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Online Teaching & Learning Guide: Connect with Your Class Via Synchronous Web Conferencing

Connect with Your Class Via Synchronous Web Conferencing

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What is synchronous online conferencing?

Synchronous (real-time) online conferencing allows for real-time student interaction with audio- and video-based communications. A synchronous online classroom allows instructors to:

  • create an online presence with audio and video feeds
  • present and demonstrate live in an online classroom, and
  • host office hours and meeting spaces that utilize audio, video, and sharing options to engage student learning

Privacy Note: For recordings and video conferencing involving observing clinical sessions, telemedicine activities, discussing patient information, etc., please refer to subject-specific HIPPA guidelines.


How do I get started in WebEx?

WebEx is the synchronous online communication system supported by JMU. Here is a step-by-step guide from JMU Libraries for getting started in WebEx

To schedule a WebEx session in Canvas for the first time, log in to jmu.webex.com to authenticate your account with the JMU WebEx platforms, including WebEx in Canvas and download the WebEx application. 

Below is a screenshot showing the application download on Firefox:

WebEx app

What are some teaching-related functions that can be used in WebEx?

WebEx is a video conferencing tool that can be accessed via jmu.webex.com or JMU Canvas WebEx. Both methods can be used to schedule WebEx meetings, training, and events. Visit the WebEx Guide from JMU Information Technology for more information.

As instructors, you can use WebEx for:

  • Hosting office hours. Create a personal meeting room at jmu.webex.com/meet/YourJMUeID This will eliminate the step of entering all student emails outside Canvas. At your office hour time, launch the WebEx meeting room and "Admit" visitors.
  • Presenting to your class. You can also show things like PowerPoint slides, Google Slides, or programs like SPSS during your presentations.
  • Facilitating group work. Try WebEx Breakout rooms. A training session will enable the use of Breakout Rooms, which simulate small groups in a face-to-face setting. Students in a Breakout Room will be able to present to other group members, including sharing PowerPoint presentations, drawing on a whiteboard, and discussing with audio and video feed. Find a comparison of the functions of WebEx meeting, training, and event centers provided by CISCO here.

Click here to download or view a flowchart with the steps you should take to start using WebEx.  

More information about JMU support and resources can be found at: https://www.jmu.edu/computing/communication-and-collaboration/webex.shtml

Note: Please ask your students about their access to stable Internet and a computer before you decide to commit to transferring your classes to a synchronous online mode. 

Light bulb Tips for the first few times you use WebEx:

Before you join or host your first WebEx meeting, please check this updated CISCO help information and test a meeting at https://www.webex.com/test-meeting.html

If you plan to use headphones or a headset with a microphone, you should plug them into your computer before you start the WebEx meeting AND select "Connect with Computer Audio" in WebEx to ensure audio quality.

How can I access WebEx from JMU Canvas?

After having logged in jmu.webex.com one time with DUO, you will be able to use WebEx in JMU Canvas by signing in canvas.jmu.edu. You will find the WebEx menu item in one of the Canvas courses that you teach, look for account settings/Conference settings. You will be able to schedule WebEx meetings or training within Canvas if you see all green checkmarks as the screenshot below:

Then follow this Host a WebEx session in Canvas to schedule WebEx video conferencing for classes. 

How can my students access my WebEx meeting or training sessions from Canvas?

Students will sign in jmu.canvas.com with their dukes.jmu.edu e-ID, find your class, and locate the WebEx course menu, join the meeting/training on the day/time of the class video conferencing, as illustrated with the screenshot below:

Note: For students, first-time of using WebEx will also trigger their computers to download extensions or plug-ins or App to be able to join your video conferencing. Send students the directions in  What are some teaching-related functions that JMU WebEx can be used? to help their computer ready. 

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How can I use Video Conferencing to facilitate student group work? 

Solution ONE - WebEx Training Session Breakout Rooms for Group Work:

In your Canvas course, schedule a WebEx training session which will allow the setup of Breakout Sessions (virtual small groups), as shown with the screenshot below:

Then follow this tutorial to set up Breakout Rooms. (Victoria University Collaborate Help, CC-by)

Solution TWO - Canvas Conferences in the main class menu as well as on the Group Home page. 

Follow this guide from the Canvas Community to set up Conferences for the class. 

Follow this guide from the Canvas Community to set up Group Conferences. 

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How might I use WebEx to present procedures, like equation writing, to students online synchronously or through asynchronous recordings?

This can be accomplished by a combination of using a smartphone with front and rear camera. Invite the phone to a Webex meeting call from an instructor's WebEx personal meeting room, like this one: https://jmu.webex.com/meet/liujc. Then:

Step 1 - Download the Cisco WebEx Meetings app from the App Store (iPhones) or the Google Play Store (Android phones).

Step 2 - Open the app on your smartphone and accept the Terms of Service. It should say “Select Site”, enter jmu.webx.com and sign in with your JMU email and password.  

Step 3 - Create a separate email account that is NOT your JMU email, since you will invite your phone as a projector to your WebEx meeting which is initiated with your JMU email.

Step 4 - Sign in jmu.webx.com your personal meeting room https://jmu.webex.com/meet/liujc and start a WebEx meeting, so that you can skip entering all students' emails in a system that is NOT JMU MyMadison or Canvas. 

Then click the “Start” button. This will open the desktop app and prompt you to download WebEx plugins or extensions for Google Chrome or Firefox. You will also need to allow the camera and microphone access for WebEx. For detailed instructions, please refer to this visual guide.

Then you should see your face in a preview window. From this window click the “Start Meeting” button and activate the camera and microphone on your laptop or desktop computer so that they are not red. You can allow the use of your phone’s microphone and camera if asked, but keep the phone microphone muted.

Step 5 - At this point your phone should be in the desktop/laptop call that you started, but the video feed might be muted. Click on the video camera icon at the bottom of your phone app to activate the camera; note the small “turn around” icon in the upper right of the video popup; set this to the rear/back camera of your phone so that the projection is not triggered by downward screen mute mode. Then click “Start My Video” icon on the phone. This will allow the video to be shared on your main screen of the laptop.

Step 6 - Now your phone should be a participant in the call on your computer; you can place the phone so that pen and paper are visible to its camera. From your desktop/laptop call, you can switch between having your desktop/laptop webcam as the presenter (showing your face or a screen share) and having your phone’s camera be the presenter (showing your writing). Your phone projector will capture your writing process, which will be demonstrated to your students through the separate email account's camera/video feed on your main screen. Refer to the following screenshot from WebEx:

Equation Writing through WebEx     Equation Writing with WebEx

Additional notes - Your students can be presenters in your WebEx meetings, too. Click on the Participant List icon to open a sidebar showing the people in the call. Find the initials of any participant to switch them to be the presenter by selecting the participant and making her/him as Presenter. You should see the WebEx ball show at the participant's name. This can also be recorded through WebEx.

The recordings in MP4 format can be shared on many online platforms such as JMU Canvas. 

Phone setup: And your phone will need an easy-to-find home supply, a slim box with some weight or a stack of books of at least 12" of height so that your writing procedure can be captured clearly. Another weight object is also needed to balance your phone so that it will not drop! See the following demonstration image:

Holding a smartphone for procedural demonstration with WebEx

This part of the guide, on using WebEx to synchronously demonstrate procedural writing, was co-developed by Dr. Laura Taalman and Dr. Juhong Christie Liu from James Madison University

What are some other tools that I can use for synchronous class presentation and virtual office hours?

The following tools are not supported by JMU. You and your students may already use one of these in web-based communication and collaboration:

  • Zoom provides free services for educational purposes. Sign up at zoom.us for a free educational account, then start to host 40-minute video conferencing for up to 100 participants.  
  • Google Hangouts is also a widely used video conferencing tool, with up to 25 participants in your organization (the 10 most active participants are shown at the bottom of the screen (support.google.com)
  • Skype to Skype calling lets you make free calls online for up to 50 people (49 plus you!) for audio or video conferencing on any device (skype.com)