Part 7: Spring 2018 Labs

110 Ultra Conference Online Synchronous Discussions with Lynet Uttal – 03.14.2018

In the March 14, 2018 Active Teaching Lab, Lynet Uttal shared strategies to foster student participation and engagement using Ultra Conference online synchronous discussion sections in Canvas. Visit the session’s activity sheet for more information, and take a look at this Woodley et al. (2017) article on best practices in culturally responsive online teaching.


  • Ultra Conference provides an opportunity for online synchronous (real-time) discussions in otherwise asynchronous online courses. Asynchronous online learning is often considered to be more didactic (content transfer vs. critical thinking and constructivism), so synchronous learning opportunities are essential for rich learning in an online medium.
  • A challenge of online courses is finding ways to increase students’ self-awareness and emergent thinking. Student questioning, experiential learning activities, and online group discussions in Ultra Conference have proven to be successful strategies to meet this challenge. 
  • Writing an effective discussion question is the first step toward engaging online discussion. Instruct students on the art of questioning and make it an assignment to assess their progress.
  • Structured discussion notes promote group member accountability. Have students submit their group’s notes for a grade. Use a rubric to help communicate expectations and ease grading.
  • Scheduling conflicts can be minimized by allowing students to sign up for online discussion groups based on the time and day of week they want to meet. Four people per group is a manageable size, and students can negotiate with others in the group to reschedule the discussion if they can’t meet.
  • Ultra Conference is an effective space to hold team meetings, as well.

Active Teaching Labs are held Fridays from 8:30-9:45am in room 120, Middleton Building (1305 Linden Dr.) as well as some Wednesdays from 12:30-1:30pm in room 302 Middleton Building. Check out upcoming Labs or read the recaps from past Labs.

Similar to the Active Teaching Labs, Active Teaching Exchanges feature instructors sharing their teaching experiences with tools and techniques, but provide more time for discussion without the hands-on investigation time. Exchanges are are held Thursdays from 1-2pm in room 120, Middleton Building. See the full calendar of both events. Stay informed about upcoming Labs and Exchanges by signing up for regular announcements by sending an email to


Woodley, X., Hernandez, C., Parra, J. et al. TechTrends (2017) 61: 470.


Active Teaching Lab eJournal Copyright © 2016 by DoIT Academic Technology and the UW-Madison Teaching Academy; Jennifer Hornbaker; John Martin; Julie Johnson; Karin Spader; Margaret Merrill; Margaret Murphy; and Jeffrey Thomas. All Rights Reserved.

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