Students’ Voices: perceptions of synchronous discussions via Zoom

Are you a teacher or lecturer who currently supplements their online course delivery with Zoom or Skype meetings with adult students? Or are you thinking this is something you might want to do? Do you worry about the effectiveness of these meetings? Here’s a small piece of research that you might find useful when considering how to spend that 40-minute call.

Participants: 25 MSc students studying online

Data collection: Online questionnaires, collecting qualitative data via open-ended questions exploring: benefits, drawbacks, challenges, engagement, and improving quality of provision of supplementary (non-compulsory) module Zoom meetings. 

Key themes:

 Reluctance to join:

  • Technology problems: poor internet connection; audio; difficulty logging in

  • Time commitments: fitting in schedule; work commitments 

  • Childcare commitments: evening slots difficult 

  • Different time zones  

  • Not preferred method of communication: ‘I do not feel comfortable on video calls with other people’; ‘Skype type calls aren’t my favoured type of contact’; ‘I don’t enjoy Zoom calls at all’


Perceived Advantages:

  • Ease/accessibility/cost-effectiveness/environmentally friendly

  • Face-to-face: ‘you can see who you’ve been communicating with online and via email’; you feel like you’re in the room with the tutor’

  • Real time‘instant feedback’

  • Learning from/sharing with peers‘comparing their understanding to my own’; ‘useful for sharing ideas but I don’t think I’ve actually needed the Zoom sessions to successfully complete the modules’

  • A sense of belonging: ‘it gives me a higher sense of belonging to the University even though I’m studying online only’

  • Cultural dynamic‘having international peers in the group adds a refreshing cultural dynamic, which is an added bonus in understanding the subject matter in different contexts’


Perceived Disadvantages:  

  • Technology: problems screen sharing; camera issues; noise issues with large groups; etiquette; poor/slow internet connection ‘especially for developing countries’‘clunky with a lot of people’

  • Superficiality:‘having an allotted time to speak means you don’t have the chance to explore things in more depth’

  • Participation: ‘Reduced numbers of people who engage with zoom sessions’; ‘lack of advanced preparation by students which can compromise the session’

  • Not f2f:Not quite as nice as meeting up in person but a really good compromise’ 


Students’ suggestions for improved practice:

  • ‘Offer a ‘taster’ zoom session at the beginning’

  • ‘Ensure students know they need a suitable device for participating’

  • ‘Zooms work best with structure, a formal agenda and when focused on course content, and this is especially true with large groups’

  • ‘Encourage more people to attend by putting focus on the agenda and tangible benefits of attending’

  • ‘I see no point of attending Zooms when their only function is ‘checking in’. I want to develop my knowledge of module content, discuss key issues or critically analyse an article’ 

  • ‘Material sent in advance of a Zoom is good. Gives time to digest and reflect and ensures the following zoom session is most productive' 

  • ‘Record zoom sessions so those who miss can catch up’ 

  • ‘Use the online chat facility’ 

  • ‘Offer a variety of times’


Good practice in facilitating synchronous discussion as identified in the literature:

  • Ensure learners see the relevance of the content; this is essential for enhancing adult learning

  • Ensure learners have opportunities to engage fully with at least one of the following: the tutor; and/or the content; and/or other participants

  • Smaller groups likely to have a more positive impact on participant-tutor and participant-participant interaction, so consider dividing big groups and/or using break-out rooms

  • Ground discussions in real experiences, case studies, problems or issues, i.e. application of theory to practice, so as to be meaningful to adult learners

  • View learners as active participants - ask them to bring a problem/issue/dilemma, a journal article, a case study and/or ask them to set the agenda

  • Encourage participant-participant interaction and collaboration, i.e. group problem solving, discussion of a task/case-study

  • Support critical reflection on module content/journal articles/experience

  • Don’t assume students are familiar with/can use the technology. Their attitudes toward and their skills using technology may both require positive change and ongoing support


References and Useful Resources:

Huang, H.M. (2002). Toward constructivism for adult learners in online learning environments. British Journal of Educational Technology,33:1, 27-37.

Keengwe, J., Adjei-Boateng, E. and Diteeyont, W.  (2013). Facilitating active social presence and meaningful interactions in online learning. Education and Information Technologies. 18:4, 597-607.

Vogt, M. A. and Schaffner, B.H. (2016). Evaluating interactive technology for an evolving case study on learning and satisfaction of graduate nursing students. Nurse Education in Practice. 19, 79-83.

Yates, J. (2014). Synchronous online CPD: empirical support for the value of webinars in career settings. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 42:3, 245-260.