Engaging Students in Synchronous Sessions: Using the same human approach, just adopting different tools to deliver online…

Head shot of Nick Howey

Nick Howey, Module Lead BUS2036

Newcastle University Business School 

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences


Who was involved?

Module – BUS2036 – Business Analysis and Business Analytics – Level 2 Elective module UG Marketing, Marketing and Management & Business Management degrees.

Module size – 93 * 2nd year UG students (level 5).


What did you do?

Flexible Learning 2020

The teaching environment is different this year, but to a certain extent, I have not changed my beliefs nor approach. The way I taught this module in the online synchronous sessions was to adopt the same human approach to how I would engage students in the classroom, through structured activities, humour, motivation, and relational practice. I encourage a sense of Collective Responsibility for engagement and the importance of both teacher and student engagement. I promote these sessions as a safe environment for students to experience what the new world of work looks like.

I used Zoom breakout features and Zoom chat to engage students in the live sessions. I used other media technologies, such as taking my gimble and phone to the beach to record an informal welcome video and embedded this in Canvas. This allowed students to see the human side of me, before the first live session.

I was careful not to introduce too many technologies so that the focus remained on the learning rather than how the technology works.

For live sessions I have varied my approach (dependent on the work), for the entire cohort I have allowed chat to be used, I have encouraged the students to switch on cameras – with some success, 48% in the last seminar and about 35% in the last whole cohort tutorial.

I have filmed in different ways, used my phone to video some, used Panopto recording software, but have largely settled on zoom, with different media playing out in the sessions.


How did you do it?

Engaging Students in Synchronous Sessions

Building Engagement bit by bit

Being human, informal, and welcoming students

Informal video – Nick at the beach


Approach to Zoom Breakout Activities


Does it work and Student Voice?

Student comments and feedback:

“The seminars are very engaging, even though it needs to be done on Zoom, I personally believe it’s been done really well and when the breakout room is active I feel I learn so much”

“Bye! Thanks a lot again for an amazing and engaging session!”

Live sessions are helping me learn Linkert scale question
Comment: Approx. 91% are finding that the live ‘zoom’ sessions are helping them learn.

Breakout room Linkert scale question

Comment: Bit more of a mixed bag here, approx. 54% felt breakout sessions worked, 31% were neutral on the use of breakouts and 15% found they did not work well.

I think Nick is lovely Linkert scale question

Comment: This was a fun question in a serious world. However, approx. 96% agreed that Nick is lovely and 4% strongly disagreed. This question goes to prove the adage – you cannot be liked by all of the people all of the time!


Tips and any useful resources  

My overriding tip is this – the medium has changed, the art of teaching and engagement has not. I don’t believe in passive education and that belief underpins everything I try and do.

  • You will still get students who will never take part in a discussion, those who will sit at the back of a lecture theatre and never contribute. The same will apply in seminars – this is nothing new.
  • Emphasis on collective responsibility, if the students want an engaging and interesting live session – then they have to be engaged and interesting!
  • I have tried to talk to the students on the basis that virtual is the new work model – it will be more and more prevalent within the workplace; they have got to get used to it. Crisis often drives rapid innovation, assimilation of new ways and change – this is no different. To help with this I am trying to create an environment where students feel comfortable and are becoming more confident in opening up in a mass meeting. I try to use humour to enhance this, I try to get to know them, I try to create a non-threatening environment by absolutely outlawing any form of ridicule.
  • I emphasise that knowledge, skills and even personality are built bit by bit.
  • Use structure to orientate both live and recorded sessions.
  • Get feedback and act on it.
  • Don’t use breakout rooms in every live session, vary it.
  • Don’t try and use every possible electronic tool at once, introduce – test – adjust.
  • Don’t expect everything to happen at once, it will be based on a series of small steps.
  • Don’t be afraid of recordings with mistakes in, forgetting what you want to say, things not working, etc. this would happen under normal circumstances. In fact, don’t be fearful of mistakes.
  • Try to vary how you record your lectures, use your phone as a video, laptop in classroom with a whiteboard, desktop using zoom, etc.
  • Avoid powerpoint narration – it is uninspiring in my opinion.
  • Never forget some students will be frightened, lonely disillusioned, sad – they are young and have been thrust into an alien world…

My Teaching Philosophy

  • For me, it is important that my teaching is underpinned by the educational philosophy I have believed in for 30+ years and that no matter what technology or mode of delivery my engagement with students is nurtured and encouraged through my beliefs:
  • I believe that my role is to inspire and motivate.
  • I believe to be authentic, I need to care deeply about each individual.
  • I believe in trying to show that level of care in how I deal with every student.
  • I believe education is a journey and I am only part of it.
  • I believe humour is a great motivator and creates interest.
  • I believe in encouraging the individual to be the best they can
  • I believe I cannot teach them everything they need to know
  • I believe that experiential learning is the key to any learning
  • I do not believe in passive education
  • I believe in visualisation to engender a deeper understanding
  • I believe I need to put a lot into my teaching to achieve my beliefs.
  • I believe in the mythical book of ‘how ya gan on’
  • I believe in little steps forward – knowledge, skills, people even – are built and not magically created.

Graduate Framework

This approach develops the following attributes:

  • Digitally capable
  • Future Focused
  • Collaborative
  • Engaged

Staff can find out more about the Graduate Framework on the University intranet.

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