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.
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.
Keeping class momentum and engagement. I'm teaching asynchronous this summer & I send students an email every Monday with assignments, discussion posts, and questions for that week's material. Yes, a lot of this in the syllabus, but it helps keep them engaged to check in weekly.
— Dr. Wendy Wear a Mask Christensen 🏳️🌈🦉📚🍺 😷 (@wendyphd) August 9, 2020
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).
Within each module, I organize by week. For each week I have a “tasks” page that could be used as a check list.
I send an announcement at start of each week. Then I send a reminder 48 hours before assignments due, and then another day of. In Canvas I schedule these to go out.
— David F. Warner (@dwarnersoc) August 9, 2020
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.
For me, it's the email! I get a lot of emails 24/7. There are also periods where things are quiet…just learning the flow of a class helps. I recommend asynchronous with some deadlines so that we're all on the same topics. It works well for me.
— Dr. Katy M. Pinto (@ProfessorPinto) August 9, 2020
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.
3. Organization matters. Make it easy for students to find things w/in the course site AND create a visual walking them through what to find where. 4. Formative feedback (1/3 and 2/3 through the class) about what is working/not working about the online learning environment.
— Dr. Bianca Montrosse-Moorhead (@b_mmoorhead) August 9, 2020
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.
1st online course now: BIG struggle for me is lack of interaction. I get energized when teaching in a classroom w/students. Hard not seeing real time facial responses while teaching. Even though I record lectures "live," those who do attend understandably have cameras turned off.
— Richard M. Carpiano (@RMCarpiano) August 9, 2020
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.
Connecting with students in sustained ways is challenging in that setting. Ive started scheduling individual and group office hours for discuss/recap and project planning. like advising but course specific. it helps. Ill prob keep it as course requirement
— David D. Timony, PhD (@DrTimony) August 9, 2020
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.
I’m very personable and find connecting hard. This summer I created small (2-3min) intro videos for each week. Very informal. The students liked them. I also had my students spend the first week creating and watching 60 sec intros of each other.
— Christen Rexing, PhD, MPH (she/her) (@christen_rexing) August 9, 2020
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.
1. Engagement *beyond* typed discussion boards. Tools I love & use (depending on purpose) include padlet, flipgrid, & voicethread. 2. Varying ways to deliver content — it can’t just be readings. So, looks for videos, vlogs, podcasts, etc, aligned with content & objectives. 1/n
— Dr. Bianca Montrosse-Moorhead (@b_mmoorhead) August 9, 2020
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.
You need to reach out to faculty at universities with long experiences in online. Try sociology and criminology/CJ faculty at ASU, UCF, U of Cincinnati
— Dr. Katie Kaukinen (@katie_kaukinen) August 9, 2020
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.
or again https://t.co/5xw7xnAJsP
— paige cuffe (@paigecuffe) August 9, 2020
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.