The widespread use of distance education this fall will make the higher education experience different for everyone. Asynchronous learning—which occurs at a student’s own pace—can help students juggle academia with work and family responsibilities. Unlike live classes held on campus, asynchronous learning lends itself to a more equitable experience by allowing students to engage with course content on their own schedules.

Jooyoung Lee, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, recently crowdsourced professors’ biggest challenges with asynchronous online teaching, looking for advice on how to navigate through common roadblocks. Academics on Twitter offered their best insights and tips, which we’ve captured below.

Be organized

Due to their self-paced nature, asynchronous courses require just as, if not more, accountability than synchronous courses. Wendy Christensen, Sociology Professor at William Paterson University, finds that emailing students about what their course load looks like each week can spur engagement.

David Warner, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, effectively organized his virtual classroom by scheduling reminders about due dates in his learning management system (LMS).

Unlike the traditional classroom, students learning asynchronously will engage with course work at different times. This also means emails and questions will arrive in your inbox at various points. Build in some assignment deadlines to ensure students are on the same page, as Katy Pinto, Professor of Sociology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, suggests.

Don’t assume that students will be able to find coursework on their own. Guide students to course content they will need to refer to often at the start of the semester—like Bianca Montrosse-Moorhead, Associate Professor of Evaluation at the University of Connecticut, does.

Accept the challenges—and use video to find workarounds

For Richard Carpiano, Professor of Public Policy and Sociology at the University of California, Riverside, a big challenge that comes with asynchronous classes is no real-time interaction. Unlike the synchronous learning experience, the inability to see students can make it challenging to understand how they are engaging with course material.

Individual or group office hours—or student hours—allow for course review and spontaneous class discussions. David Timony, Chair of Education at Delaware Valley University, finds this approach creates (and sustains) a sense of community, even when students are spread across the globe.

Informal introductory videos about you and your course material will help students feel comfortable in their new learning environment. Videos where students introduce themselves to one another can also strengthen peer-peer connections, Christen Rexing, Associate Professor of Public Health at La Salle University, finds.

Online discussion boards only go so far with engaging students. Bianca Montrosse-Moorhead suggests balancing discussion forums with vlogs, webinars or podcasts that can be viewed at students’ own time.

Get support wherever you can

Instructional support has become an essential part of building an online learning environment. Katie Kaukinen, Professor and Chair of Criminal Justice at the University of Central Florida, suggests seeking help from your peers and from discipline-specific departments.

Online courses for instructors are also offered on the effective use of online pedagogy. Not only do these courses build new skills, they ensure faculty are equipped to teach in higher education’s ‘new normal.’ Paige Cuffe, Staff Tutor and Senior Faculty Manager at The Open University, recommends a free course to help faculty make their online classes more inclusive and engaging.

Top Hat’s team of instructional designers are also here to help you build your online classroom—whether in real time or asynchronously. We offer hands-on, one-on-one training to help elevate your face-to-face, blended or online college experience. To learn more about our support options, click here.

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