technology, personal work or caring commitments, and to allow your students to easily revisit the content of the session;

  • Consider how to complement your synchronous sessions with asynchronous opportunities for engagement and discussion, including as a minimum a general Questions Forum;

  • Consider asking students to co-create learning materials, for instance by asking them to curate definitions for a module/unit/course glossary based on your lecture and/or other module/unit/course learning materials.
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If you would like to record lectures prior to asynchronous tutorial sessions, you should use MEDIAL, the university’s platform for recording lectures. Once you have recorded your lecture in MEDIAL, you can easily embed or link to them in Brighstpace. The university also provides access to ClickView which allows you to make lectures and online teaching more interactive by repurposing existing video material from films and documentaries.

For an introduction to and instructions about MEDIAL and ClickView, please refer to our MEDIAL and ClickView guidance.  

Guidance on your options regarding synchronous teaching tools and platforms is available on the Sychronous teaching page above.

For guidance on creating asynchronous discussion boards in Brightspace (including guidance on supplementing online lectures), refer to our Discussion tool guidance for staff

For text you can repurpose in creating a Questions Forum as described above, please refer to the Recommended teaching activities page below.

For guidance on the Brightspace Glossary tool, please refer to our Brightspace Glossary tool guide.

Selection of references content

Selection of references

Selection of references

D’Orio, W. (2017) One size does not fit all. Inside Higher Education, May 17th. Available online [last accessed 03.04.20] https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2017/05/17/online-class-sizes-one-size-doesnt-fit-all

Norman, M. (2017) Synchronous online classes: 10 tips for engaging students. Online Education, June 26th. Available online [last accessed 03.04.20]  https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/synchronous-online-classes-10-tips-engaging-students/

Zhang, Y., Liu, H. and Lin, C. (2018) Research on class size in online K-12 learning. Handbook of Research on K-12 Online and Blended Learning (2nd edition). ETC Press, pp. 273-283. Available online [last accessed 03.04.20] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326698027_Research_on_class_size_in_online_K-12_learning

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