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Guidelines for lecturing online

Most online course sites will require some amount lecturing to help you get your students on the right page. Here are some tips to help you create effective online lectures that hold the attention of your students.

Prerecorded or live?

The first thing to consider is whether you want your students to all gather online for a live (synchronous) session or whether you want to pre-record sessions for students to watch at their leisure (asynchronous). Each type of session has its advantages and disadvantages.

Use a synchronous session if:

  • You want to use real-time activities like short-turnaround breakout groups
  • You need immediate feedback from your students
  • You need all of your students to pace together through an activity or lesson

Use an asynchronous session if:

  • Your students can pace through the units or course material on their own
  • You’re flipping a classroom and want to use a lecture to provide the first point of instructional contact
  • Students are doing projects that can be structured, organized, or managed by the students with limited instructor oversight
  • Your students need flexibility
  • It’s ok for your students to skip or test out of content they already know.

Unless there is an outstanding reason to provide a synchronous session -- something you're doing that cannot be duplicated in an asynchronous fashion -- then we recommend pre-recording your lectures. Being able to complete schoolwork around one's own schedule is one of the biggest appeals of online education.

Designing lectures that get watched

Start with your objectives…and lecture as a last resort.

Before you begin to dive in and record lectures for every single unit, first consider whether the instructional objectives/learning goals of each unit can be achieved by other means. Here are some alternatives to lecturing that have been successfully used in online classes:

  • Ask your students to work through a case study and share their conclusions and experiences in a discussion board.
  • Have your students use a specified note-taking format like Interactive Notes, submit scans of their notes, and grade them complete/incomplete.
  • Ask students to solve a puzzle or work with a new software and then address the challenges and successes with the experience in a student reflection journal.
  • Ask them to participate in a debate or role-play in the discussion board and then reflect on it in a short paper?
  • Ask students to define and illustrate key terms or concepts (I recommend starting this assignment by doing one first that includes a very bad drawing of the concept so the bar for your non-artistic students is set very low) and scan and upload them to a Wiki.

There are dozens of lecture alternatives that increase student engagement and promote a high level of thinking in your online course. If you need help thinking of activities to meet your specific learning objectives, please reach out to us and we can walk you through some alternatives.

In some cases, however, you simply have to lecture and that’s okay! Take another look at your objectives and begin to outline lectures that stick to the rest of these pointers.

Keep it short

3 hours of online lecture is too much. Studies show that students tend to zone out around seven minutes and are completely disengaged after about fifteen. Try to keep your lectures under fifteen minutes, even if that means you need to record several fifteen minute lectures for one unit.

Keep your learners engaged

Pre-recorded lectures can and should still actively engage learners. For example, ask your students to stop, think, and write things down. Have them follow along with a sequence of instructions that you hand write on the screen. Include quizzes and polling in the middle of the lecture. Most of our lecturing tools include solutions for capturing these kinds of activities within the lecture; use these tools to keep your students participating, rather than passively viewing.


Once the lecture is over, immediately connect the content to activities that will require them to use, apply, or reflect on the information. It’s helpful to remind them in the instructions to reference the lecture as they work on the task.

Keep it accessible

If you're providing a video (or audio) lecture, you need to provide your students with a transcript of the spoken content. Fortunately, writing a script, even for a presentation you plan to improv, can significantly improve the quality of your lecture. When you post your video, include the transcript alongside it.

The tools

There are a number of tools available for faculty interested in lecturing online.

Synchronous tools: Collaborate Ultra

If you're running a synchronous session, Blackboard's Collaborate Ultra is the best tool to use. It has a wide range of features useful in education, including break-out rooms, on the fly polling, application sharing, and a digital whiteboard both you and your students can use. In addition to this, it is fully supported by the University of Detroit Mercy, meaning there's a good chance your students will have used the tool in a previous course. Collaborate sessions can also be recorded, giving students who could not attend the session the option to see (and hear) what they missed.

Asynchronous tools: Office Mix

Office Mix is a free, Microsoft produced plug-in for PowerPoint on PC. As a result, it's the easiest way to add narration (and annotation) to your slideshow. Narration is saved on a slide-by-slide basis, making it easy to add or remove slides to an existing presentation (or re-record a single slide, if necessary). Mix also allows you to incorporate your webcam into your presentation, if you'd like to overlay a video capture of you talking into your slides – in the online learning world this is called this the “talking head.”

If your presentation style is more write-on-the-whiteboard than talk over pre-formatted slides, consider setting up a deck of blank slides and using a touchscreen PC when recording. If you don't have a touchscreen PC at home, IDS has a few available for faculty to check out for this very purpose.

An excellent practice for keeping students engaged is to embed quizzing into your presentation. Office Mix allows you to embed quizzes into your presentation which, when combined with the Mix lecture streaming service, can put students' in-lecture quiz scores right into your Blackboard Grade Center. The Mix streaming service also provides excellent use statistics, letting you see, for example, how much of each lecture your individual students watched.

Asynchronous tools: Camtasia

Camtasia is a video screen-recording tool, excellent tool both for narrating slide shows and for walking your learners through any desktop activity. IDS uses Camtasia to record all our instructional technology how-to videos. Editing presentations is a little more complicated in Camtasia than in Mix -- adding or removing slides in particular is more difficult -- so our general recommendation is to use Camtasia if you want to show more than just a PowerPoint deck.

If you want to include testing in your video lectures and would prefer not to use Microsoft's streaming service, Camtasia files can be packaged and imported into Blackboard in such a way that embedded assessments will be included in the Grade Center.

In addition to screen recording, Camtasia is also an excellent, relatively simple-to-use video editor, so if you plan to use another option to record your presentation (recording with the camera on your phone, for example) or mix slides with other media, Camtasia is a good tool to consider. If you'd like, IDS will help you produce your Camtasia recordings and post them to your Blackboard course site for you. We also can provide a private room near the Instructional Design Studio that you can record in. If you get stuck while recording or need help you can just come across the hall to let us know and we’ll come over and assist you.

Asynchronous tools: Audacity

So far we've discussed tools that incorporate audio and video. If students can get what they need from your presentation without a visual component, Audiacity is an excellent free tool for recording audio only.

Some Detroit Mercy faculty have had great success dictating comments on student work using Audacity. Students report that having an audio file to listen to as they look over their graded assignments gives them the feeling of a face-to-face meeting with their professor.

Other faculty have found that using Audicity is an excellent way to introduce students to new modules in a course, or summarize recently concluded modules. The audio-only nature means the process is much lower impact / pressure / prep than a fuller presentation that includes a visual component.

Asynchronous tools: Collaborate Ultra

While Collaborate Ultra is primarily a synchronous tool, its session-recording functionality makes it a decent substitute for Office Mix or Camtasia in a pinch. Collaborate sessions don't copy between courses as easily as the above solutions, making it more of an ad hoc solution than something to be relied on for planned course development.

Permalink Last updated 08/07/2017 by R. Davidson

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