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Live (synchronous) teaching sessions for online learning

Live, or synchronous, sessions in an interactive virtual classroom provide a valuable opportunity for the most immediate form of contact between teachers and students. They also place demands on users that many students will find challenging.

These challenges do not mean that you should not use live sessions in your teaching. Rather, it means that you should use live sessions in ways that offer the maximum value to students, playing to their strengths:


  • Allows people to engage in dynamic conversations.
  • Allows tutors to intervene in student learning as it takes place (seeing problems unfold, witnessing thinking processes etc).
  • Provides visual and verbal cues for social presence.
  • Brings a group of people together in a shared, immediate event.


  • Relies heavily on the internet connection (bandwidth).
  • Requires a webcam, mic or headset and an undisturbed space to participate.
  • Difficulties in getting your point across in a large group.
  • Scheduling may be challenging for some students.

Planning webinars and live sessions 

The planning and delivering webinar sessions for learning and teaching provides extensive advice and best practice guidance for planning and delivering live sessions using Collaborate Ultra. It includes two example webinar activities with pre-session and post-session activities in the appendix as well. 

Example 1: Illustrates how a tutor uses breakout rooms for students to discuss a case study. It includes: 

  • Pre-session announcements to introduce and define the activity 
  • In-session plans starting the session, forming breakout groups, reforming the class for a reflection and ending the session. 
  • Post-session announcement to add closure and next steps for learning. 

Example 2: Demonstrates how a lecturer uses polls and chat to engage students in a lecture and get feedback on their understanding of the topic. It includes: 

  • Pre-session announcements to provide introductions and materials for analysis 
  • In-session plans to begin the lecture, gauge student progress with polls, and deliver a presentation with regular points of engagement using the chat and polls. 
  • Post-session announcement to share slides and further reading. 

You can use these plans as a starting point for your live sessions. 

Using Collaborate Ultra 

Collaborate Ultra is the University’s video conferencing tool is a real-time video conferencing tool which lets you add files, share applications, and use a virtual whiteboard to interact with students. It opens in your web browser, so you don’t have to install any software to join a session.

You can find out how to set up and use Collaborate Ultra on the DES Systems Help website.

Before the Collaborate Ultra session can run, you need to first create it on Minerva. Please follow the guidance provided on this page.

In addition, the resource, design and deliver engaging Collaborate Ultra sessions, will help you to familiarise yourself with the basic and advanced functions of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra specifically for synchronous teaching sessions. It also provides tips and guidance on how to design activities that use Collaborate Ultra to promote interaction and student engagement.  

Getting started

If you haven’t used Collaborate Ultra before, please see the guidance document below which explains how to get started and plan your sessions for teaching. 

Guidance documents: 


Use email and Announcements in Minerva to ensure that students are aware of when the session will run and to communicate any preparatory reading required.  


Deliver your session

There are several tools which you can use to enhance how you deliver your session. The links below will direct you to the Blackboard help website and give you an idea of what is possible.


Here are suggestions for how you could use some of the key Collaborate Ultra tools:

Share files and other content (for presentations)

Use the Share tool for your presentation slides and other files. This displays your presentation on screen for students to see.

You can also share your screen as well so that students can see what is on your screen. This is useful for doing demonstrations – but be careful you do not show emails or other private information by accident.



Use Polls to ask students questions and gather the results to make your lecture more interactive.

Polls can be set up with Yes/No or multiple-choice options (up to five answer choices). You can choose whether to display the aggregate responses to students, and you can see which students have responded and their responses.



Use the Chat to engage with your students by asking them questions during your lecture. Ask students to share their questions in the chat as well.

When a student posts a comment in the chat, you can ask them to elaborate verbally as well.

You and your students can post messages and emojis in the Chat on the right-hand side of the screen.


Breakout Groups

For larger sessions, you can put students into smaller breakout groups for discussion and then return them back to the main class.

Make sure you:

  • Clearly state the activity or question you want groups to perform when in the breakout space, including the duration for the activity (display this on a slide and ask students to note it down)
  • Ask students to nominate a record keeper or spokesperson to report back to the rest of the class
  • Give warnings to students when you are about to end the breakout groups



Use the Whiteboard tool to make your lectures interactive. Students can collaborate on the whiteboard for the whole class or in Breakout Groups.

Whiteboards are good for simple drawings and editing diagrams. They work well for engagement and induction activities too.


Recording your lecture

Recording your Collaborate Ultra session means that students are able to view and/or revisit the content at a convenient time and can aid revision.

Please remember to check your students are happy to be recorded first – there is an option to remove students’ names from recordings but this has to be enabled before the session takes place.

Guidance :

Further resources:

The short LinkedIn Learning course Teaching Online: Synchronous Classes (under an hour and 15 mins) offers a useful overview of tools, tips, and techniques for running live-streamed or multi-mode teaching sessions.

Downloads and links