Against the backdrop of school closings and colleges moving their classes online, I hear a lot of chatter about Zoom, Google Hangouts, and different kinds of video conferencing platforms. While these platforms are ideal for hosting “meetings” with students, using them for the purpose of “lecture” might be imprudent. Here, I strongly suggest transforming your online course into an asynchronous one.
Why real-time learning might not BE IDEAL
- Technical Issues
I am relatively familiar with Zoom. I have used it for work meetings, “office hours” with students, and I even did a few job interviews over Zoom. While the platform is relatively more stable compared to Skype and has more useful functions (e.g. raise hand button) compared to Google Hangouts, I have had participants going in and out of the “meeting room” simply because their internet access is not reliable. And when that happens, it creates distraction for me and my students.
- Students Interact Differently When They Are Online
When I first began teaching online, I was stubborn to do webinars the same way I did lecture in the traditional classroom, and I wanted to maintain my “presence” as a professor. It is very tempting. I get that. And it was a bad idea. If we honestly reflect on our own interactions with others online, we know that we act differently and may even seem like a different person when we are online versus offline. Students do the same. Transitioning from offline to online classroom and expect students to act the same is unrealistic. In this day and age, many students have already developed an online identity for themselves through social media. Webinars feel strange to many because students are forced to interact with others in ways that might create conflict with how they want to present themselves online. The result is often reduced participation or lopsided discussions dominated by those who believe they have a good relationship with the professor or are confident about the subject matter.
- Not Everyone Is Able to Join Webinars
As educators, we should be aware that access to high-speed internet is, unfortunately, a privilege rather than a given. In addition, while I have a laptop that I can use at my convenience, not everyone has a laptop or a computer to join a webinar. Even when they do have access to the internet and a computer, they might not be able to participate if they don’t have a mic or if their camera is broken.
Also, to join and participate in webinars requires having a stable and relatively quiet space. That means students may not be able stay at their own house if there are a lot of actions at home. Students can feel alienated and disenfranchised if they don’t have access to the necessary equipment and space to participate.
What Is asynchronous learning?
Asynchronous learning means that students access the learning materials and complete the assignments on their own time and in the sequence of their choice. Instead of imposing students to learn the content or engage in an activity together in real time, students can choose when to do what at their convenience.
Given that many people are juggling professional and academic commitments with family responsibilities during this challenging time, making things flexible for everyone will alleviate a lot of pressure for students, professors, and people involved in our lives, including our families.
How to Set Up An Asynchronous Course
Here I will provide a few tips that I find most useful from my own experience.
- Set Up a Fixed Schedule and Stick to It
Communicate clearly when learning materials are posted up; when you will be answering students’ questions, checking emails, and moderating discussion; and when assignments and quizzes are due. In my course, I make learning content available every Friday at 5pm and assign end-of-the-day deadlines every Sunday. I “go online” to answer students questions and moderate discussions twice a week during the same “office hours”. This way, students know when to find me when they need me. They can also budget their time by knowing what they need to complete by the end of the week.
- Assign Multiple Low-Stake Assignments
Giving assignments in which students will get complete/incomplete grades or can earn extra credit makes academic work seem less daunting to students. As a result, it is more likely for them to complete the assignments, engage with the materials, and stay on track. I keep an extra credit discussion board to encourage students to discuss current events using the sociological concepts they’ve learned. They can also choose between doing a news clipping in which they apply specific sociological concepts to analyze the news event or posting a vlog in response to specific readings. Allowing options gives them a sense of agency and therefore motivates learning and engagement. To ensure the quality of their work, I often attach brief but specific notes when grading assignments and suggest ways for them to improve.
- Be Kind to Yourself and Your Students
This is stressful time. Converting offline courses into online ones in such a short period of time is difficult for us. Adjusting to taking online classes and managing time independently is hard for students. Many people are anxious, sad, and scared. Practice self compassion. Be flexible. Don’t be a strict grader. Academic excellence is an excuse for systemic oppression. Encourage student learning by giving positive words of affirmation. Be generous. Most students want to learn. And if they are still somehow logging into their accounts and completing the assignments by borrowing a friend’s computer or hiding in the bathroom to have some peace and quiet, give them a pad on the back. They deserve that, and so do we.